Thursday, July 15, 2010

Various fun times from the last few days

Today was my host mom's birthday! Every year my host family goes to the same restaurants for each person's birthday and gets a picture taken. My host mom showed me all of the pictures last week, and they are really great. I'm glad to be in one of them! Takumi made a face in last year's picture, and I thought that was funny. He was just a baby in the first one. :) But in this picture, I couldn't stop laughing at how he looks. He fell asleep midway through dinner and couldn't wake up for the picture at the end. Namiko said, "Our one memory from tonight..." Click on this picture, it's too funny. He looks adorable!

Namiko got a really great haircut today. I think she looks lovely with both kinds of hair but possibly more energetic yet dignified with shorter hair.

We had a great time at dinner eating really small food that tasted so good. Here's a picture of Tomoaki posing with his "Bikkuri Bomb" (Surprisingly Huge Bomb of Food), which was a hamburger with an egg in the middle of it. See?

I think Takumi likes me now because of how I treated him yesterday. I sat down to write my report yesterday afternoon when I heard him crying from the other room. I wasn't sure what to do and his parents weren't home. Trying to get him to explain the problem to me took awhile because he was so distraught. Thankfully I understood his mid-sob Japanese and learned that no, he wasn't in intense emotional or physical pain, but that he had lost his hat. :) I know it's a big deal to lose one's school uniform hat but it was very cute and I tried not to laugh. He kept saying, "I lost my hat, it's gone away, and now I can't go to school again!" I tried to console him and say that he could probably find the hat or get a new one, but that didn't work. So I got him some tissues and a glass of water, and that seemed to help. Then we called his mom so he could tell her. I wasn't sure exactly what to do so I got my computer, pulled up some old-school English Pokemon videos and a Super Mario Brothers video, and showed them to him. That really cheered him up. :) Then his dad came home after finding the hat and everything was a-okay again. :) But soon after, he climbed into my lap to watch more videos with me. Then today, he slowly and carefully explained to me that he wanted me to watch Pokemon with him at 7pm. :) That was really nice of him.

Yesterday and today I was worrying about some things in the US that I'll have to deal with when I return. But I realized that those thoughts are distracting me from enjoying the present, so I decided not to check my email until I got home today, after studying with my friends. Good decision!!

Anyway, today after dinner I taught my host mom some of the English phrases she had trouble with while watching Sex and the City. Some of those quotes were pretty hilarious to translate. I never noticed how many difficult metaphors are commonly used in English!  "Up to his ears" was a fun one to teach, "I don't buy into that crap" was also fun. "Dildos", "emotionally detached", and "hooking up" were interesting to try to explain, but I was at least glad that I don't have to sugarcoat anything; Namiko appreciates bluntness in definitions, it seems.

I love learning both the meanings and literal translations of words in Japanese. For instance, I think it's cool that "bathroom" in English doesn't always have a bath in it, and the Japanese equivalent, "otearai" means "place for washing hands" although obviously that's not the only reason people go there. One thing that I think is funny is the translations I make in my head for what Takumi is saying. He's only 8 years old but he says things that translate as, "Indeed" and "Is that so?" and "Right before my eyes!" and "After all..." These are all very common things to say in Japanese but to me they sound so formal coming from someone who hides under the blankets on the couch. :)

I think I was mistaken when I compared the tones of English, Japanese, and Spanish. I think what I was actually trying to say was stress. English is full of stress, which makes good rap. Spanish has accent marks and unaccented stress that sounds very regular and even, like music or poetry. Japanese has some stress but very, very little compared to English. I recognized this when I learned about Japanese rap, which has artificially-added stress, and when I was watching Japanese game shows and thought, "There's no way those tones are staying even!" :) If you ever walk into a Japanese store, the store owner will say, "IrrashaimasseeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEE" hahaha. It sometimes sounds pretty annoying. There's no stress in the word but the tone is all over the place.

I also noticed stress in Japanese because there is a person in my class who has not grasped this concept at ALL. This person not only stresses Japanese words too much, this person stresses EVERY SYLLABLE as though it's an individual exclamation, and fails to produce any soft R sounds (which in Japanese are so soft they sound like Ls). Maybe sometime I'll try to make a video but it is like a constant grating on my ears. Have you ever had a Spanish class where someone says, "Yo Quay Ro Uh-nuh Quay Say Dil La"? It's like that, except so much worse. That's the end of my rant for this week.

Yesterday there was a neat fashion show during lunch at my university. Here are some photos from it.

My favorite dress is the short black and silver one on the right. There was a great DJ playing awesome mixes during the fashion show. I really appreciate all the great entertainment at Kanda University; there's always someone performing in the courtyard next to the cafeteria, it seems. Today there was a screamy rock band playing Linkin Park and a number of other loud bands. It makes it difficult to talk to friends at lunch but it's always exciting. :)

I've been so tired that I have to go to bed now, sorry for the disorder in this post. But I fell sleep today once in class during a break, and twice on the trains! No worries, I jerk awake when the train stops or when my head hits the window, haha.

I greatly fear my next week's schedule. Monday is a holiday, there is a 2-chapter test on Tuesday, one final exam on Thursday, one final exam on Friday, and a huge, 25%-of-grade presentation on Friday (after the test) that is not even done right now. How am I supposed to have fun with all this impending doom? I'll manage somehow... :)

The sky today as I arrived home:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back to school...

Today was a little bit tough, but not compared to the previous days. :)

I got off to a little bit of a late start today but (thankfully?) the trains on my route got delayed significantly due to strong winds. I got a late pass and was 20 minutes late to class. So were three of my classmates and a number of other people associated with my program, so it was okay. I'm just glad the trains were not damaged.

However, because of the long delay, more and more people piled into the station waiting for a train in the direction I had to go. So I got on the first one... possibly a mistake on my part, because it ended up being the worst manindensha (jam-packed train) I've been on so far. I was smashed into this pole on one side and had to support my weight with both of my arms hanging from the handlebars because I was leaning over into the personal space of a seated person. If I hadn't been holding myself up from the bars, I would have fallen into him. Also, there was only enough space on the floor of the train for ONE of my feet!! So my arms got really tired from holding myself up, and I wished that I had my iPod to make me feel more comfortable; I had left it at home. This isn't my photo but it looks a lot like my train this morning.

The manindensha wasn't so bad for me even though it was really sweaty and hot in there. But I was getting pretty discouraged because I saw all of these strong yet tired salarymen sleeping on their seats while an elderly woman was getting smushed in the center of the crowd whenever the train took a sharp turn. The poor woman looked really miserable and there was nothing for her to hold onto except the other people pressing into her. But no matter how many people there were in the train, there was still enough space for everyone to smush someone against the opposite door during a turn, and the poor woman couldn't pick up her feet that fast. :/ Fortunately, the ride was soon over.

Class today went well, I think. It was from 9-4:30 instead of 9-12:30. Looong day... but lunch was nice! I ate some leftover curry rice and bamboo rice that my host mom made for me. :D It was so yummy, and I didn't have to buy lunch at school which costs more.

It was nice to see Robert again after our crazy trip. :) I wish I could have seen Ethan too. I feel like we bonded a lot over our alternating grueling and relaxing/fun experiences last week, so I feel a lot closer to them. We actually liiiiiiiiived! I told Robert I felt like we were in the awkwardly hilarious bed-jumping reunion scene from Return of the King. :) OH SAHM. I'm sure at one point on Mt. Fuji I said, "I'm glad you're here with me, Sam... here at the end of all things." It went well with Robert frequently saying in an Elrond accent, "CAST IT INTO THE FIRE! Destroy it! Isilduuuuuuuuur!" :D Besides, we basically looked like this at the end:

My friends learned on the mountain that I am a huge nerd about Lord of the Rings and astronomy. S'okay, though. Anyway, after school, I talked to Ishikawa-sensei and thanked her for helping us get bus tickets to Mt. Fuji. I showed her my blog and told her about our trip. She didn't think we would make it to the top, haha. BUT WE DID OH YES.

Anyway, it's my bedtime. I've got two tests and a lot of school work to do tomorrow. :( It's funny that today's blog has no actual photos of Japan taken by me today. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mt. Fuji Trip: Day 4, Lake Kawaguchiko

On Saturday, we woke up at 9am and got ready to be dropped off at the Kawaguchiko station at 10am. But before we left, Hirose-san had us take pictures with a photo of Mimi-san and all of us together at a nice table. Then he gave us an omamori of Mimi-san. He was really sweet. :) Then he took us to the bus station, informed us that we could leave our luggage with a store owner across the street while we went to the lake, and gave us directions to the lake. That was SO HELPFUL! We were sad to say goodbye to him but grateful for all of his help, and his really cheap price for rooms. :)

We bought Fuji-san posters from the store owner while we left our luggage there. It was a big change from two days previous, when we were saying, "I definitely do not want to buy a poster of that mountain!! I don't want to see it ever again!" Hahaha, the disgust went away with the aching legs, although mine still feel a little sore even now.

In the souvenir store, we saw some people wearing UNC gear!! They were from Spain but had taught at UNC as TAs for two years! It was so cool to speak to them. I tried to speak in Spanish but only Japanese came out, haha. They attempted to climb Mt. Fuji the previous night but had to turn around due to weather.

Then we walked 5-10 minutes to Lake Kawaguchiko. The weather was absolutely beautiful. We ate lunch and then got some amazing lavender, vanilla, and peach ice cream. The boys got the same except grape instead of vanilla. We all agreed that the peach was the best, even though lavender was amazing too. I want to eat it again!

We remembered seeing this lake from the top of Mt. Fuji, but it was a million times more peaceful and more comfortable here. :) There were parks and happy Japanese people all over the place. We also found a number of foreigners. From the opposite side of the lake, on the bridge, we could see a picturesque view of Mt. Fuji, and suddenly we wanted tons of pictures of it instead of fearing it. :) Isn't it incredible? We still can't believe we climbed it. 
The opposite side of the lake was also incredibly beautiful, although the mountains were about half the size of Mt. Fuji. 
Here is the view of Fuji from a very peaceful park along the lake. The temperature was absolutely perfect with a cool wind. I wanted to sleep in the park so much!! 
We explored around the area, saw a neat old temple in a slightly creepy wooded area, and looked at the gift shop of the Yamanashi Gem Museum. Our bus back to Shinjuku was at 4:30pm, so we had to return to Kawaguchiko station. On our way home, we saw the Fujiyama rollercoaster again and I REALLY wanted to ride it one more time. What a perfect coaster it was.

This day was very relaxing and pleasant, just as we had hoped it would be. We reflected on what a perfect vacation trip it had been, and how lucky we all were to experience Mt. Fuji and the surrounding area with friends. It really was a once in a lifetime experience. We slept on the bus ride home and woke up in Tokyo, in a completely different but equally beautiful landscape. On our bus on the way home, this was our last view of Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji Trip: Day 3, Fuji-Q Highlands Amusement Park

Our hotel owner made us get up early the next day because he was going to drop us off at Fuji-Q Highlands at 9am. But that turned out to be a good thing, because then we got to go on more rides!! There were three big rollercoasters: The Fujiyama (record-breaking for height and speed), the Dodonpa (shoots you out like a bullet), and the Eejyanaika (just crazy all around, where the seats rotate as well as breaking records for the most twists and turns in a rollercoaster). We went on the Eejyanaika twice, the Dodonpa once (it gave us headaches!) and the Fujiyama three times.

The Eejyanaika was our first coaster of the day, so I'll show it first.

The promotions while waiting in line were awesomely Japanese. And when we were leaving the platform of the Eejyanaika, the attendants clapped and chanted this song, and waved goodbye at us. They also clapped when we returned. :D

This is what it looks like when you go down the first drop of the Eejyanaika. SO SCARY HAHA. The seats rotate so you are really facing completely down while you make that drop.

I'm not even kidding, the Fujiyama was the greatest rollercoaster I've ever been on. It didn't give me a headache at all, and each ride lasted for 3.5 minutes!!! The drops were huge and the view of Mt. Fuji from the first drop was unbelievable. Here are our photos from the ride. :D We tried to make the last one look like Mt. Fujis. :)

Here's a picture of us from the Dodonpa. It gave us a headache but was a great time!

Stats from the Dodonpa.

Here's a pretty hilarious video from when we went on the teacups. It had started raining so this was a perfect ride for us to do and keep dry.

The bathrooms at the park were hilarious too. Look at what was written on the walls and doors. In the boys' bathroom, a sign above the urinals said, "WAO! So big! Unbelievable. She loves it."

Mt. Fuji view from the park. :) We still couldn't believe we had climbed it.

We went on some very tall swings and the carousel and played a fun adventure game based on the Gundam show. By then the rain was really coming down and most of the rides had been closed anyway because it was after 5pm.

So we ran to a grocery store to buy dinner (spaghetti again, but this time with meat and booze!) and took some really wet purikura. :D We were soaked!

Dinner was amazing, and this time we made Robert cook and clean up while I took a hot spring bath. :) The hot bath felt soooo much better today because the weather was really cold due to the rain. The previous day, it was really hot outside AND in the bath. Here's our dinner, omg. Hirose-san told Robert to move over and then cooked the meat in wine!
 Judging by the website for our hotel, it was famous for the 25-year-old cat, Mimi-chan. We were excited to see the cat, whose picture was even on the side of the hotel van that was used to pick us up. We even found a magazine in our room with articles about Mimi! But when Robert asked if we could meet Mimi, Hirose-san said that she had died. :( Hirose-san said that he cries every day when he thinks about the cat, who was apparently like a child to him for 25 years. He cried when he talked to us about Mimi. :( But he showed us a ton of pictures of her. Mimi was even featured in movies and manga, which he showed us. We were really sad to hear about how much he obviously missed her, so we toasted to the memory of Mimi at dinner. The next day, Hirose-san had us take a picture with a photograph of Mimi because all of his guests used to take pictures with the live cat before they left. He gave us omamori with a photo of Mimi inside of it, to bring us good luck and happiness. :) What a sweet old man Hirose-san is! 

We had some interesting fun after dinner and called Sachi again. :) Then we went right to sleep, or so Ethan wants me to say. Here is a picture of us faking sadness from earlier, when we got soaked and were waiting to be picked up to go back to the ryokan. It was a really, really wonderful day. :)