Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Farewell, Nagoya

Never have the stained gutters in Tokaidori Station looked so pretty, nor have the buildings outside the station with rusting windows, peeling paint, and yellowing signs looked so friendly. Sleeping right now is out of the question, since my last few hours in this house would pass without me even noticing it. Even the obnoxious thing outside my window is a little quieter tonight.

Tonight we went out to eat okonomiyaki where you actually grill it yourself. Knowing my host mother I assumed that she would brig a present, so I brought my present too. Sure enough, she pulls out a bag full of a pair of gorgeous chopsticks in a cute little carrying case, a card that everyone signed, and a picture CD, Stitch mug, and Stitch memo pad from my host sister.
So, I pulled out my photo album. My host mom was the only one who had actually seen the pictures at all, but I added a few more photos in at the end of me and my host family. It was all very fun, talking and exchanging presents and stuff, until I read the letters inside the card; especially the one my host sister wrote in English. I almost cried. Tomorrow is going to be bad, I can tell.

Things I will miss (in no particular order):
Japanese food
subways and trains
my host fathers weird habit of bringing bugs home
speaking Japanese well
my fluffy comforter
the ¥100 shop down the street
running in the park and seeing cute old people playing croquet
vending machines
breakfast (cereal, fruit, yogurt, some various bread or pastry, coffee, and a Japanese newspaper covered in Kanji)
my host dad's dorky hats
cute Japanese guys
the cleanliness of construction
my host family (of course)
sitting down at the table for dinner
being able to recycle absolutely everything
Mr. Donut
matcha flavored things

Things I am looking forward to (in no particular order):
speaking English
seeing my friends and family
cuddling with my pets
Mexican food
wearing short shorts and tank tops
being barefoot
public trash cans
being able to use a fork and spoon
being able to snack whenever I want
climbing
lotion that isn't weird Japanese lotion
showering whenever I want
not being that tallest person in a crowded room or subway
not being stared at when people walk past
seeing the Austin skyline as I drive home from the airport

Very bittersweet.

I'll see everyone 'tomorrow.' I don't know if time is really going to exist for me for the next 24 or so hours. I am arriving in San Francisco in the 22nd earlier than I left Tokyo on the 22nd, and I'm arriving in Austin 6 hours after I left Tokyo. Tomorrow is going to be the longest day of my life. Literally.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Minato Matsuri

Yesterday I, and 300-something-thousand other people went to the 64th annual Minato Matsuri (Minato is the ward, matsuri means festival) at Nagoya Port. We have festivals in America, but nothing of his caliber. There were stalls and parades and fireworks that I didn't think I would ever see. But then I came to Japan, where you can see many things you never thought would exist.

Okonomiyaki,


Chocolate bananas of all colors (I think the colors were more candy, not chocolate)


And make whatever jokes you like, but those bananas were delicious.

Pokemon lollipops
Third grade me would have died of excitement had I know these existed. Even almost-twelfth grade me had a small freak out when I saw them. Pure sugar and cute, fantastical creatures; can it get better?

This was probably the weirdest stand I saw, and there were quite a few of them, too.

I couldn't figure out quite how these stalls worked. I knew that you paid money and got a net, and for the first few stalls I was worried that somewhere along the way the fish got eaten. But no luck; the fish didn't get off that easily. Instead, they were lugged around in crowded, plastic bags by small children for several hours. Death may have less cruel.

My host parents and I, chocolate banana in hand, found a place to sit and watch the parade go by. Once again, this was not what I expected. I expected one or two floats and a few people in yukata. I did not expect yukata-clad men and women as far as I could see or taiko on every float.
With the floats came a rainbow of yukata, with everyone from seven-year-olds to seventy-year-olds joining in.



And then there was this guy.


The floats were all fairly similar, but they were also all very entertaining.



There was usually one or more shamisen players, and always a group of taiko drummers on top of, inside of, or behind the float, and they were usually very enthusiastic drummers.
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It was also nice to finally see a girl pounding away at her own taiko drum in the sea of male taiko drummers.

Everyone was very enthusiastic in general.


video

video

But then there was this float:
I don't think that people were allowed to have fun if they were affiliated with this float.

Just to make sure that no one had fun, there were police everywhere.
They were also police in disguise. Many of the men in yukata had the big orange sticks and the whistles that the police had. They were very intimidating, especially when thy traveled in groups, which they did most of the time.

At the end of all of the parading and drumming and eating sugar until my teeth almost fell out, it was time for fireworks. With over 300,000 people things were a little bit crowded, but my host parents and I managed to squeeze our way in to a pretty decent viewing spot.


I had heard from many of the kids in my class and from my host parents that Japanese fireworks were better than other fireworks. I was slightly skeptical of the fireworks at first though, because the Japanese often act as though their way is better than everyone else's way even if it isn't, and that outside of their roughly 146,000 square-mile country nothing else exists. My host father has asked me if we have the following things in America: peanuts, shaved ice/snow cones, cucumbers, fireworks, and many other things that are not very uncommon. But anyways, back on topic.
The first few minutes of fireworks were nothing special. When the heart-shaped and star-shaped fireworks came out, I started to pay little more attention. Then came smiley faces, and some of the largest and loudest fireworks I have ever heard. The loudest fireworks resonated around the port so much that I felt it in my eyeballs, and according to the announcer the largest fireworks were 20 meters across. That's equivalent to approximately 66 feet, or a seven-story building, give or take a story. That's really big.




I tried to upload a video, but after leaving my computer to upload the video while I slept and waking up to absolutely no progress, there will be no video. Sorry.

Getting out of Nagoya Port was practically impossible, but once we finally did it after losing my host father once or twice (and my host parents were worried about ME getting lost) all I could think about was sleep.

Also, a quick word on shaved ice: If you add to much sugary syrup, it will make you want to vomit. So if you are ever at a Japanese festival and buy shaved ice from a stall where you can dispense your own syrup, use the syrup sparingly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Shortest Week of my Life

Monday of this week started slowly, put things quickly picked up. I woke up, ate breakfast and ended up eating a forkful of Nutella straight from the jar, against my better judgment. It was worth it though. After riding the bus from my house, I waited fr the subway. Each station and platform has a different tune that plays when the train is close.

video
The song that plays in this station reminds me a lot of the opening song to Skins. There's another that sounds like a Disney song, and one that sounds like it belongs in a Zelda video game.

My schedule for the week was:
Monday: World History, English (understood this!), Contemporary Japanese, Gym (mostly understood this!), lunch, Math (understood it), and Biology (mostly understood it).

A summary of the classes I understood: In English we decorated a paper Tanabata decoration, even though it was a little late. While everyone else wrote their wishes in English, I had to write mine in Japanese. Everyone was impressed by my sloppy kanji without any recognizable stroke order, though.

A lot of girls wanted to make boyfriends. Some of the best wishes I read were 'Present happiness will be go into the future,' 'I want to have good brains,' and 'I want to be health.' I hope that's not what my wish sounded like in Japanese.

In gym, we went swimming. The school has it's own pool and sauna, no big deal. I was told we were going swimming so I came to school with my only swimsuit, which was a bikini, but I forgot a towel. Everyone filed into the boy's locker room (they assured me it was okay when I saw the sign) and changed into swimsuits. A friend brought me over and introduced me to the gym teacher who looked very strict, and who did not seem to approve of my choice of swimwear. Once all of the girls got lined up and sat down by the side of the pool in their one-piece, shorts-length athletic swimsuits, the gym teacher introduced me to everyone. She made me stand up, say hello, and then have everyone comment on my swimsuit. Were I Japanese I would have died of embarrassment as the entire room echoed with the words 'nice body' in a Japanese accent, but being the American that I am, the gym teachers snide remarks and underhanded tricks could had no effect on me. This was only the beginning of my battle with the gym teacher.
After gym everyone dried off and I used borrowed various towels from various people. Most of the girls had these plastic 'towels' that soaked up moisture like nothing I've ever seen before, and when they were done they just squeezed all the water out of the towel ad stuck it back in their bag. I need to to some research and find out what these are and where they come from.
Next was lunch, and my first day with an obento. I didn't know what to expect, but this week I probably had 5 of the best packed lunches that I've ever had.

Everything wrapped up and still chilly from two ice packs and an insulated bag. Also, you can see my portable Winnie the Pooh chopstick case.


My Minnie Mouse boxes and Pokemon furikake. Furikake is really flavorful and you put it on rice to, well, give it flavor. Each of the furikake packages I had had a different Pokemon, one of four flavors, and had a little Pokemon trivia on it.


The top Minnie Mouse tier always had some sort of fruit. I think these apple slices look like little rabbits!


Need I say anything except maybe that my mother should step up her game a little?

After learning about sine and cosine were 'サイタ/saita' and 'コスモス/cosumosu' and learning about Punnet squares again, I asked my homeroom teacher what sports clubs there were for girls. I'm pretty sure everyone is convinced that, since I'm a foreigner, I'm pretty much incapable of doing anything by myself. Be it riding the subway, playing basketball, or going to a club. My teacher listed off only the clubs that my classmates were in so that I could go with one of them, which made me a little irritated, but it ended up working out fine. A girl offered to take me to badminton club with her, and another girl offered to let me use her badminton gear.
We looked for the sponsor of the club to ask if I could join, but he was nowhere to be found. We also weren't sure if I would even be let into the gym to practice, since it was the Chukyo University gym and I didn't have an ID card. In the end we just didn't say anything and I walked into the gym without anyone noticing.
I always thought badminton was a difficult sport. Turns out it's not. Badminton is like tennis with lighter rackets, a very light shuttlecock instead of a tennis ball, and it is played on smaller, indoor courts. M strategy quickly turned into swinging my racket as hard as I could whenever the shuttlecock came on my part of the court. By the end of practice my partner, normally a member of the tea ceremony club, and I, who had never so much as thought about playing badminton before, hadn't lost a game by more than a couple of points, and we almost won a game!

Tuesday: English, Biology, Gym, Home Ec, lunch, Ancient Japanese or something that I didn't understand a word of, and double English classes at Chukyo University.

This time in English we went to the computer lab to practice listening, speaking, and writing for the TOEIC test that everyone took on Friday. From what I can tell, the TOEIC is like and AP test. I passed the practice test with flying colors.

After more genetics and heredity, it was time for gym and I was prepared to battle with the gym teacher. I could take her on in a mental fight, and probably a physical fight. She didn't scare me one bit.
The classes split up into softball and basketball and, not wanting to go outside in the soggy sand/mud mix on the field and not being able to hit a softball to save my life, I went upstairs to play basketball.
The first thing that I noticed in the gym was a huge net separating the boys from the girls, presumably so that no basketballs rolled over to where the boys were high jumping. Second, I noticed that the boys were high jumping. 'Hana Kimi' makes a lot more sense to me now.
After looking surprised and saying 'You're playing basketball?' in an amused tone, the gym teacher moved me from the back row to front and center. After talking for a minute or so about what we were going to do, everyone stood up. We did a little routine where we went from being at attention to 'resting,' and then the gym teacher pulled me up to the front. After some confusion, I figured out that I was supposed to raised my hand. When I raised my hand everyone spread out into less tight lines and started stretching.
After that we id partner stretches, one of which included standing back to back with your partner, locking elbows, and lifting your partner in the air as you bent over. I had not problem doing this, as my partner was small Japanese girl who was a full head shorter than me. On the other hand, everyone clapped when she picked me up. I probably outweigh every girl in my class except for one by at least twenty pounds.
The next stretch was leap frog. The height difference between my partner and I made things interesting.
After stretching, I thought we would play an actual game of basketball. Instead, we learned how to pass in several different ways for about 40 minutes. When everyone struggled and started to get tired, I was still going strong. The gym teacher used my partner and I, along with several other pairs, to demonstrate the correct passing technique. I was not picked on again by the teacher.

After gym was Home Ec, where I learned the kanji and names of 50 different types of seafood.

In Ancient Japanese I learned how to say 'give me a kiss,' or something along those lines, in Korean.

In English at the University, my teacher was hilarious. He was a short, stout, and loud man from California named Tim. We skipped several lessons because he just plain didn't like them and thought they were racist, and then played two truths and a lie, except there were three truths and two lies. It made me realize that I really miss being able to speak English whenever I like to whoever I like.

Wednesday: Biology, Contemporary Japanese, and then the whole school went to watch Rakugyo and Kyogen, traitional Japanese performing arts.

In Contemporary Japanese we went to the library to do research. Needless to say, I could not do research as everything was full of kanji and vocabulary that I don't know. My teacher still wanted me to do some work though, so I read Harry Potter and wrote about how it made me feel. I wrote something along the lines of "In England, I don't think the days that they say are hot are actually hot. If they came to Txas, they would have real complaints. I've really all of the Harry Potter series, but it's still interesting. It's making me a bit nostalgic. I think I'll read the whole series again." The teacher gave me a Totoro stamp that said I did well.

There is only one problem with Japanese performing arts. hey are completely in Japanese. I fell asleep for about half of it, and daydreamed for the other half.

After school I was informed that the Chukyo University gym wasn't going to let me play badminton, so I had to find another club. I decided on Japanese archery club. A girl from my class walked with me to their dojo in hakama and tabi (traditional Japanese two-toed socks), while I walked around in a pair of basketball shorts and some torn up Vans.
I wasn't allowed to actually use the bows because they were huge and dangerous, but I learned the basics of shooting one of the bows. I highly admire anyone who can do this well. There is not a single part of kyudo (Japanese archery), from walking up to the spot where you are going to shoot from or putting the arrow on the bow to how you let go of the bowstring to actually shoot the arrow. They even have their own style of seiza which is even more painful than original, if that's possible.

Thursday: Home Ec, World History, Japanese History, English, Lunch, Gym, Ancient Japanese, and Math.

On the way to school I stopped by a Circle K convenient store and bought a little snack after I tried some Wednesday afternoon. I bought a bag of little flavored mochi pieces coated in what I think was sugar and ate a few on the way to school. When I got to school, I wondered why everyone was leaving the classroom about five minutes before first period. I asked one girl and she said that today we were going to the Home Ec room to make warabimochi (fake mochi). While I like mochi, this was the second time I had eaten it in about an hour. It was good though, and I will most definitely be making it at home sometime.

In English we watched a video about the girl who was bitten by a shark, which was centered a lot on her Christian faith and how she believed that getting her arm bitten off by a shark when she was 13 was a sign from god to spread his word amongst surfers. I feel that these students might be getting a bit of a wrong impression of America and Americans.

In gym I played basketball again, because I still suck at softball. Today we finished with some extra time left, so the gym teacher decided to have us play dodge ball. This was not regular dodge ball though. There was only one ball, and there were no real teams. One person would throw the ball at someone as hard as they could, and it would just go back and forth, back and forth. Everyone sort of huddled in the centered of the gym, running from one side to the other, away from the person with the ball. It got even more confusing when a second ball was added in and you had to watch for a ball coming from both sides. Not really knowing the rules, I just dodged balls. I didn't try to catch or throw anything, but I stayed in the game until the end!

After school I went to kyudo club again but this time it was a much more sullen meeting. Instead of practicing shooting bows, the first year students were practicing the more ceremonial aspects of kyudo. This involved a lot of slow walking, moving around of bows and arrows, and lots of correction from the older club members. I felt very out of place.

Friday: English, TOEIC, lunch, term-end ceremony

In English we gave presentations on Japanese culture (In English, of course). Not only was my group a group of three, but we had a native English speaker (me) and we couldn't talk for more than two minutes on our topic. We chose karaoke from the list of topics and did our presentation, and then everyone else did their presentations.
When we were done, everyone took pictures with their projects.

The guy in the back on the left is Marshall, from Tennessee, and he's one of the two English teachers for my class. The tiny Japanese girl on the right who isn't in uniform is the other English teacher. She's just as sweet as it looks like she would be.
After English my class went to take the TOEIC, and I went to read some more Harry Potter in the Library. About half an hour in, I heard someone shouting, or so I thought. It was actually one of the librarians trying to get my attention. We talked for a little bit, and then I continued reading. After that, yet another librarian came to talk to me, but this one was much more awkward. In fact, he used to be a math teacher at Chukyo but he had a mental illness so he had to take a break and work in the library, but he hopes to be able to teach math again very soon. I don;t know hat to say to that in English, much less in Japanese.

After reading to the point where everyone was sitting down to have their first dinner with Harry in Number 12 Grimmauld Place or the first time, I had to put the book back on the shelf and go to lunch. When I get home, I'm reading the Harry Potter series again.

We all filed into the gym, hot and sweaty, and sat in lines according to classes. With every change in speakers I was terrified someone was going to make me go up and say something to the school, but I never had to. We finished, went to homeroom, and the kid going to India and I gave our little farewell speeches. From my class, I got a Chukyo High School bag that everyone signed. Some of my favorite notes:

Enough said.


He also loves our English teacher. This kid is hilarious. I wish we could be best friends.


I thought this whole are was cute.


The Chukyo High School logo.


I got a pretty little cloth that I think is meant for wrapping lunch boxes from one of the English teachers (who didn't even teach my class).





I got some candy from one of the most adorable people I've ever met. This girl, Yukino, wasn't in my class, but she came in during lunch and talked to me several times.

I was planning on doing something after school with friends, but instead I went to go say thanks to the principal and the teachers and everybody, and by the time I had finished most people had gone their separate ways. On Tuesday there's a going away party for the kid going to India, so I get to see everyone one last time before I go home. I have several email addresses and intend to use them to practice my Japanese and keep in touch with some people.

This was by far the most exhausting week so far.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

While I have your attention

First of all: Sorry about the picture. That's what I get for being lazy and using a link instead of uploading pictures. The pictures change. There's some complicated computer explanation with remote servers and hotlinks and other words that I don't quite understand so, I'll say this: It was not on purpose an I'm sorry for those of you whose minds have been scarred.

And NOW, because you're waiting to hear about my school, I'll take advantage of the situation. This post contains all of the thoughts I've had or things I've noticed that don't have enough substance to actually turn into a blog post, but that I think are still interesting. There is no particular order or progression at all, it is merely what comes to my mind.

I do not know how the Japanese:
cut things with chopsticks
don't make a mess when eating noodles with sauce on them
put their lace-up shoes on so quickly
avoid being smelly and sweaty in a country where A/C is a surprise

Sensei is always talking about how the Japanese do nothing but study and school is really important, but I haven't talked to a kid yet who didn't fail at least one of their tests this semester.

On the same note, my International English class is not very good at speaking English.

There are some sounds that the Japanese just cannot make; the a sound in 'banana,' 'fan' is one of them.

I didn't know how all of the girls here are so skinny, because food is abundant and their P.E. classes are a joke.

I later found out why everyone is so skinny; I think I'm the only person in this country who isn't on a diet.

I think I've discovered why the girls here are so girly. If they weren't they would be confused as guys, because guys in Japan are so feminine. Sometimes on the bus or the subway I like to play a fun game called 'Guess the Gender.' In the past few days I have seen three people that had, and still have me completely stumped.

GUESS THE GENDER (answers are at the bottom)
It's a little hard to sneak pictures of people on subways and in public, so these are all just off of the interent, and they are the most androgynous of the androgyny.





ANSWER: They're all men. I admit the guy in the skirt is a bit much, but you get the picture.

There are drink vending machines all around Japan, but I haven't seen one that sells food the whole time I've been here.

The Japanese can handle 106 degree baths every day, but when it comes to weather and food they can't handle hot to save their lives.

Everyone is very serous about their job, even if it is just being a cashier or a janitor.

When Japanese people do construction work they put up screens or walls, and they clean up their mess when they are done. The same goes for city maintenance.

In America, we expect visiting foreigners to speak English. in Japan, they are surprised when visiting foreigners can speak Japanese.

Driving in Japan is almost indescribable. People break the rules, but there are rules for the rules to break, and everyone allows everyone else to break the rules. For example, even if the light is red, a couple of people can turn left if they are waiting in the left turn lane. Also, scooters and motorcycles and the like weave in and out of traffic like no one's business, and instead of cursing them like we do in America, it's completely accepted. If you want to get somewhere faster, you travel by scooter or some other motorized, two-wheeled vehicle.

Cars in Japan are amazing colors.
It's also difficult to take pictures of moving vehicles while you're moving, so once again all of these pictures are from the internet.










I have seen every single one of these colors, and more. They are not uncommon. My host family has a pink car, and I would wager that pink is one of the most common car colors in Japan.

That's all for now, but I'll add things as I think of them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sorry...

I haven't been writing much lately, but I've been amazingly busy since school started Friday. I went to a party on Sunday and didn't get home until 7:30. Yesterday I tried out Badminton Club, which was surprisingly fun, and didn't get home until 7:00 when I ate dinner, took a shower, and went to bed. So I apologize, and I will have a gigantic blog post ready on Friday about everything that I'm doing in school. So, hang tight and be prepared to have your socks knocked off by this next one (although if you expect too much it won't be any good...).

Friday, July 9, 2010

First day of school!

Yesterday was my first day of school. I don't think I have ever been more tired at the end of a school day. I heard the word 'かわいい' as many times in my life, combined as I heard it yesterday. It is still ringing in my ears. I also taught a girl the words 'hot boy' when she asked what イケメン meant. Later when she introduced herself in English class, she said she liked hot boys. Some other American things Japanese teenagers like: 'Prison Break,' 'Lost,' Green Day, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber.
It may just be my school school that likes those things, but I don't think so. But my school is not an ordinary school. First of all, it's a private school. It has different advanced classes and basic classes, and the advanced classes are divided up into subjects. For example, I'm in the International English class, even though only one of the kids is very good at speaking English; he's the head of the English club. We don't change from shoes to slippers when we enter the building, the school is air conditioned, and it looks less like a prison and more like a hotel.
Normal Japanese high school:


Chukyo High School:

And did I mention that they are the reigning champion of the national high school baseball tournament? And that they have produced several world class figure skaters, including Mao Asada, the 2010 silver medalist? I'm two years too late to have met her though. If I had met her, I probably wouldn't remember her name, just like the rest of the kids in my class.

The kids I remember from class 2-I, out of 32, are very few in number.
First, there's 'Imaidon' (his real name is just Imai), also labeled in my head as Oguri Shun. There's also Oguri Shun's friend, but I only only know his name because I have a seating Chart.
There's Maya, the really nice girl who sits on my right and has an electric dictionary to translate ridiculous kanji for me.
On my left... well, I don't know her name, but she's really nice and chats with Oguri Shun, his friend, and Kuma.
There are three Harukas in my class, and one goes by Kuma (part of her last name). Her and I are working on an English project together.
Mirei is very sweet and very tall and thin.
There's also Tennis Club Girl and there's Cheer Leading Girl, also known as the Girl Who Likes Hot Boys.
There's the Funny Girl With The Round Face, whose name I now know thanks to the seating chart.
Last but not least, there's Yuri Abe, also known as Abe-chan, Yu-chan, Yuri, Abe, Yuri-chan... basically any combination of her name and 'chan' that you can come up with. She is also really funny.
There's also English Club Boy, the Boy Who Sits Behind Me, and the Girl From 2L, but I don't know their names either.

After coming home from my first day of school I passed out for two hours, almost missed dinner, and was in bed by 8:30. Needless to say, it was a good day.

I didn't get many pictures on my first day because I was a little overwhelmed, but I'll try to take some more on Monday. Maybe I'll know everybody's names by then! Probably not though.