Candy Ensures Exam Success

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on Candy Ensures Exam Success
Nov 302011
 

We got tested to bits this morning. First there was a listening test, then a grammar test. The listening questions all came from either JLPT practice tests or old JLPT tests, to they were really tricky.

I don’t like JLPT listening questions, because they’re all “gotcha” games. I never have conversations like these with real people.

The conversation flows something like this: “Hey, have you seen the football?” “No, did your mother hide the football again?” “I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll go (unintelligible word) instead.”

And the answer always hinges on the (unintelligible word) bit.

The written part wasn’t too bad, since I studied for it, but my brain is pretty much empty at this point.

I also had to rewrite my sakubun test by the end of 5th period.

Good times.

Candy for Winning Spirit!

S sensei gave out KitKats in out last N2 class today, and explained why. In Japan, a lot of people are superstitious about things to do before tests, and KitKat bars are seen as lucky, because kitto katsu is how they interpret it, which means “definitely win.”

So eating a KitKat before a big test is like psyching up for it.

Also, tonkatsu or katsudon is also good winning food. Basically, anything with katsu in it. Katsu is the word that means “win.”

Stay away from losing or falling things, because when someone fails, they use a verb that really means “to fall.” So avoid anything with “fall” or “lose” in it. (And don’t fall down the stairs and lose your keys on the way to the test, or else you’re doomed!)

I forgot to mention that the omiyage went over well with everyone on Monday, especially the teachers.

I Can’t Quit You…

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on I Can’t Quit You…
Nov 292011
 

We’re learning how to turn down requests these days in JBPP, and I have to say that it’s a total minefield. If you turn down someone in the wrong way, you will give them the impression that their business isn’t as important as whatever it is that is keeping you from playing golf with them.

I suppose it’s difficult in the US, too. It’s hard to say no these days pretty much wherever you go.

My main problem with respect to Japan, where golf is popular in corporate circles, is that I am terrible at golf, and playing golf with me would likely make a client hate me and possibly hate my company. So I would rather have that person play with someone who will let them have a more enjoyable experience.

I have no idea how to politely say that in Japanese, though. I’m working on it!

Postcards From the JBPP Edge, How to Read Japanese Food Labels

 Food, Foreign Languages, Japan, Japanese Language, Photos  Comments Off on Postcards From the JBPP Edge, How to Read Japanese Food Labels
Nov 282011
 

Today was the final exam for my N1 grammar class. I think I did okay. Not great, but good enough. JBPP takes up a lot of time, as do my regular classes, and daily life eats up another chunk. I’m taking this more as an introduction to N1 level grammar, because I know that there’s still a lot I have to learn, so I’m not worrying too much about it right now.

We’re starting to do a lot of reviewing for the upcoming big tests in the main classes on Wednesday. Fun.

I’m a little tired after all the traveling this weekend, but it was fun, and I feel recharged.

In JBPP, we started working on how to mail letters. Snail mail is still important every now and then, so I have to know how to send letters properly. And it’s the sort of skill that transfers over to email as well.

Souvenirs!

Here are a few photos of the souvenirs I bought for everyone in Kyoto. I’m actually posting this from the future, but it fits with my “Kyoto Arc” here.

The cookie/wafer things came in two varieties:
Souvenirs from Kyoto

A fall leaf motif:
Kyoto Souvenir 1

Some kind of grass motif?
Kyoto Souvenir 2

Anyway, they were a big hit with everyone. People like getting stuff.

How to Read Nutritional Info on Japanese Food!

Since I’m just tacking stuff onto this post, I might as well tack this on, too. It’s a really important survival skill in Japan if you have any dietary needs. That skill is how to decipher those labels!

Let’s start with the nutrition info from my cheese slices:
Japanese Food Labels, and How to Read Them 1

So the 栄養 bit above the box is saying “Nutritional Information.” 1枚 means one slice, 18g 当たり means approx. 18 grams. (Well, it means exactly 18 grams, but realistically, it’s approximately.)

Now, let’s analyze the stuff in the box:

  • エネルギー this is “energy,” measured in calories. (They use the more accurate kcal, for kilocalorie, but we just call them calories in the US.)
  • たんぱく質 this is protein.
  • 脂質 this is fat.
  • 炭水化物 these are carbohydrates.
  • ナトリウム this is sodium.
  • カルシウム this is calcium.

The last bit, the 食塩相当量 bit, is just telling you the table salt equivalent of the sodium in the product. So each slice has roughly half a gram of salt in it.

Let’s apply this to convenience store food, because I eat a lot of it. (It’s probably bad for me!)

I bought some butajiru udon the other day. (It’s pork soup with udon noodles in it.)
Japanese Food Labels, and How to Read Them 2

Okay, the 11.11.23 bit is the “best by” date. 2011, November 23 is how you read it. The プラ bit means that the whole thing is recycled with the plastic trash.

Below that, you see 1600w and 500w? Those are cooking times depending on your microwave’s wattage. One minute and twenty seconds for a 1600 watt, and four minutes for a 500 watt. (Useful!)

Now, under that is the actual nutritional information.

  • 1食当たり we saw something similar before, but basically it means “one serving.”
  • 熱量 is our calories again, just using a different way to say it.
  • 蛋白質 is just another way to write たんぱく質, except they used kanji. It’s still protein!
  • 脂質 is back again. It’s still fat.
  • 炭水化物 is also back again, still carbohydrates.
  • Na refers to sodium by its periodic table name.

Everything else is the list of ingredients, and the address of the maker.

Hope this helps you figure out what’s on your plate!

Kinkakuji, Gion, LL Bean, and Going Home (Sunday, part 2)

 Japan, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Kinkakuji, Gion, LL Bean, and Going Home (Sunday, part 2)
Nov 272011
 

It was an interesting bus ride to Kinkakuji, since I had to stand the whole trip. It was kind of like surfing on a whale in choppy seas. A very crowded whale.

I saw a group of American guys on bicycles doing some kind of tour of Kyoto while I was waiting for the bus. It looked like something that would be fun in the off-peak season, whenever that is.

By the time I got to Kinkakuji by bus, I stopped off at a place full of benches outside of the temple to take a short rest break, because I had been on my feet for most of the day so far, and I saw the guys on bicycles come riding in. So the bus was faster this time, but I’m sure bicycling in Kyoto has its own charms.

Right outside of the temple grounds, there’s a good view of one of the big characters they light on fire on the top of one of the nearby mountains.
Dai Character

It’s Still Made of Gold, and Tourists!

Visiting Kinkakuji is always a bit of a stuggle. It’s a struggle to get there, and when I get there, it’s a struggle for a good spot with a good view for a good shot. Sometimes it feels like too much work.

Coming in, even though the sky was gray, the leaves added some nice color. And there were some big crowds there, too!
Entering Kinkakuji

Getting closer to the entrance:
Entering Kinkakuji 2

The map of the temple grounds:
Kinkakuji Grounds Map

Entering the main gate:
Entering Kinkakuji 3

For 200 yen, you can ring the bell!
Ring the Bell

I got there, and it was gold, pretty, and full of pretty red leaves. So naturally the crowds were amazingly packed in. (I think it was also in one of those popular magazines, but it’s Kinkakuji anyway. It’s one of the most famous buildings in Japan.)

But it was beautiful, in the only way a golden building sitting in the middle of lake can be.

Don’t believe me? Have a look!
Golden Pavillion

I like this shot with extra Japanese Maple leaves in it:
Golden Pavillion 3

Detail of the phoenix on the roof:
Bronze Phoenix Ornament

A close-up shot of the side of the pavilion.
Golden Pavillion 4

And everyone is lined up to take a 記念写真 (きねんしゃしん kinenshashin) or souvenir photograph.
Tourists lining up for the souvenir snapshot.

On the way out, I got an omikuji, which is a slip of paper with a fortune on it you can buy at temples and shrines in Japan. I got a 吉 きち kichi, which means “good luck” fortune. This was a good omen.

Kyoto is sometimes a mess, and it’s often a battle with frustration, but it can be an incredible experience if you’re willing to put up with the little annoyances. Just understand that that’s the nature of the city. It’s the traditional cultural center of Japan, so you’re not just going up against foreign tourists, who were pretty thin on the ground here this time, but you’re really going up against large crowds of mostly Japanese tourists.

I Don’t Think We’re in Freeport Anymore

Done with Kinkakuji, I grabbed a cab to Kita Oji station, figuring that a cab all the way to Kiyomizu temple would be insanely expensive.

I got to the station (cost: 1,050 yen for ~ 1 mile), and what do I see?

An L.L. Bean store! YES! Score! Thanks 吉! I owe you one!

Why am I excited about seeing an L.L. Bean store when I could instead be looking at some more temples and shrines and getting more cultured?

I’ll tell you.

I’ve been freezing my tail off for the last 4 weeks or so, mainly because I can’t find clothes that fit me. I wear an XL in US sizes. An XL in Japanese sizes is closer to a skinny L or a fat M in US sizes. A US XL is more like a fat XXL or a skinny XXXL. Good luck with finding that at 99% of clothing stores here. I can’t find any clothes that fit me in the Japanese stores around Okazaki. Even the North Face store in Nagoya was a bust.

And it’s not like I’m particularly big for an American guy. I’m pretty average, but I have a big chest and big shoulders, so I’m kind of screwed.

I decided to check out the L.L. Bean store, and they still had about half of their men’s clothes in US sizes. (Oh, thank GOD!)

Sadly, they were converting a lot of their wardrobe to Japanese sizes. Don’t even bother to try to buy shoes there if your shoe size is over 10 (US) — you’re out of luck. Not that I needed shoes, but it’s a useful thing to know.

I found a plaid polartec button-down shirt, a sweatshirt, and a polartec hat. Woot! But now I had another problem. I had a bag full of bulky clothes to carry around with me, and that simply would not do.

Omiage Means “Thinking of You, and How to Fulfill My Societal Obligations to You”

I headed back to Kyoto Station, in search of another locker.

When I got there, I remembered something important: I needed to buy お土産 おみやげ omiyage (souvenirs) for my fellow classmates and teachers. It’s just what you do here, and the students at Yamasa, even though they are from all over the world, have all picked up on this tradition.

So what should I buy for classmates and teachers? Well, it turns out that there are whole shops in the train stations devoted to providing the best omiyage to meet every conceivable social obligation.

I went to the store near the escalators and found some lovely rice crackers with a fall leaf design painted on them with some kind of edible frosting, I think. So I bought a box of 20 individually wrapped rice crackers for about 2,000 yen, and I was done.

Yep, I was done. I’ll give everyone a cracker on Monday, and they’ll be pleased. It’s not the present, it’s the fact that you went to the trouble to get people a little something. Of course, with other kinds of gift-giving, you have to put a lot more thought into it, because gift-giving here can be a minefield. But that’s not an issue today.

Food makes the best omiyage, because people can eat it and not worry about it taking up space. Space here comes at a premium.

Then I dumped everything in a locker, and checked the Shinkansen departures board for trains to Nagoya. They were starting to fill up fast. I got in line at the ticket office, and got a ticket on the 8:52 pm Hikari bound for Nagoya (and Tokyo, but I don’t care about Tokyo now.)

My only mistake was getting a window seat. Otherwise, it was brilliant to get my ticket now.

Goin’ to Gion

I used Wikitravel on my Nexus One to find a place to eat. I found a yakitori chain popular in Kyoto, and went to their Gion branch. It took a while to find it, because it wasn’t at street level– it was on the 5th floor of a nondescript building. Dinner on a stick was great. I had yakitori, yakiniku, a salad, and onion rings all for 1400 yen. Not bad. That was really my first full meal of the day, because I had been running around so much before.

After that, I headed to Gion to do some sightseeing. Gion is famous for expensive restaurants and geisha, among other things. It’s also famous for tourists and the shops that cater to them. It’s a lively and fun area. I stopped at a few shops here and there.

As soon as I crossed the bridge, I spotted the Minami-za Kabuki Theater, so of course I took some photos:
Minami-za Kabuki Theater

A few closeups:
Minami-za Kabuki Theater Close-up 1
Minami-za Kabuki Theater Close-up 2
Minami-za Kabuki Theater Close-up 3

The main road (Shijo Dori) through Gion goes for about half a kilometer or so, then ends at a shrine, Yasaka Jinja. Here’s a shot of the road from the front steps of the shrine.
Wandering around Shijo Dori

When I got to the shrine, all of the lanterns were lit up for the evening, so it looked really pretty. I took some photos, of course.

Entering the main gate:
Yasaka Jinja Main Gate

Heading to the stage:
Yasaka Jinja

One of the many lanterns at the shrine:
Yasaka Jinja Lanterns

Artsy shot as I get closer to the stage:
Yasaka Jinja Approaching the Stage

A few shots of the lanterns surrounding the stage:
Yasaka Jinja Stage 1
Yasaka Jinja Stage 3
Yasaka Jinja Stage 4

I really like this shot:
Yasaka Jinja Stage 5

The south gate of the shrine:
Yasaka Jinja Southern Gate

At this point, my Canon 60D’s battery crapped out, and I switched to the tiny little Canon IXY I kept in my pocket.

Another couple of shots of the stage, this time with the IXY:
Yasaka Jinja Stage 6
Yasaka Jinja Stage 7

A lantern with some tied up fortune slips (omikuji) to remove the bad luck from bad draws.
Yasaka Jinja Lanterns 3

Cool looking vending machine area:
Yasaka Jinja Vending Machines

Heading out and back to JR Kyoto Station:
Leaving Yasuka Jinja

It got to around 7:30, so I decided it was time to head back to the station so I don’t miss my train. It took 45 minutes or so just to get to the station, with all of the changing trains.

At one point, the subway car I was in just stopped at Shiyakushoumae (the station in front of the Kyoto city hall), and said, “That’s it. End of the line.” I needed to go one more stop. Vexing.

But I did get a good shot of the calorie-counting stairs!
Calorie-Counting Stairs at Shiyakushomae Subway Station, Kyoto.

I got back to JR Kyoto at 8:20, and headed to the restroom to freshen up. When I was done, I was in for a rather nasty surprise– there was no TP in the stall! I had to go back to the front of the restroom and buy toilet paper for 100 yen.

The joy of travel. I learn all kinds of new things every time.

I picked up my luggage from the various lockers I had stuffed it in, and made my way to the Shinkansen platform. I had time to kill, so I got an ekiben, which is short of 駅弁当 えきべんとう eki bentou, which winds up as えきべん or ekiben. A bentou is a meal served in a box. Sometimes it’s in a flashy, expensive box, and sometimes it’s just in a plastic box you recycle when you’re done. Ekibens are specialty bentous only sold at certain train stations. Every station has its own specialty.

I got mine, and waited for the train. It showed up, we got on, and then we had to wait 10 minutes for something to get cleared up, because someone somewhere hit an emergency button.

We all got lectured on how we should never do that.

The window seat was a terrible idea. The person in the aisle seat had built a fortress of luggage and crap that made it impossible for me to get to my seat without her having to move it all.

So when we were getting close to Nagoya, I almost killed myself falling over her crap trying to get to mine and get off of the train on time. My jacket got caught on something and everything just tumbled all over the car.

I’m never ever getting a window seat again.

I usually get aisle seats, no matter how long the trip is. I like being able to get out of my seat without too much fuss.

I managed to get off the train in Nagoya without any further incidents, took a moment to get sorted out, headed to platform 2 to catch my train to Okazaki… and promptly missed it by 30 seconds.

I had already used up that 吉 at L.L. Bean, it seems.

Or did I?

I managed to get a good waiting spot (I could lean on a post), and when the train came in, I was first in line, so I got a seat all the way back to Okazaki. Yay.

Don’t put your shinkansen ticket in the local train wicket. When I got to Okazaki, I had to go to the ticket office to get my tickets all sorted out because I did that. Oops.

I grabbed a cab home, and had a nice chat with the cabbie about the four seasons. In Japan, they are firmly convinced that they invented the concept of four distinct seasons, each with its own unique flavor.

Well, it’s interesting to point out that we have four very distinct seasons in the US, even more so depending on where you live, because there’s so much climatological variation here. How we celebrate the various seasons really does depend on where one lives.

In North Carolina, for instance, we have our own leaf-peeper season in fall, too. Just try to get a hotel room in Asheville in mid-October. I dare you. Summer is crazy hot here, spring is wonderful, and winter… well, winter can vary a bit, but it’s generally cold. Not much snow, but we get it. (In 2000, we got over two feet of it where I live.)

I got home, started up the washing machine, and crashed. It was a successful trip in all sorts of ways.

I want to go back to Kyoto and spend some serious time there drinking it all in.

But next time, I think I’ll do it in spring.

Nijo Castle (Sunday, Part 1)

 Japan, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Nijo Castle (Sunday, Part 1)
Nov 272011
 

Wow. If yesterday was busy, today might just have been busier. It’s a tough call.

I got up at 6:30, took my time getting ready, and then got stuck thinking about where I wanted to go to first, so I didn’t check out until 9:00 a.m.

When I got on the train to Kyoto at Shin-Osaka, it was jammed, so I had to stand all the way to Kyoto.

This was the start of a trend.

I got to Kyoto, and had to find a locker. This was a problem. Yesterday, I got to the station nice and early, around 8:30, so there were plenty of lockers to choose from.

But today, I only got in at around 9:45, and by then, about all of the lockers were gone. It was a fight to find something to cram my bags into. I really recommend getting to the station as early as possible if you want to use the lockers on the weekends. They fill up fast, especially the big ones Americans like me like to use.

I managed to find a locker eventually. B1F of Kyoto Station is your friend, locker-seeking people.

No Leaves? No Worries!

After that, I decided to go to Nijo Castle. My logic went like this: it’s historic, a World Heritage Site, and should be relatively devoid of leaf gawkers. Nijo Castle was the Kyoto residence of the Shoguns for over 200 years, so it’s a good place to visit in Kyoto if you want to see some history, and you’ve already had your fill of shrines and temples.

It was perfect for what I wanted. The grounds were great. Very attractive, but not full of fall colors to attract huge crowds. Well, there were some trees to look at, but since it wasn’t in any of the magazines, there wasn’t a huge crush of people.

Entering the main east gate:
Entering Nijo Castle

There was one guy who created a small stir around him– he was taking pictures of some kind of action figure around the castle. As long as it’s fun, keep on keepin’ on.
Photographing a Toy at Nijo Castle

The main castle was interesting. The main attraction for me were the “Nightingale Floors,” which squeaked like crazy so that nobody could sneak up on you.

Coming to the Kara-mon, which is the entry to the Ninomaru Palace (where the “Nightingale Floors” are.):
Kara-mon
Entering the Kara-mon:
Kara-mon
The old Carriage Receiving Area in front of the Ninomaru Palace:
Ninomaru Palace Carriage Approach

After my tour of the interior of the Ninomaru Palace (no photography allowed), I saw these two bells outside of the entry/exit:
Bells

I turned down a path that led into the Ninomaru Palace Garden, and turned back to look at the palace building:
Ninomaru Palace

Looking down at the Kuroshoin:
Kuroshoin

The main pond at the Ninomaru Palace Gardens:
Ninomaru Garden

After that, I headed to the Honmaru portion of Nijo Castle. Here’s the bridge over the inner moat, leading to the main gate to the Honmaru:
Bridge to Honmaru

Right after passing through the gate:
Entry to the Honmaru

The Honmaru is actually a building from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It replaces an older castle building here that burned down:
Honmaru
Another shot of the Honmaru, as I’m walking by:
Honmaru

After that, I climbed up the remains of the old donjon, where there’s a neat viewing platform, and took this photo of the Honmaru area:
View of the Honmaru from the old Donjon

Here’s a shot of the western gate leading out of the Honmaru, over the inner moat, from the top of the old Donjon:
Western Bridge out of the Honmaru

When I finished up the main route through the castle and grounds, I wound up at the far corner of things, about 1 Km away from the entrance, so I had to hike all the way back to the entrance. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

On the way to the exit, I found the Koun-Tei. (I think it’s a place to have tea?):
Koun-Tei
It looked beautiful reflected in the pond:
Koun-Tei Reflected in Pond

The landscaping was nice. The ginkgo trees were especially pretty, because their leaves were a brilliant shade of yellow:
Gingko Tree
Some gnarled-looking trees:
More Gnarled Trees

After all of that, I headed to the bus stop outside of the Castle. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next until I saw a bus go by that said “Kinkakuji” on it, and figured, “What the heck. I haven’t been there in a few years.” Then I looked inside the bus, and it was jammed all the way to the entrance doors. There was no way to even get on the bus, unless you just pushed your way on.

The people ahead of me in line were apparently not familiar with the concept of just cramming yourself in the bus, which is as applicable as it is on subways. It’s not like the next bus is going to be any LESS crowded, so you’re going to have to suck it up eventually if you want to get anywhere. There is no magically empty bus waiting for you, my dear princes and princesses. This is the height of tourist season, and everyone is on that bus, and everyone else is going to be on the next bus.

I met a nice guy from India while standing in line for the bus who went to the University of Michigan, so we chatted while waiting for the next bus to show up. Then we gritted our teeth and shoved our way on.

I’ll continue this in a “part 2” post, too, because it’s getting long.

Arashiyama (Saturday, Part 2)

 Japan, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Arashiyama (Saturday, Part 2)
Nov 262011
 

I was in Kyoto Station. I headed over to the platform to grab a train to Arashiyama, but first I grabbed some sandwiches at the shop there, and gobbled them down on the platform to save money on cafes. I almost missed my train.

I made it to Arashiyama, and headed out of the station there. The crowds were massive. As I headed out of the station, I saw a bicycle rental shop right there. I wasn’t interested this time (because it’s impossible to bike in these crowds), but it’s something to keep in mind for next time.

I headed towards the main street in Arashiyama, and it was jam-packed with people. That was almost more interesting than the shops and the few street performers I saw.

Arashiyama Main Street

Arashiyama’s main street is full of restaurants and souvenir shops that are designed to separate you from your cash. If you like browsing and eating, it’s definintely worth a trip.

I decided to head on over towards the giant bamboo forest I saw in one of the brochures for Arashiyama, because it looked interesting. In reality, it looked okay, but didn’t quite match up to the level of the magazines and brochures. (Of course.)

Sagano Bamboo Forest

I lowered my camera a bit, and you can see the crowds!
Sagano Bamboo Forest

One amazing thing: I spotted trash cans in Arashiyama! I could toss out my sandwich box from Kyoto Station there. Awesome. (No I did not take a picture. I probably should have.)

In the middle of the bamboo forest, I walked past a beautiful Shinto shrine, Nonomiya Jinja. It had great fall colors around its front gates, so there was a huge crowd trying to take pictures.
Nonomiya Jinja

Getting around was kind of difficult at times, because there was a rickshaw service whose rickshaws were pretty big, and they would force the pedestrians out of the way so one or two people could get by. One guy would run in front of the rickshaw to clear the mob of people out of the way so the rickshaw could go through (although usually it was 2 or 3 rickshaws), and then another guy would bring up the rear.

It was really annoying.

Train Spotting

After that, I came upon the main JR line, and had to wait for some trains to pass, so I took some train photos as they went by. I wasn’t the only person doing that. Trains are a bit of an obsession for some people here. It stands to reason: there’s a huge variety of models, and some of them look kind of cool. And there are enough varieties of trains and railway lines that fans can probably argue for days on end about which is the coolest.

I love this woman’s body language as the train approaches:
Train Crossing.

Yup, it’s a train all right!
Train Crossing.

Back into the bamboo forest for a bit more.
Sagano Bamboo Forest

My walking had an objective, and that was Nision-in temple. But I saw a lot of pretty sights along the way, like this cottage:
Cottage

And this really big field:
Open Field near Nison-in Temple.
Open Field near Nison-in Temple.

Looking back at the way I came (same really big field!):
Open Field near Nison-in Temple.

Nision-In Temple

I did some more walking, and then I finally wound up at Nision-in temple, on the side of a mountain. The views were great, and the foliage was pretty, too. I climbed the steep stone stairs up the side of the mountain for some great views of Arashiyama and Kyoto in the distance.

Entering the temple grounds:
Nison-in Grounds
Nison-in Grounds

Going through the gate (I like this photo a lot):
Nison-in Gate

Inside the temple grounds:
Nison-in

The Honden, if I remember correctly:
Nison-in

A big bell you could ring:
Nison-in Bell

Then I climbed a bunch of stairs into the cemetery on the top of the hill, and saw this beautiful view of Arashiyama and Kyoto:
View from the Cemetary
View from the Cemetary
View from the Cemetary

To give you an idea of how steep the stairs were– going down was a little scary:
Going Down is Scarier than Going Up

All in all, it’s a beautiful temple, and the walk there from the main street was also gorgeous as well. There were lots of fall colors and great scenery along the way. Another nice part about it: it wasn’t as crowded as the main street, and it definitely wasn’t as crowded as Kyoto.

Then I headed back towards the main street in Arashiyama again (still busy!):
Arashiyama Main Street

I took a short break on a bench by some vending machines. That was a lifesaver. I had a Coke. It was in one of those oil can style aluminum bottles I only see in Japan:
Have a Coke and a ...

Revived, I headed down the main street, all the way towards the Togetsukyou bridge, another famous Arashiyama landmark.
Heading Towards Togetsukyo Bridge.

The sun was starting to set, so the scenery around there was especially pretty. The sun goes behind the mountains pretty early in that part of Arashiyama.
Togetsukyo and the Oi River
Shops along the Oi River.
Shops along the Oi River.

After all of that, I decided to head back to Kyoto Station. I had some fun trying to find new ways to get to the JR station in Arashiyama, but I eventually got there.

Dinner Time

In Kyoto, I decided to have dinner at Kyoto Station, on the 11th floor in a place called The Cube, where you can find a bunch of different restaurants. Tonight I decided on an Italian restaurant that I had eaten at 4 years ago. The food was good then, and it was still good now.

500 yen got me 3 pieces of cheese, 3 slices of tomato, and some basil. Yikes. But I got a decent pizza for 1200 yen. I ordered a slice of cake for dessert that was only slightly more challenging than a Rubik’s Cube to open. It was bound in some kind of plastic that was apparently also used to seal away demons, but the cake was delicious.

Generally, food in Japan is expensive. Add to that the crappy dollar-yen conversion rate, and it’s even more expensive.

OMG Osaka!

Sated, I headed down to the lockers to get my bags out, and headed to Osaka for the night.

The train ride from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka only took about 23 minutes, then a 10 minute wander through the maze that is Shin-Osaka station to the subway, and 1 stop to Nishi-something-or-other to the hotel.

That’s an interesting neighborhood. I got a weird vibe as soon as I left the station, but I shrugged it off. I got to the hotel, settled in, cleaned up, and headed out to get some food: breakfast for tomorrow and a late evening snack.

As I was looking for the 7-11, I was propositioned by not 1, but 2 very eager “massage therapists.” Yeah, it turns out it was that kind of neighborhood. They were aggressive, too. But I just kept on walking, got my food, headed back (alone!), and passed out.

Long day, but lots of stuff done.

Tofukuji (Saturday, Part 1)

 Japan, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Tofukuji (Saturday, Part 1)
Nov 262011
 

Today was a very busy day.

Before I headed out for sightseeing, I tried begging at the APA Hotel for another night. No luck.

So I grabbed my stuff, and raced to Kyoto Station and managed to grab one of the last lockers in the basement area. They were pretty much full by 8:30 a.m.

Soft-sided luggage is a godsend, because I can squish it into a smaller locker. The softer, the better. The less of it, the better, too.

Then I grabbed a local train to Tofukuji to see the temple there.

On the way to Tofukuji, I saw my first pretty red leaves:

Fall Colors on the way to Tofukuji

As I was walking, I saw a place called Rikkyou-An, and it had a lovely garden inside.

Rikkyoku-An Gate/Garden

Rikkyoku-An Garden, Last Shot

The sign says, “Do not enter to take photos:”
Rikkyoku-An Garden and Gate

In Japan, people tend to follow the rules:
Shutter Chance! (Rikkyoku-An)

Then I arrived at the entrance to Tofukuji. It was packed, and the line was huge.

Outside of Tofukuji, Stading in Line.

Tofukuji

It seems as if all of Japan has descended on Kyoto to stare at red leaves. I started my day by going to Tofukuji Temple, which a number of magazines recommended as a top place to see the fall colors.

That was my first mistake: relying on popular Japanese travel magazines. Japan is a group-oriented society, and everyone reads the same things, including the same travel magazines, so everyone was at the same place.

It was insane. Scores of people cornering some random trees with red leaves, shooting photo after photo.

Yes, they’re pretty, but are they that pretty?

We’re surrounded by 1,400 years of culture, countless UNESCO World Heritage sites, and nobody cares. It’s all about the leaves.

It’s somewhat mystifying.

That said, I managed to get caught up in the leaf frenzy too. I found myself taking lots of pictures of red trees and their red, red, leaves.

Have a look:

This is the Tsutenkyo Bridge, from the entry to the temple:

Tsutenkyo Bridge, Tofukuji Temple

A little closer in:
Tsutenkyo Bridge, Tofukuji Temple

I finally got into the temple complex proper, and it was busy:
Tofukuji Temple, Main Buildings

We had to line up for all sorts of things:
Tofukuji Temple, Main Buildings

The crowd was crushingly heavy. Folks were pushing, elbows, shoulders, bodies, all straining to get the same perfect shot that everyone else has of the same red leaves.
Wandering around the temple grounds, Tofukuji
Tofukuji Grounds from Tsutenkyo Bridge
Tofukuji Temple, Fall Colors, and CROWDS

Looking back at the entryway I came across from my vantage point on the Tsutenkyo Bridge:
Entryway to Tofukuji

I wandered over to the Kaisando Hall:
Kaisando Hall
The Kaisando has a Wet Side:
Kaisando Hall-- The Water Side
And a Dry Side:
Kaisando Hall-- The Sandy Side

Then I started to head back. I saw this lovely gate. I forget which one it is, though:
Gate.

One last trip across the Tsutenkyo Bridge, fighting the crowds:
Tsutenkyo Bridge

And after an hour of that, I left. Tofukuji is a very nice place to visit just about any other time of the year. The do leaves make it really pretty. It’s just the crowds that make it unbearable. Pick a weekday or come some other time of year.

I ran into a couple from the U.S., and we engaged in that usual activity of foreigners in Japan, which is a bit of head-shaking at the things we don’t quite understand. I’m sure everyone does it a bit when they travel somewhere.

Goodbye Welcome Inn

I headed back to the station. It was 11 a.m., so I stopped by the Welcome Inn Reservation Center for the last time. They are closing it permanently after the 30th. Shoot. Anyway, I tried to see if I could scrounge up a western-style hotel room, in a 40-mile radius, but didn’t have any luck. The lady suggested that I try the travel agencies in the station.

I decided to give Nippon Travel a shot, and waited a bit to see an agent. He managed to find the last hotel room in Osaka, at the Business Hotel Consort. I took it for 5,000 yen. What the heck. It’s not the most exciting name for a hotel, but beggars can’t be choosers tonight. My only other option is sacking out at an internet cafe, and while I’d like to try that sometime, I’m fine with being in a regular hotel, too.

After reserving a room for the night, I went to the Kyoto City info center for ideas, because after dealing with the morning’s crowds, I was stumped for what to do next. I didn’t want to go to another temple or shrine that was as crowded as Tofukuji and fight leaf peepers all day.

I asked one of the consultants there if there was a way to avoid the crowds and still soak in some of the Kyoto atmosphere.

He laughed.

Then he recommended Arashiyama. It was actually a pretty good idea, because Arashiyama has enough room to spread out.

Sort of. Anyway, Arashiyama is pretty.

This post is already long because of the photos, so let’s continue it in part two.

First Night in Kyoto

 Food, Japan, Japanese Language, Photography, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on First Night in Kyoto
Nov 252011
 

Man, I’m tired. I raced back to the apartment after JBPP, frantically packed, tossed out anything I didn’t need, repacked, still had too much, but left anyway. Yuck. Too heavy. I tried to take the bike to the station, but realized instantly that that was a horrible idea. The walk to the station wasn’t much better.

I really want to be one of those dudes who can just travel with a toothbrush and a spare pair of underpants. Seriously, how do they do that?

I managed to get a seat on the train to Nagoya, then grabbed a Nozomi to Kyoto.

PINning Down My Tickets

Here’s a tip: if you want to use a credit card, and you don’t have or remember your PIN number, buy your shinkansen tickets at a smaller station and talk to a human, if you can speak Japanese.

If you can’t, then go to the bigger stations, like Nagoya or Tokyo, and stand in line. The people working the counters there speak excellent English, or can find someone who does. (I learned this in 2007.)

If I had gotten my ticket at Okazaki instead of Nagoya, I would have saved 20-30 minutes of standing in line.

If you have/know your PIN, just use the machines. It’s a LOT faster. But if you’re trying to do something complex, humans are more helpful.

Hello Kyoto

I got to Kyoto at around 6:30, then headed straight to the APA Hotel, which was right outside of JR Kyoto. Fortunately, I had my confirmation number with me, because nobody in either Japan or the US can spell my name to save their lives.

The room was okay, but pricey: 10,000 yen.

I checked in, crashed for a few minutes, then headed over to Bic Camera to finally get a circular polarizer. I’ve been putting off buying one for too long. I looked around a bit, and found one.

Then I headed up to the restaurants on the 11th floor of Isetan, because it was starting to get late.

The Christmas decorations are already up:

Xmas Decorations, Kyoto Station

I found a good okonomiyaki shop, and had a good modern yaki with bacon. That’s good stuff!

After that, I headed down to the second floor of the station, and went to Cafe du Monde for a beignet… only to find out that the Cafe du Monde in Kyoto Station does not serve beignets. What the hell?? It’s Cafe freakin’ du Monde! They do sell hot dogs and coffee. But no beignets? There was a Mister Donut next to it, so I waited for 10 minutes and ordered some donut-looking things from them.

It Has a Hole in the Middle

As I headed out of the station, I took a couple of photos of the Kyoto Tower Hotel, which was very purple tonight:

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

Then I went to the Lawson outside of the station, and it was jammed full of people. It was a madhouse. I decided to go ahead and get breakfast as well as beverages, because I wanted to save a trip here in the morning. (Seriously, it was nuts.)

I headed back to the room.

My room if full of amenities. See?

The Hotel's Amenities!

Then I ate my donuts. The MisDo (as they call Mister Donut here) donuts were really mediocre, like not very good grocery store donuts that had all of the flavor chased out of them by the bland police. Frankly, Harris-Teeter’s chocolate donuts taste better, and they’re average at best.

Now I understand why the lines at Krispy Kreme are so long here; these people haven’t been eating proper doughnuts! (There’s a difference between donuts and doughnuts, but I don’t want to get into it right now.)

The MisDo chocolate donut just tasted like it was… brown flavored.

I called home to let them know I was still alive, then I sacked out early. Gotta get up early, too. Tomorrow will probably be chaotic on a level I haven’t seen yet.

My Manly Hat

 Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on My Manly Hat
Nov 242011
 

Two of my classmates, N-san and the other N-san, mocked my 1000 yen gloves. They told me that I should have bought them at the Daiso, the local 100 yen shop. Of course, they pride themselves on getting the absolute best bargains, no matter what.

But I’m a little leery of buying 100 yen clothes, because I’m afraid I’m going to get some kind of awful rash or something. “It’s 100 yen for a reason,” is how I see it.

That said, tonight was extra cold, so on my way to ZigZag, when I stopped off at the Daiso to look for light bulbs (mine have been dying off at an alarming rate), I found a great 100 yen 男前 otokomae, or “manly” hat.

I couldn’t find any decent light bulbs, though.

The hat itches like hell, and looks like a 100 yen hat. But it keeps my head warm.

No rash, either. Not yet, anyway.

It’s black, so it makes me look like a burglar in one of those Hollywood “heist” movies.

In other news, D who runs ZigZag says he’ll take my excess supplies. That’s good news. It would be awful if I was forced to throw them away when I leave in a few weeks. I’m sure he can make something delicious out of them.

I managed to find a hotel for Kyoto… for Friday night. No luck at all for Saturday night. The whole town is booked solid. I’ll probably just stay at an Internet cafe. It’ll be an adventure!

Feeling the Heat, and the Cold

 Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Feeling the Heat, and the Cold
Nov 232011
 

Today was the real deal interview test in JBPP. That was pressure I could feel.

The interviewers were a couple of our teachers, but it was still stressful, because they were asking hard questions, and I not only had to answer in Japanese, I had to answer in the proper degree of polite Japanese.

That’s enough to make my brain melt a little.

I also had to remember to knock, open the door, bow, stand, sit, etc. all in the proper fashion.

It’s a lot to remember, but I think I did okay.

Family Mart Rocks

After class, I went to Domy to get some groceries, and got some good deals on the various stuff on sale, like bananas.

It’s been really cold these past few days, and I’ve been miserable. I really underpacked for the weather, and the lack of American-sized clothes here is killing me. I can’t find anywhere around here that sells anything larger than a medium.

Japan’s XL is America’s M. Well, slightly larger than M, but effectively M, because it’s smaller than L even. Japan’s XXL is just about an L. I’m an XL guy, so it’s been an exercise in futility trying to find anything that would fit me.

Even if I drop 20-30 pounds, it won’t change the fact that I have big lungs, big shoulders, and a large rib cage.

But on my way out of the Family Mart tonight, I got a reprieve. I saw that they were selling Thinsulate gloves for 1000 yen. That will help a lot. They even offered to cut the tags off for me at the register.

That was pretty awesome.

Brief Update

 Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Brief Update
Nov 212011
 

I got my sakubun test results back: I did pretty well, so I’m pleased.

Today in JBPP, we practiced asking for favors. It appears that doing so requires a great deal of the proper cushioning.

This week looks like it’s going to be pretty quiet, so I’m going to try to go to Kyoto from Friday – Sunday if I can find a room.

That’s going to be hard, because the leaves are peaking, and all of Japan wants to go there.

Okazaki-jo and Anjo

 Japan, Japanese Language, Photography, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Okazaki-jo and Anjo
Nov 202011
 

I decided to go to Okazaki Castle today, to continue my Tokugawa-themed weekend. The weather started out really nice today, so I just wore a T-shirt and my black windbreaker, because it was a little windy.

There are two options to get to the Castle from where I live. Option one: walk/bike there. It’s about 3 miles away, so it’ll take about 30 minutes or so. I would also have to walk/bike back. Option two: take the train. Sounds much faster, but it isn’t. Upside is that at least by taking the train, I don’t use up too much energy to do so. (Other than the energy it takes to get to JR Okazaki.)

On the way to the station, I took a few photos:

The bike shop that moved out a few weeks ago has already been turned into a flat lot. That was fast.

Asahi Bicycles' Old Store is GONE

I pass by this rice field every day on the way to school. It’s a little strange having a rice field in the middle of a sprawling suburban city like Okazaki, but it’s also kind of cool.

Rice Field on the Way to Yamasa

I like the dog’s expression in this sign:

Don't Let Your Dog Poo in the Rice Field!

To get to the castle, I needed to take the Aichi Line, and one thing to keep in mind is that the Aichi Line isn’t run by JR. It’s a different company, so I needed a different ticket, which I could buy outside of the wicket.

Like a doofus, I used my SUICA card, and caused all sorts of problems when I got to the station near Okazaki Castle. I’m sure they see that all the time, though. A few hundred yen and a ticket later, everything was solved.

The Matsudairas’ Place

I got to Okazaki Castle Park, and made my way to the castle.

Here’s a map so we don’t get lost:

The Map to Okazaki Park

First, the park. This bridge leads to a shrine I didn’t go to, but it’s very photogenic:

Sacred Bridge and Fountain

Sacred Bridge-- yet another Perspective

The park was very pretty, and I bet it would be even more so in Spring.

The castle itself is five stories high, and hiding behind a couple of pine trees.

Okazaki Castle-- Main Building (Horizontal)

There were two tickets available. For 200 yen, you can just go up the castle, or for 500 yen, you can go up the castle and to the Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushido Museum next door. I paid 500 yen, because it sounded like a good deal to me.

As I climbed up the donjon, I took a look at the various exhibits about Okazaki’s various feudal lords, and some of the stuff they found on the site. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but interesting if you live in Okazaki, and can read/speak Japanese.

One fact of note: it’s not the original castle. Most of the castles you see in Japan aren’t original. Many were torn down after the Meiji Restoration, or were destroyed in World War II. Most were rebuilt in the 1950s to spur on tourism, and/or preserve history, depending on your point of view. How accurate they are is a good question.

I made it to the 5th floor observation deck, and the wind was just howling. It must have been around 30-40 MPH, and it was cold. I was starting to regret my wardrobe choice. I really need more warm clothes. It’s getting chilly here!

There was a chain link fence up all around the balcony, so I couldn’t use my Canon EOS to take pictures.

This is what happens with a regular SLR:

Okazaki from the Castle Roof. Fence in the way.

Instead, I snuck the lens of my IXY through the gaps in the grid to get some decent shots of the Okazaki skyline. About as decent as you’ll get for a 13,000 yen camera, anyway.

I knitted some of the shots into a panorama or two. The first one is a wee bit wobbly if you zoom in on it at Flickr.

Okazaki Panorama

Okazaki Panorama #3

I headed down and took some photos of the park and the exterior of the castle and the museum, and went inside.

A statute of Motoyasu Matsudaira (who I’m pretty sure became Tokugawa Ieyasu):

Statue of Motoyasu Matsudaira

A really cool clock made out of flowers:

Flower Clock

Another interesting clock closer to the museum:

Mechanical Clock Tower

Finally, the Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushido Museum:

The Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushido Museum

The museum is all about the Tokugawas and the battle of Sekigahara. Pretty interesting stuff, if you know your Japanese history. (I’m a little shaky.) They had the famous spear Tonbogiri as well. Well, the spearhead, anyway. One of Ieyasu’s generals wielded that one.

They had a neat exhibit where you could try lifting some mock weapons to see how heavy the real things were, and they had some armor you could try on to see how “comfortable” it was. Not bad for 300 yen.

If you have kids, that might be pretty fun if you’re in or near Okazaki for the day. Not fun enough to bring them across Japan to see it, unless they’re really big history buffs, but fun if you’re close by.

Yeah, I Like Shodo, So Sumi!

After that, I headed off to Anjo to pick up some calligraphy brushes for a friend of mine back in the US. I found a promising-looking shop by doing lots of searching online in Google Maps. The tricky bit is knowing what search terms to use. That took a bit of work, actually.

Leaving the park and heading back to the station to go to Anjo:

Iga RIver and Tatsuki Bridge

I took the Meitetsu line to Shin-Anjo and walked about half a kilometer to the shop. The lady there helped me a lot. She showed me some of their brushes, and let me try one out with water and one of those sheets that you can write with water on. You write with water on it, and it gets dark, then as it dries, it goes back to being all the same color again. It’s good for practicing calligraphy, or just for trying out brushes, but keep in mind that water does not flow like real ink does.

I found a good brush for my friend for around 3,000 yen (which is a good price for a practice brush), and then started searching for good practice-grade paper. I learned a lot about paper that day from the shop owner.

I have so much to learn about calligraphy, that I could probably spend the rest of my life on that alone and not even get close to mastering it. But I did find some good practice paper. I got 1,000 sheets for myself, and I’ll come back before I leave to pick up 1,000 more for my friend.

We chatted a bit in Japanese. I keep saying it, but it’s true: knowing some Japanese is the key to having everything go smoothly here.

Why? Because she gave me some freebies and a discount, too!

I think seeing a foreigner who could speak Japanese and write with a brush come to her shop to buy calligraphy supplies made her day. It was a great experience for me, too.

By the time I finished up with my purchases, it was already dark, and time to head home. As I opened the shop door to leave, the first thing that I noticed was that it was freezing outside.

Note to self: next time, check the weather forecast before you go out!

Also, buy some warmer gear!

I’m Only Happy When It Rains

 Japan, Japanese Language, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on I’m Only Happy When It Rains
Nov 192011
 

It was pouring rain, but I decided to go to Nagoya anyway. Since my plans to go to Kyoto this weekend were ruined, I refused to sit in my apartment all day. I was itching to go out and do something.

My pants got soaked twice by the time I rode my bike to the station. I stopped off on the way to the station at the school, and hung out in Aoi Hall for a few minutes while I tried to dry off. Then when I headed back out again, I got soaked almost immediately.

I have a pair of North Face hiking pants that are supposed to dry quickly, and they do, but they also get wet quickly in a downpour, umbrella or no umbrella. Oh well.

Nothing Is More Refreshing Than the Rain

Meanwhile, at the station, JR Tokai was having its “Sawayaka Walking Tour,” or “Refreshing Walking Tour” of Okazaki event going on today. They are holding the event all over the Tokai region on various days.

I suppose it’s refreshing today, in the same way a cold shower while being fully clothed is refreshing.

I grabbed a train to Nagoya, and headed to the Mermaid Cafe for a quick bite because I skipped breakfast. Then I went to the information booth at the station to find the fastest way to get to the Tokugawa Art Museum. I started asking in Japanese, but she forced me into English.

I didn’t think my Japanese was that bad. Maybe her desire to use English was just stronger than my desire to use Japanese.

She showed me the city bus lines and the tourist bus lines. I decided on the city line, because it was cheaper, and because I thought it would be faster.

Back out in the soaking rain, the bus shows up at 2:35 instead of 2:20, and doesn’t get to the stop I want until 3:10.

Maybe the tourist buses would have been faster.

Also, every time the bus stopped, the engine cut off. Every time it got ready to move, the engine started up, and the driver announced that he’s going to move the bus.

That’s one major difference between Japan and the US.

The Tokugawa Art Museum

I got off at my stop and started trying to find the museum, and it was still pouring rain. I got soaked for the fourth time by now, I think. I found it eventually.

Here it is!

Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya 2

The museum had some really neat exhibits. There were swords from the 12th century on display, and a special exhibition of a lot of material from the Tale of Genji— manuscripts, etc., and they had a lot of tea ceremony stuff and incense burners on display, too. Actually, they had quite a lot of those on display.

If you like cultural stuff, then I’d recommend it.

The gardens are supposed to be really nice, but since it was late Fall and pouring rain, I can’t say one way or another.

You be the judge:

Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya 3

More Book Shopping!

At 4:30, I headed out and grabbed a cab to go to Ozone station. The driver was a nice guy. We had a nice talk about politics, in Japanese, of course.

Once again, I must reiterate the importance of speaking the language, wherever you go. You don’t have to be great at it, but people will generally appreciate it if you try to speak their language. I find I get a whole lot more out of living here by speaking Japanese. I can’t imagine living here longer than a few weeks without speaking it.

Also, talking to everyone in Japanese is great practice. And fun, too! I learn a whole lot more about Japan by talking to people than by reading books or watching TV. Maybe it’s my reporter background kicking in.

From Ozone, I took a JR line train to Chi-something, then grabbed the subway to Sakae to look at a couple of calligraphy supply shops. The first one was pretty good. It’s in one of the municipal buildings, and has a really good selection.

The second shop one was more of an art supply shop, and didn’t have what I was looking for, but it still had some nice stuff if you’re into brush painting more so than calligraphy.

After that, I headed to Osu again. I found a couple of used games, and did a little shopping at a book store where the music was so loud, I thought my ears were going to bleed. I stopped by Mandarake, because they have used games as well as interesting old toys, too. (Like old Godzillas and stuff like that. All ungodly expensive, but it sure takes me back!)

Then I went back to JR Nagoya, to check out Sanseido on the 11th floor. They have a nice collection of books for Japanese language learners, but it took me a few minutes to find it.

After that, I picked up some more doughnuts at Krispy Kreme, then stopped at Mokumoku for dinner.

I got home around 10:30 pm, by which time the rain had stopped, so my bike ride home wasn’t so bad. I got a full day in in spite of the rain.

I win!

Cushion Words Are Not a Kind of Pillow Talk

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on Cushion Words Are Not a Kind of Pillow Talk
Nov 182011
 

Woot. Friday. The weeks are getting more intense, work-wise.

I talked to one of my classmates, P-san, for a bit. She’s a nice person, and easy to talk to. We usually wind up talking in English instead of Japanese. She’s got a lot of interesting things to say, and she’s been through a lot, so it’s always fun to compare notes with someone who’s experienced a lot.

He Stuffs His Phrases with Cushions!

JBPP was about asking people for favors again, using lots of “cushion words.” Sounds much more comfortable than it is.

The concept is that some things are just not to be broached without a set phrase to “soften the blow.” And these phrases are called “cushion words.”

For example, you might start off by apologizing (without the other party even knowing why, but that’s what works), or apologizing for interrupting, or apologizing for interrupting at such a busy time, etc.

And the request itself is softened, too. “I realize that you’re terribly busy, but if you have a moment today, could you please take a look at this, it would really be a great help.”

That sort of thing, only in polite Japanese.

We use cushion words in English, too, but I think my fellow Americans use much less padding sometimes, at least internally. For dealing with customers, we use a lot of cushion words, too, we just may not realize it.

Beer + FaceBook = Bad Choices

This evening I went to ZigZag for dinner and a beer again.

I was reminded again that people can be scary, no matter what country you’re in. Alchol makes this worse.

Tonight’s example: One of the local women was trying to stalk one of the students online because she fell in love with his hair. To be more precise, she fell in love with a picture of him, so she wanted his name so she could find his FaceBook page… yeah.

So now you know where stalkers sometimes come from: beer + Facebook.

Not to Brag, But I Think I Did Well on My Tests…

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on Not to Brag, But I Think I Did Well on My Tests…
Nov 172011
 

The writing and conversation exams weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. It turned out that we could use what we had written beforehand and just copy everything over in class. I’m glad K-san pointed that out to me, or else I would have been totally screwed.

Part of the whole Yamasa experience is learning how they do things here. There’s so much they do here that’s just not how I’m used to doing things, and sometimes the details that everyone just sort of “knows” can slip by a newbie like me.

I really have to ask even more questions than I normally ask!

Fortunately, the conversation exam was pretty much the same as we had practiced in class. I decided to raise the politeness level a bit, and use some of the business Japanese knowledge I have picked up here. I made a couple of mistakes, but overall I think I did okay.

Regardless of test scores, I know that my speaking and writing ability have improved a great deal over the last month of class. Class here is intense, and every day feels like a week of Japanese compared to when I took it in grad school. I wish I had more time and money to spend more than just three months here, but that’s life. I’m trying to wring as much out of this experience as I can, both in polishing my Japanese, gaining marketable skills, and enjoying being here.

One of the lessons I have learned many times over in life is to enjoy things while I can, because I can never take for granted that “Oh, it’ll always be there, so I can just go back.” Sadly, the world is not that predictable.

There’s a Right and a Wrong Way To Open a Door.

Today’s JBPP class was on “How to Conduct Yourself in a Job Interview.”

There’s a whole pile of social knowledge tied into how to open doors, when and where to bow, how to sit, where to put your hands, where to look, all of that. It’s somewhat stressful, because there’s so much to keep straight without one’s head exploding.

Yes, there is a right way to open a door, and a wrong way to do it, down to the number of times you knock. Even approaching and sitting down in the interviewee’s chair is a task that is fraught with peril. For example, never, ever, stand to the right of the chair. Why? Because it implies that you think you’re better than the company, which is represented by the chair.

I had no clue.

Also, never sit back in the chair. You have to sit on the edge of your seat. I’m not sure exactly why– I think it has to do with a feeling that if you sit back in the seat, you think you’re hot stuff, and an interview is not some place to get comfortable and show off. You need to show a certain amount of respect with your body language, and using the chair back does not convey that to Japanese interviewers.

You’re also not supposed to show off. In the US, interviewers expect a certain amount of self-marketing, to the point where job-seekers will point out how often they’ve been indispensable to every organization they’ve worked with. (In which case, why are they unemployed?)

In Japan, you have to walk a really careful line about that, because the culture here frowns on boasting, and loves the whole modesty thing, even if it’s false modesty. As my mother would say, “It’s just not done.” Germans and Japanese have a lot in common that way.

I imagine it’s going to take me a while to figure out how to walk that tightrope.

ZigZag Heals All Wounds

In the evening, I went to ZigZag again for dinner, socializing, and the cheapest Guinness stout in all of Japan. It’s one of my favorite places to kick back and relax.

Yay, ZigZag!

I Regret Nothing… Except Maybe Not Buying a Decent Binder.

 Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on I Regret Nothing… Except Maybe Not Buying a Decent Binder.
Nov 152011
 

Had to skip first period today because I wasn’t feeling too well. I’m still feeling crummy tonight, but I soldiered on and went to class anyway.

We have a conversation and composition exam on Thursday, and I need to get ready for that. I have to finish my “regrettable episode” essay for that, and I’m racking my brain to think of something suitably regrettable. I’ll look over some of my previous posts for fodder.

I spent all evening trying to organize my in-class handouts, only to realize that it’s impossible with the tools that I have. We get these giant handouts that are the size of giant place mats, and they’re really difficult to wrangle.

I have tried to cut them in two and stuff them into these “clear file” binder things, but while it works well for the JBPP handouts, it’s not really cutting it for the giant class handouts. The JBPP handouts are A4-sized, so it’s easier to fit them in.

I took a look at what some of my classmates do for the general class stuff, and what I think what really need are binders and a hole punch. Trying to fit these giant printouts in a clear file is just not going to work unless I cut the handouts to ribbons.

Oh, those cool erasable pens everyone’s using? Yeah, turns out the ink will vanish when exposed to high temperatures. Better not leave my notes on the car dashboard or anything like that. Yikes.

I Thought I Smelled Smoke…

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on I Thought I Smelled Smoke…
Nov 142011
 

There was a fire this morning down the street. I heard the sirens wailing all morning long. I figured something was up, but since the earth didn’t shake any, I didn’t think it was anything too widespread. S-kun from class talked to the police, and they said it was probably caused by a cigarette– somebody fell asleep smoking. Apparently that happens a lot here.

Unlike the US, Japan still like cigarettes.

I lucked out in one regard today: S-sensei skipped today’s quiz. It was nice to have a break from that for a change. Mondays are still a little rough. Okay, not as rough as they could be.

I learned some fun new phrases in JBPP today: ご遠慮なく and ご心配なく (Don’t hold yourself back, and don’t worry, but very polite versions.) I also learned that 後ほど can be anything from 15 minutes to never. Sort of like “later,” I guess.

Makes Me Want to Eat My Phone!

 Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Makes Me Want to Eat My Phone!
Nov 132011
 

Started off the day by going to Book-Off in Okazaki on 248 to check on a few things. For starters, don’t even bother trying to find Japanese textbooks at Book-Off, because they don’t seem to carry them. I did find some other cheap books there, though.

I headed back to the apartment to drop off my used books, then headed to JR Okazaki to head off to Nagoya again. It was a late start, so I didn’t get to Nagoya until 3:30, and I finally got to Maruzen in Sakae around 4:30 or so. I spent a lot of time looking at book covers. Maruzen has a lot of book covers there, and in a lot of sizes, but unfortunately, they don’t have any big enough to deal with the ultra-thick books I’ve been buying lately.

I went back to the 3rd floor to look at the Japanese language education books again. They have a really good selection. I picked up some good practice books, because for some reason, I suck at particles. I really want to fix the stuff I keep getting wrong.

I Discovered Oatmeal!

Then I went to the grocery store next door, it’s in the Meiji-ya Sakae building. (Look for 明治屋栄.)

The store had a lot of neat “foreign” foods, and a nice selection. It even had Odlum’s Steel Cut Oats, which are sold in the U.S. as McCann’s. Of course, now I feel like a fool for shipping so much oatmeal over in the first place, but I had no idea they would have oatmeal, let alone proper steel cut oatmeal, in Japan. It’s really smashing stuff for breakfast.

Book-Off was having a 105 yen sale, so I grabbed a few books (yeah, I just bought some in Okazaki, now I’m buying more in Sakae).

After that, I headed over to Osu to see if I could find the Kenkyuusha dictionary for my electronic dictionary at the big electronics store there. No luck. I went to one of the used video game stores there, and found Valkyria Chronicles 3 for the PSP for 1200 yen.

This Time, Try Asking Someone

I decided to go back to JR Nagoya and check Bic Camera again to see if I could get my hands on that Kenkyuusha dictionary. This time I decided to ask around a bit. After some asking around and explaining, the salesperson found a copy of the dictionary I wanted. It’s the Kenkyuusha 5th edition 和英 dictionary for the Casio electronic dictionaries. Score!

I used all of the points I had saved up for now to reduce the cost of the dictionary by about 2500 yen. See, this is where point cards are really handy. A 12,000 yen dictionary only cost me about 9,500 yen. Still expensive, but much cheaper than the paper version, which runs around 20,000 yen, and it fits in my pocket. (Sort of.)

Makes Me Want to Eat My Phone

I looked around to see if I could find a privacy guard for my Nexus One. I couldn’t find one that would fit, but I did see a lot of crap I can glue on my cell phone.

They had all kinds of fake crystals and candy and cupcakes and such… I think I’ll pass for now. I don’t want to cut my hands to shreds on platic candy. (Or see plastic candy all the time and get hungry.)

All of this running around made me hungry, so I headed to Mokumoku again to store up on more vegetables and that great beef stew. I really needed those veggies, even if they cost 2500 yen. (Hey, it’s all you can eat.) Dinner was once again delicious, even if my wallet took a hit. I’ll make up for it during the week by eating cheaply.

I know, I could buy local vegetables and make them more cheaply, but I don’t have the time for it right now.

I made it back to JR Okazaki at 10 pm, and got home at about 10:15 or so. I stopped at Family Mart to get some sandwiches, because I eat Spartan during the week. (If Spartans ate pre-made convenience store ham sandwiches, anyway.)

Installing the Dictionary

I spent about an hour installing the dictionary. I had to run it in Vista emulation mode to get it to run in Win 7-64, then I had to load a piece of software from the Casio website just to get the laptop to recognize the electronic dictionary. Pain in the butt, but it works.

If you have trouble installing dictionaries or getting your Casio recognized by Windows 7, I would head to the Casio Japanese website and look for the bonus software for the Ex-Word series. Installing it will install the correct USB drivers for detecting the Ex-Word series of electronic dictionaries. Now you can run the install software on the dictionary disc.

The good news is that you only have to do it once.

The Student’s New Clothes

Now I need to find some big & tall sports clothes. My North Face shirts are rapidly disintegrating, and it’s getting colder these days. Apparently, the velcro on my pants is chewing up the special knit fabric on the North Face shirts, so the net effect is that my shirts are rapidly getting torn up.

Argh.

The main problem is that Japanese men’s clothing sizes don’t go much beyond the US M size. That’s right, their XL is just a bit baggier than our M.

Nagoya and the Port Area.

 Japan, Photography, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Nagoya and the Port Area.
Nov 122011
 

It’s Saturday, and the sun was out. Amazing. Not one cloud in the sky.

I felt that I must go on an excursion in this lovely weather!

Carrier!

While I planned out the day’s activities, I watched a college basketball game between UNC (my alma mater) and Michigan State on an aircraft carrier in California via the Slingbox, which has decided to work again.

It’s weird when you think about it. From Japan, I watched a team from North Carolina play a team from Michigan on the deck of a ship in California, then the signal went to my house in NC, where it was then sent to me in Japan.

That kind of makes my head hurt.

After the game ended, I headed out to the station, and off to Nagoya. I noticed two things on the train ride over. First, the engineer was a woman. She’s the first woman engineer I’ve noticed so far. Cool. The second was not so cool. There was this really odd guy who was talking to himself, gesturing wildly, and going through incredible mood swings as trains came and went. I was just hoping he wouldn’t decide to suddenly heed the voice telling him to kill the big guy with the red hair 5 seats back.

There was also a guy in capri pants. No I don’t know why.

I got off at Kaneyama, so i could go to Atsuta Jinja, which is a pretty nice Shinto shrine in Nagoya with lots of history behind it. It’s where I saw an Iaido demo four years ago. It’s very park-like, but not very remarkable otherwise. It’s a nice place for a stroll, though. I was kind of hoping for something photo-worthy, but didn’t take any. Nothing really worth digging the camera out for. That said, it’s worth a trip if you’re in the area. It’s a nice place with a lot of history.

I did see a sakura tree blooming in the wrong season. So I can check that off the list. After the Nagoya Castle trip, I was kind of surprised to run into one there.

I probably should have taken a picture, but it wasn’t all that impressive, since all of the leaves were gone.

Port Call

After that, I headed to the subway station and took the train to the Port area. Getting to the Port area can be tricky if you don’t know your way around Nagoya’s subway. The purple line goes around Nagoya in a big circle, and then there’s a tail or spur of it that goes on to the Port area. You have to figure out which train you need to ride to get there. I managed to figure it out and headed down to the Port area, which took about 10-15 minutes. It’s at the end of the line.

I got out and wandered around a little bit. The first thing I noticed was a big orange boat.

Icebreaker "Fuji" at Nagoya Port -- Closeup

The second thing I noticed was a Red Lobster.

Red Lobster.

Why there was a Red Lobster in Japan is one of those unanswerable questions for me. By the Port, no less. In a land that specializes in fresh seafood.

WHYYYY???

The area has a charm to it. I like the Port Bridge:

Fuji and Port Bridge

Speaking of fresh seafood, right next to the Red Lobster was the Nagoya Aquarium, which was chock full of aquatic species.

Port Bridge and Aquarium
Since it was one of my objectives for the day, I headed on over. First off was the dolphin tank. They were very cute, but the water was kind of dirty.

Then I headed up to have a look at the dolphin show. It was included in the price of the ticket, so I might as well have a look. The dolphins were impressive, but I always have mixed feelings about performing dolphins. On the one hand, I’d rather they were free to do whatever they wanted to. But on the other, dolphins quite often get the short end of the stick in the wild, no thanks to us. And they did some impressive stuff.

After that, I headed to the aquarium proper, to do some staring at fish. There are lots of fish to stare at. I dunno… I’m not a huge fan of fish-staring. I tend to walk quickly through aquariums, unless they have something distinctive to hook me.

Fish sufficiently stared at, I left, and headed over to the Port Bridge, which is an interestingly designed footbridge that lets you cross one over from one side of the Port area to the other. (Well, I say Port area, but this is really just one little harbor. The whole Port area is much bigger.)

Port Bridge Sign

Crossing the Port Bridge

Some of the views from the bridge:

First the former icebreaker-turned-museum “Fuji”:

Retired Icebreaker Fuji

Another shot of the Aquarium:

Port of Nagoya Aquarium

And a shot of a passenger boat coming into port:

Ship pulling into dock.

After that, I headed to the oddly-shaped Port Building, which has a really neat observation deck about 50 meters or so above the ground. There are some great views from there. I had to hustle to get there before everything closed, of course. Downside was that because I still haven’t bought a circular polarizer, I had a lot of reflections in the shots I took. Ugh. But I managed to get a few keepers. The views were spectacular as the sun set over the bay.

Sorry about the reflections!

View from the Port Building

Some shots of the port area:

Aquarium, Bridge, Fuji, etc.

A zoom-in of the amusement park:

Ferris Wheel at Sunset

A shot of the dolphin show stadium at the aquarium:

Port of Nagoya Aquarium

I like this angled shot:

Aquarium, Bridge, Fuji, etc.

The Triton bridge, off in the distance:

Nagoya Port, Triton Bridge

One last shot of the port area:

One last shot of the Port Area

Finally, a shot looking towards downtown Nagoya:

Midtown in the Distance

This Really Is Turning Into A Shopping Blog, Isn’t It?

After that, I headed to Sakae and Book-Off, and had no luck finding books on Japanese Language study generally, and Minna no Nihongo, specifically. Naturally, tons of books in Japanese, but none of the books I wanted on Japanese, like textbooks and such. Well, I did find one. And I did find some light novels, too. I headed to Hisayaodori afterwards to pick up some new light novels as well.

I hopped a train to JR Nagoya and first stopped off at Krispy Kreme to get some doughnuts for snacking later this week, then dropped everything in a locker because it was getting heavy.

I headed to Bic Camera after that to see what was going on with the PS Vita pre-sales. They had finally managed to sell-out their pre-orders. I also took a look to see if they had any extra dictionaries for my Casio, but no luck. I’m trying to find the Kenkyuusha Japanese-English Dictionary for my new electronic dictionary.

I went to Mokumoku for dinner again. 食べ放題 (たべほうだい tabehoudai– all you can eat) is a scary thing. Mokumoku has some great food, especially the beef stew. It’s also good to get some vegetables in my system. I really can’t recommend Mokumoku enough if you just want to pound down some really fine organic food in Nagoya. It’s a little pricey, but then again, everything is pricey here.

I got home at 10:45 p.m. Long day, but fun.

Happy Pocky Day!

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on Happy Pocky Day!
Nov 112011
 

It’s Pocky Day here in Japan. In the US, it’s Veteran’s Day, because World War I ended on this day in 1918.

But we’re in Japan, and nobody cares about old European wars when you can have Pocky.

If you look at the numbers, 11-11-11, they all look like happy sticks of chocolate-covered Pocky, just waiting to be eaten!

Re-Making the Grade

Yesterday I got my grade back for my Bannou Fuku Meido presentation a couple of weeks ago. Not bad, considering where I’m coming from, ability-wise. I also got to hear about the test results of the first test. I retook the writing portion, because the first take was a bit of a mess. That involved editing my paper and handing it in for a grade, because there was a lot of red ink on that first paper.

But I did really well on the retake, so I’m happy.

At Yamasa You Get Do-Overs

At Yamasa, you can retake exams if you’re not happy with the results. You not only get to retake exams if you flunk them, you can also take them to improve your score.

That said, it’s extra work to retake the tests, so it’s not something to do to try to change that 95 into a full 100 points.

I’m not used to how to study for the classes here yet. In the US, I know how the system works really well. I know what’s expected, and what to expect on tests. Here, the problem is that I’m not entirely sure what’s going to be on the test, and since all of the instruction is in Japanese, if I miss something, I really miss it.

In JBPP news, I got my resume back. It was drenched in blo– err, red ink. I need to rewrite some chunks of it.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll… Or Just Shake.

There was an earthquake last night, or so I am told. Everyone felt it but me. Maybe I was too absorbed in whatever it was I was doing to notice it, or maybe it didn’t leave an impression on me. I dunno. Strangely I’m kind of bummed that I missed it. It’s kind of like missing the Big Event on TV everyone talks about the next day, but instead I was watching infomercials.

We had a pretty intense little earthquake along the East Coast in August. It lasted a good 30 seconds or so, and scared the crap out of everyone from NYC to South Carolina. Where I live in North Carolina, everything was swaying pretty well.

Last night’s earthquake must not have been very powerful, or maybe it was short.

Monkey In My Backyard

In other news, after class ended, I was talking to my classmates when some local police officers ran by, searching for a wild monkey on the loose. They searched all over the neighborhood, but they couldn’t catch the monkey.

I don’t like to get too close to wild monkeys, because they make me nervous. My mom always warned me that they can tear you to bits, and that has always kind of stuck with me. I’m not afraid of them, I just don’t want them near my face… or any of my more removable body parts, to be honest.

The monkey chase turned into a campus event. Some people went out to see if we could find the monkey. No luck. I didn’t venture too far from the building.

When I got back home, the Slingbox crapped out again, then came back. Ah, technology.

I went to Zig-Zag for dinner tonight again. Declan usually has something interesting in the pot behind the bar, and if not, he can whip up something tasty. Tonight was no exception!

A Short Update

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on A Short Update
Nov 102011
 

This is going to be short.

The Bannou Fuku-Meido presentation results are in. I passed. Yay!

In JBPP, I learned how to use the phrase よろしいいでしょうか in a sentence when I want someone to do something, yet I need to be polite. I will probably use this a lot.

For dinner, I made some improvised fried rice with eggs. It came out pretty good.

Resumes are due tomorrow.

I told you it would be short.

They Got the Computer Store, Too!

 Japan, Japanese Language, Technology  Comments Off on They Got the Computer Store, Too!
Nov 092011
 

We have to submit our resumes for our JBPP class tomorrow, so I need a USB drive. I headed to the computer store to pick one up.

First I stopped at Family Mart, because I was out of food. (Except for rice. I have plenty of rice.) Anyway, then I went to the computer store. As I approached the door, one of the guys who worked there regretted to inform me that the store was closed, because it’s moving.

Ugh. Again? First the bicycle store, now the computer store, too? It’ll probably be a pile of rubble in 4 days.

So I stood in the parking lot and had a think. Where is the best place to find a cheap USB drive? I decided to go to the mall and try Aeon, and lucked out. I found a cheap USB drive for 898 yen. All it has to do is last for a couple of days, to be honest. Then I saw the big sale on the Frixion stuff. Score!

I’ve already burned through one of the ink cartridges in my blue Frixion pen. Aeon had them for 10% off, so I stocked up.

I browsed the book store again, and saw some really cool kanji books, but they’re kind of expensive. Maybe later. They look like kanji kentei prep books. (But really awesome prep books.) Downside: they’re 1000 yen a piece. A little pricey. Yeah, I said the USB drive was cheap at 898, but I was only buying one of those.

I also looked at the Minna no Nihongo books with lustful eyes, because we keep running into stuff from that in class. It’s tempting, but expensive. Maybe I’ll check Book-Off this weekend and see if I can find a used copy of MNN.

I stopped by Subway on the way out, then headed home.

It’s The End of the World. Or It’s Just Wednesday and We Feel Like It.

When I got back, something annoying happened. One thing that kind of irks me about living here is that I’ll randomly hear warning sirens– the same kind that you can hear on the tsunami videos– and I can’t tell if it’s police, fire, ambulance, or just Impending Doom. I heard them again this evening in my apartment, and quickly flipped on NHK, just to make sure I didn’t have to duck, cover, and kiss my butt goodbye. (You never know.)

Of course, as I flipped it on, they were showing a news show about how the tsunami warnings weren’t adequate enough, and in some places, told people that a 3m tsunami wave was coming, when in reality a 10m wave was coming, so people who should have fled, didn’t, and died as a result.

It was interesting, but I never could figure out what those sirens were about.

But I’m glad that they’re examining the whole tsunami warning system.

The discussion on the program about how to convey urgency to people was interesteig. Telling people 非難せよ (ひなんせよ hinanseyo “evacuate!”) instead of 非難してください (ひんしてください hinanshite kudasai “please evacuate”) conveys the proper urgency when a massive wall of water is about to obliterate everything. People may hesitate when they hear a more polite request to “please evactuate” (非難してください) versus the more urgent and less formal “evacuate!” or “get out now!” (非難せよ!)

An Unfortunate Episode in my Life? How About an Exam That Keeps Me From Going to Kyoto?

In other news, it looks like no Kyoto trip this week. Next Thursday we have a conversation test and a composition test. We already have our themes to write about– “An unfortunate episode in my life.” Fun.

There’s no way I’ll be able to swan off to Kyoto for a weekend with that hanging over my head. Nagoya, maybe. But Kyoto? No way.

JBPP is really starting to pay off. All of the little lessons we’re learning are starting to accumulate, albeit slowly, in my brain. I realize I’ll probably have to go over all of this again by myself when I go home, but the info is amazingly useful.

We went over e-mails again today, and while it was difficult, I think I’m slowly starting to get the hang of it. Tonight, I have to finish writing my resume in Japanese. Strangely enough, I’m not too stressed about it. It’s easier than doing it in English, because everyone uses the same general form.

Bow Like You Want to Get Hit on the Head

 Japanese Language  Comments Off on Bow Like You Want to Get Hit on the Head
Nov 082011
 

We had bowing practice in JBPP today. I kind of suck at it, so I’m sure I looked like a penguin with a nervous tic. The really tricky bit is the “bow while walking past someone in the hall” bow. The tricky bit is to do it without falling or walking into a wall.

My quick tip for bowing and not looking weird: Present the top of your head to the other person, so they can whack you on the head with a pretend big stick. That’s the polite way to bow. Don’t try to look them in the eyes, it’s creepy.

Also, men put their hands along their sides, while women cross their hands in front of them.

Sounds Like “Yes,” But It Means “No.”

I learned a new favorite phrase “できかねます” (deki kanemasu.) It’s a way of saying it’s not possible to do something without using a negative verb form. かねます (kanemasu) essentially means that something is impossible. So it’s rejecting someone’s request in the affirmative form of the verb, rather than the negative form of the verb.

I love that concept.

Of course, if something is かねません (kanemasen), then that means it’s possible. In that case, the negative form can have a positive meaning. It all depends on what you’re talking about.

Saying Something By Saying Nothing

We also covered あいづち (aidzuchi), which are these great filler words that don’t mean anything at all. Sort of like “uh-huh, yeah, gotcha, ok, sure, ummm,” etc. あいづち are important in Japanese. In fact, just sitting there like a lump and sounding like a textbook makes you come across as, well, weird.

あいづち add a little natural feeling to your speaking style, so while it seems silly at first, it’s all social lubricant I’m learning, and social lubricant is important, regardless of culture.

I did pretty well with あいづち in class, so it turns out I’m an expert at saying nothing.

JBPP has been great at teaching me a lot of cultural stuff I never would have guessed at, but I still have a ways to go.

After class, I compared photos with K-san. K-san has done a much better job of photographing daily life in Japan than I have. She managed to find the fireworks on Sunday. I didn’t go out because it was raining. She is made of sterner stuff! I am made of water soluble components, apparently.

Puttering Around in the Rain

 Japan, Travel  Comments Off on Puttering Around in the Rain
Nov 062011
 

Today was another crappy weather Sunday in Okazaki. No plans to do much of anything, to be honest, except maybe shop for some groceries.

There were supposed to be fireworks tonight, but in this weather, I can’t imagine shooting anything off. Kind of a bummer, because I wanted to see some Japanese fireworks to see how they compare to the fireworks we get in the US.

Well, I needed to go by the bank, get some air in my bike tires, and take care of a little this-n-that.

If I’m honest with myself, a large part of my motivation is getting out of the house.

I stopped by the gas station (ガソリンスタンド gasorin sutando) on the way to Aeon Mall, and the guys there were kind enough to put some air in my bicycle for me. It’s like having a brand new bike. It went up those nasty hills like a dream.

My tires must have been flat or something.

Paying Cash is Painful, and Other Obvious Things

Then off to the post office by the mall for more money. Japan is expensive, especially with the high yen.

Cash economies are painful, but it makes me monitor my spending. If Japan wants to get out of its economic problems, just require every store to take credit cards, and require every citizen to have at least one, or five or six. That would fix that spending problem in a hurry.

Paying cash always hurts a little more than just handing over the card. (Maybe it’s because you get card back.)

Lost in the Mall Again

With plump tires, I headed over to Aeon mall. I stopped by the book store there for a couple of things: first, Kyoto/Nara travel guides. I want to find some prime leaf viewing areas. Next, I was looking for some good Japanese language study books. Not so much textbooks as reference books. I’m always looking for those. No luck. Finally, I’m always on the hunt for a decent book cover. No dice.

After that, I headed to Aeon, to pick up a couple of extra erasable pens and a couple of extra notebooks, because I tend to go through both quickly. I’m going to send any extras home, because I like the Japanese notebooks a lot.

Then I got lost in Aeon on the 1st floor again. There’s stuff and random shops everywhere inside the store, and I can never seem to get my bearings. Ugh. And it’s Sunday, so it’s jam-packed. I spent 15 minutes trying to find an exit. Scary.

When I finally found the exit to the mall, I headed to Subway. Yes, Subway. They have one right in Aeon Mall. And I was proud of myself, because I ordered a sub without any problems at all. A sub has a lot of parts to it, and I didn’t have any trouble rattling it all off in Japanese.

So if nothing else, spending all of this money on this trip will have taught me how to order food.

As I left, it started raining, so I punched out on the rest of my trip. Anything else I need, I’ll pick up after school tomorrow at Domy. I don’t like getting wet, and Japan is full of wet these days.

Shopping in Nagoya. In the Rain. Again.

 Japan, Travel  Comments Off on Shopping in Nagoya. In the Rain. Again.
Nov 052011
 

It’s never a good idea to go to Nagoya without a plan. At least it’s not a good idea for me. But I went anyway, because the idea of sitting around all day on a weekend just gnawed at me. And yes, once again, this weekend it’s raining. Argh!

Every week I’ve been in Okazaki, it seems like the weather pattern has been the same. It’s sunny and beautiful all week when I’m in class, it turns cloudy on Friday, and then it rains all day Saturday and Sunday. Expletive expletive weather. This has been going on for about 5 weeks now, and everybody is sick of it.

By everybody I mean me. Although I’m sure I’m not the only person who hates this pattern.

I slept in a bit this morning, and lazed around a little bit while trying to form a plan. What to do in the rain… what to do…

At around 2 p.m., I decided to just go out and do something in Nagoya, so I grabbed the 2:30 train out of Okazaki, and got to Nagoya around 3 p.m. Part of the plan was to get some of the money I spent on my new electronic dictionary back from Bic Camera, because the day I bought it, I found it for 10,000 yen cheaper, and it turns out that Bic slashed the price by 10,000 yen as well. So I decided to follow V-san’s advice and get that 10,000 yen back!

Flick My Bic

I headed over, and sure enough, after a bit of waiting and some shuffling of papers, I got my 10,000 yen back. They had to “sell” me a new one, and I “returned” my old one, and I lost a few points in the process, but I don’t really care. Cash is cash, and with the yen as hideously expensive as it is these days, I’ll take cash any day over points. 10,000 yen is about $120 these days!

Thanks, V-san! You saved me a ton of money!

And Bic, that was awesome.

In Japan, Skippy is in the Imported Food Store, Next to the Caviar

I did some strolling, and found a 5-story drugstore nearby… it looked impressive on the outside, but it was really cramped on the inside. I kind of got wrapped up in a quest to find Pepto Bismol, just in case… yeah, that was a total failure. Not gonna find that outside of Tokyo, I think. Maybe not at all.

Then I wandered around some more, and went to the back of the station, back around, and found a neat International grocery store, called Seijoishii. It’s kind of wedged in back behind the station, behind the Marriott. If you’re craving some goodies from home (i.e. not Japan), they may have what you want. I picked up some Ricola lemon-mint cough drops, because my throat has been killing me on-and-off since I had that cold a month ago.

This is Now a Blog About Me Buying Books… Or Trying to, Anyway.

Then I headed off to see if I could find Sanseido. It shows up in Google Maps, but after walking around the target building and not seeing anything, I gave up and went to Junkudou instead. I found some nice manly-looking cloth book covers there. I’ve been looking for some of those. When you buy books here, they always offer you the paper book covers, but I don’t like them. I wanted the cloth ones for a long time. Sort of like cloth vs. paper grocery bags.

After that, it was off to Sakae, to look around at the Book-Off there, because it’s big. Book-Off sells not just books, but all kinds of second-hand stuff, like jewelry, clothes, sporting goods, electronics… but mostly used books.

I found a bunch of used books on sale for cheap, so I nabbed them.

Then I headed up a stop to Hisayaodori to pick up a few more books. There’s this sci-fi novel series I want to read, and all of the books are about as big a phone books, density-wise. The nice thing about buying them at the store there is that I get freebies for buying them there, but they weigh a freakin’ ton.

Bagging It

I crossed the street to the Tokyu Hands in Hisayaodori to get a cloth shopping bag. I’ve been meaning to do this for a couple of weeks, anyway. The 25 pounds of books that are making my hands go numb have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Okay, it has everything to do with it.

I went up about 5 flights to the floor marked “bags.” No luck. Wrong bags. Up 2 more flights, to “kitchenwares.” All I see are bags that are very much not for me. Then I saw a Trader Joe’s bag.”Well, at least it’s a brand I know…” Then I look over and saw a Whole Foods Market bag, and just laughed, because I shop there in the US. The Whole Foods in Chapel Hill is one of the oldest stores in the chain. It’s been there forever, and before that, it was an independent store called Wellspring, and it was pretty popular even then.

The laugh was on me, though. 1200 yen for a $4 bag. Yeah, I felt like an idiot, but the Trader Joe’s bag was 1600 yen. And all of the other bags had stuff written on it in French, and were too small. No thanks. Give me that American size bag that I can stuff a car or a whole cow into!

It’s Even Carolina Blue!

I’m hungry. On my way to the bookstore in Hisayaodori, I had spotted a nice little restaurant called The Sun Room, in the underground passageway called Cenrtal Park at the Hisayaodori subway station. They serve a lot of organic food there, and some vegetables, I think. Turns out it’s a chain, but it’s fine by me. The spaghetti with mozzarella and asparagus in pesto was good, and cheap.

One thing about restaurants here that’s different from restaurants in the US, and that’s ordering. In Japan, you order everything through dessert up front, then your server never comes back. In the US, the server keeps coming back to make sure you don’t want to order another cow, or another giant tub of ice cream, or whatever. (Now I’m getting hungry again.) It’s something small that I need to remember to adjust to every now and then.

Now it’s 7:30, and I had to rush to Takashimaya at Nagoya Station in a hurry, before it closed, to buy a decent blanket. It’s getting cold, and I can’t run the heater at night without wrecking my throat. So I caught the subway, got to the station, hustled up 9 flights of escalators, and made it to bedding by 7:50. (Hey, I was impressed.) The store clerks helped me find a blanket on sale that would fit my bed that I could wash and hang up to dry without having to wait a month. (Woot.) It’s even Carolina Blue.

And it’s warm and fluffy.

And I did it all in Japanese. Pardon me while I hurt myself patting myself on the back.

Ow.

After that, the store started closing, so the “Get Out!” music started gently playing, to gently tell us to “Get the hell out so we can clean up after you, then get a beer and go home before the trains stop running!”

But in a gentle way.

My Fellow Americans Make Me Want to Facepalm Sometimes. Okay, Frequently.

I decided to go get some Krispy Kremes on the way out. Hey, I had seen them in Sakae already, and I know there’s a Krispy Kreme at Takashimaya here in the station. Sure enough, there it is, and there’s the line. And there was an obnoxious American guy behind me, convinced that this line was just for Japanese people, and didn’t apply to him. He even got out of the line, walked to the counter, and tried to order.

Please dear God, when you go to Japan, don’t be that guy. The lines apply to you, too. You are not special because you’re an American. Get in line with everyone else and have some manners. I really wanted to give him a dope slap with my menu, not that it would make a difference. This is the same kind of guy who goes to a restaurant, orders off the menu, then gives them a bad review online when they can’t get it the way he wants it.

I hate that kind of guy.

Of course, by the time I got to the front of the line, they were out of the good doughnuts, so I got 2 chocolate crullers. I’ll take what I can get.

Then I went back to the international grocery to pick up the last few things. By now, I resemble a pack mule, carrying tons and tons of crap. But I managed to get some peanut butter (Skippy: sadly no JIF available), some more Ricolas, and some chocolate… the good stuff.

I just managed to make the 8:26 train back to Okazaki. The train ride was uneventful, but the bike ride home was… interesting. Juggling all that stuff was not an exercise I wish to repeat. The blanket was very big.

I have to keep unlearning shopping habits learned behind the wheel. If I want it, that means I have to schlep it home; there’s no trunk except my backpack.

Oh well. I have a big bag to carry it all in now!

Tested!

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on Tested!
Nov 042011
 

Today was my first big test in the main class. There was a listening portion and a grammar portion, and it felt like a mini-JLPT. We had a lot of review coming into the test, and as I said earlier, I went so far as to start a grammar outline (just like I did in law school), but I don’t know how much it helped me.

I also found out about the bread truck lady who comes by on Fridays. She has a truck full of delicious bread, and she sells it out of the back of the truck around 11 am at Yamasa. I bought some sandwiches and some other sweet bread for dessert later on.

It was delicious.

I had a quiz in my N1 class, too. I’m doing pretty well in there, I think. It’s hard.

In JBPP we started to learn how to write Japanese resumes, or 履歴書 (りれきしょ, rirekisho). It’s interesting to me, because there’s less messing around with the format like we have to do in the US. I think I prefer it to writing resumes for US firms, because I’m never sure how far I should go with my design. Then again, the Japanese resume format is pretty strict, but there are parts where you have to write statements about yourself where you can individualize things. I’ll probably have more to say about it when I have more experience with it.

My 外 Becomes 内 When I’m Dealing With Another 外 Group.

We also talked about 内 (うち, uchi) and 外 (そと, soto). 内 is your in-group, be it your friends, family, or your company when you’re visiting another company. 外 are the people not in your in-group. So for business purposes, your clients are 外, and are to be treated as people to be respected. So you use respectful language to them, and not only humble language about yourself, but also your in-group, or 内, in this case your company. So while you might be polite to your boss when you’re in the office, you will use humble language when referring to the same boss when you’re confronted with a client.

We also learned about writing about the weather and the seasons. It’s big here, even in business letters/e-mail. You need to use the right phrase for the early part of November. One would not use the phrase for the end of November, I think. We got a list of all kinds of phrases to use.

Gettin’ Busy.

 Japan, Japanese Language, Technology, Travel  Comments Off on Gettin’ Busy.
Nov 022011
 

Classes are heating up. Things are getting more intense and busier, with full weeks of regular class, JBPP, and electives. We don’t get any holidays this quarter, either.

And I have my first big exam on Friday, which covers 3 chapters of the book. I’m already making a grammar outline. We’ve got a listening/dictation test as well. Fun.

I Found a Better Price, Now What?

So I found the same electronic dictionary I bought this past weekend for 10,000 yen less elsewhere, but I really don’t want to go through the hassle of returning it, then buying another one on the other side of Nagoya. Is there something I can do about it?

The answer is yes!

I got some really useful advice from V-san, one of my classmates. She said to take the electronic dictionary back to Bic, and tell them that I found it cheaper. She said they’re really good about matching competitors’ prices. I’ll have to give it a try this weekend.

We had phone practice in JBPP today. How to answer the phone, hold basic conversations, etc. It’s one thing to do it in everyday Japanese, but entirely something different to do it in business Japanese, with the emphasis on proper use of 尊敬語 (そんけいご, sonkeigo) and 謙譲語 (けんじょうご, kenjogo.) There are lots of complex phrases to remember, which are essentially really polite versions of the same thing. But which degree of politeness you need to use is important to know.

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