Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oh, look: an update!

Last week the US culture course went to see a traditional Japanese theater called Bunraku (Wiki link here). It was an awesome experience. I was familiar with it before we went (I've taken a handful of Japanese/Asian history courses at KSU, so I've at least got a tiny bit of knowledge) but actually seeing it was a whole different thing. The easiest way to think of it for someone who's never seen it is to relate it to marionette puppets, but the manipulation of the puppets is different.

Here are a couple videos on youtube that might help you understand:

During the plays there are the "chanters" who voice the characters and narrate. Most shows only have a couple, but the first one we saw had 5 of the chanters and 3 shamisen players, which made it really dramatic. The puppets are typically operated by 3 people, and in most schools of bunraku only the lead puppeteer is allowed to reveal himself; the rest are hidden in black costumes. The lead puppeteer operates the head and right arm, the 2nd puppeteer operates the left arm, and the lowest level puppeteer operates the legs/bottom/body.

The downside to bunraku (even for many native Japanese speakers!) is that it developed in Osaka a LONG time ago. What this means is that the plays are performed in the Osaka dialect. This in and of itself is a problem, because the average person who isn't from Osasa/Kansai area doesn't particularly understand that dialect. Then top it off with the fact that it's an archaic version of this dialect from the 1600s, and it becomes nigh impossible for people speaking standard Japanese to understand. During the play it was subtitled in the standard Tokyo dialect along the sides of the stage, which I found to be pretty amusing :) It kinda sucked not being able to understand what was being said (though I derived a bit of comfort from the fact the Japanese people didn't understand the speaking either) but you can infer quite a bit from the tone of the chanter's voices, the music of the shamisen, and the puppets themselves.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More Pics and Videos, Too!

Here's some more stuff from the Kamakura trip; I forgot to upload the videos too. Also, there should be a post forthcoming about the culture course we had today. We went to see a bunraku play (traditional Japanese cultural thing), but I don't have time to write a pithy post as I've got to study for an exam Monday I forgot about...

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Sorry guys--I know it's been a while. I get easily distracted, and I'm sure you're all waiting anxiously for my update has has not been forthcoming :P There's not much of an excuse for my lack of updates other than that I simply forgot...

So! Have you all been wondering what I've been up to? Well, lots of studying my ass off but other things have been going on too :) Let's see if I can put this together sequentially.

On the weekend of the 20th/21st the Americans in the Japanese Culture class took an overnight trip to Kamakura to visit a shit-ton of temples, shrines, see the giant famous Buddha, go to Enoshima Island, and we all stayed at a traditional Japanese hotel (you know, the ones with paper walls and doors, tatami mat rooms and such). Being out of Tokyo and going towards the coast and a bit more out of the way was an amazing experience, and it was really gorgeous to take in the scenery. We also happened to be able to see part of a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony, and I thought it was gorgeous. Experiencing a bit of the traditional culture at the temples and shrines was a welcome break from the fast-paced life in Tokyo. The entirety of the weekend was jam-packed with stuff, and they had us tightly scheduled for the whole trip. We met at the school at 9 am Saturday, and arrived back at the school at about 7 pm Sunday night, so it definitely wasn't a slow weekend.

I pretty much immediately went to bed after returning from the trip out to Kamakura and Enoshima, but even though I was dead tired I had so much fun.

Monday I went out with my Korean, Thai, Chinese and one American to go drinking. We ending up being SO drunk. I'm told there are photos, but I don't particularly recall them... I
was that drunk. In fact, I slipped down the stairs on my way into the train station (in my defense: it was raining), slid down half the flight on my butt, and sat there giggling for a minute. I think I'm done with the drunk thing from now on :P At leas the whole over-doing it thing, anyway. That being said, it was great to let loose with friends again :D

After that the week started picking up again, and as per the norm I had lots of homework to keep me occupied. Honestly though, I don't really mind it. I can obviously notice my skill increasing, and that's really encouraging.

Friday there was an opportunity to hang out with some Japanese people in a curry cooking class held by the school. I took the opportunity to use my Japanese in "real life" and we all cooked yummy curry!
The Japanese girl we were with spoke really good English, but for the most part we tried to use Japanese and I got along better than I though I would :)

On Monday (11/29) I went over to the guest house of one my American friends for her dinner party thing she was holding with a bunch of her friends from the guest house. There were a variety of nationalities present in the guest house, including a fair amount of Japanese students/young people (the guest house is pretty cheap) which was an unexpected treat!

It feels so weird to think that it's already December. Soon this semester will be over, and I've got conversation exams and finals coming up soon already. The semester will be over in 3 weeks, and then I'll have a winter break. I'm not 100% sure what I want to do but I'll figure something out at some point. I still have some time.

Well, it's gotten late, so I'm gonna crash. I've got plans with a friend in the morning, so I need to get up early. Night!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Midterms Completed!

I haven't had time to write much of an update everybody, sorry. I had been cramming for midterms and blowing off stress with friends... but mostly cramming for midterms. Let's see... what have I done lately that's worth updating everybody on...

Last Thursday I went out to do an all-you-can-eat 焼肉 (yakiniku: grilled meat) thing which was ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS. You essentially go into the restaurant, sit at a table with one or two burners in front of you, order the meat (pre-marinated/seasoned and ready to cook) and then you cook it at your leisure. It's an all-you-can-eat that's at a set price for a certain amount of
time, and that kind of thing is incredibly popular in Japan. Such a thing would probably never work out well in the US: There's too many regulations/health code stuff and I doubt the average customer would ever be allowed to cook their own meat in a restaurant :P By the time we left the restaurant the place was packed with everybody getting off from work and going out drinking/eating with each other. Socialization with co-workers is a huge thing in Japan, and you're pretty much expected to socialize/drink/eat with each other. It's a networking things as much as anything, and pretty well embedded into Japanese culture :)

Last Friday I went out drinking at a Japanese bar with 12 other Americans. Yes, there were 13 of us total. When we walked in and said there would be 13 of us we got some crazy looks, and they kept asking us if we really meant 13 or if we just couldn't
count properly. But once we got settled in it was a hell of a good time. I got a chance to sample a wide variety of Japanese food, and some of it I'm still not quite sure what it was. It was all really good though. We were all a bit drunk by the end of hanging out at the bar, which of course meant that karaoke sounded like a good idea... So we wandered in a group to a nearby karaoke bar (trust me, they are freaking everywhere. You can hardly go a few blocks without seeing one :D). I have some hilarious videos of karaoke, but I'm pretty sure my friends would hit me if I put them on the internet, so just suffice to say it was a great experience, and that karaoke is always better when you're drunk.

After that, I spent Saturday and Sunday studying my ass off. Going to bed late and waking up early to get a jump on studying so that I'd be prepared enough. Meh.

Well, I survived midterms. I think. They were a bitch, though. This Monday was the conversation test, and then today was the written midterm. Oh, did I mention that the written midterm was 3 hours long? Yeah, that sucked. Since they pretty thoroughly covered all the stuff from since classes started, there was an awful lot to do. I just barely had enough time for each section, but at least I wasn't too rushed. I have no idea how I did, and probably won't for a little while. We have to wait to do a one-on-one conference thing to get our results and a personal consultation thingy. At least that'll be helpful to a degree; I know where I'm weak, but having the teacher help me out with what specifically I do wrong and how to fix it would be great. The teachers here at KCP really do know their stuff, and I haven't met one who isn't insanely nice :P The courses are intense, though. They really don't let you slack in the long run, and the midterm reflected that with its good coverage of the stuff taught so far. The way midterms are set up at KCP is pretty simple: There is a separate conversation/interview test, and then a written one. The written exam is broken down into multiple parts with a break in between each. There was 作文 (sakubun: essay/composition), 聴解 (choukai: listening comprehension), 文法 (bunpou: grammar), and finally 漢字 (kanji [the complicated written characters]). Each section is given a chunk of time ranging from 20 min to 50 min depending on the section, then you would turn in that section of the test and be given a 10 min break before the next section. Given that each of those individual sections will get a grade at the end of the semester based upon your skill, it's nice to have them broken up into sections. It allows you to kinda feel out where you are and instead of seeing that you get an overall "C" for the class or something, you will be able to see that "Oh, I got an A in grammar, but a C in kanji. Maybe I should study more Kanji" or something to that effect. It's a pretty good system, and forces you to have to be at least competent in all areas because you can't count on an overall grade to compensate for the crappy sections. Each is plain to see.

I just got home from going out with some of my favorite friends (surprisingly, it's some of the Koreans and Chinese kids from class rather than many of the Americans although I do have
plenty of friends among the US students) to hang out and get some dinner and lament the midterm exams (nobody is particularly thrilled with them... no surprise there). We had a great time
together, and in the spirit of cultural and international exchange started trying to teach each other bad words in each of our languages :D That was the most hilarious thing ever, and I've learned that even if someone doesn't speak any English, they can probably still swear in it, haha. Sadly, I've already forgotten the Korean swear words I learned. I'm sad; I wanted to use them in class tomorrow to amuse the Koreans.

Thankfully, the crazy exam week is over now, and it'll slow down a little bit (not that it's ever genuinely slow though). This weekend the American students in the culture class will be taking an overnight trip to Kamakura. Kamakura is a very historic location in Japan, and has a lot of rich culture in it. It was the center of power/the shogunate government early on in Japanese history. Eventually the Kamakura Period (time when the Kamakura Shogunate was in power) ended when that shogunate was overthrown and Japan moved back into civil war (not that it was terribly peaceful during the Kamakura Period). Kamakura is also the place where the giant bronze buddha statue is. I'm sure everybody is familiar with that statue/has seen a picture on the internet somewhere. I'm looking forward to the trip. We're going to be staying in a traditional Japanese hotel and tour around a bunch of local shrines and temples. What's even cooler is that all I'll be paying for is my lunchs for Saturday and Sunday and any souvenirs I buy; everything else is already included in my tuition. I'm sure I'll come back with lots of pictures!

Friday, November 5, 2010

KCP Fieldtrip

So the entirety of KCP Japanese School went to the Shouwa Memorial Park (Park commemorating the reign of the Shouwa Emperor Hirohito) and it was absolutely the most fun I've had in a while. Being a level 2 Japanese student, I was expected to be able to make my own way to the park this morning. It wasn't too difficult but it was quite a bit of a trip. My normal commute to school is about 1.5 hrs, but from my dorm to the park today took about 2.5 hours. That was kinda crazy. Anyway, when we all go there we separated into our specific classes and made our way into the park where we had a BBQ. My class had opted to make mostly Korean food (big surprise there, given that 99% of my class is Korean, hehehe) and it was really good if a bit spicy. It was a grilled meat (pork) that we dipped in sauce and wrapped in some sort of random vegetable leaf (no idea what vegetable). We all kind of screwed around, talked, and enjoyed the park atmosphere with each other. We also played a few generic games like tag, and because it was such a rare gorgeous day we had so much fun. It really was amazing just how many students currently enrolled in KCP were present though. There had to be hundreds, and that was just in the BBQ area. There was a spacious area where the classes who opted to make their own lunches ahead of time were. There were probably quite a few people gathered there, too.

Afterwards my Korean classmates again invited me to go out drinking with them to the same place we all went a few weeks ago. The proprietor recognized me which was pretty amusing. This time around I made an attempt to keep up with the Korean people drinking Soju/Sochu, which was dumb because even now I'm still a bit drunk. Soju is not weak stuff. I was feeling it after about 2 or 3 shots. I noticed that my Japanese kept becoming more and more casual as I drank more, and surprisingly I speak Japanese a bit better after I've imbibed a few shots of super-strong Soju. Everyone is always like "why do you speak so politely?" anyway, so it was good to be able to connect on a friendlier, more casual level with my classmates. I got hit on a fair amount tonight, though. The Koreans asked a few times if I had a boyfriend and then asked me to pass around my camera with pictures after I said I did have a boyfriend already :P. Turns out that the power ended up going out at the restaurant though, and the owner told us all not to pay and sent us on our way. I felt a bit bad about that, but he insisted. Also, I seem to be able to navigate better when bit drunk than when sober. That's just weird. Anyway, made my way home safely without any problems and didn't go into any trouble areas. See? I'm a good little girl. No problems finding my way back to the nearest train station or navigating the trains home. All in all, it was a really fun day. I didn't expect to have such a good time on the field trip or today in general :)

These pictures were all taken at the park today. The first one is of me and Yonfun-san (One of my classmates. the "-san" is an honorific in Japanese that more or less means "Mister/Miss/Mrs."). The second is a few of the Koreans, myself, and one of my teachers immediately to the right of me in the picture. The third is just a random pretty pic of the park scenery. The park was absolutely gorgeous, and it felt like we were way outside of Tokyo when we got to the trains station near the park. It was almost countryside like. The fourth is a pic of the Koreans cooking the BBQ stuff. Same with the fifth; he's grilling the pork for... whatever the hell it was called. I'll butcher the Korean word if I try to spell it out. I'll look it up later.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pushing One Month Here!

So, in a few days I will have been here a full month (on the 7th). It really doesn't feel that much like I've been in an entirely different country for a whole month. I mean, Japan is just a country full of people doing their normal everyday things. Here in Tokyo the traditional Japanese culture really doesn't smack you in the face like it might were you in a smaller region/city of Japan. Tokyo is almost it's own special country inside of Japan. I'm really enjoying it though. I know enough Japanese to get by, so I haven't had a big issue with culture shock or anything. The issue for me will probably be reverse culture shock when I go back to Manhattan :P

Also, for those who were worried: I survived the typhoon just fine. And for those who didn't know: ... there was a typhoon that hit Japan over the weekend. Typhoon Chaba, I think it was called. It was a category 4 storm, but the part that went over Tokyo was just the very edge of it. Poor Okinawa though got smacked a bit hard. The coast of Honshu (the big main middle island of Japan) only saw a bunch of rain and wind from the edge of the storm. It really wasn't all the bad for me at least. Hell of an experience though, let me tell you. The wind ended up killing my umbrella and forcing me to walk home in the downpour from the station to my dorm (about 20 min if I'm walking quickly). I guess I could have taken the bus, but I would have had to backtrack a bit to get back to the bus stop... plus I'm a poor college student and didn't want to pay the 200 yen fare (about $2.50 ish). I looked like a drowned puppy when I got home, and the dorm manager was concerned. "What happened?! Why didn't you take an umbrella?! You're
going to get sick!" she seemed kinda pitying when I explained that the wind killed my poor umbrella.

I did a few nifty things this week with some friends. On Halloween me and my friend from my dorm went down to the area called Ikebukuro. It's sort of the the nerdy/geeky/anime area here, and it was lots of fun. We went to an 8 story anime/manga store with all sorts of outrageously awesome merchandise for so many animes. Some were familiar and are in the US, but many of them are only recently coming out in Japan or have never made it to the states, so it was pretty cool to be able to peruse the new things and see what I recognized. We also went to the Denny's (Yes, it's exactly the Denny's you're thinking of, with a Japanese twist) and here in Japan Denny's doesn't suck! It's sorta "meh" in the US, but the food was delicious here and was for the most part all Japanese food with a few standard exceptions like pancakes and stuff. I got a seasonal desert for the fall with caramel and a leaf on it that was pretty good. The amount of people in the area was a bit overwhelming though.

Last night I went on a spontaneous trip to Harajuku (the fashion and some shopping district) with a few Americans from school. The atmosphere there is just crazy, but super energizing and entertaining. We checked out some excellent clothes stores and I got myself some nifty earrings and a freaking awesome goth/J-Rock shirt from a used clothes store. Harajuku is also pretty much famous for its crepes, and they totally lived up to the hype. I ended up having a kiwi one with ice cream and whipped cream in it. The variety of them was insane, and there were like 4 crepe trucks right next to each other competing for business. It was a long day last night because we decided to go to Harajuku right after school was finished at about 4 pm which meant we were out most of the night. I got back to the dorm at about 11 pm, but it was worth it. We all did what's called "purikura" (short for "print club" in Japanese) which is the photo booths where you have strings of pictures taken and then the machine prints them out on sticker paper so you can stick them on things. I'm absolutely going back to Harajuku sometime, maybe next week :)


Alright, the first pic was taken in Ikebukuro when I was at Denny's overlooking the street below. The rest of the pics there were from Harajuku of my friends and me eating crepes, the crepe truck itself, and of the entrance to Takeshita-dori (the street we wandered down for shopping)


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Edo Tokyo Museum and Stuff

The week has been a flurry of activity with all my exams, homework, and hanging out with my new Korean friends. A couple of Koreans from my class invited me and one of the Chinese students last Friday to go to Korea town with them and have what's called "nomihodai" which is all you can drink for a reasonable price and limited time frame. There were 9 of us, and we has 10 bottles of sochu/soju between us. Damn! Those Korean boys can drink. I didn't even bother trying to keep up at all, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. Turns out I'm the youngest student in my class (by quite a bit, actually. Some of the Koreans are nearly or more than 30) so everybody feels the need to be overly protective of me :P The think of me as their "little sister" more or less, which is cute and amusing :) We all sat at the Korean restaurant and talked, drank, and ate. It was actually really amazing to be sitting there, drinking soju, and talking about Japanese, Korean, and Chinese politics and stuff in Japanese with each other. If nothing else, it's insanely good Japanese practice. I'm definitely much more comfortable rambling on in Japanese with friends in a casual setting than I am in class, and I need the practice. I'm taking the extra co-curricular conversation class in the afternoon which is a start, but it's tough to really get into it because I don't yet know the people in there--They're not really friends yet, just acquaintances. Going out with my friends will be excellent practice. This Sunday, in fact, I'm going out with a new friend who's going to show me around the place called "Ikebukuro" which is sort of the nerdy/geeky area for people who like Japanese anime and manga. He's gonna give me a mini tour and show me around since he lives there. (For the record I totally think it's because he's hitting on me, but I'm not going to turn down a friendly tour of an area I already wanted to go to anyway, haha :P)

This Saturday the US culture class students took a trip to the Edo Tokyo Museum, which is one of the biggest in the area. It's at least 6 floors, and I may have overlooked one or two :P Most people know that I've taken a few Japanese history classes, so being able to go to Japan and visit a museum here was absolutely amazing. I'll probably end up going back on my own at some point. I took a slew of pictures (the album with them in it is: it has more than just the pictures from the museum, though) and posted them online. I've not tagged them with explanations yet; because there are so many it will take me a while to do, and I don't really have the time to sit down and do it all. If you have any questions just comment/email/call etc.

For anyone who gets the chance I would definitely recommend/insist you go to visit this museum. It really does help to understand the Japanese psyche by knowing a bit of the flow of history behind Japan in general.

That's a short update, I know, but I've got to get back to studying for my grammar test that's coming up. Now that the whirlwind of activity of the first few weeks is done, I will probably be only updating a couple of times a week as nifty things happen :)