Archive for September, 2009

Ame Ame Fure Fure

It rained all day today. More like – poured all day. I liked it – it was finally cool enough to not sweat all the way to school. It reminded me of a Japanese children’s song I learned – Ame Ame. It’s a song about how one plays in the rain. Here’s a video with that song to footage from a 1961 downpour in Kobe (which is near to here). I didn’t make this video.



Today I met with Ami after school. Instead of going out to eat, we decided to buy premade dishes and eat them at the Seminar House. Ami had never been to one of the dorms before. So we got yakisoba and tempura, both of which were very good. The types of tempura we got were squid and fish paste – very tasty. We ate in the dining room and discussed a trip to Osaka.

Our brief original plans about going to Osaka were to go and watch manzai – Japanese comedy, which I’ve discussed briefly in a previous post. One of our friends closely follows manzai. However, it turned out she was busy for the upcoming month. We decided to still go into Osaka, and to go specifically to the Kaiyukan Aquarium. Now, like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gone to the Boston aquarium. Partly what sealed the deal (no pun intended) to go was not just the fact it’s a famous aquarium in Japan and the world, but these guys here:

Sea Otters

Baby sea otters available this month for viewing – only 30 minutes a day. Aren’t they adorable?


And these here, capybaras from the Amazon, are also available for viewing in the aquarium – wildly popular with the Japanese. Along with these, there are two whale sharks for viewing, as well as a range of fish unique to 15 environments on the Asian-Pacific coastlines.

We also plan to spend time in Minami Osaka, a place known for atmosphere and good food. We’re planning to go on Saturday. So expect a post on that!

See you then!


Tofuku-ji and Fushimi-Inari Shrine

Warning: Another picture-heavy post. Sorry!

On the last day of Silver Week, (a 5-day string of days off), I went to Kyoto. I had planned this in advance, mentioning it to some classmates. Two in particular were interested in coming with me: Lisa and Tom. Tom was particularly familiar with the train lines in this region, and his Japanese is far better than mine, so he was essentially our guide.

We met at nearby Hirakata Station and took the trains up to Tofuku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple created by a renowned designer of gardens. We walked a bit from the station, and at some points I was afraid we were lost, but we found the temple fairly easily. It was at this point that, to my dismay, I realized I had left the memory chip for my camera in my computer. So most of the pictures here were taken by Tom, but he allowed me to take some pictures. Most of the exterior compound was free, but to get into the gardens we had to pay a decent amount of money. In the end, though, I think it was worth it.


The old entrance gate, one of the largest, according to the plaque.


A lovely sand garden. These stone had holes in the top, and people had thrown in coins, trying to get them in the holes. Coins were stuck throughout the dirt.


Another gorgeous, peaceful zen garden. The guy really was a master, like the brochures say.


The zen master also had a fondness for patterns:





Little shrines in one of the gardens.



A channel for a brook.



That’s Tom on the left and Lisa on the right. This bridge floated above the treetops.IMG_0326

Lisa and I.




Random shrines viewed through the trees.


The next large zen garden.

  IMG_0339  IMG_0341

Random sheep on a door.


IMG_0343 Bamboo Forest.

From Tofuku-ji we walked to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is a popular tourist attraction and is well known for being depicted in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Since the shrine is an Inari shrine, it is dedicated to the gods of wealth and prosperity. As a result, businesses have built torii gates around the compound – lots of them. They stretch through the forest up to the top of the nearby mountain. The place is magical – walking through gate after gate. Walking up stairs all the way proved to be a challenge, particularly since my two traveling partners were far more fit. It was very humid, and everyone going up was very sweaty. I had to stop near the top, and let the others go on. I knew from what others told me there wasn’t a view. As I waited, a scrawny cat came and sat next to me, licking himself. This attracted the attention of other Japanese tourists. The cat was obviously very hungry and begging for food – I wished I had some to give him. My two partners returned and it turned out they went in circles trying to find the top.


Here, let me read this for you with my awesome Japanese-reading skills. It says: “Fushimi Inari”.


Foxes are traditional animals to be seen at Inari shrines.

IMG_0347 Entrance to the Torii Shrines.



Gorgeous, aren’t they?


The torii gates as seen from the outside.


Steps up the mountain. There were stops and shrines along the way.


One of the best views we got.


We went back down the mountain together, and got back on the train, subsequently travelling to find a place where we could eat. Settling on a traditional restaurant, I ordered what was essentially Japanese fried chicken, miso soup, and rice. It was very tasty – the chicken came with a spicy mayonnaise-like sauce that brought out the flavor of the chicken. Then we headed home. Since Lisa is a homestay student, we parted ways at Makino Station, which turns out to be closer to our dorm. I couldn’t get you there yet from here, but it was a nice conclusion to the day.


Tomorrow I’ll be posting about my trip to Kyoto, but until then…


Before I went out with Ami and her friends, we were both given an assignment in International Negotiation class – to get a “pikura” and post it on our information pages in class. We did this that night. Ami is the person right next to me.

Japanese pikura booths are so much more fun than our picture booths at home. We went into an arcade filled with noise blasting through our eardrums. Right next to the picture booth was an interesting game similar to Guitar Hero, except you pounded more traditional Japanese drums. When we got into the booth, there was music and lights – and you could pick digital backgrounds for the pictures. After we took the pictures, we went around to screens where we could edit them, putting in all the little doodles you can see here. Then they were printed and emailed to people’s cell phones. All the pictures were very tiny, but could be stuck to stuff.

Ami said she hadn’t been in a pikura booth since she was very young. I guess they’re more popular with middle schoolers. But anyway, you can see the fun we had!

Guest Blogger: My Roommate, Rachael.

Here’s a post slightly edited (with my roommate’s permission) about her trip yesterday to Tokyo. – Sarah

There and Back Again, A Fail Tale.

So yeah, the title isn’t a typo, it really is fail…

I then organised a quite spontaneous on the spot trip to Tokyo with my friend Ver-Ver (as I shall call her for now) to raid the Square Enix building together on Facebook.  Only a couple of small problems with that.  According to her Facebook status, she has no internet and no phone.  So, contact was…limited, to say the least.  So, we made some pretty hurried, rough plans, and I set about organising what trains I would need to catch and when.
I managed to get a rough plan, using google maps, copied down the kanji as well as I could, prayed a little bit, set my alarm clock for 7am, and settled down to sleep.  Got up at 7, and then checked Facebook, still under the impression that we had arranged to meet for 1 at Takadanobabashi, in Tokyo.
…Crap.  Not one.  Twelve.  I quickly rechecked the times for the trains.  Double crap.  If I wanted to get there for twelve, I was gonna have to catch the train at quarter past eight and then be brilliantly, epically on time for all my other trains, including the ones that were one minute apart.  I checked my watch.  Man the crap was building up.  It was now 7:40, and there was no way I was going to get to the station on time.  I left Ver-Ver a hasty message on Facebook, prayed she’d get it, and set off.
Boom.  Right outside the Seminar House (dorm where I’m staying) was a bus straight to Hirakatashi (the station).  If I caught it, there was a chance I’d get there in good time.  Bravely, I strode up towards the bus’s open doors.  And halted.   Huh…  There was a thingie…a machine thingie that looked like it wanted money…..buuuut…it didn’t tell you how much money it wanted….hmmm…
Two minutes later that same bus wooshed past me as I boldly strode up the hill and muttered derogatory curses to myself.
Roughly an hour later, I was there.  Hirakatashi.  Epic.  Right…now what?
I purposefully strode into the station and…dithered.  My timetable was entirely in Kanji, the majority of which I didn’t know.  Matching them up with the maps wasn’t exactly going to be briliant…
Eventually I went to the information desk to ask for help, and managed to make it understood that yes, this was a train timetable, and I wanted to know what the kanji actually said.  She was very nice, and translated for me, pointed out where I should buy a ticket and how, and smiled at my clumsy ‘arigatou gozaimasu’s, and bows.  So, off I went to Tambabashi!  …Man I love these station names.
Right.  Got to Tambabashi without dying or getting drastically lost.  Cool.  Managed to get a ticket to Tokufuji too, without help!  ….I’ll come back to this in a sec.  The only help I needed at Tambabashi was aking which track to go to.  The info-guy pointed it out, and I happily got on and went off my merry way.
So, Tokufuji.  I wasn’t quite sure if it was the correct one when I boarded, so I asked an old lady if it stopped at Tokukufujiii (can you tell I messed up pronounciation?)  And, lo and behold, I was understood and informed that yes, it did!  Whoop whoop!  The old lady then proceeded to inform me it was the next stop the stop before, and I gave her a very sincere and grateful bow and thank you, which made her smile.  So, I got out, went through the ticket barrier and…paused.  Huh.  It was just a small one, sort of like a subway one, and there wasn’t much there.  So, I started searching for my next train, to take me to Kyoto.  …  …Huh.  No Kyoto listed on the map above the paying machines.  Hmmm….  I hunted about a bit more, failed to find it, sighed, and payed 200 yen to go back again.
Back to Tamababashi.  And back to the good old info desk.  Heeeelp.  I managed to explain to them that I had come from Hirakatashi, and wanted to get to Kyoto, but I had been to Tokufuji like my plan said and I couldn’t figure out where to go next.  They informed me that actually, I had got it right the first time, ANNNND, actually, I shouldn’t have bought a new ticket cos the one I got in Hirakatashi would have covered me to Tambabashi.  But, nicely enough, they gave me a ‘Go to Tofukuji free’ card (serious) and sent me off.
Hello again Tofukuji.  I handed the card over to the little guy at the desk next to the ticket gates and he waved me through with a smile (everyone seems so genuinely NICE here, it’s refreshing).  And there I was again, trying to find Kyoto.  …  …  …Mmmm nope, still no Kyoto.  Huh.  So, I asked the guy at the gate.  "Uh…Kyoto?"  "Aaah, upstairs."
Up…upstairs.  Right.  So, 400 yen down the drain then.  I sighed and squared my shoulders.  Ah well, onwards and upwards.  Literally.  I trudged up the stairs, and gosh, there was a whole other station up here!  Now, my planner had said that the trip for Tokufuji would be upwards of 7,000 yen.  Guess what it actually was?  The cheapest of the day, 140 yen.  Whew.
Three minutes later, there I was in Kyoto.  From then on, there wasn’t much drama.  Turned out the ticket machine only sells you one of two tickets you need (done it twice now and I STILL don’t get it) and I had to buy another from the lady by the ticket gate. (Was mildly epic – I asked her if she spoke English in Japanese, and she said only a little, to which I replied the same, again in Japanese whoop!  Made her smile.)
Shinkansen was cool enough – epically fast and sleek and shiny, only mildly ruined by the yellow green of dead bugs all over the front.  …Yeeah.  And then the bad news.  I accidentally chose to sit in the smokers carriage.  There was a still smoking cigarette in the ashtray at my elbow.  And then the snoring started.  A guy (I presume) two seats back, snoring like a really badly wrangled drain pipe.  It was BAD.  I felt sick if I listened to it for too long.  For real.  And the Shinkansen was a two hour plus trip.  I turned my iPod up and settled down to nap.
Shinagawa was pretty much uneventful, except for the fact that the guy who pointed out which platform I should go to put me on the train going the opposite way, and I had gone two stations before realising the numbers were going the wrong way.
By now, it was two o’clock, and the chances of meeting up with my friend were slim to none.  After some confusion at Takadanobabashi (awesome awesome names) what with the whole more than one floor and a station per each one, I found my way out and realised no, no Ver-Ver was not here, nor likely to be.
So.  Ok.  Square Enix, here I come, on my own and therefore potentially more deadly.  But first…to find it.  I went and asked the Metro shop.  Uh…nope, nope, never heard of it, can’t help.  Here, a map to the police station!  Hmmm…gee, thanks.  A hint maybe?  But, after a couple of minutes confusing the nice (young, handsome) policeman, who unfortunately did not seems to have a sense of humour, I finally got basic directions and was off.  It was essentially, ‘go to that street there, turn left and keep walking straight down that road.’  Cool.
Half an hour later, I was at the end of ‘that road’, with no hope at all the overwhelming urge to bash my head against something.  This was confirmed when I asked in a game shop, which really ought to know where the head quarters of the best selling game company in the world was, and got a ‘zenzen wakarimasen’.  Essentially, ‘Sorry, no clue!’.  Great.
Tired and defeated, I consoled myself by stealing into a bookshop and browsing the manga section…They were all actually surprisingly cheap, and I got back on the Shinkansen satisfied, and enjoyed flicking through them the journey back (smoke free this time).
So, I got back ok, swanned through the train stations without any help at all, and then trudged tiredly back to the seminar house, refusing to take a bus on the grounds that I need to loose weight.
So, that was my epic adventure of doom folks!  Hope you enjoyed!

Trip to Hirakata City Station

Actually, our trip to Hirakata Station yesterday was rather uneventful. It took a long time, especially because we had to walk around Kansai Gaidai (they’re closed for the holidays), rather than through it, which is shorter. I got lost a couple times, but everything turned out okay. We went to Tsutaya Books, which was smaller than I anticipated. (Kinokouyan Books in Tokyo had an English section). My roommate had a ball looking through the manga section while I wandered around the Jazz and J-Pop sections of music.

I’ve never been a fan of Japanese popular culture, to put it delicately. My interest in Japan is more in other sections of its culture – its history, traditions, and religions, and how those are shown in daily life here in Japan. I have nothing against pop culture, really. It’s just never appealed to me, while it does to a lot of other people. It gets tiring, I guess, when people’s main interest in Japan is because of anime and manga. Trust me – I’ve actually made an effort to watch anime and read manga, but never found what was so appealing about it. The only anime I ever liked was Miyazaki’s work (no clue why.)

So, we also stopped by Starbucks, and went into what I thought was a big supermarket. I was so wrong! The supermarket was instead a department store! The outside had all sorts of pictures and words about food, but the food was confined to the first floor. Department stores in Japan are very different from what we have in America. Picture a department store smashed together with a mall, but all open-air. That’s what this place was. Just for fun, and to see what there was there, we rode escalators all the way up to the seventh floor, which had many kimonos for sale. Beside them was a display of art, held by the Kiwanis Club of Japan. We looked around at it, and discovered that it was an exhibition of works done by 6-year-olds, done on the theme of peace.

It was really interesting to see what these children depicted for peace. All of the works  were stunningly good, in terms of detail and composition. There were cranes pictured, the Atomic Dome from Hiroshima (I’ll actually be visiting Hiroshima in October, I think – part of my Peace class), smiling faces and flags from around the world. It would kind of  be nice if we lived in a world like that.

After that, we walked home.

One thing in particular the Japanese are quite good at doing taking something completely ordinary/dull and turning it into something interesting. Take office supplies, for example. The folders and paper clips here are works of art! Even pencils are nicer here.  Here’s something that, walking around Hirakata City, you notice very quickly. Japanese roads have these huge, treacherous ditches on either side of the sidewalks. They’re gutters to drain, really, but they’re so big and deep that if your bicycle ran into it, your tire would drop inside and you’d be seriously injured. So the Japanese put concrete covers over these to prevent just that from occurring. In other sections of the city, they’re boring grates, but around my seminar house, this is what they look like:






Don’t you wish life was always like that?

My Seminar House!

Lunch today

This is what I’ve normally been getting for Y300 – udon/soba (this is udon), a banana, and melon soda.