Archive for October, 2009

Eaaarrthhquaaaaake!

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There it is – that’s him. The fella that woke me up at 5:30 this morning.

Now, this isn’t the first earthquake I’ve been through. I was fully awake for three within my 1-month stay in Tokyo, which makes me surprised I haven’t been through more earthquakes while I’ve been here. This is the first earthquake that I know of in this area for two months.

Earthquakes, I’ve found, aren’t like they are in movies. The first hefty earthquake I experienced in Japan was while I was standing up in the basement of the Tokyo Library. Things really don’t jitter up and down. You just feel like the earth jolts one way, and you know it shouldn’t be doing that because the ground should be stable. You get the feeling that you’re floating and moving at the same time – and it’s super freaky.

 

Earthquake1 Hirakata Shi

In this map, the arrow’s mine. It points to Hirakata-Shi, the town I’m in. We had an earthquake magnitude of 1. This woke both my roommate and I up simultaneously. My brain knew what was happening, because I’d been through it before, and my adrenaline immediately kicked in. The shifting only happened for about 5 seconds, so by the time I tried to make sure my roommate was awake by saying, “It’s an earthquake!”, it was already over. When, I lay back down, my heart was pumping so hard it felt like half an hour before it calmed down.

This, of course, had jolted me out of sleep, so the recollections were vague, at best. It wasn’t until I woke up that I realized I might have imagined the whole thing and that I might have woken up my roommate for no reason. A short talk with my roommate and a look online confirmed what I had felt. Now, this all occurred because of an earthquake with a magnitude of 1. Imagine what something with a magnitude of 5 could do.

At orientation, we were talked to about earthquakes, with the terms, “It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen,” because the stats show Japan is ripe for a big earthquake. The huge Kobe earthquake of the 1980s happened not two hours away, and there was massive damage. We’ve been told that the Center for International Education (the building where we have all our classes) is one of the safest earthquake-proof buildings around. I’ll show you some measures taken in another post after I get pictures. The thing is, we were told briefly what we should do in the case of an earthquake, but knowing doesn’t replace doing. That’s why fire drills are used.

It is my opinion that the Seminar Houses at least should do earthquake drills. Many people living in the dorms have never experienced an earthquake before, and it’s important to be able to act immediately.

If you’d like to keep an eye on large earthquakes around the world,  the U.S. Geological Survey has an excellent, up-to-date website. However, they only show large earthquakes. It’s interesting to note the ring of fire consistently in its maps, and also earthquakes in strange places like the middle of the U.S.

If you want to keep an eye on things in Japan, the Japan Meteorological Agency doesn’t just cover little earthquakes, but also severe weather and tsunamis. Rights to the pictures I’ve used belong to them.

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Seminar House Interior

I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know what my dorm looks like. This is an experiment with an album to see if it loads better for people with slow internet. These are some shots of the ultra-modern dorm we have – not including my room. The chairs actually aren’t very comfortable, so very few people hang out here except for those eating and watching tv.

Time Passes

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A lot has happened since my last post.

Today I travelled to the post office and Hirakata City to get my insurance and alien registration cards (a.k.a. gaijin-kaado). It’s sort of cemented the idea that I’m actually in Japan. It’s still a little unbelievable, even after a month and a half.

The rice harvest has occurred in Osaka and Kyoto – blatantly noticeable locally because there are several single fields of rice around Hirakata City. I’m unsure of why they’re grown within the city – but there are even fields around the local grocery stores. I wish I had gotten some pictures of the rice and the harvest, but it’s too late now. I noticed that workers would bundle the rice and hang the stalks on poles to dry out – I don’t know why, but I’m sure there’s a reason. All that’s left now of the verdant green fields is mud.

My Intercultural Business Communication Teacher, Dr. Reynolds, took some awesome pictures of a rice harvest festival in the nearby city of Nara, where he’s building a house. They can be found at this post here.

I was going to go with his class to Osaka for a conference with representatives from Georgia businesses (that’s the state of Georgia, not the country.) The representatives were going to be making presentations on doing business in Japan, and I was really psyched to go. I dressed up nicely, made sure I looked good, and everything. (I had two tests early that morning, and we were going to be leaving from the school that afternoon.) When I went down to the shoes room, I looked at my shelf thoughtfully. I didn’t want to wear flip-flops with my outfit, and I knew I was going to wear my heels in Osaka. In order to not have a bag with shoes in it while meeting people in Osaka, I decided not to wear comfortable shoes to school.

Boy, was that a bad idea.

It takes about a half-hour to walk to school from the seminar house, which in my pace is in the vicinity of a mile. A mile in high heels that I hadn’t worn for months. By the time I realized the predicament I was in, it was too late to turn back and make it to school on time. When I got to school, I knew I wasn’t going to be going to Osaka. It was painful enough to move around the school, let along go anywhere else. I have blisters running up and down my feet and the backs of my heels are gone.  Ouch! So a pair of high heels got between me and fun.

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d been to Osaka on Saturday. That was for a field trip for my Peace and Human Rights class. We went to the Peace Museum there – I knew it would be an interesting experience. As the teacher, Dr. Scott says – “When you’re the victor in a war, you build war museums, but when you don’t win, you build peace museums.” The center was very nice and dramatic – with an insightful view of the firebombings of Osaka. The museum never mentioned much about the aggressors in the war – Dr. Scott pointed out that in all the exhibits, it’s shown that for civilians, no country was the enemy. War is considered the enemy. Here’s the outside of the museum:

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It’s difficult to discern from the architecture, but from the exhibits it was quite obvious that the museum was built in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, it wasn’t too up-to-date, so there was still a bit of a Cold War feel to the place when it talked about current events and nuclear proliferation.

After going to the museum, we were free to do whatever we wanted. Lisa, who went with us to Kyoto, was in that class and we decided to go around Osaka. The Peace Museum is located on the fringes of a park surrounding a famous castle in the middle of Osaka. The castle was destroyed several times, so I’ve been told that the inside was incredibly modern and disappointing. However, from the battlements above the moats, there were still some nice views:

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The castle park was very nice, forested, with fountains and open-air markets. The park is noted for housing many homeless people, and their blue-tarp tents could be seen through the trees. (I’ll post about homeless later.)

The picture at the beginning of this post is from that park.

After the park, we went into the more built-up parts of Osaka. We went to Nihonbashi, which is close to Nanba, the place I went to before. Nihonbashi is a place reputed to be filled with geeky foreigners and people dressed up, but under the afternoon sun, the place looked incredibly ordinary. No strange people at all. From there we walked to Nanba. Nanba is a totally different place in the afternoon than at night – quiet, with no glitzy lights and restaurants just beginning to open.

We must’ve walked past Nanba because we came to an interesting place – a shopping mall covered in verdant foliage. IMG_2498

When we went inside, it was apparent that the place catered to people of higher socioeconomic status. Names like Chanel could be seen floating around, and the place seemed fairly new. It was obvious that something was going on – a stage was set up, and people were lined up towards the stage. When we got a better look, we found that people were lined up to shake hands (not get autographs) with a J-Pop star, Jewel. Neither of us knew who she was, but I’m fairly sure the hundreds of other people did. Picture-taking was greatly discouraged, but people on the higher floors overlooking the plaza were taking lots of pictures. We went in some of the stores and wandered around, finding an interesting store called “Lush” that sold handmade beauty products. It was very difficult to understand in Japanese what the products did! But the store was cool.

As the sun began to set, we wandered some more around the glitzy, head banging Nanba. I searched for the awesome takoyaki place, but was unable to find it. The sun ducked below the horizon, and the streets came to life – the neon lights, the quirky people, and after a couple hours we headed home. Overall, we definitely had a fun time.

Since then, I’ve been trying to decide where to go next. I haven’t seen nearly enough of Kyoto, and we’re heading into the time where the fall foliage will be peaking – and the Japanese maples will turn brilliant red. I’ve discovered the awesomeness that is WikiTravel, and I’m thinking of seeing some places related to the famous haiku poet, Basho. He’s very famous for writing a travelogue covering a lot of the main island here.

There are also a lot of other places to go – Nara, with old temples, Uji, which is famous for being the birthplace of the Tale of Genji. There are lots of beautiful places around!

One last thing – I promised a video of cute baby sea otters. Here it is – taken by my friend, Ami Higashi. In the background, you can hear people saying, “Kawaii!” – which means cute, or adorable, in Japanese.

Starbucks Shrine

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One of the strangest things I’ve ever come across.

I went to Osaka today, but I’m too tired to write about it tonight, so I’ll do it tomorrow.

Donburi

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Donburi is a “nutritious” meal served at the cafeteria. It has a variety of toppings – this one is breaded pork, half-cooked egg, and a type of Japanese leek with soy sauce over rice. My new favorite dish. Oishii!

Slot the Typhoon In

Typhoon Melor

It’s highly probable that they’ll cancel school (at least morning classes) because of the typhoon. They’re saying it will hit us around 3 in the morning our time, but no one’s really worried about it. There will be some hefty winds and such. I’m also not really that worried about losing power because there aren’t that many trees to fall on a line.

It was already raining fairly hard when I left classes to come home this evening. I even wore my backpack backwards so that the stuff inside wouldn’t get drenched from the water coming off my umbrella. I’m sure I looked really weird and stupid, but it’s like wearing a poncho – at least you’re dry.

I’m still going to do my homework – just in case. If not, free holiday!

Osaka: The First Visit

Another picture-heavy post.

National Geographic’s guide to Japan disappointed me a bit when it had exactly three pages out of its hefty 399-page guide to Japan dedicated to Osaka. There were some pictures, but it listed a couple tourist sites to go to and that’s all.  To me it seems that the best kind of guide would be one that tells you all kinds of things to do, no matter where you are. This is what the guide had to say about Osaka:

“Although it caters to special interests with industrial tours, Osaka is no destination for sightseeing. Its monotony is broken by a network of canals, but it is mainly a hideous concrete agglomeration with a reputation for being driven, hectic, polluted, and crowded. This said, Osaka is a boisterous city of sybarites, with some of Japan’s best nightlife – and widest spectrum of fine food.”

It sounds like the writer wanted to sound smart and barely visited the actual city. I can’t say I’m an expert on it as well, but someone could say that about New York City and people would protest loudly. There are always interesting places everywhere. I personally found Osaka’s clean ocean breezes far less polluted than Hirakata City.

Anyway, as I wrote in a previous post, I planned with Ami to go to Osaka last Saturday. My roommate tagged along, and we had a fun time. Kaiyukan Aquarium is right next to a large ferris wheel, and a playful open area filled with entertainers. Osaka doesn’t just have a reputation for being filled with shrewd businessmen, but also with easygoing, friendly people – along with many different kinds of entertainers.

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The ferris wheel and below, the outside of the aquarium.

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We actually purchased something Ami found out about – a day pass. We were going to be going around Osaka a bit, using the trains, and she found out that we could prepay for a ticket/pass, which would work for the entire day, no matter how far we went. In the end, we payed Y500 for transportation, when we would have actually paid for more.

We stepped into the aquarium, and had a blast.

 

 

 

These were signs at each specific exhibit. I’m fairly sure they had something to do with children’s programs, but they were cute.

 

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We got to see the baby otters, but exactly at that moment my batteries failed and I had to change them. They were in an enclosure, and people pressed in from all sides to see. It was difficult to get out, but they were very cute. Ami was able to get pictures and a video, which I’ll include in a later post.

After the aquarium, we ate at what could best be described as a very American Japanese restaurant, because my roommate is a very picky eater at home, and more so here. She had pizza, and I had a “chicken steak”, which was quite obviously made with real chicken. It was served, still sizzling, on a metal plate – very nice. Ami had roe spaghetti, or spaghetti with fish eggs. (Spaghetti with fish eggs was actually the first meal I had with my Japanese host family when I came to Japan in 2005.)

After that, we took a train to Namba, an extremely popular district of Osaka, criss-crossed with canals and neon lights. This area is famous for its cheap, good food, and we walked around a bit to fuel our hunger. We also went to a bookstore, where my roommate got a lot more manga. There were so many sights to be seen!

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That’s Ami on the bottom left.

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Ami told me that the clown man at the top is one of the famous symbols of Osaka.

 

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The famous clown again.

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A betting spot, think. On horse racing. It was a very fancy building.

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Ami wanted to take me to a Taisho-era shopping center and to this manzai museum, but both of them were closed due to lack of interest. After working up an appetite, we went to find one of Ami’s favorite dishes: takoyaki. “The best takoyaki stands are the ones with long lines at them,” she told us, and took us to her favorite, a stand that makes, according to her knowledge, the best takoyaki in all of Osaka. Osaka is the originator of this food, which can now be found all over Japan. Takoyaki is like a dumpling, wrapped around pieces of octopus, especially ironic because we had just watched octopi in action at the aquarium. I had no qualms on trying it, especially because I’ve tried whole bunches of other stuff. My roommate refused to have any, so this is the gorgeous meal (mine is on the left:)

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It was absolutely delicious. I loved the octopus – it had a great texture. And the “secret sauce”, similar to barbeque sauce, was absolutely superb. Those aren’t full-sized chopsticks stuck there, but rather very small ones. And this is the stand that made the takoyaki, right in front of you. See the long line?

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Afterwards, we walked around some more, looking at all of the bright lights. The sun sets really early here, about 5:30.

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My roommate was tired, so we headed home afterwards. I had a good time, and I’ll be going to Osaka again on Saturday, as part of a field trip to the Osaka Peace Museum. Osaka is definitely a very different experience! It’s so important here to be open to trying new things, new places. Otherwise you don’t experience what the country is like.

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