のんびりする時 Carefree times

Max, Jillian, and Kaori; me taking pictures of picture takers

Its nice to have a break every once in awhile isn't it? Just last week I decided to go back to Miyazaki for a few days to clear the cobwebs from my head and get a chance to relax. Like last time I took the Car Ferry from Osaka to Miyazaki. And again like last time, I met another nice person who I got to know on the way there. This time his name was Kenji and he was just getting back from a Linkin Park concert in Osaka. He lives a little north of Miyazaki and works at a butcher shop. We talked about music and movies and such and its always interesting to know whats popular and whats not for Japanese youths. There was another school festival I went to that had a concert with just cover bands. The offspring seem to be quite popular still as well as Green Day and Sum41. I can't put together whether it is some kind of time delay in there importing, or the image these bands produce fitting with the mood/intrest of the youth. I use to think it had something to do with what people think is hip in the states but not so much anymore. What's disappointing is there is a lot of good Japanese music and films that nobody seems to know about that's within Japan.

Back to the adventure at hand: I was about to go to bed when I was asked by Kenji if I wanted a ride from the Ferry terminal to the station tomorrow when we got off the boat. I was kindly reminded of what I love so much about Miyazaki; the people. I'm always blown away by the genuine kindness that comes from people in this area and the friendly greetings you hear from strangers passing you by. I was taken to the station where we parted ways and exchanged phone numbers. He actually called me a few times to check how I was doing and invited me to his shop if there was time. I had made it back to the palm trees and calming blanket that envelops the atmosphere surrounding Miyazaki.

Well I guess there is one thing that can never be quite relaxing is the transportation. Miyazaki is an interesting place in that having a car a bike or some form of your own transportation is crucial if you want to get around without having to plan everything in advance. I scratch that, you just can't really get around Miyazaki unless you have a car. The trains come about once every hour and depending what station you're at the buses will come about 3 to 4 times a day. With that kind of time delay its pretty important not to miss your ride. Which is what I almost experienced by twenty seconds as I had to transfer trains in the morning. Arriving at the foreign yet familiar Kibana station west of the Miyazaki Campus I made the short trek inland at a snails pace to better enjoy the wide open spaces. Its interesting to think how much of an effect your visual surroundings can have on your way of thinking and how you react to things in general. The sky seemed to open up along with my mind.

After arriving, I met with Hirase Sensei, the professor in charge of the exchange program between Miyazaki and Evergreen on this end. I had lunch with him and the two new exchange students Jillian and Max Countryman and Kaori a good friend and exchange student at Evergreen last year. The atmosphere is always a party when you come to his office. We chatted and looked through some of Hirase's photo albums: his trademark possessions.
The Udo Shinto Shrine off and to the left under the rocks

Then Kaori, Jillian, Max and I took a trip down to the Udo Shinto Shrine, a famous shrine built into the cliff side off the beach. The weather was kind of stormy so the waves crashing against the rocks was a nice site to see. The place seemed to have a lot of history and stories to tell but unfortunately I couldn't read all of the signs and information provided. There seemed to be a lot of separate articles from the main shrine in which you could pray for specific blessings. It was really fascinating and I wanted to know more but we ran out of time. I bought a charm for my friend for safe travels who had just passed his driving test. The charms or お守り (omamori) are sold at shrines and can serve for various specific situations. A few that you can usually find are for success on entrance exams, safe travel, safety for a healthy birth, for finding a lover, fortune, general good luck and so on. It is actually a part of the culture I have often times overlooked but it always seems to come back to me whenever I'm driving in someones car and see an omamori hanging from the dashboard.

A big part of my trip this time was buying gifts or おみやげ (omiyage) for the people back in Kobe. Miyazaki is a great place to get these local souvenirs because of the various famous things it has. One of those things being the mayor of Miyazaki. Hideo Higashiokubaru (quite a mouthful) use to be a famous comedian and now is the humble mayor of Miyazaki prefecture. What's comical is that his fame has created his namesake and his face to be profitable gift items and boosted tourism to Kyushu. Just imagine if you saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's face plastered on the side of a laundromat or on gift wrapped chocolates or on bottles of California wine. That's how famous this guy has been made.
A Souvenir with multiple mayors in different costumes for just this one product he's got his face on here 4 times (15 times if you count the sides and the back)

Not having to cook for a few days was nice too. We went out to several restaurants and in replace of Thanksgiving dinner, Jillian cooked french toast to which people in the dorms where commenting on the delicious smell. I think it really brought me back home for a second, back to my elementary school days. It was a little over a year ago where I first really met Jillian through the three week exchange program to the small town of Toyooka in Japan. It was really nice to see her again and talk openly about each others experiences and catch up on things. That and meeting the cat(s) she provides for was great. I just kept thinking that her kindness for these animals will inevitably attract more.
Jillian and Kaori

Speaking of kindness, Kaori as I mentioned earlier was the one who provided wheels throughout my stay and again, like I said earlier we made it to places that would have been impossible to get to without her. It was nice seeing her even though she was very busy and concentrated on graduating. I felt a little guilty because of the bad timing. On a lighter note we got to visit one of her friends who had just had a baby. We got to hold him which blew my mind that this lady would just hand her several month old baby over for complete strangers to hold. She seemed to be very proud of him.

Causally talking and eating and spending time with friends was I think just what I needed. There were a few people I didn't get a chance to see while I was there but I still got in contact with them. In the idle moments I had a chance to clear my head a little and think about where I've been so far this year and what will happen in the next three months and beyond. I honestly don't know that clearly what the future holds but just like the last time I visited Miyazaki I'm feeling positive and upbeat. For some reason the trip seemed to reinvigorate my wonder and amazement of all that I'm wrapped up in at the moment. I have my doubts and my ups and downs but when I see things clearly there's so much I have to be thankful for and many thanks to say towards a lot of good friends. Best of luck to all of you out in Miyazaki.


学園祭 School Festival

Been pretty busy lately. Last weekend was the fall school festival that is held annually at the Shodai Campus. Schools from around the area and locals come to sell fair goods. Families were selling used goods at the front of the school kind of like a flea market or a massive garage sale. From there you had vendors selling food and prize booths. These tents were run by school clubs or groups to raise money for club treasuries. For the most part it seemed like not a whole lot of money was made but all in all it was a good time for everyone. They had live bands (mostly student bands), what appeared to be a popularity contest, photo galleries, and a booth where you could have 15 minute Chinese lessons. I've been to a few festivals since I came to Japan but this was the first one I got the chance to participate.
A view of the campus during the fair

I was working two booths The English club and the mountain climbing club that were both selling various foods. My job was to stand in front of the booth and try and get wandering eyed customers to come and buy the food. Holding signs and shouting politely if customers would be interested in the various delicious hand made products actually began to get tiring after awhile. I began to feel like the annoying people who stand in the busy streets of Sannomiya shouting at everyone if they'd like to go and sing karaoke. I actually began to pity them because its extremely hard to get anyone to take the sale. The use of polite form makes everything you say so much longer too so you have to speak really fast to get it all out before someone walks by.
making takoyaki!

On the last day there were very few people who came. I don't know who's thought it was a good idea but to have a festival for three days and the last day its on is a regular working Monday doesn't make a lot of sense. Besides some retired folks and wandering children, the majority of the day was slow. That's when things began getting interesting. Since there were was no one to sell to the vendors began trying to sell to other vendors. Promises were made, "if you buy our food we'll come buy yours" and deals were carried out, "Here's some free ____ now promote our booth!". An interesting problem we had over at the mountain climbing club was the confusion of the food being a little different from the usual festival fare. At the festival you usually can get what is called takoyaki Its a dish made from a flour based batter fried into little balls that you put octopus in them and cover it with a sauce and other ingredients. Well in replacement of octopus we used squid; ikayaki. Before the festival I asked what we were making and I was told takoyaki, it wasn't until the day that I found out it wasn't octopus but squid. Which made for a little confusion when we were making the banner.
my drawing of an Octopus. At the top of the banner they wrote: "octopus is not added in"
to which I added "actually it is added in" to which they crossed it out and wrote "its not added in!!!"

Unfortunately on the last day we got rained out and things began to get a little crazy. In desperation to sell something a lot of the booths dropped their prices. The foreign exchange group had all you could eat Chinese food for 100 yen (less then a dollar). People started giving away food out of shear kindness. It was insane and I wish more people knew about it or had a minute to stop by and eat practically for free. I ate pretty well this weekend (even if it wasn't exactly healthy) while making some new friends.


A life learning language corner #2: The Ultimate Chimera 外来語と和製英語(foreign orginated words and made-in-Japan English)

Recently my Japanese class at the college has been talking about the recent increase of foreign loan words (gairaigo) and the possible positives and negatives it could have on the future of the Japanese language. To clear this up here are a few examples: camera in Japanese is カメラ pronounced kah-meh-rah; Recycle: リサイクル (risaikuru); and then there’s my name Charlie: チャーリー(chāree). All of these are written in a separate alphabet called Katakana, which makes them easier to distinct between Japanese words. For more information on this, check out the Wikipedia entry for gairaigo. It was actually before this class that I read an interesting article that is suitable background information for this topic for those who are interested "Japanese: A language in a state of flux" by Tomoko Otake¹. To summarize, the use of these words are seen rapidly increasing in government, sciences, entertainment, and everyday parts of Japanese life. Some of these words are not simple material objects and represents complex ideas in English making their definition in Japanese unclear. Confusion is being created from the use of these words when very few people understand what is trying to be said even though there are substitute words in Japanese with the same meaning.

In addition to these words some are taken and shortened for example air conditioner in Japanese becomes エアコン (eakon=aircon), personal computer パソコン (pasokon), and one that has apparently become popular recently is sexual harassment セクハラ (sekuhara). The purpose of making these words shorter is so they can easily be remembered. This trend of shortening words is also a part of young people slang and seems to be an attempt to make speech more efficient or to be cool. An example of slang would be the shortening of the saying 気持ちが悪い (kimochi ga warui) that means a bad feeling, changes to きもい (kimoi). There is one final thing to add and that is made-in-Japan English (和製英語). Aside from loan words, this type of English has completely new and invented meaning. For example American dog (アメリカンドッグ) actually means corn dog or sharp pencil (シャープペンシル) meaning mechanical pencil (which actually originates from the company Sharp).

The shear amount of English that has entered the Japanese lexicon is quite mind boggling and says a lot about the flexibility of the language. However, the use of most of this English has been assimilated into Japanese to the point that its English meaning is no longer present. The news article above uses the example of the word reduce which in Japanese, only serves as one of the 3 R’s of recycling: to reduce the amount of garbage. In this case the word is being used to serve a particular purpose rather then retaining its complete meaning. The use of English in Japanese and whether it is becoming a problem is the subject of a lot of discussion. The reasoning as to why it is becoming so frequent has a lot of possible answers.

One of these is Japanese culture itself, which has a very long history of adopting and assimilating other cultures, and shaping them to fit within Japanese culture. Examples can be seen everywhere from the use of Chinese characters, to the arrival of Buddhism from China, to the western influences in shaping Japan’s rapid Industrial revolution. Takeo Doi, author of the book The anatomy of dependence speaks about this tendancy in Japanese culture to assimilate with the foreign:
“…the Japanese tend to ignore the world of strangers, but even this is far from meaning a lack of interest. They ignore the outside world in so far as they judge this to be possible, but even when they appear to be indifferent they are in fact keeping a formidably watchful eye on their surroundings. And once they have realized that something cannot be ignored, they busily set about identifying with and adopting it.”²
Takeo’s theme of the book explains a common emotion of passive love/maternal love and how this emotion, which is strong in Japan, allows for the easy acceptance of that which is foreign. Rather then create conflict or a standoff the passive love mentality creates assimilation.

Takeo’s book explains how it is this maternal/passive love that allows for easy assimilation, wanted or unwanted. Takeo quotes a newspaper article on the basis of the Oriental civilization in relation to the west:
“At the basis of the ways of thinking and feeling of the Westerner there is the father. It is the mother that lies at the bottom of the Oriental nature. The mother enfolds everything in an unconditional love. There is no question of right or wrong. Everything is accepted without difficulties or questioning. Love in the West always contains a residue of power. Love in the East is all-embracing. It is open to all sides. One can enter from any direction.”³
With this perspective, assimilation is not only a choice but it can also occur unintentionally. If this is the case, the increase of loan words in Japanese is being influenced naturally by a continuous contact with English foreigners. With that continued contact creates a stronger assimilation with foreign cultures including language.

Another reasoning for the popularity of English in Japanese is the thought that Western culture in general is cool and that if one can introduce English sayings and words into Japanese they too can be considered cool. For this reason alone seems to be what is really detrimental to Japanese. The reasoning behind introducing new words is not for easy understanding or lack of a better term but just simply to sound knowledgeable.

My second agenda in this post is to introduce you to one of my child hood passions, video games and how they relate to this topic. It’s not surprising that since video games have surpassed the sale of movie tickets it is slowly becoming mainstream entertainment⁴. It has also proven its ability as a medium to tell engaging stories as well. The game titled Mother 3 (the series is known as Earthbound in the states where only one of the three games was ever released) is the third in a trilogy written and created by one of my idols Shigesato Itoi. The overarching theme of the three games is centered on the power of maternal love. One of the themes that comes up in this story has to do with the mixing and borrowing from other cultures that is a part of Japan’s culture. The Antagonists in the game come from outer space and are called the pig army. If you look at the character design they are an obvious homage to storm troopers from the Star Wars movies as they wear full body suits similar to their Star Wars counterparts.

The pig army crash-lands on the island and begins to wreak havoc on the land burning down forests and transforming the creatures. It is when the main characters father is in pursuit of this enemy that he finds a note from the retreating army. The game is in Japanese so here is a translation of that note:
“None of the animals in this area will do. We have to make them cooler. The themes are: Stronger! Badder! And more Violent! Take this and that and put them together to make something completely new. If we were to name it, it will be called the Charming Chimera Plan. We’ll work hard at reconstruction.”⁵
The idea of combining creatures is parallel with this idea of assimilating and mixing cultures and words. The chimeras themselves represent the assimilation of culture or English as I have been talking about. The idea of “making them cooler” seems very familiar to wanting to be cool by using and making your own English words. The pig army, although supposedly coming from space, is not foreign in that they have very human like qualities. Arrogant and childish, they seem to embody the mischievous side of humanity.

As the game progresses you run into more and more creatures that have been fused with machinery or some kind of combination of random animal parts. Some of the chimeras themselves have names that are a combination of English and Japanese words. For example トビマウス (tobimausu) has two parts, tobi, the noun form of the verb tobu, which in Japanese means ‘to fly’ and the gairaigo mausu (mouse); flying mouse. The name is also a pun since tobimasu (tobimausu) in Japanese is the polite verb form for ‘to fly’.

Eventually you end up at the research facility where these creatures are being made and you begin to hear rumors of a creature that people are referring to as the Ultimate Chimera, has escaped and is destroying the facilities and the people inside it.

This is the Ultimate Chimera.

This comical Frankenstein of a creation seems to represent the fear of complete assimilation. Where language and culture are so completely mixed as to destroy the original cultures, consuming identity and logic in the process. It is essentially the worst-case scenario and the metaphorical shape of the negative points about foreign loan words and cultural assimilation.

The creature cannot be defeated and is finally trapped with the help of a monkey. The fact that a lower creature that cannot speak ultimately saves everyone from this creature suggests that the answer to the problem of assimilation or foreign loan words is simple or primitive. It may be that if people where not so obsessed with keeping up with the rest of the world or being cool and instead, living a life that's easy to understand. If we could only return back to a simpler time maybe this problem would not exist.

The scene ends with everyone leaving the room and the creature escaping once more, never to be seen again. Obviously this is suggesting that this problem of assimilation and the mixing of English and Japanese has yet to be answered and whether there will be happy or difficult ending is unsure.

¹ Otake, Tomoko. “Japanese: A language in a state of flux” The Japan Times Online 23 September 2007
² Doi, Takeo The anatomy of dependence Trans. John Bester. Kodansha America, 1971: pp47
³ Suzuki, D. “Toyo Bunmei no Kontei ni aru Mono” Asahi Shimbun, December 22, 1958
⁴ Holson, Laura M. “’King Kong’ Blurs Line Between Films and Games” The New York Times October 24, 2005
⁵ Itoi, Shigesato Mother 3 Nintendo, HAL Laboratory, Brownie Brown 2006


Back to Toyooka aka 鼻から牛乳第2回 (Milk coming out the nose part two)

9/24/07 the host family (bottom left) and friends

About a year ago I made my first trip to Japan to a little town called Toyooka. There I stayed with a host family for about three weeks taking in the scenery, visiting sights and city officials, and teaching English on the side. It was probably one of the most memorable moments to date and definitely the first time experiencing a foreign country where communication barriers and cultural barriers where so acutely visible. Everything about that trip was better then I could of asked for. I remember the last thing my host father said to me, please come to Japan again. It was a kind thing to say and easy to understand for a discombobulated foreigner. However, I don't think I realized how seriously I would end up taking that sentence.

A little less then a year later I wound up in Kobe Japan, a completely different experience altogether. Big city, support for international students, crosswalks a quarter of a mile wide and half a mile long,things I had never experienced. I knew I would eventually make it back to that little town but the question was when. After a couple letters and emails to my host family it wasn't until the end of the summer that I made a phone call and got a hold of Masae the mother of the household. After a good talk I was invited over again and we planed on a week long stay. I took the Hamakaze train north to Toyooka with freshly bought gifts for the family. I get there late at night and Ryushin, the priest and father wearing his casual clothes, and the two kids, Yurika, who has just joined the basketball team as it's shortest member and Yoshihide a continuing soccer team member (also the shortest), are waiting for me at the station. We get back to the house up on the mountain where Ryushin proceeds to show me the beer keg and tap he has rented. We quickly get to drinking and start talking about the past and whats happened in the last year.

To be honest it wasn't a sight seeing and event filled trip but instead an extremely relaxing, for the most part, low key stay. I felt more like a part of the family and less like an intruder or a helpless foreigner. I helped with chores, learned about the family and their past, played with the kids, and even helped clean the temple. For those who don't know Ryushin is a Buddhist priest for the Shingon sect. He's nothing like what you would expect a Buddhist priest to be. Try and picture a man who drives a BMW mini, smokes, drinks, and enjoys red meat and see if that matches up with what you thought a Buddhist priest was.

I met up with the Japanese teacher, Hashimoto Sensei, who gave her time to the 5 of us who came last year, to talk about the city and how its changed in the past year. The city of Toyooka is famous for its oriental white storks and the effort being made to save them from extinction and return them back to the wild. For several years they've been trying to get them to breed with no success. Last year there was a ceremony for the release of one of the storks that was attended by Japanese Royalty. Not long after the research facility had successfully mated the storks and the news went national. This little town was all of a sudden on national news. As time went on it became a destination for new housing. With a newly build hospital and new shops sprouting up here and there thinks were changing in Toyooka. Hashimoto Sensei has been keeping busy teaching Korean and working at the local radio station, FM-Jungle, as DJ Hershey. There is one other teacher Yoshi, who I regrettably didn't get a chance to see, who has his has own radio show. Ryushin, my host father as well has his own talk show on topics about Buddhism. Everyone's a radio personality in Toyooka!

Hashimoto Sensei! She does interpreter work too

Yurika, (bottom center) Shin chans wife (top center) and Friends (sorry I was briefly introduced to the other two...)

On the last night Ryushin hosted a big party in which through out the week he was constantly calling up friends and literally running into people he knew and asking them to come. It was way more then I was expecting and I think a lot of the people who came thought the same. It was a very warm group of people, friends, and the host family. I felt very welcome and at home. I was even given a gift by Shin chan and his wife, a friend to my host father and the other Buddhist priest who is a part of the radio show.

Shin chan's gift a Japanese fan (扇子、sensu)

Later in the night the group began to dwindle and then swell again as we moved to a karaoke bar. People sang, danced on tables, and had a good time. For some reason Hashimoto Sensei kept saying that Shin chan the priest, was a Yakuza mobster , jokingly but repeating it enough to the point I thought she was serious. Then Ryushin, began singing the song. This song's title is チャラリー鼻から牛乳 meaning milk coming out the nose. For some reason or another it became an inside joke with me and my host father the last time I was there and the absurdity and strangeness of this karaoke tune was again brought out again. It actually says a lot about his personality I think, wild, out of the norm, and hilarious. It will probably be one of the few karaoke experiences I would say was great in every possible way (which says a lot because I wouldn't be caught dead doing karaoke in the states.... again).

On the last day I packed my things and found another giant bag of fruits, snacks, and other assorted food stuffs from Masae, a truly amazing women and host mother. She kept asking me to come back for the winter break which I willingly said yes. We drove to the train station and they waved me off as I tried to stumble out my appreciation for them and how I can't thank them enough (always seems hard when you have so much to say and so little time and then there's the language barrier..). A couple final waves and the train pulled out of the station to take me back to the busy life of Kobe.

The familiar sites of Toyooka and the slower pace to life were all welcoming sights, especially unlike last year I wasn't completely trained from teaching and going to classes. I think what I'll treasure most about this trip was the ability to converse with my host family that wasn't possible a year ago. That and just being able to see them all again. They are truly genuine people who can take the negative energies out of anyone (well at least me). It makes you think about all the stereotypes about Japanese culture and people, the comparative studies and cultural research and just blows a giant hole in those thoughts and all you see is a family and friends. I've learned so much from the Amao family and they have done nothing but give and give again. All I can say is: Thank You, and if possible I would be happy to babysit for the kids again.


A life learning language corner #1: Me, Myself and I

This is a new part of the blog that you'll be seeing more of in the coming weeks and months. Its about time I started talking about language and what effect it has on my reality. The hardships, the successes, and the continuous confusion will be analyzed and the everyday experiences will be explored. Some of the comments I make are from personal experiences and others from excessive studying. However, I also state my opinions and realize that I’m not going to get things right on the first try essentially. This I can say is the beginning of a gathering of ideas and thoughts I have been holding onto for some time.

I can remember back to the first days of language class where I learned my first words in Japanese. Words like ‘book’, ‘sun’, ‘Japan’, ‘library’ and ‘I’. I remember very vividly my first Japanese Sensei in high school telling all the boys in the class they’d be referring to themselves as ぼく (boku) and the girls as わたし (watashi). Immediately I begin to believe there’s a male and female form for addressing oneself. “Not to worry”, my Sensei said, “When you grow up (or if you want to sound like an adult) then you can use watashi”. This was how we began to structure some of are first sentence like ‘I like Japan’ and ‘Today I am going to the Library’ thinking we had it right saying boku and watashi with every sentence. Well there are a lot of things they don’t teach you in textbooks. It turns out that addressing yourself and others with English speakers call pronouns is quite a different thing all together in Japanese. First off you don’t need to say “I” and “you” especially when its implied or context sensitive. If you’re talking about yourself, family, etc. it is implied after the onset of the conversation, which is why missing the beginning of a conversation can lead to huge confusion. One of the things I come across the most when correcting English paper from native Japanese speakers is leaving the subject out of the sentence when grammatically it is impossible to finish the sentence without one. The subject is not important if it’s already known what is being talked about. However, English is subject crazy. I can remember back to the elementary school days when the teachers would ask you to find a way to write a paper without starting every sentence with “the” or “I”. It got to the point where I was to believe that you weren’t suppose to refer to yourself at all in Japanese or as little as possible, which also lead to confusion and people wondering if I was talking about myself or someone else. So obviously there is a middle ground for how these words should be used.

So another problem I’ve had is how to refer to others. There are various ways to say you but unlike the word you they imply a relationship with who you’re speaking with. I remember really early on in my stay here talking to a friend of mine using the word あなた (anata) and being told to stop. The reasoning was is that the word is rarely used and can have the connotation of addressing one’s lover. It was kind of a surprise because when I learned this word that was never explained. At this point I’ve given up on using these types of words and just sticking with people’s names. There is another form 君 (kimi) that is an informal way to refer to "you" and is also used as a title following the name (kun) usually for males, and boys (12/8/07 thanks for the correction Justin). Maybe the most confusing form is the he/she form referring to someone 彼、彼女 (kare, kanojo) which can refer to a formal way to refer to someone at the same time it also has the meaning of boyfriend or girlfriend. This right here is enough to stop me from referring to others with out creating confusion about the relationship of the person I’m talking about.

When using these words something interesting happens. Instead of just saying “I”, “me”, “you” one has to think about the relationship he/she has with the listener. There is the very informal male form of “I” 俺 (ore) which can be offensive to some people (I've actually heard that some women don't like guys who to refer to themselves this way) and the very formal non-gender form わたくし (watakushi) that’s purpose is to place you below the listener. To be straight, none of these words translate and are really quite numerous if you count some of the more archaic forms and honorific forms (more on honorifics another time).

Some of these pro-noun like words have contextual meaning that paints an image to the listener whether to show the speakers affection or pique towards another. One of these words has changed quite a bit in the recent past. お宅 (otaku) once a very formal form of you is now used to describe someone who is obsessive or nerdy. The form is not only a reference to another person but can also mean that person’s residence. Another mystery to me is the use of the word うち (uchi) usually used by women referring to themselves, their possessions, or family members kind of like the word "my" in english. The mystery is is this the same uchi that refers to house or home? One source says yes and another says no. If the answer is yes then a sense of self and a sense of family or household could be one and the same. Another thing I’ve noticed is a tendency for some women to refer to themselves in the third person. This makes me question what is the sense of self that these people hold and how is it different from how other people think.

I do think that studying Japanese makes one rethink how they think about themselves and others, or at least how to rephrase sentences without the pro-nouns. It leads me to think a lot about English and so much of it seems to be about “us” and “them”, “you” and “me”, “mine” and “yours”. I’m reminded of the various seminars at Evergreen where giving an opinion seemed to be so confrontational. The delicate way of phrasing how you have an opinion differing from someone else’s will seemingly come down to a my opinion vs. someone else’s. Those tension thick discussions I have yet to witness in any of the seminar classes I’ve had while being in Japan. I can’t say that it has to do with how people phrase their sentences but its definitely a different attitude.


行っちゃった、 Gone (regrettably so)

Lanterns at Osaka Castle

Today marked the last day for the two exchange students from China, Lok and Vivi, who returned home as of this afternoon. It was like any other day spent with them only shorter and a little bittersweet. We didn't talk much but there wasn't much to speak of that had already been said. Lok was ready and stead fast about leaving early and on time, he cried out his desire not to return home in the funny annoyed way that he does most things to let you know he's going to be alright in the end. Vivi, as usual, was not ready till the last possible second when the hard decision had to come between taking and leaving some precious memento. She left a little later, dragging luggage twice as heavy as herself. She proceeded to freak herself out and everyone at the bus station by thinking she had lost her ticket minutes before the bus arrived (of course she had it). After they had both left the reality of it seemed to wash over me like a bucket of ice water. They were both amazing friends and when it came to problems of any size or shape they were always willing to help out if they could. It's hard to imagine what the first half of this year would have been like with out them or where I'd be right now. To Lok and Vivi, Thanks.
I'll miss ya guys

As for me I continue the fight and have approximately one month until school starts again and half a month until I must turn in my contract for next quarter. Of course this means operation one is seek out some fun before summer ends! That is after writing up this contract. Also getting a job. I Still have some explaining to do I guess with what I've been up to which will come soon enough.


Let me tell you a tale you've already heard

A post! but whats this....


ある日、おじいさんの娘は小川に水を取りに行きました。カラスさんは魅惑的な(みわくてき)、狡猾な(こうかつ)カラスでした。女の子は小川で水を飲むあいだにカラスさんは松葉(松針(まつはり))に変身(へんしん)しました。気がつかなくて  女の子はカラスさんを飲み込んでしまいました。

カラスさんは女の子の中にまた、変化していました。来る日も来る日も女の子のお腹が 大きくなりました。ついに赤ちゃんができました。カラスさんが人間の子供に変身しました! おじいさんは本当にびくりしました。カラスさんが大きすぎる鼻がいって、ちょっと変な子供なのに おじいさんが嬉しいでした。毎日、おじいさんは孫(まご)と一緒にあそびました。カラスさんと言う赤ちゃんが箱で遊びたかったです。しかし、おじいさんはそのことを禁止しました。カラスさんが泣き叫びました。カラスさんはめそめそように泣いて、おじいさんが屈服(くっぷく)しました。「さ、その時だけですよ」と言いました。カラスさんは箱を開けて、きれいな光が出て来ました。すぐにカラスさんはカラスにの変形して、嘴(くちばし)で光の玉をひったくって、煙突(えんとつ)から出ました。カラスさんが光の玉を空に投げました。森や川や山や空もきれいに見えます。そして、太陽があったわけです。

The above for those who can't read Japanese or whose computers don't display the characters correctly is a basic translation of the Native American myth of "How the Raven stole the Sun." For those who can read Japanese (and better yet those who also know the myth) feel free to read it and leave your thoughts, criticism, etc.

It isn't meant to be esoteric, I just wanted to show one of the things I've worked on in the past few months. For those who don't know the myth I apologize because I can not find a single decent telling of it as it seems many have been taken down since I last checked. Here is a watered down version. The translation was for some friends, a professor from the college and his wife. The project got me thinking about a lot of things and to reflect on the work I've been doing for the past year or so.

First for the unaware, I have been considering a career in translation for a couple of years. The plan has wavered now and then but I keep telling myself I should be getting myself into this field. The idea is to translate from Japanese to English. That's about as far as I can think out my plan and usually about where I loose confidence in making it a reality and where the wavering part comes in. So my baby step goal for this next quarter is to get a little work experience doing language related work. Coming up in a couple of weeks will be a teacher assistant job, teaching English and correcting papers. Anyways, it will be a launching pad to productivity seeing as I've been feeling like a waste of space recently.

The translation project itself was an interesting experience that reflected a lot of what I've learned in the past about translation but I began to realize it almost immediately. One of the things you'll hear a lot in the world of translation is the idea of a faithful translation, an abstract concept that can be taken as quantifiable . First off, there's no standard for measuring faithfulness. If faithfulness is defined as accurately interpreting the authors words, meanings, etc. wouldn't that require being inside the authors head? Faithful seems to be used to deny and undermine the fact that the final piece is another work in a different language. I'm not saying there's no such thing as a good translation or one that seems to be a dead on interpretation of the original but different languages are not the same. However, this word, faithful cannot be buried so easily as you will soon see...

What made things interesting while translating this myth is that the myth itself comes from oral tradition. Trying to track down an original version of this story is near impossible. Each version I came across varied greatly and not only that they are written versions of the myth. Part of oral tradition is the presentation and how it is told. Its as if I were translating the plot outline of a play, SOMETHING is going to end up missing in the end. So I set about translating a story that has no official text. I remembered back to when I had first heard the myth and piecing together the most important bits from my memory and themes that reoccurred in most of the different versions. Making the language I used simple, I tried to make it as easy to understand as possible sacrificing on voice for correct grammar and well, using Japanese I know. All in all, it felt like I was writing my own work or telling my version of the myth. However giving ones interpretation of the story takes up a huge part of oral story telling, which was not recorded with written language but memorized from story teller to story teller. Pacing, themes, and the story were more important to memorize then words.

So from here I've been thinking about what the relation between oral story telling, interpretation, and translation of text have to do with each other. I hate to use the word but I wonder if its possible to have a faithful retelling of an oral story? Here I have to mention that faithful has become synonymous with good. In common language when someone has translated something you'll here phrases like "I've translated it as faithfully as I could" which to me sounds like "with this impossible task, I've done the best that I could" or "this is MY idea of what faithful means" Anyways, back to the question is it possible? Yeah I guess, just as possible or impossible as it is to translate a novel faithfully. Again I arrive at the problem of the word faithful having several meanings from good to transcribing the word of the lord into x language . There was a time when people believed that there was only one possible right translation for anything.

Its a little abrupt and lack of background information and sources makes me thing I need to dig up some of the work I did last year but I'll stop here. Soon to come are more photos and what I've been up to on this seemingly silent past month.


Some things come supersized

Walking down the street I feel pressure on my foot and a soft rustling sound. I've accidentally kicked something. That something: a corn dog sized cockroach...
(not a dead cockroach... other dead bugs happened to be falling from the sky at the moment)

The days have gotten a little hotter recently. With summer vacation under way the plans, opportunities, and possibilities seem to be endless. While I have began to make plans and be busy with trips there are moments that seem to be mind numbingly slow and open. On one of those slow days, with the feeling of loneliness being more powerful then usual, I decided on a whim to head out to Nara. Nara is one of Japan's bigger attractions that is definitely an experience to share with someone else. However alone it takes on a completely different feeling of being an observer in a strange place. First you have the deer which are everywhere and have absolutely no regard or fear of people. Just as plentiful are the people, from every country in the world feeding said deer. Also the temples, shrines, parks, and ruins are enough to keep you occupied for a day or two. One everyone talks about is the 東大寺 Todaiji; the largest wooden structure in the world housing the 大仏 Daibutsu or Big Buddha.
Impressive, check out the guy in the robes for comparison

Its interesting that for a country that gets picked on for being small it sure has a lot of big things. Biggest statue for example. I actually took a very few amount of pictures, just trying to take in everything and well as melodramatic as it sounds pictures don't do any of it justice. It does have an other worldly kind of feel to it, like many times and places before.

Well to end the theme of big things I finished the day off with a little fast food. Mcdonalds. As much I detest going to a McDonalds or avoiding it at all cost but you have to make a stop when such a mementos occasion as the "Mega Mac". Yes a hamburger so vile so huge they won't sell it in America.
(Self indulgence or Self violence, either way I think I can hear my arteries screaming to stop)

For a limited time only McDonalds in Japan is selling this to an X amount of customers per day. Why its being sold only in Japan I have no idea but if its to try and catch up with fat America its got to be a bad idea.


大阪から宮崎まで From Osaka to Miyazaki (part 2)

Updates before stories. It is officially summer vacation (finally, having to go to school on the fourth of July was confusing torture, my body was just not up for lectures and language tests). Hopefully there will be lots of stuff to experience and share, I'm also looking forward to more random updates. With that I should mention that I finally, FINALLY feel like I've gotten settled in and gotten use to life here (little before the half way mark; not bad), which is great because I feel like myself.

So back to Miyazaki. Only about 200 miles away from Kobe but seemingly thousands away is Miyazaki University. Here is where the other half of the exchange students end up, which couldn't be any more different from Kobe. We reach Shaun's dorm and the first thing I notice when we walk in is the off and on flow of people walking by shouting greetings at you. I couldn't help thinking "holy crap people talk to you around here!" Overall I found the talkative level to be higher. Call it southern hospitality but people in Miyazaki like to talk. We get to Shaun's room and well, there's not a lot of space; bed and desk lie between a straight away from the door to the balcony. Any remaining floor space happened to be my bed. I worried at first that we would kill each other by the end of it but no blood was shed. The community in the dorms is great and coming from various different countries and backgrounds. The stories about the mess are true however, something about having a shared dorm kitchen with fresh college students (sometime even veterans) just spells mildew.

The view from Shaun's pad in the international dorms on campus. Mountains? Yeah whatever.
Time slows down and faux boredom sets in that feels so natural and unrestrained. I could sit and look at the scenery all day. Straining the limits of what can be done in a small town, we go around, seeing the local sights, meeting friends, eating at local restaurants and just kicking it Miyazaki style. Shaun's friends drive us around from time to time making the impossible easy. There was even a time when two complete strangers drove us back to the campus because it was on the way. The random encounters and friendly faces had to be the most surprising thing about the trip. That and the one car trains that looked to be about 60 years old. The tram, train, whatever you call it, traveled through picturesque mountain scenery away from anything that resembles human civilization. It was as if the quite mountains were real and the noisy foreign object or train we were riding in was fake.

After seeing some sights one day we were invited to a farewell party for some English teachers.

A BBQ party. I have to say barbecues seem to be more popular in Japan then in the states. Also you're not cooking half a cow your cooking half a cow cut up into bite size pieces. Who ever came up with that gimmicky marketing ploy that bite size = fun size probably has been to a Japanese BBQ
Neither of us knew anyone there except for one or two people but we were immediately greeted as if we were long lost friends. First off these were all people had been abroad and/or had interest in English. We heard from the departing teachers there experience in the remote areas of Kyushu. This community that I was apart of for that evening was very different from community as I have experienced it back in Kobe. For one, formalities where thrown out the window and the feeling and conversation flow seemed to focus on the interpersonal connection everyone had to the collective. Naturally everyone had something to relate about so it was a rare occasion altogether I think...

Collectivism can refer to society being like minded, working together, and putting the importance of community above the self. However in a big city like Kobe I think collectivism can also refer to the common fact that everyone is collected together in the same space. I'm not saying that people in Kobe do not have high regards for their community, they do. When you see something like a group of volunteers picking up trash around the town people do care about the collective. However does the collective value the collective first? Are people in Kobe more individualistic? I can't answer that.

The adventure proceeds at its nice and tempered pace as a day or two passes. I'm given a bike and some time alone to explore the area. I ride pass field after field of rice patties and do a loop around the area. The architecture is pretty interesting on the way to the school actually.

Woah! "A" frame apartments, pretty slick looking, I wonder what its like living on top.
After that Shaun takes me to a small, out of the home, family run restaurant in the neighborhood. They give you a ridiculous amount of food, enough to feed 1o starving orphans for only 500 yen (about 5 bucks). I guess the missing link between Miyazaki and Kobe is family. Something that's constantly playing in the background, family in Miyazaki takes center stage. From this little restaurant, to relationships, to community and events I saw family where ever I went.

Killer rain, giant bugs, and a little pizza and beer later, I've come to my last day in Miyazaki. We take the day to go and visit Heiwadai Park.

This ancient ruins of a Mayan civilization that accidentally wound up on the small islands east of Asia... actually the structures about 70 years old, the same age as the kindly gentleman who explained this to us. Its created out of ancient stones from various countries including China and Korea.
The park is filled with replicas of what are called Haniwa, clay figures that originate from the Kofun period or beginning in 3rd century Japan. They were apparently buried with the dead. The stylistic forms they take on are really fascinating and mysterious. As a faint picture of a society long ago they bring up more questions then they answer. Seeing them before in museums was fun but having them in the park made for better photo ops.

This is the happiest Haniwa in Miyazaki... look at him he's so full of himself.
Posing with the Haniwa while unfortunately having eyeballs, makes it hard to fit in with them.
That's Better

After that it was about time to return, Shaun takes me back to the station where we chat for a bit, slowly but surely after five days, conversation became smoother and less awkward. Unfortunately that's when we say farewell, back on the ferry I went to Osaka and to my nice soft bed. I'd like to thank Shaun for sticking with me the whole time I was there and with out him I doubt much of it could have been possible.

I'd like to add on the way back to Kobe I was in Osaka when I must have taken the wrong exit off the subway because I ran into morning rush hour traffic. This was a first seeing as what I've qualified as traffic all my life takes the form of cars was now suddenly transformed into people. A constant flowing river of people walking deep into the underground stations. I have to emphasize that there were no waves no let up just a stream, as if all of Japan were trying to ride the subway. Swimming upstream for about ten minutes I finally make it above ground to the city air and return to another world as dream like as the one I just left.


大阪から宮崎まで From Osaka to Miyazaki (part 1)

If you notice a change in the way I'm titling Blog entries don't worry this blog isn't going to suddenly transform into all Japanese. Any Japanese will obviously have a translation to it and I'll do it to the best of my ability. Speaking of translation I just finished a novel called Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Ever since I started last year at Evergreen reading novels translated from the Japanese is like working out some intricate puzzle in reverse. As I read I catch myself trying to picture what the original must have looked like, if anything was purposefully left out or put in. Often times where I am left scratching my head is when some colloquial phrase is used like "Jeez laweez" or the decision to use the term dollars instead of yen when talking about money. The dollar/yen exchange I can easily figure out as well as the reason it may have been preferred for easy understanding but I can't begin to think what "Jeez Laweez" could have originally been. Living in Japan with the names of places, food, etc. fresh in my mind makes the story easy to relate to at times, making the book even better. Last but not least, much respect and thanks go to Philip Gabriel a translator of Haruki Murakami's works.

Depending how I spin it this could be a pretty long story but I'll go at my own pace. The story starts out at school at a time where I'm about ready to pass out from exhaustion and desperately want to get away from classes. Its then when something unexpected happens. Loud speakers audible from anywhere on campus on a Tuesday afternoon politely address the students telling them to leave the campus. Four students have caught the measles and the entire school has to be closed for ten days. Of course I rejoice and can't get off of campus fast enough. However, a quarantine over measles? Just seems strange to me. Up till that day there had been a lot of scare over the はしか or measles with large posters warning of symptoms. This was all in response to the nation wide "epidemic" that had other universities and schools across the country closing their doors. All of this seemed strange and unnecessary. I mean come on its just the measles. Apparently there was a period of time when vaccination were not mandatory, leaving a predicted 6 million people with out vaccinations.

So with this twist of fate I decided to pack my things and take a vacation to Miyazaki. I made a call, reserved a ferry ticket and headed off to Osaka. On my way there I had a nice lunch with Susan, my Professor in Kobe and killed some time walking around Osaka. Osaka has its share of dirty streets, homeless people, and entertainment districts. I was walking around and decided to drop into a video game arcade which by western standards, are advanced by leaps and bounds. However, there are exceptions to the rule for example this game I found...
The Typing of The Dead! Educational video games just got a little scarier!
type type type! take that you zombies!!! All the standing machines are actually sit down machines with comfy benches. Also notice they provide ash trays at every machine.

I had a good laugh as I played a view rounds of this game mashing the keyboard. One thing that's surprising is even though there is a bevy of new futuristic games coupled with pachinko and slot machines (blurring the line between arcade and casino) a good chunk of the machines are from a decade ago. For example the fighting game Street Fighter II that came out in 1991 is still a staple to the arcade scene in Japan.

With that I traveled on a maze of subway lines to the ferry terminal, got my ticket and past the time in a waiting room with the drone of the news on TV along with old people dressed for adventure and truckers on a regular business trips. I get on the boat and put in a room with wide open floor and cubbie holes with blankets and pillows. Here is where I would be for the next 13 hours. Unlike a bus or plane I had some space to lie down and could get up and walk around if I wanted. I met a nice man who was situated next to me named Sawada. He was traveling to Miyazaki for a school reunion but had made the journey before for business. He lives and works in Osaka and is in and out of retirement, taking up part time jobs when cash is low. He was really nice offering me his number and a place to stay if I ever got into trouble. "Just don't ever ask for money" he said. What made this so funny is he payed for my breakfast and bus fare to get to Miyazaki station without me asking for anything.
Finally I've made it to the paradise that is Miyazaki...
Palm trees included of course
The first step off the ferry had the air sticking to me in the humid climate. The buses, buildings, people were all different and time flowed in a slower relaxed pace. "Slow enough to induce a comatose" as Shaun put it. Here's around the time I find my friend Shaun, fellow Evergreener and exchange student, waiting for me at the station. We take a quick tour of the deserted down town area and head back to the station where we bought tickets from a real person and had them stamped by real people. Passing us by where fields, gardens with flowers, and tiny neighborhoods. We get off at what I think is a station which is actually just a box in the middle of nowhere. We then head for Miyazaki University where I'll be staying for the next five days. Overall it was the first time I had a chance to relax.
(to be continued)


田圃 rice patty field

About two years ago when I first started seriously thinking of coming to Japan I would constantly think about the terrain and what it was like. From what I was told and saw in books it was a very crowded place with cities and skyscrapers. A claustrophobic nightmare. I was aware of the importance of mountainous nature and the importance of agriculture in Japan but it just struck me as not fitting into the image I had as I held my breath and prepared myself for being elbow to elbow with the people around me. That said it was drilled into me very quickly on my first visit that nature is not a missing part in the ecosystem of this country as the photo above suggest (photo taken in Miyazaki, more on that soon).

So we have the country side and the city pretty manageable, easy to describe areas. This works right? Well not exactly...

On a field trip with Professor Mitsumata and his seminar class we had the opportunity to plant rice in a rice patty field. Where you ask? In the city. Tucked away in a neighborhood where houses are placed what seems like inches away from each other facing a busy street lies a patch of land submerged in water just big enough to place a house on there lies a rice patty field. Before I can ponder on its apparently out of place nature, I'm knee deep in mud planting rice next to screaming girls (Prof. Mitsumata failed to tell me his entire seminar class was female). The screaming is because of the mud and the host of intimate critters living there. One of them is called the Kabutoebi or "helmet shrimp". The experience is a lot less complicated then I ever could have imagined. Trying to make straight even rows you plant clumps of rice grass into the mud making sure they are not completely submerged and capable of standing on there own. After I get the hang of this its the most relaxing thing even with the sound of cars passing by and an old man taking photos.

Afterwards we have lunch and interview the old couple in charge of the little plot and there struggle to keep it. One problem they experience is garbage. Roadside drivers and walkers often throw trash into the plot of land, requiring them to go in and clean it out. There is also pressure from the housing industry to sell the lots for housing. Additional problems are getting water to fill the lot, and draining it. I couldn't understand much else of what was said but it was obvious to me that what these two elderly people and there family were doing was not easy, trying to keep a tradition in the face of change. I was curious if pollution was an issue for these crops that were so close to a busy roadway where exhaust fumes were plentiful, but didn't have time to ask or form this question.

If anything the experience threw out my idea of the country side and the city being separate places. This rice field in the middle of a busy crowded neighborhood is one of the many moments where I lose my sense of place. The definition of a city and a rice field which I think are so grounded fall apart at this sight. My expectations of this little patty field to be deep in the country side, away from the convince stores and vending machines, the traffic lights and the taxi cabs, was completely disobeying my preconceived notions. A garden in the backyard is one thing but to own plots of land around the neighborhood for growing rice destroys my thoughts on farming agriculture. Definitions and encyclopedia entries can not describe these sorts of things and most often you have to see them to believe them.

Another example I guess would be my first trip to Japan, when I was staying with a Buddhist priest surrounded by nature and mountain sides. On a visit to the mall with his family I remember being in a video game arcade watching this 40 year old Buddhist priest dressed up like a 25 year old playing arcade games and trying his best at the claw machines. This shouldn't be weird but I make it out to be. "We're in the country side but how did we make it to this seemingly futuristic Mall? and why is my host father dressed like a kid?" These were the times when I asked "Where am I?"


Caught in Suspension

Lately I've been feeling like I'm on top of the world (literally). As if soaring through the sky like some sort of majestic bird. Those days are followed by ones where I'm free falling, plummeting down to earth as I catch fire. I'm holding my breath and seem to be waiting for the end but it never comes. I can't quite reach the ground. Gravity doesn't seem to be working properly so I float in mid-air pondering my recent fall before taking off into the sky again.

This past weekend I went mountain climbing and camping at Mt. Seppiko with some people from the rock climbing club. It was refreshing and the first time I'd ever done any serious mountain climbing. The paths were well traversed but some were extremely steep and hard to get across, with ropes and ancient, rotten, log bridges. It was an adventure within an adventure with crazy bugs, leeches, and a group of friendly faces.
I realize that I'm sorely falling behind on posts and keeping up to date with day to day activities. This year seems to be going by so fast and life finally seems to have an even pace. The first quarter is wrapping up and summer vacation is on the horizon.

So what am I missing... There was a trip to Miyazaki, and before that planting rice in a rice paddy field. Sure there's a lot more missing but both of these are just around the corner on the post list.

I leave you with my on going hypothesis that bugs in Japan are not concerned about being enormous in a country who has a consistent culture of miniaturizing things.


running into the law

Thunder storms, lighting, and rain this is the setting where a rare and bizarre event unfolded tonight. There was some yelling outside the balcony and I look down and some younger looking guys are in the middle of a fight but its unclear if its between them or policemen. So this is taking place right in front of the police department and the fight slash argument slowly meanders into the police parking lot and right in front of the building. All this time officer are playing an extremely passive role just watching the events unfold in their white rain parkas and helmets. Then things get really strange. I had no context or no idea what was going on but it appears the guys were trying to enter the police building. but the police formed a line in front of the front doors where the younger people argued trying to push there way inside. All this time the police are not trying to put any restrain on these kids and it appears as if one of the persons peers is actually trying to stop him from pushing the police. Again I couldn't tell if the police were provoking these people or what had taken place but in my concept of police I can't think of any situation where policemen would be trying to keep angry aggressive people out of the police office. Just imagine a swarm of angry men rushing towards the police department cussing and yelling. You would bet that if the police came to do their job that day those men would be met with some resistance. The level of fear doesn't seem to be anywhere near that of which I have come to associate with police. Then again watching two policemen bow to a person they've just finished questioning on the street lets me know I'm not in America anymore.


Tokyo bits

During the beginning of last month I went to Tokyo for two and a half days in the middle of a holiday. Originally I wanted to do a huge blog entry about it but I decided to cut back and do a little picture post instead.

I should first explain how I got to Tokyo. Their are overnight buses that go to Tokyo from Kobe leaving at around 10 pm and arriving at 6 am. Depending on your luck most of these buses are nearly impossible to sleep in. Imagine siting in a semi-comfortable semi-reclining chair with little foot room being shaken and bumped around and awoken every two hours for a bathroom break. Its defiantly not the most desirable way to travel but its a cheap way for young people to get around.

This was some of the first sights of Tokyo early in the Morning for a majority of the ride through the city we hid behind the shadows of buildings and overpasses. There was a definite change in the atmosphere from the cities and country sides I'd seen previously.

I'll skip through the first day which was a trip to Tokyo Disney Land. I had made a mutual deal with my friend Vivi that if she would help me with last minute planning and accompany me through some of the city I would go with her to Disney Sea Land. It was an interesting experience and there's only one thing I could say is imagine Mickey Mouse same voice but in Japanese.
Youth Hostel
I stayed in a Youth Hostel on the 18th floor of a building in the Shinjuku ward which had an amazing view. The hostel is a relatively cheap way to stay in Tokyo and you get to share a room with random people who have ended up in the big city for one reason or another. The first people were from Germany on an internship and the second group of people was a family from Hokaido on vacation.
Ueno Toshogu Shrine
Second day was first spent at the Ueno Park, the biggest park in Tokyo. Got to see a lot of old old things as well as some shrines.

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa
Definitely a must when sight seeing in Tokyo, this is one of the most visited Temples in Tokyo with crowds shops and all sorts of distractions. The crowds and shops where as amazing as the temple itself.

I couldn't help but feel like that I was getting a heaping helping of tourism done and it felt good. The strange thing was how traditional and stereotypical began to blur the lines as shops were selling ninja key chains, head bands, fans with geisha's painted on them. The signs for these gifts reassured me of their authenticity. Note the picture below in the right hand corner of the sign.

An electronic orgy, this is where you can find anything remotely associated with electronic or entertainment goods. Akihabara gets a reputation for being a town for nerds. It was hard for me to imagine such a thing. How does one classify a town or a part of a city as nerdy? Well visiting the place gave me idea of how this perception came to be. Imagine a 10 story building completely devoted to toy models and video games, and that's only one of several buildings. The feeling of being a little kid and the desire to purchase cheap electronic goods was overwhelming. I did find a store with an amazing selection of movies Japanese and abroad.

Ema under a Tree at Meiji Shrine
This picture was taken on a rainy day at Meiji Shrine near the Harajuku district. This shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji. Ema is a wooden block hung on a string that has wishes and prayers written on them. Its really awe inspiring trying to read them all written in every imaginable language and ranging from the serious to the silly.

Tokyo Tower in front of the Zoojoo Temple

Sight from the tower
As the picture suggests you get the sense of being in a never ending city with skyscrapers fading into the thick, city air. Its a really beautiful sight and it makes you feel very small and lost. Its hard to explain never being to a city this size but its like the buildings are competing to block out the sky. Or the buildings are leaving the people behind (or the people are leaving the buildings behind). A lush jungle of steel and concrete. I just feel kind of funny describing this as if I've never heard of the word skyscraper before. Guess I can't escape my origins.

Statue of Liberty?
Yes there is a replica of the statue of liberty in Japan. When I first saw this I was completely confused and baffled as to what I was looking at. It reminded me of the words I had heard from my professor Setsuko who had said "Japan is like a part of the U.S. now." which I took have jokingly. Well now I don't have to go to New York. The fascinating thing is the statue can be found on a man made Island called Odaiba which was originally created to keep foreigners and attackers from sea at bay.

My first impression of Tokyo
Passing an art display in an underground walkway through Tokyo station this piece of art work caught my eye. If you've ever been in a big city like Tokyo your orientation is something equivalent to this. up, down, up, down, up... like a game of chutes and ladders. There was more that I left out on and more that I should comment on but I'll leave it at that for now. As for this weekend I'll be getting my hands dirty as I get a chance to do some agricultural work.