Rolling Stone

Yesterday I awoke to the somewhat violent rocking back and forth of my bed. I remember waking up and laughing at the comical nature of the bed hopping around. It wasn't until about 5 minutes later when it had stopped that the thought even occurred to me that was an earthquake. Well luckily it wasn't too bad in that no one noticed until I mentioned it. This happens to be the 2nd earthquake that has occurred while I have been here (3rd if you count another that someone was explaining to me). Mostly mild and sometimes hardly noticeable, earthquakes are capable of occurring quite often. If we just take a look at this chart of Preliminary Determination of Earthquake Epicenters here we'll notice something quite interesting.
Japan seems to be missing on this map, covered by a rather large clump of black dots.

It did remind me of the great earthquake that struck the Kobe area 12 years ago. I remember on my first trip to Japan hearing about the stories of the clean up in Kobe and of the international attention it received. Since then there have been monuments build to commemorate those who died and the lives it affected. This is a piece of the damage kept intact at the earthquake memorial park. The Earthquake created a huge and needed awareness for earthquake safety and how earthquakes need to be handled. You can read about it here

With that I'm off to Tokyo this weekend for a little vacation. Expect pictures and explanations when I get back.


Sannomiya, Sannomiyaです

A half hour away from the nearest subway station is the downtown area of Kobe, Sannomiya. A bustling center and hub for various train lines. Here you can find shops, restaurants, more shops, entertainment, and more! A surprise and shock at first sight, this is the first big city I've ever visited in Japan. With crosswalks that stretch down the entire street and people constantly on the move adding to the barrage of flashing lights, signs and advertisements. After awhile I can't take it all in and it starts to become over stimulating and I start to squint, shaking away any oncoming headaches. My friends laugh and coolly say, "this is nothing compared to Osaka". This was also a first time meeting a homeless person in Japan, something I was sworn by my high school Japanese teacher didn't exists (although I think she meant few in comparison to the states?).

One thing I have yet to understand is how services and restaurants share the same building. There will be a building about 7 stories tall and on the side will be small signs briefly describing what exists on that floor. This adds infinite amount of signs to read something that is impossible for me to do when walking at the same pace as everyone on the street. Something I also find strange is the arrangement of buildings. Obviously there is huge competition for space in such a big city but the way shops and stores are constructed creates weird experiences for me. For example imagine ordering at a McDonald's that's open to the street and then having to go down a spiral stair case into a basement to find seating. Being brought up in the Northwestern part of the USA, I associate building size and shape to different establishments. You see the outside of the building you recognize it not only by its exterior signs but by its physical shape (Wouldn't you be suspicious if you saw a Safeway in a building the size of a flower shop?). Since there's so much damn space, these buildings can be made as big as possible with huge exteriors like some commercialism mecca, beckoning people from a mile away.
So here's where I get to my point, Because of the way buildings are made in the Northwest, the exterior is very important to me. In London and in Japan too, Department stores exist in multi story buildings with different products on different floors. You can't just open your eyes and see the name of the store you have to know where you're going and what floor to go to. Similarly there are many restaurants and shops that have no exterior entrance. You have to walk down a flight of stairs narrow enough for one person or go up an elevator or climb stairs and discover which hole in the wall to go into. For me it creates a kind of duality, with friendly street signs and mysterious, faceless entryways that are somewhat maze like, I really don't know whether to feel welcomed or dared to enter. There must be some truth to this because I ran into another foreigner who decided to ask me if there was anything to do around here when we are surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of teeming shops and entertainment centers just begging for business. My response was get lost...... What I mean by that is walk around and get lost not the GET LOST! get lost. So yeah exteriors, Important to the US consumers? Ask yourself this the next time you pass a Walmart and you see it all the way from the highway.

A loooooooooooooong path to shopping heaven. (if you enjoy shopping)


Sakura Sigh

Ahhh, Sakura only comes once a year. I could never understand why people would want to sit out in front of trees and look at them (the term 花見 literally means flower watching). It makes a little more sense now. You have these trees with cherry blossoms they bloom once a year for about 2 weeks or so and then there gone. There appearance is self explanatory. It is representative of the idea that life is a fleeting and beautiful thing. Makes me think of the limited amount of time I am here, and the unlimited number of things I want to do. Guess its time to start somewhere. With that I'll let the pictures do the talking.


For some reason portrait style photos will not upload properly on Blogger right now so I'm using flickr.


Back to school

Before it gets too late and I forget everything I should mention the first days at Hyogo University...


Monday... time for school! Taking the bus it takes about 5-10 minutes to get to the station. the station which is called 学園都市 (college university town) is centrally located between 5 college campuses (different colleges). From there I met Sakai-san and we walk the path to the college. The college is located on top of a hill surrounded by residential apartments. We reach what appears to be the administration building and head inside. We then go in what appears to be the main office. What amazes me about offices, faculty rooms, banks, and other office settings is the complete absence of cubicles. Instead of wondering what goes on behind the security and privacy of the particle board walls you can see everyone in action hard at work. It definitely gives an impression of efficiency and community, everyone working in the same space. I'm let into a back room and told to wait. Dr. Nishida briefly greets me and then the paperwork is piled on. Then walks in the mighty Matsuda Sensei, Japanese teacher of foreign students. She is quite nice with an extensive history in traveling living in New York, visiting Evergreen on faculty exchange, and teaching in Australia. She then shows me around the school. The campus in comparison to Evergreen is much smaller about 3/4 to 1/2 the size. After a somewhat disorienting tour of the school I get some lunch. Matsuda Sensei treats. We begin to talk about various things, my previous trip to Japan, the exchange program, how I am alone and obviously stick out.

As far as classes goes she explains that I'm required to be signed up for 10 but since I'm getting all of my credit from Evergreen I'm not required to attend all of the classes. Talk about confusing. After lunch I meet my teacher adviser Takii Sensei: Historian of Japanese Law and Germany. A very nice man who has an office of books piled up to the sky you can hardly walk into his room. For visiting I receive a history book and later (on a separate visit) a book he has written in translation. That was pretty much all for the first day. In fact I was told I had another week all to myself. Before leaving I got a few pictures of the campus.

Campus map

The clock tower, containing a majority of the class rooms

This is the library, not as massive as the Evergreen library although on a secret tour intended for graduate students I got to explore the innards of this building which contains a huge amount of books. The basement contains endless rows of books on strange book shelves capable of moving around and squishing people. Unfortunately there are no pictures.


Campaign cars

Something annoying has sparked my interest into Japanese Politics it is called the Campaign Car (キャンペーン・カー). April 8th marks the Tokyo city elections and is also the date for local elections here in the Kobe area. Do I know what the big issues are? No. What each candidate is bringing to the table? No. How people can vote or how the voting process works? Only Slightly still reading up on this and various things. What the names of the candidates are? YES!!!!! Luckily for me being anywhere in the city allows me to know which candidates are running. Unlike elections in the states politicians are given very tight restrictions on advertising. However, each candidate is allowed for 12 days to campaign using what is called a Campaign Car. These cars or vans travel every square inch around the city with four or more loud speakers attached to the roof constantly belting out the name of the candidate and asking for your vote. When near these vehicles its almost as if you are being verbally attacked which is then softened by the passengers waving at you as they pass by. For the most part it seems as if people attempt to ignore these vehicles but it truly is hard not to. When multiple campaign cars are driving down the same street it becomes a confusing mess of words and noise completely incomprehensible to me. What really comes into question is the effectiveness of these cars. To my knowledge, not much is explained as to the benefits of voting for said candidate instead you hear a constant barrage of the candidates name so as not to be able to forget. They are amazingly good at getting me up when I forget to wake up in the morning.
I'm in your neighborhood making some noise
The candidate in question he looks pumped for the win
Props go to this guy for having the most annoying campaign car out of all the candidates. Theres no way you could forget this guys name with the chant the lady gives out.
Not knowing how to react or how to feel about these obtrusive noise machines I do what I do best. Take pictures and ask why??? Unfortunately tomorrow is election day and I have yet to figure out platforms or parties or any of what a supposed inform voter should know. Just candidate names. I was told that getting voters informed and to care about elections is a problem in Japan and it doesn't seem like the campaign car approach helps much. More research needed I suppose. Unfortunately I will have to revert back to more conventional means of waking up from now on like an alarm clock.

Update: It appears I'm not the only one who thinks these cars are annoying Click Here



The apartment, or mansion as is it is referred to here I'm living is called College Heights. To stop from any further confusion I will refer to it as the apartment. The apartment is nicely furnished with the possessions of students past filling up space. There really isn't anything I could ask for (except maybe a cell phone, its almost as if I don't exist without one). I also noticed in the cupboards a book I've already brought. The desk I'm sitting has the aura of the students of years past. Particularly the floor underneath the desk. I can feel the frustration, idle hours, and time spent working away at this desk by the chipped away floor boards. The back and forth motion of the squeaky chair has left ruts.
grrrrrrrr must... learn... Japanese!!!!
The room, that black table is what is known as a kotatsu it has a heating unit underneath and when you put a quilt over it it keeps you warm!
A strange angle of the other side of the room (its bigger then it looks)
View from the balcony
The police station is right next door, Safe!!!!
From the front of the apartment we can see a golfing range a mall and is that a McDonald's I see?
This concludes the short and subtle tour of the apartment. It does, to some effect, feel like home already although I haven't unpacked anything yet. Off to do some more exploring.



Kansai International Airport. Has it been less then a year since I visited? I always get the chills when I see aerial photos of the airport. This is what I'm talking about. Yep, its a man made island. Since there was a limited amount of land space the only way to build is outward and onward into the sea! On a serious note the airport is actually very safe. It has withstood the Kobe earthquake and a recent typhoon and people bad mouthing it saying it would sink (which it slowly is but only by a little).
I made it in safely was a little worried when no one was there to pick me up. I got to the point where I thought about taking a bus or a train out to Kobe and see if I could meet up with Justin. It sounded feasible but in my head I was thinking there's no way I'm going to drag this giant bag around town. Luckily for me at that time Sakai-san showed up. Apparently she had been waiting at another area of the airport. We jump into the car and drive off making small chat along the way. I begin to fade out of the conversation as the sights rolling by catch my attention. ports, cranes, and freight cars, as far as the eye can see. The traffic is what catches my attention next with random assortment of trucks and cars. I distinctly remember one truck carrying what looked like an old and tattered amusement park ride. We stop at a rest stop with a view of the ocean. I sit down and look out into the deep blue and take a heavy sigh, the first of which will probably be many sighs.
After a little more driving up into the mountains through long and winding tunnels we make it to the apartment complex. There I am shone around the building and the apartment. Sakai-san goes down and buys some sandwiches from the convenient store across the street. We eat and I thank her as politely as I know how to in Japanese. With that I'm told to rest at my leisure. She shows me where the bus stop is and tells me where to meet her the following Monday. That's when I run into the infamous Justin Bacon, Evergreen student from last years exchange program. Next thing I know I'm on a trip into the neon lights and nightly glitter of Kobe.

More to come soon... pictures too!


Take off

Good Evening, Good Morning, Good Night. Where ever you maybe this is my blog for my year abroad in Japan. So far I've been in Japan for 5 days so to catch you up on things I have some excerpts from my written journal that I'll share. This is from inside the plane from Taipei to Japan with a little editing.

I'm about an hour outside of Japan watching some advert-travel television. Its amazing to hear the announcers on the plane giving instructions in four different languages. For the multilingual its a lot of repeated nonsense. Its strange also how sometimes one language is left out. In the safety instruction video the voice is Chinese with English subtitles but what about the Japanese? All they get is a message at the end that says look in the safety instruction booklet please. I'm constantly taken aback by the Stewards switching between languages with ease. It always throws me off as I try and listen intently to the Chinese and suddenly hear a much harsher understandable voice in English. My reaction is a simple head nod and a smile. Many of the passengers I've met know English as well. I overheard one student talking about how bad her English was very articulately (ahhh... modesty a fleeting American concept, so polite and yet so deceiving). Reality has again left me awe struck at how global this language has become. From airports to train stations to random television advertisements, English has seemed to sneak its way into everything. The international flight seems to be a special place where languages are constantly being juggled to satisfy everyone. Not only language but units of measurement. Looking at the overhead bins I noticed they had weight limit in kilograms and pounds. All of this is amazing and international but all I can think about is how the hell are the English units system sticking around and being used on this plane? Was there some kind of accident where somebody confused kilograms with pounds and they had to rewrite everything to include both? Is the metric system that hard? I look to see the stats for how much farther we have to go and it reads 300km. How far is that??? Luckily they have this information in miles too.

To note I think the idea of having multiple languages on board is great but it ends up being hierarchical with Chinese being the main language obviously on China Airlines flight. I have no beef with the metric system, in fact I wish it were taught and used more in schools. Oh yeah I'm in Japan lets get to that...