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.