Thursday, May 28, 2009

I have more to write, but for now this is all.

Saturday was the JSP Happyokai where we all had to get on stage in front of an audience of our host families and TIU friends and give a speech, perform a skit, etc. I was so nervous. I did my presentation with the two other girls in my class. Since we're A class no one was expecting anything spectacular, but low and behold, ours was probably the best, and I'm not saying that just because it was ours. We got the most laughs, most applauds and most post-show compliments. In film class we learned the in the times of silent films and before dubbing and subtitles were used, dubbing and sound effects were done live by a performer called a Benshi. Unlike American silent films where the dialogue was in text form, in Japan the Benshi would voice every character and the details of the story were really up to him to decide. So, for our happyokai presentation, we created a silent film, made is black and white and grainy, and dubbed it live on stage. It was awesome. Our video and script were hilarious. It was a lot of fun. Oh and my introduction included me saying (in Japanese of course): "Japanese is a little difficult..." followed by a perfectly executed Japanese tongue twister. I got lots of laughs for that one.

I went swimming! My life is now exponentially better, but I'm really tired. I didn't even swim that much I don't think. I was in for about and hour and 15 minutes. Right as I was getting out this lady asked me if I could show her daughter how to swim breaststroke, and I proceeded to do so and teach her to the best of my abilities in Japanese. It was awesome. I love swimming. But now I'm tired.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fat sweaty men and pretty girls in kimono


Wednesday we took a trip to Ryugoku, the area in Tokyo where the Sumo Stadium is and watched the 4th day of the 14 day tournament. It was a lot of fun. I liked the atmosphere more than anything. At the beginning of the day there were not many people so we moved up closer, not much closer, but still. The first floor was all VIP seating, where you had to get walked to your seat, so we couldn't get in there. The seats down there were just sit on pillows on the floor seats. The most expensive seats, ~$130 were right next to the ring. We saw some people get squished by wrestlers who fell out of the ring. It was amusing. The second level was regular seats. I thought our view was fine, so it was okay.

We saw a lot of matches. There was a lot of down time though because each match has a 4 minute prep period during which they sumo wrestlers through the salt in the ring, try to psych each other out and just prepare. Finally, they'll start and fight for usually 7-20 seconds. So, it was short bursts of exciting-ness. Around 4 the big guns came out, by this point most of the seats were filled, despite being a wednesday night. There were a surprising number of foreigners too, russian and mongolian. The current number one is mongolian so a lot of old, nationalistic japanese men are unhappy about it.

It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of rituals, everything from blessing the ring at the beginning, acknowledging your opponent and even receiving your award if you won. There were some matches that had sponsors, so the winner would be given a fat wad of money.

Tea Ceremony

On Saturday I went to Lucy's host family's house where Lucy and I got put into real kimono. Lucy's host mom's friend is a kimono sensei, so she's a master at putting them on people. It is a long and arduous process. Each one of us took about 20 minutes, if not more. There were too many layers and pieces to count, but they were beautiful. My kimono was cream with a green sash, Lucy's was pink with deep fuchsia sash. Pictures soon. We looked really pretty. We got to wear the silly shoes, that were probably meant for someone with size 4 shoe. Walking in the kimono was very difficult, I finally truly understand the scuttling. There is no way you can take big steps. Getting up a step into the doorway was killer.

Lucy's neighbor is a tea ceremony master, so we first got to be "guests" while one of her students was the host. The student, a roughly 70 year old woman, performed the very intricate process of serving tea. The process was very slow and complicated. There are certain ways you have to hold the bowls (not cups, bowls), a certain way to hold and lay the ladle, special way to mix the tea. Then, once the tea was prepared, she sets it out and the first guest scoots up, using her arms to scoot, like a gorilla kinda, and takes the bowl back to her spot, one backward scoot at a time. Then the first guest has to tell the second guest that she's drinking first and thank the host before spinning the bowl twice, resting it on the left hand and spinning it with the right, clockwise. Then the host starts making the second cup. When the first guest finishes, she wipes the place she sipped from with her thumb and forefinger, spins the bowl two more times and scoots forward to return the bowl. Really it was silly, but it was really interesting. Then Lucy and and I both got to be hosts, one at a time. You make the tea with powdered green tea in hot water and you whisk it until it's frothy, it was tasty.

There are a few pretty popular bands from TIU. I saw some of them play in the quad at school the other day, they were actually pretty good. Then we went to see this other band at a Battle of the Bands type thing, at this cute little "Live Hall", just a space for small shows like this. It was a lot of fun and all three bands we saw were really good. The first was crazy and rocking, the second was a little mellower and the third, our friends, sang in English (2 of the members are only half Japanese, including the singer), but mostly just rocking. I liked all three a lot. My friends and I all chipped in to buy one copy of each bands cd, and will just all burn the cd to our computers. After all the bands played they handed out sheet music to everyone, with lyrics and then the whole song was led in some Japanese graduation song or something. It was very very bizarre. I don't know why this happened or who thought it was a good idea, but it happened and my mind was blown. It was a lot of fun and I really want to start going to more small shows like this.

Random things:
-Current list of mento flavors I've seen/had:
strawberry yogurt
carmel and cream
green apple

-I saw an old woman, probably 70ish, on the train today. She was wearing normal clothes, suitable for her age, but then a trucker hat that said in huge letters "MARIJUANA" and had a marijuana leaf. It was so funny. She probably had no idea what it said.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Camping in Nagano

This weekend there was a "camping" trip to Nagano, and by camping I mean staying in an onsen and spending a few hours in nature. Regardless it was a lot of fun. It was a JSP/ TIU student event; a chance to meet new people, bond and practice Japanese/ English. I made a lot of friends, so that was cool. We went to this lake where I went canoeing with two new friends and then later hiking with a bunch of new friends. The lake was really small, but really pretty. We stopped on a shore where there were a bunch of Shinto statues. Some JSPers swam, and I was going to but then we were told it was not allowed. Oh well. The weather was great too, which was a relief since it's been raining for the past week. The area we were in has lots of ski resorts because in the winter they get 10+ feet of snow. We hiked up some of the trails toward the ski lifts, there were great views from there.

For lunch we ate mochi that we got help make. Mochi is basically smashed sticky rice. You smash it with a huge mallet on a specially carved stump/stand. I got to do the last 10 hits. The mallet was heavy and the mochi was sticky, it was a lot of fun. Plain mochi doesn't really taste like much, just rice. We had it in a soap, which was strange, since I'm used to mochi as a sweet.

At night we had a campfire and roasted marshmallows, which was a first for all the Japanese kids, most of them didn't seem to like it that much, which I don't understand. The marshmallows here don't taste the same, and some of the ones we had were flavored, so I had a few banana flavored roasted marshmallows, which was strange.

On Sunday morning we whittled our own chopsticks out of pieces of bamboo. It was really fun. At first it was really hard, tough to get the hang of. The second one was much easier and I finished it much faster. I'm proud of them, I spent a long time on them and I think they came out really well. For the rest of the day I took pictures holding them.

There are this fuzzy inch worms here that Japanese people are terrified of, it's actually pretty funny. They said it was poisonous and not to touch it, but I picked it up with a stick and some of the Japanese kids would run for their lives if I got near them with it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Golden Week

Food courts in Japanese malls
In America you would never be able to use real dishes in a foodcourt, where people have to bus their one tables. Dishes would go missing, they would be carelessly left on tables, it would be a mess. In Japan however, not only does each food station have different dishes, some even give you hot plates. You take your food to your table, eat it, throw the garbage away and take the tray with the dirty dishes back to the return area at the given station's station. It amazes me how smoothly this operates. In addition there's the issue of the garbage cans, which I don't think I've ever written about. Most garbage areas whether you're at home, at TIU, at the eki or the conbini (convenience store) (and the latter 3 places are really the only places I've seen trash cans in public) you'll find yourself in front of 3 cans: P.E.T. (plastic) bottles, cans and combustibles. At home, it's just plastic and combustibles, I don't know where cans go... Anyway, you'll very very rarely find just a single trash can.

Major ironic fact about Japan #2 (#1 was the train suicides): There are no trash cans ANYWHERE except the places stated above yet there is no litter. It blows my mind. I often find myself stuffing trash in bag and waiting until I pass a conbini, because I know there won't be a trash can anytime soon. I think the major difference is that here it's considered rude to eat while you are walking, so there are less people eating McDonald's while walking to school and throwing their trash on your lawn (that's for you Burroughs High School students, we really appreciate it). If you don't have trash, you won't have anything to litter with...

Major ironic fact about Japan #3: Japan is home to the most innovative, most over-the-top toilets YET at least half of the bathrooms will have a western style toilet and a traditional, smelly, dirty, gross, hurts your knees hole-in-the-ground toilet. I don't understand. And it's not like people always choose the western style first either, there are people out there who prefer squatting. Granted not all wester toilets have heated seats and different functions, some are as plain as in the US, but still.... you're not doing your business in a hole in the ground... And they ALWAYS smell, even if it looks clean, it's going to smell terrible, guaranteed . This isn't just in little restaurants or the like either, this in the lobby of a pretty nice hotel, or a pretty new shopping center. Blows my mind.

Golden Week:
Urawa Reds Soccer game: Awesome. The game was great, our seats were great, even though they were the nosebleeds I still felt close. Ryu's senpai from his club team, a 17 year old, number 24, played which was cool. I bought a sweet Abe shirt in youth large so it was cheaper, and a fake Torres jersey outside for $10. Reds scored in stoppage time in the second half to win the game. Legit. I can't wait until the next one.

Yokohama Matsuri: Spent a ridiculous amount of time and money getting to Yokohama, only to get lost and miss all the fun things at the festival, yet got to enjoy the crowds.... But I ate some good food, enjoyed the slightly humid, breezy weather, saw the water, and admired the second largest city in Japan.
Sidenote: On the train from Tokyo to Yokohama we saw this guy on the train wearing a nice suit and carrying a heavy duty silver, locked briefcase. He was holding onto the overhead handles and we noticed the edge of tattoos showing from under his shirt sleeves, which probably
means his entire body was covered, thus Yakuza. We had our resident Yakuza expert (my friend Matt has done a few research projects on the Yakuza) with us, who informed us that the entire body was covered except a center line. The tattoos are meant to represent armor, because when the Yakuza started in the Tokugawa era, they were ronin (masterless samurai) who banned together to protect peasants. Fascinating. The real question is though, what was in his briefcase?