Saturday, September 28, 2013

First Week of School + Megalopolis Rock Festival

Sunset from my dorm room window

Scenes from around campus

Well, I've done it. I survived the first week of Japanese university! My first impression is that university here is very different from America. In America we have each class for about 1 hour and 15 minutes max and the classes are 2-3 times a week. In Japan each class is 1 hour and 30 minutes, but they could be longer, and you only have the class once a week. I think there are pros and cons to each side. I like having class multiple times a week, especially if the class is interesting and I want to learn more on the subject. However, if the class is around 50 minutes, sometimes we don't get to cover very much each class and you have to leave in the middle of a topic. I thought the long classes here would be tough to get through, but the professors make the class interesting enough (at least so far) that I barely noticed how long I was there. Having class once a week also definitely gives you much more time to finish your homework. In America people are usually rushing to get things done on time and choosing which classes work is most important since they don't have time to do all of it. I like how in Japan you have a whole week to get the work done, so you don't have to prioritize classes. That said, so far I love all my classes! I am taking 10 classes, which seems like a lot, but since you have them once a week I only have a few classes a day. My favorite classes so far are my class about human trafficking and the shared histories of Japan and America. The first because I find the subject interesting and an important issue in our world today. The second because the professor is really fun and I can tell I will learn a lot from him, not just about the subject but also about foreign relations in general. I hope that the rest of my year at school will be just as fun and interesting as this first week! Moving to the next part of this blog post. On Saturday I was out doing some shopping (I finally bought dishes so I can stop drinking yogurt out of the container!) when I happened across this little street festival. It seemed like a fun thing to check out, so I dropped my bags off at the dorm and went back with Rachel and Victor. It turned out to be a music festival called the Megalopolis Rock Festival. The festival had shows all over Yokohama on the 28th and 29th and showcased small bands mostly from the Yokohama area (at least that is what I understand from the flier since I can't read all the Japanese ^_^)We spent about 2 hours just walking around and checking out the different food stalls and listening to the bands. It was really fun! I especially enjoyed it, because a lot of the time I feel like I am only doing touristy things. That is awesome, because you can learn a lot at the tourist spots. However, sometimes I wish I could see more of the "real" Japan, not just the big areas that everybody goes to see. Thus, it was really fun to go to this local event that not many people probably know about. 

Even though Tsunashima is a pretty small area, there was still a good amount of people wandering around

I tried my first やきとり (yakitori, it is grilled chicken)!

This man came up and gave us a flier and program, and when we asked him how to read the band names he told us to wait and disappeared. I didn't know what was going on, but when he came back he had written the names in English letters! I was so happy because I liked some of the bands, and now I can look them up online!
Thank you for reading!

P.S. The tea of the day is peach tea ^_^

Sunday, September 22, 2013

About Relearning Japanese

When I was preparing to come to Japan, I was focused way more on packing and making sure that I saw everyone I wanted to before I left. Reviewing the language was definitely pretty far down on the list. If I got to reviewing some Kanji or grammar in a day, that was good, but not essential. I thought that since I have studied Japanese for 2 years, I will be fine. I will be able to understand things enough to get around and know what most people are saying. When I arrived, I realized just how mistaken I was. Coming to Japan has already, in various ways, been an eye opening experience for me. The biggest reason though, is that I realized just how much my language skills were lacking. The first few days here I was lost. I joked earlier that when I asked people for help, I just looked at their hand gestures and figured out what they were trying to say. It is funny as a joke, but in reality it was and still is quite scary. I have never been to a place where I literally do not understand what people are trying to say to me. Every day is a struggle when I go out in public just trying to figure out what is going on around me. I am foreign looking enough that most people, if I give them a blank stare, they stop trying to ask if I have a reward card or a membership, and just point to the total on the monitor. The final shock that made me realize how distorted my beliefs in my language skills were, was when I took a self test to see what level of Japanese language classes I will be in. I thought that I would get into at least level 3 or 4 of the elementary classes, and quickly be able to move into the intermediate section. After I took the test, my score told me that I will actually only be in elementary level 1. This is the level for people who have studied less than 100 hours of Japanese, and thus most people in the class are beginners who have never studied the language apart from watching some anime and dramas. At first I was angry and disappointed with myself and tried to think of ways to improve my score. I thought, maybe if I printed the test again and retook it, I would get a higher score. No one would know, since it is a test that I just take in my dorm. That seemed like cheating too much though, so I thought maybe if I just talked to the teachers they would understand, and move me up to at least level 2. However, the more I thought about it and talked to people, I realized that I was probably right where I should be. I thought back to studying Japanese in the States. I got good grades in my classes, because I was able to easily memorize the grammar for the test, but once the test was over, I quickly forgot everything. I didn't work to retain my knowledge, I just wanted good scores on the tests. Since I was getting those good grades, I mistakenly believed that I was far superior that I actually am. I thought, oh Japanese just comes easily to me, so I stopped studying as much. The scores on the tests kept coming, and so I studied less and less, spending more time on my other classes. Coming to Japan, I realized something. In America, we grow up surrounded by English. That is all I speak, hear, and read. If there are other languages, it is subscript and I usually just ignore it. Why then, did I think that by going to class a few days a week and doing my homework after, that I could get on the same level in Japanese without much effort? To become fluent in another language, I should have to spend at least this much time studying. Obviously, in the States, I could not be surrounded by the language like I am in Japan. But that just means I should have put more effort into seeking ways to study the language. So, my plan is this. Aside from my homework for my classes this year, I will also spend extra time studying the language. It doesn't have to be anything overbearing. By just watching Japanese TV, attempting to read manga, really trying to understand what people in stores are saying to me, and speaking as much Japanese as possible, I will learn way more than I could in a classroom. Sitting here drinking my Rosehip and Hibicus tea, I feel content with my decision. I am in for a tough year, but now that I have come to terms with exactly how much work I have to do, it does not seem like that daunting of a task. To anyone thinking of studying in a foreign country, I don't mean to scare you away from going! I just hope that others can benefit from my revelation and be more prepared than I was when going to a country that speaks a different language.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shinjuku and Meiji Shrine

On Saturday I continued my spree of sightseeing for the weekend and went to Shinjuku and Meiji Shrine with a friend from the U.S., Maddie. We are both studying abroad here this fall, so we thought it would be fun if we could meet up and go see some things together. Since we live in different areas of the city, we decided it would be easier to just pick a place somewhere in the middle and meet there. We decided to go to Shinjuku first. We spent our time just wandering around and window shopping. All the stuff was really nice, but it was so expensive! There were lots of stores with French or designer names. I really wanted to buy everything, but I didn't since it was so expensive!
Japanese cakes. They are so pretty!

Shinjuku street view

Everything is so cute and girly!

After walking around for a while we decided to find somewhere to eat. We found this restaurant called Takadaya. It was super nice inside, so we thought it was going to be expensive, but the food was actually pretty cheap. I had a great time catching up with Maddie over lunch, since we haven't seen each other since before we both came to Japan.

I had a Ten-don and Soba set (天丼とそば). I would give the restaurant 4 stars. The food was extremely good, the prices were cheap, and the service was awesome.

After lunch, we went to see Meiji Shrine. It is only a few stops away from Shinjuku. I was really excited to see something of the traditional Japan and get away from all the buildings. I have never lived in a big city before, so it was nice to go to a place that actually had a lot of trees and grass. On the way to the shrine we got to see a little bit of Harajuku. We looked down one of the main streets, but decided that it would be a trip for another day. 

Entrance to a street in Harajuku

Harajuku street

We finally got to the shrine, and it was amazing! The shrine is a Shinto shrine (Japan's ancient original religion) dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. These two were known for helping to open the country to the rest of the world and promoting national welfare. Empress Shoken is also known for helping to promote women's education. After they died, the people of Japan voluntarily worked to create the shrine and surrounding forest to commemorate their virtues. There are many different parts of the shrine, such as the Main Shrine, gardens, a museum, and many buildings such as a Martial Arts Hall. I didn't get to see nearly all of the area, and I would love to go back to explore more! Maddie and I spent most of our time just going around the Main Shrine area. 
The entrance to the whole park

Going to the path to the Main Shrine

The path was so pretty! It was the biggest 'street' that we have seen in Japan!

The surrounding area is filled with trees, and now just looks like any other natural forest

Sake barrels offered to the deities of Meiji Shrine by the Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association

Emperor Meiji was famous for promoting friendship between Japan and other countries. These wine barrels are offered from wineries in Bourgogne, France to promote world peace and amity and continued friendship between the French and Japanese

The entrance to the Main Shrine area

Rinsing before going to the Main Shrine. You rinse your hands and mouth with the ladles (but don't actually touch your lips to it!). The place where you do this is called Temizusha 

Going into the Main Shrine area after rinsing

A divine tree around which people hang their prayers

Maddie and I shared a votive and wrote our prayers on it!

I bought a charm at the shrine for good health. It will protect me from diseases and other worries.

There were strict rules at the Main Shrine about not taking pictures of the shrine or the area where people pay respects. I was a little sad because it would have been cool to get pictures of us doing it. However, we followed the rules and didn't take any pictures. To pay respect to the deities there are three steps. 
1. Bow twice
2. Clap your hands twice
3. Bow once again
I felt a little self-conscious at first, both when rinsing before entering the shrine and paying respects, since we were some of the only foreigners doing it. I'm really glad we did it though, since it was a really good experience! We just copied what all the other people were doing there. We didn't get any strange looks, so maybe they appreciated that we were trying to fit in and fully experiencing the culture instead of just taking a few pictures and leaving. After leaving the park, we stopped at a little cafe for something to drink. We went to Doutor and I had a mango/passion yogurt drink. I would give this cafe 4 stars. The drinks were extremely delicious! After that we parted ways and each went home. It was a really fun day sightseeing and catching up with a friend from the states. I'm really glad that I got to see something of traditional Japanese culture. 

Akihabara, Japan

This past Friday I went with a friend from my dorm, Rachel, to Akihabara. It is known as Japan's Electric Town and sells all sort of electronics, anime themed items, and video games. We left in the morning so that we would have plenty of time to explore. When we got to Akihabara we were super hungry, so the first thing we did was stop for some lunch. We went to Curry House Coco, which was very good. I got Fried Fish Curry (フィッシュフライカレー).

I would give this restaurant 3 stars. It was very good, pretty cheap, and the service was great!

After, we decided to walk around and just see what Akihabara had to offer. Our first stop was a gigantic electronics store called Yodobashi-Akiba. Every floor had a different section of electronic goods. For example, one floor was all video games, CD's, and DVD's. The next floor was home goods, like vaccuums and refrigerators. It was fun walking around each floor and just seeing what they had to offer. There were so many electronics, it was overwhelming at times! Next, we stopped in a little arcade. The one we went to was very small, but we saw some other larger ones later on. I can see how people can get addicted to playing at the arcades. There are so many fun things that you can win!

Some of the prizes you could win

A row of arcade game machines

Next, we found the Shosen Book Tower. It is a giant book store, with about 8 floors. Similar to Yodobashi-Akiba, each floor had a different section of books. I was very sad, because I am not very good at Japanese yet, so all I could do was walk around and look at the covers, but I had no idea what all the books were about! I spent most of my time just wandering around the different floors. I did have a few awkward encounters while wandering. When I went on to a few of the floors, there were only men, and they gave me the weirdest looks when I came off the escalator. I didn't really know what was going on at first, but when I started looking around I understood. I was on the porn floor! In Japan, it is completely acceptable for people to walk around reading semi-pornographic manga. However, since most people in Japan can actually read the signs in stores, women don't usually just wander around the porn floors! Once I realized where I was, I quickly got back on the escalator and went to a different floor! It was definitely a small moment of culture shock. I have never really been exposed to things like that, so to have it so out in the open like it is Japan, was very different for me. 

The book store is huge!

At this point, Rachel and I were getting a bit confused. We had been walking around for a few hours, but we hadn't found anything like what we heard Akihabara was like. Where were all the huge anime stores and the flashing lights? We figured maybe we just were getting it confused with other districts in Tokyo, and since it was hot we were going to just head back to the dorm. When we got to the station, I was looking at the signs to see where our train was, when I saw a big sign that said "this way to Akihabara Electric Town". Rachel and I just cracked up, and followed the path, and all of a sudden, we were in Electric Town! 

Electric Town

There were so many more stores here, that I forget all the different ones we went in. So far, I have just seen what would be considered a more normal side of Japanese culture, but going to Akihabara, I definitely got to see a little more of the extreme culture. Anime characters were on almost every building and girls in maid costumes were on street corners advertising the maid cafes that they work in. I'm really glad that we finally found the place that we had been looking for! One of our last stops was a photo booth at another arcade. We took a bunch of pictures, and then got to edit some of them. It was so much fun, and I can't wait till I can go to another! It's a really good way to create fun memories with your friends while you're out and about.

After that we were pretty tired, so we just went back to the dorm. It was a great day seeing a different part of Tokyo! Below are a few more pictures from the day!

Akihabara Street View

View from Shosen Book Tower

Kanda River

P.S. The tea of the day is some more Lemon Tea ^_^ 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Settling into Japan

As most of you know I have arrived in Japan! I am spending this year studying here at Keio University. I have now been here for a full day so I thought it was a good time to write a blog about getting all settled in! I spent most of yesterday, my first day, getting my room all set up and shopping for things I needed. For most people this wouldn't take a whole day, but since half the time I was wandering the streets trying to figure out which way to go and where things are in the store, it took a bit longer than usual. I will post a longer blog about shopping in Japan later when I know more of the language! So far, I love every little thing about Japan. The food is delicious, everyone is very helpful, and things are relatively easy to find (I say relatively since I am so directionally challenged). I have been using a lot of Janglish (yes, I made that up, but I think it works). I try to use as much Japanese as I can, but when I can't think of the word or people look at me confused, I throw some English in there hoping they will then understand. There has also been a lot of pointing. I'll ask someone "where is this store?" and they just say "farther" and point in a direction. It will be nice when I am fluent enough to have a conversation about how to get places, but so far this is working out very well ^_^ So, my room. There was a lot of joking in my house that I was going to have to sleep with my feet out the door because I wouldn't fit in the room. I am glad to say that I am not that much of a giant and I can comfortably sleep with my whole body in the room! The room is actually very nice. A lot nicer than American dorm rooms, I am sad to say. 

It's a pretty narrow room, and the first time I walked in I felt like I was in a tunnel!

A small closet by my door for shoes and other miscellaneous items

My little washer. I couldn't figure out how to use it, but when one of the ladies who works here came up to help me we realized my water pipe for it wasn't on. Good one Taylor, real smart.

My little toilet room. Literally the smallest room ever!

Shower area. I am still getting used to the fact that you don't have to stand in the tub to shower. Every time I get in I feel like I'm going to flood the room if I don't stand in the tub!

Sink area. It's so nice to have this in my room! 

My bed! It's pretty hard, but since I don't think I have moved at all the past few nights I would say it is very nice.

Desk and cupboard area.

I have this gigantic fridge! I don't really have anything to put in it, so right now it's only purpose is to hold all my decorations ^_^

The view from my room. Not the prettiest, but still pretty darn cool!

So there you have it, the tour of my room! My dad is right, it does only take about 4 steps to cover the whole place, but it is so nice I don't even care! I think I can definitely get used to sitting in my little room, drinking lemon tea,
 and blogging about all my cool experiences!

Cheers to all my friends back in America! Especially the ones who gave me this cup, which is the only dish I own right now! See you next time with another Japanese adventure!

P.S. Sorry for the lack of instagram posts, I am still trying to figure out my cell phone!