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Sep. 8th, 2006

日本語ハウス&授業の始まり&カーソンズ

I've got too much I could say about the past two weeks (and then some) to cram into one journal entry, but then I wouldn't want to take the time to jot it all down either. Anyway, Nihongo Hausu is really amazing. Everyone here is so awesome, and it was like instant best friends for the most of them, something I've never really experienced before. The early arrival days were some of the most fun I've had in a long time, Japan aside. It was basically a cycle of talking, eating, watching movies, and playing cards, but at the same time a period of intensive friend-making. As for movies, the selection included... GO, I Heart Huckabees, God of Cookery, Mallrats, Kung Fu Hustle, ALWAYS ~Sanchoume no Yuuhi~, and 3-Iron -- what a mix. ;p

Anyway, I can't think of what else to add to that without ending up with a long-winded tale you may not care to read. Classes have been pretty good so far...Japanese has over 40 people in it, which is crazy, but on top of those in my class last semester, there're freshman, people who took the Intensive course over summer break, people who were studying in Japan last year, and a couple of transfer students. Anyway, looks like a fun class; no textbook, just real material to learn from, like newspaper articles, short stories, TV programs, etc. My computer science classes are kinda odd but interesting, I suppose. Intro to Discrete Math apparently briefly covers a ton of topics as opposed to delving deeply into just a few; right now it's basic logic principles expressed algebraically, not too difficult. I don't totally understand what the point of CS 352 (Digital System Fundamentals) is yet, but I think it's dealing with how computer systems work on more of a physical level, but not to the point of actually looking at a chip or anything. At any rate, we've just learned methods of conversion between binary, decimal, octal, and hexadecimal, and the same logic stuff as in the math course but from a different perspective. CS 354 looks to be the most interesting of that trio though, on assembly language and the processes that occur between the levels of hardware and high-level programming languages. Hard to explain, but somehow it's kinda neat.

I started work at Carson's too, and while it's a really easy way to make $8.15/hr and three-hour shifts are really awesome, work itself is not exactly a party. I work every week Tuesday 8-11 pm delivery and Thursday 7:30-10:30 pm cash register, and every other week Saturday 10:30pm-1:30am delivery and Sunday 4:30-7:30pm sub making. Delivery's really easy 'cause you spend the whole time just walking and talking, cash register's not hard but counting the drawer was pretty icky, and I haven't worked subs yet. Anyway, I'm sure I'll get used to all that too in due time.

First Kaiwa no Kai of the year was today too! So much fun. :D

Aug. 22nd, 2006

Epilogue

Day 8 (August 16 + 17):

So, my actual final day in Japan is not too much to speak of; we sat around talking and watching TV until noon, when Mrs. Fujikura called a cab to take us to Itami Airport, from which we took a bus to Kansai International. As we watched TV, I remember talking with Mrs. Fujikura about my Japanese; I was saying that even though come to the point with Japanese that I can express pretty well any concept and wouldn't die if I was in Japan all by myself, I've still got a long way to go. She explained that it's all just a matter of experiences, and the more I have, the more it all becomes natural. "That's why," she said, "you've got to get yourself another Japanese girlfriend! Hopefully there'll be a foreign exchange student this year who'll be your type!" Ahahaha, believe me, I've got my fingers crossed...

Anyway, we obviously got to Kankuu really early, since my flight was at 7:00 pm, but she wanted to make sure I wouldn't have any problems getting through the lines after the incident in London. Kankuu is definitely the biggest and nicest airport I've ever been in, and I was glad that I could go through the shop and restaurant area with them, seeing as it's all beyond the security checks in O'Hare. We had katsu-kare for lunch and I bought a "Nandeyanen" shirt, ha (I'd seen it in Doutonbori, but it was cheaper at the airport). Then they left, and I felt sad. I walked around the shops for well over an hour, and bought two puzzle magazines in a bookshop (Oekaki Logic and Number Crosswords) which I was really hoping to find before going back, and by that point had thought I wouldn't be able to! Gotta love the airport (especially in Japan), great place for final shopping.

My eight-hour flight to Honolulu was the best flight I've ever been on. Between not sleeping all that well the night before and stress, I had been tired all day, and somehow I managed to get a window seat in Economy Plus for that flight, which had more leg room and a footrest (plus you can lay toward the window without worrying about getting to close to the person next to you). So, after they served us dinner, I closed my eyes, and suddenly it was four hours later and we were being served a snack. I was so happy about that. :D

My eight hours in Honolulu (8:00 am - 4:00 pm), however, really kind of sucked. Beforehand I had been thinking, "Who cares if it's a layover, I'm going to Hawai'i!!" But by the time I was on the plane there, I felt like, "I don't wanna go to Honolulu, I wanna go back to Toyonaka...", but held back the inevitable oncoming tears; in that week I'd really come to love my host family as family. Anyway, I'm usually one to make the best of a bad situation, and this wasn't even a bad situation, so it's not like I wasn't going to try and enjoy Hawai'i as much as possible. Upon arrival, immigration and customs didn't really take any longer than usual, and I figured Hawai'i must be a pretty good place to enter the country. The Homeland Security guys were still pretty interrogative though, with a sorta guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude, and then an awkward smile after they deemed you okay. After that, I tried to find check-in for United, which was at the very end of the concourse, behind some construction, which I didn't realize until I had walked all the way there, saw construction, walked back, and walked all the way out again, only to find that I wasn't supposed to have grabbed my luggage, heh. Wasn't really a big deal though, so without thinking, I kept walking and went through security. Only after which did I finally realize that I'd wanted to try to find a bus out to the city though, and sorta panicked (you know me =/), not sure where to go or if it'd be okay to go back through security again with the Threat Condition Orange going on. I asked some security guards down the hallway though, and they said just to go back through and straight outside and there'd be a city bus stop right there. So, I got on a bus labelled "Waikiki Beach and Hotels", figuring I couldn't go wrong there, but due to traffic, I ended up spending over two and a half hours on the busses back and forth, much more time than I spent outside. There are few more uncomfortable places for me than busses. =/ Anyway, maybe I should've gone down to the beach itself -- I'm not really sure, but the bus rides would've been even longer so I don't plan on regretting that -- but I got off on some street near the hotels that had a bunch of shops, and thought, "whatever, this works." To tell you the truth, I have nothing to show for the fact that I went to Hawai'i; I didn't take any pictures because nothing I saw was very picturesque, just like any other big city with a bluer sky and palm trees, I thought. I almost bought a neat-looking t-shirt at the airport, but I wasn't going to spend $30 on something when what it represented hadn't impressed me too much. At any rate, I at least wanted to find some food, and ended up at a place called Da Big Kahuna, where the waitresses were as cheesy as the name, but it said they served Loco Moco, which Mr. Fujikura had recommended to me when I asked him if there was any sort of famous Hawai'ian dish. Loco Moco, apparently, is a big bowl with a padding of white sticky rice, on top of which goes a half-pound burger and two fried eggs, all smothered in beef gravy, ha. Anyway, I could only eat about two-thirds of it, but it was pretty good, hahah.

I got back to the airport (which seemed particularly dinky and boring after Kankuu) a couple hours early to be safe, so after browsing what shops they had, I sat down by my gate and did puzzles while sipping a tasty Mocha Light Frappuccino. Onboard the plane, I realized that this flight would be pretty much the opposite of the previous one. Row 45, an aisle seat but in a row with a woman with a baby, no TVs on the seats, just one big one in front of each section and a few on the ceiling in the aisles, and worst of all, despite it being an eight-hour flight boarding at 3:35 pm, no served meals, only purchasable sandwiches and snack boxes. We arrived early too, which was unfortunate since I was going to have to wait two hours for my mom to come anyway. I sat in the baggage claim from 4:50 am until 7:00, at which point I went to wait outside. I couldn't remember if my mom said she'd shoot for 7:00 or 7:30, apparently it was 7:30, but at any rate, but by the time she arrived at 8:00, I was really glad to see her. The drive went quickly since I had a lot to say, and after a hour of showing off souvenirs in our family room, I took one look at my bed, and next time my eyelids opened, it was 6:15 pm. :)

Whee, my tale has finally been told. But it's important; I'm certainly going to want to look back on this in the future, and relive all the little details.

And now, it's only three days 'til I move back to Madison and have a new adventure as part of Nihongo Hausu. :D

Aug. 21st, 2006

Osaka, Part 4 of 5

Day 7:

This was an amazingly fun day, and because I'm an idiot, I have no pictures to show for it.

As I'd said, Mr. Fujikura is a doctor and was really busy on call the week preceding Obon, but he had the day of Obon off and took me on a little tour of Osaka. The kids had homework though, so it was just the two of us.

I had mentioned to my family that I'd never gone to a karaoke box and thought they looked really fun. Apparently she'd never actually gone and said the kids were too young, but she told the dad to take me there since he apparently goes with cousins and friends and such often enough. When I'd mentioned it, I was thinking that it'd be particularly fun to go with Ayumi and her friends or something like that, being my own age and all, and when I realized that I was going with just the dad, I felt a bit nervous, haha, though that wasn't necessary.

We went to a place called Jumbo Karaoke Hiroba, but while at first we were going to go to the one by Toyonaka station, we got there 20 minutes before it opened, so we went to the main one in Nanba, since we were going to stop at a big bookstore there called Junkudou there anyway for me to buy Daarin wa Gaikokujin 2. Sure enough they had it. :) Apparently Mr. Fujikura had been out karaoke-ing the previous night and we ended up in the very same box, ha. Also, karaoke boxes apparently have free soft drinks and chuuhai (which, if I were going for an alcoholic beverage, I thought looked pretty good, but anyway, beside the point), as well as orderable food. I got some Calpis and gyouza (pot stickers), and we took turns singing for two hours without break. I was expecting it to be a little embarrassing, but it wasn't in the least, haha, it's unbelievable how fun it is! I honestly can't wait to go again, this time with people my own age in Tokyo. ;p Actually though, it was probably good that I did go with just the dad, 'cause while he seemed really impressed, I made a bunch of screwups that embarrassed me, and I can learn from them in the future. :D

See if I can remember everything I sung... Mr.Children - Houkiboshi (when we got back the the mom was like, "Invite girls karaoke-ing when you're in Tokyo and sing Mr.Children to them, they're sure to fall for you!" Hahahah, let's hope so), L'Arc~en~Ciel - Kasou (one of my favorite L'Arc songs, in response to the father's first choice of 'snow drop'), Ulfuls - Ee nen (when in Osaka... :) such a great song anyway though), Porno Graffitti - Agehachou (which I actually managed to do decently on), GO!GO!7188 - Jetto Ninjin (for humorous effect as well as because it's a freakin' awesome song), B'z - Yuruginai Mono Hitotsu (note for the future: ballads are a very good thing), Do As Infinity - Fukai Mori (can't go wrong), Janne Da Arc - Maria no Tsumeato (the only song by them I knew, in response to whichever one the dad picked), Mr.Children - Shiisou Geimu ~Yuukan na Koi no Uta~ (which I was AMAZING on and will probably sing any time I karaoke from now on), GO!GO!7188 - Ukifune (not that great for karaoke, but it's still my favorite of theirs), The Tigers - Kimi Dake ni Ai o (a song from 1968, hahaha, but GO!GO!7188 has an awesome cover of it, so I thought I'd see how the original sounded -- good, but lacks the rockin' guitar), The Local Art - Sakura (a cool indies tune that I completely failed on for some reason, but hey, you win some, you lose some), and Ketsumeishi - Sakura (haha, just to see if I could do it...the chorus was no problem, but I couldn't read fast enough to sing the rap part, would've had to practice ahead of time). I believe that was everything actually, ha.

Anyway, four rules of karaoke I picked up: (1) When in doubt, sing a ballad, 'cause you probably won't screw it up; (2) The more you do it, the better you know what artists are in your vocal range; (3) Plan ahead for what to sing next time, 'cause when you're in there, you don't have that much time to think; and (4) In the end it doesn't really matter if you screw up, it's still extremely fun. And as to rule #3, I thought of a few good ones to remember for next time: Monkey Majik - Around the World (I have NO IDEA why I didn't think to sing this one!), Mr.Children - Kurumi (once again, if it wouldn't've slipped my mind), Ulfuls - Ashita ga Aru sa (:D), Sambomaster - Sekai wa Sore o Ai to Yobu n da ze (seems like it'd be a blast with like 4+ people, hahah; god knows I can't scream like that alone), Yousui Inoue - Yume no Naka e (I don't care if it's from 1973, it's a really fun song), Gackt - Juunigatsu no Love Song (especially if it is in fact December), GO!GO!7188 - Me Mimi Hana Kuchi (hahah, yes -- if I could do it with a straight face), L'Arc~en~Ciel - the Fourth Avenue Cafe (forgot this one, this is my absolute favorite of theirs), Mr.Children - Kimi ga Suki (or Owari naki Tabi, or [es], or anything else by them really, it's a tough decision...), Porno Graffitti - Yo Bailo (or Mugen, or Saudade, or Ai ga Yobu Hou e...), wheeee :D

Anyhow, after that was a lot of sightseeing and window shopping (it ends up being the same thing a lot of the time, hehe, s'okay though). We went to Den Den Town in Nipponbashi (Sennichimae), a huge electronics and otaku district, the Akihabara of Osaka, which was amusing. We went and saw Tsuutenkaku tower, but the line to actually go in went down the street, so we figured it really wasn't worth it. Ha, instead we went to a place called Smart Ball, similar to pachinko, which was also kinda fun, ha, though neither of us won anything in the two tries we played.

By then it was dinner time, and we went to Mr. Fujikura's favorite restaurant (or at least one of 'em), a yakinikuya called Arai in Tsuruhashi (Sakaisuji from Doubutsuenmae to Nipponbashi, then Sennichimae). I can't even put into words how delicious this meal was (though it cost $80 for two people!). The yakiniku was pretty similar to Naritaya, though this place had traditional Japanese tables with a little grill placed onto the table, but somehow the meat was just tastier. Then we ordered a plate of raw beef strips in some sort of marinade that he was saying I'd love; "Ayumi ate a whole plate by herself!" He took some of the plate, but I ate most of it, and he wasn't kidding, it was amazing! I'm sure it wouldn't go over in America, but we're missing out on a lot of good things. Ha, I'll try any food as long as it's clean (he said a study done showed that Japan has next to no food poisoning cases from raw meat) and doesn't contain wasabi. :)

After that, I realized I still didn't have a souvenir for my parents, so we went to Minami-morimachi (Sennichimae to Tanimachi 9-choume, then Tanimachi) in search of something, and ended up finding a box of awa-okoshi, a specialty treat of Osaka made of rice and honey, which my parents as well as I have been enjoying quite a lot actually. :) We made our way back to Umeda and I remember going to a shop called Loft (come to think of it, I wonder if that's where the "All You Need Is Loft" shirt Yanagi-sensei had junior year came from!). Then we came back and I got all my stuff packed up for the next day. *tear*

Stay tuned for our exciting conclusion, airing tomorrow on Ross' journal. :D

Aug. 20th, 2006

The adventure continues...

Day 4:

After the morning routine, we set out for Himeji (JR Kobe from one end to the other), a city west of Kobe, to see Himeji Castle, since Mrs. Fujikura thought the fact that it remains intact in its original form made it more impressive than Osaka Castle.

After eating kushi-katsu (little hot dogs, potatoes, onions, lotus root, quail eggs, and a sardine each fried on a skewer, served with little bowls of rice and udon) at a restaurant in the station, we took a long bus ride to the Mt. Shosha ropeway, a cable car that goes up to Engyouji Temple. Apparently scenes of The Last Samurai were filmed at both Engyouji and Himeji-jou. Anyway, it was certainly pretty, but the steep roads didn't mix well with the 100 degree weather; I was drenched in sweat. :O After we came down, we got back on the bus for Himeji-jou, but apparently there's a famous garden called Kouko-en on the western end of it, so we visited there and went to the tea garden to have maccha and a manjuu (bitter green tea and a sweet red bean treat), but it was kind of uncomfortable since being I gaijin I can't do seiza (sitting with one's legs folded straight under them) and I was starting to get a massive headache. Half of that though I could tell was dehydration, so we found the nearest vending machine and after pounding an entire bottle of water, I felt quite a bit better. At last, we went to Himeji-jou, which was certainly magnificent. I can't really put any of these sights into words, but I'll upload most of my pictures to Facebook later on.

Back at Himeji station, we had a delicious meal at a nice Chinese restaurant, and made our journey back to Toyonaka.

Day 5:

On Sunday, we went out to explore Kobe. Upon getting off at Sannomiya (Hankyu Kobe), I cannot for the life of me remember what we did first. I don't have any pictures, and if I could remember even where we ate lunch, the rest would probably fall into place, but at any rate, it was probably mostly shoutengai window shopping, hehe. At some point we ended up at Kitano-chou, an area that has a lot of 19th-century Western-style houses (ijinkan), not to mention foreigners and international schools. We climbed up a big staircase behind the most famous house, Kazamidori no Yakata, to a shrine on a hill which you could see a good view of the heart of Kobe from.

We hoofed it back to the station and took the train a few stops back to Shukugawa, to meet Ayumi at a yakiniku restaurant called Naritaya. For some reason which I didn't catch though, we had to split from Mrs. Fujikura for a moment, so in order to have us get there in time for the reservation, she explained the route there to Mikako, but all I heard was the name of the place. Should've had her explain it to me too, because we ended up getting confused two blocks from it and calling from a pay phone, ha. Anyway, Ayumi found us quickly and then we all walked there together. Ayumi and I exchanged gifts when we sat down; she gave me a box of really elaborate-looking senbei in the shape of okonomiyaki which I haven't opened yet and a paper globe that expands by blowing air into it, both of which were really cool, I thought. The neatest thing of all though, was the little letter she gave me. Honestly, it was so delicate and pretty, complete with a tiny paper crane attached to it. I was glad I got it home without crushing it.

It was my first time eating at a yakiniku restaurant (where your table has a grill set into or on top of it and you get strips of marinated beef to make and eat), and man was it delicious. Of course, I had no idea what was to come two days later, but this place was still great and had a higher-class atmosphere. Plus it's a really fun and social kind of meal to eat. Afterwards we walked to a coffee shop where we met Mr. and Mrs. Isoyama and all sat and talked. I was really tired, and this was one of the times I remember my Japanese being particularly clumsy. But it was kind of difficult; I was trying to keep track of the conversation flying from how many directions, and once in a while some comment about me would actually be a question *for* me and I'd feel embarrassed. When I mentioned that after, Mrs. Fujikura said not to worry, since everyone was tired and this was sort of a final thing before going home. Which would also explain Mr. Isoyama lack of smiles, haha. He seemed like an okay guy otherwise though, and he drove us back to Shukugawa station.

Day 6:

Onto the day when I mastered the Japanese mass transit system. :D

Today the idea was that I would not only have to go alone to a place farther away, I'd have to return on my own too. It was certainly a challenge, and I can't say I wasn't nervous, but at the end of the day, I felt that I understood Japanese subways, trains, and busses well enough to get anywhere. 'Course when I get to Tokyo I'm going to have to learn all new names (well, I know some of the more famous ones, but still) for lines and stops, not to mention that there are a lot more of them and if I recall what Mrs. Fujikura said correctly, they can be stacked up as far down as 60m underground...but I'm confident that I'm prepared enough to figure it out at any rate. :) This was actually one of the most important parts of the trip, I think.

At any rate, I'd already known how to get to Umeda, but my host family (as usual, sans Mr.) did come with me so that I knew how to properly walk from Hankyu Umeda station to Tanimachi Higashi-Umeda station, from which point I was on my own. It was only three stops to Tanimachi 4-choume, the 9th exit of which is smack-dab in front of the Osaka Museum of History, our first destination. I ran into Paula right away, and we stood around talking in the stairwell (avoiding the deadly sun :O) while we waited for Ms. Hayashi. The tree of us went to the museum, which was really pretty neat actually; had elaborate scenes of each period of Osaka's history. Two highlights were the currency-exchange exhibit where you had use a balance to weigh old money (fake, but still) since Osaka and Tokyo used different currencies in the past (apparently the ryou used in Goemon is actually the old currency of Tokyo!), and these puzzles you could put together, one which became a jar (you'll see the picture). After the three exhibit floors, we ate in the restaurant on the first floor, where I had katsu-hayashi (hayashi rice with tonkatsu), which I can't explain very well, but it was tasty.

Next we walked over to Osaka-jou, which despite being rebuilt with concrete and having an elevator put in is really beautiful. Not a whole lot I can say about it though.

When we returned to the station, it was only around 2:30, and my family wasn't expecting me back 'til 6:30. Ms. Hayashi went her own way, but Paula was interested in going to Yodobashi Camera to buy a laptop since she had just gotten to Japan a week earlier and hadn't bought one before coming, so I went along. I figured out the way back to Umeda easily, and with a small amount of trial and error made it to the store. Japanese department stores always amaze me. While America is a land of family restaurants and such with a wide variety of food and Japanese restaurants tend to focus on one special item only, department stores are totally different. I don't think ones with less than 6 floors exist. Yodobashi in Umeda has 10: one with all computers, one all computer supplies, one all cameras, one with TVs and DVD players, one video games and toys, one CDs and DVDs, three floors of clothing, and the dining floor. And on top of all that is a three-story parking garage. Ha.

On the computer floor, you've got rows of desktops and laptops streching down as far as you can see. At an American computer store, I would expect to find probably three different desktops of each of five different brands, perhaps, but ha, this isn't America. Anyway, she too was overwhelmed, and after she picked up a bunch of pamphlets regarding different brands, we went to an internet cafe that was connected to the store, since she thought she might just order a Dell after all. It was really funny as we were sitting in there though, 'cause we were talking in English while listening to American music; I had to do a double-take to figure out where I was at one point, hahaha.

After that we each went our own ways, and when I reached the house, it was only 4:00, so everyone was just going out to run errands! Luckily I caught them just out in front, so they opened the door for me. Dunno what I'd've done had I been a few minutes later. Anyway, it was nice just sitting down, watching TV, drinking cold water, and having a fan blowing on my face, haha. After they returned, we had dinner at home. The only time we ate a meal other than breakfast at home, hehe, but for some reason I can't remember what the main course was... >_< We had corn on the cob though :D One of my favorite things, but I didn't expect to have it in Japan!

After dinner I went by myself to Book Off, a used book and CD shop within walking distance of the apartment. I had fun looking through the CD section although there wasn't much I wanted to buy, but I got one just 'cause they were cheap, so even though it actually isn't very good, s'not much loss, hehe. Did find some good books though. I was looking for book two of Daarin wa Gaikokujin, which they didn't have, but they did have Daarin no Atamannaka (Inside Darling's Mind), which looks really good anyway (and was only Y350), about Tony's (and Saori's, probably) thoughts on English and languages. I had earlier told Mrs. Fujikura that I was looking for Daarin 2, and she said she'd had most of her books and enjoyed them, but gave them to Ayumi. When I told her I was going to Hawai'i though, she brought out a few books she had bought before the times she'd gone there, and one was Oguri's Hawai de Dai no Ji, which she let me keep! I was excited. :D Anyhow, also at the bookstore, I found a manga guide to the characters and special moves of Naruto for Joey, and also Legend of Zelda manga, which I couldn't pass up! (Each was Y105 too!) I figured I could give the Zelda one to someone too, but seeing as I can't think of anyone to give it to at the moment (no other friends around here have any intention of learning more Japanese), I don't mind keeping it to read myself. :D Maybe I'll give it to someone later on.

I got back from the store around 9:15 or so, and we all probably talked or watched TV for a while before taking showers and hittin' the sack.

Aug. 19th, 2006

Osaka, Part 2

Day 2:

As it turns out, my host family got up every day at 7:30, something surprising for a guy from a family that sleeps 'til 10, but this trip was not about what my normal life consisted of; rather, it was a fantastic, dreamlike (brief or not) escape from my normal world, and getting up at 7:30 never ended up being too difficult. The usual morning routine was that my host mom, who'd get up a bit earlier, would turn on the TV then to wake us up, so we'd sit around for a while watching children's before-school programming, which in Japan are each 10 minutes long so that kids can regularly go to school immediately after a particular one finishes. One of them was Pitagora Suicchi though, ahahah, I was excited. At some point, I'd take a shower (they told me to feel free to take one both before bed and in the morning since it was so hot, an offer which I happily took them up on, though I passed on the before-bed bath due to the heat), and then we'd eat breakfast. The first day was cereal, and the rest of the days were a bagel or toast and something else, in true Western style, ha. But my family would always talk about how much they loved America, hehe.

As the kids would take their showers, we'd switch over to MTV and/or Space Shower TV since the mom knew I liked music. Apparently though, I listen to more Japanese music than the average Japanese person though, ha; every day they were surprised by the fact that I knew a particular song or singer. I was both amused and disappointed to know that, but I guess they all really love American and other English-language music. The mom's favorite bands were New Kids on the Block, Guns and Roses, and Billy Joel, hahah.

Anyhow, after we were all ready, we first went to an Okonomiyaki restaurant called Chibou in Nanba (Hankyuu to Umeda, Midousuji to Nanba [these're for my own amusement]) for a welcoming party. We met up with Michelle Otani (who was from California after all!), Ms. Akakuma, and Ms. Hayashi from the International House, as well as Mrs. Isoyama, Ayumi's mom/my "host aunt". The Okonomiyaki was really delicious; It was my first time eating it in a restaurant anyway, plus I'm pretty sure it was a pretty famous restaurant. I got the Doutonbori-yaki (beef, pork, shrimp, squid, cheese, konnyaku, etc.), yum yum. Also, while anyone certainly has good moments and bad moments in speaking a foreign language, I remember being particularly on target at this point, heh.

After that we all visited Douguyasuji ("equipment shop street"), which was amazing, 'cause I never knew such a place existed. You know how every Japanese restaurant has plastic food in the window? Well, this is where they get it! Hah. That and everything else needed to make a store, from "we're open" signs with LED lights to little bathroom or "no smoking" symbols to put on walls or doors.

Next I went with my host family and Mrs. Isoyama to Nara, the land of temples and deer. Seriously, they were everywhere, in hordes! So much so that they sold shika-senbei (deer crackers) which you could feed to them. The kids wanted to, so I joined them, hehe. Anyway, we went to Toudaiji and saw the Daibutsuden (Hall of the Great Buddha), which really was huge. There's a hole in one of the pillars in there that's supposed to be the same size as the nostrils of the statue, and if you can climb through you are said to be blessed with eternal happiness or something of that sort. It's kinda goofy though, 'cause while it's easy for little kids, I watched a guy about my same build but a little shorter try to get through and fail, so I didn't even bother. =/

Afterwards, we ate this huge Obon feast, which I certainly did not have the appetite for, but it was good anyway... Grilled pork, shrimp and vegetable tempura, soumen, clear soup, a plate of various little things I tried bits and pieces of asking "what's this one" before each, and a little scoop of ice cream at the end. I'm sure I forgot something, but close enough. It had turned dark by the time we left, and in order to welcome the spirits of the ancestors for Obon, they had candles lined out as far as the eye could see. It was really beautiful, though my pictures didn't turn out, hehe.

Finally we went home, showered, and slept.

Day 3:

One of the two days I had to go on my own for! This time was less so, though. I took a bus from a nearby stop (Baika Gakuen Mae) to Toyonaka Station, and then the Hankyuu train to Umeda, where I met Mr. Takei, the director of the International House, and we went to pay a visit to Mr. Adachi, the Chairman of the Osaka Sister Cities Committee and Vice President of Marubeni Corporation (apparently a huge trading company), at Marubeni's Osaka headquarters in Honmachi (Midousuji). We talked for about an hour, and it was just really interesting to engage in conversation with such an important person, hehe. Naturally I had to be dressed up too, so I changed into a t-shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals in the bathroom on the way out, hahaha. I went with Mr. Takei, Ms. Otani, Ms. Akakuma, and another woman whose name escapes me to a sushi restaurant a couple blocks away, and I felt victorious to eat my entire meal. Haha, someday I'll learn to like sushi, someday I tell you.

Ms. Akakuma and I split up with the others and headed back to Umeda, where I shopped at Yodobashi Camera for somewhere around two hours. I didn't actually *buy* anything, haha, I always take too long to muse things over first, but it was still a lot of fun to look around. At 2:00, we hopped back on the Midousuji to Shinsaibashi to visit the Doutonbori area. That was such a cool place despite it not being nighttime; I'd've loved to see it all lit up, but I still took lotsa great pictures, hehe. The Glico guy, the crab, Kuidaore, etc. Ms. Akakuma treated me to takoyaki, too, which was tasty. Nothing wrong with octopus when you can't actually see it. :D There was a amusing guy working at that shop too, he pointed at me and was like, "Amerika?" So I talked to him for a bit, but I kept tripping over my tongue. I get nervous talking to just about anyone but middle-aged women, haha... >_< S'cause that's what all my teachers've been.

We stopped back at the International House for a bit to kill time, and both Ms. Chubb, who was being transferred to somewhere else the next day, and Paula, a 21-year-old girl from New Zealand who was starting work there that day were there, so I found it amusing that we were three people speaking English in three different dialects. Finally, we all went to Ikutama Shrine to watch Takigi Noh (traditional Japanese "opera" performed by firelight). I met up again with my host family and we sat in the front row on the side. We received Soukenbicha ("refreshing-healthy-beautiful-tea", a 9-tea blend sold by Coca-Cola), and I must say, cold tea is indeed refreshing. It's just like grain-flavored water, heh. Anyway, the first performance was called Okina, and it was interesting, but it was extremely slow and seemed to be the same actions repeated for an entire hour. I guess that one's supposed to be a prayerlike ritual as opposed to an actual play though. After that was a Kyogen (humorous play in old yet generally understandable Japanese) called Obagasake, and I found that amusing. There were a number of parts that went completely over my head, but I also got the gist of quite a few parts. As the fire-lighting began, we were called up to the second floor of the rest-house building there, where they had a big exclusive party going on that neither I nor my host family were expecting. Even now I'm not sure exactly what qualifications one needed to be part of that party, but there was tons of good food, and I met someone from the Mayor's office (who seemed to recognize me somehow), as well as some kids from America who just got to Osaka a week earlier for the JET program.

After the party, the Noh was just ending, so we watched the end and headed back home, no doubt stopping somewhere to buy a snack on the way back, ha. And thus concluded another full day of my lovely trip.

Aug. 18th, 2006

タダイマ

Well, as of yesterday morning, I'm back, and my trip was incredible! Honestly, it could not have been any better, I just wanted it to be longer!

I guess I'll do a little day-by-day recap...

Day 1 (August 8 and 9):

My flight out of O'Hare was at noon, so we left at 9:00. It was my first time ever flying alone, and I was actually pretty nervous, but naturally it wasn't much different. I really hate long flights though...no matter what you do, they can only be so comfortable. Maybe in first class, where the seats fold out into beds, ha. Anyway, despite spending half the trip attempting to sleep, I was never able to. =/ The flight was delayed a whole hour too; 30 minutes to wait for another flight to merge, 30 minutes because of some problem with lavatory waste disposal...ew. On the plane I sat next to a girl who was Chinese but more or less raised in America by parents who each spoke six languages (!), and who was now going to medical school.

Upon arrival, I was met by a person from the Osaka International House named Tegon Chubb. I don't know about you, but hearing that name made me picture a black man, but it turned out to be an Australian woman, and I felt embarrassed, ha. We took a bus from the airport to Uehonmachi station, and walked a few blocks from there to the International House where I met my host family. On the ride we talked in English, and I told her that while I should really be talking in Japanese, with the tiredness from my plane ride English was just easier at the moment. But when we got there a woman told me all the details super fast, and I felt like, "hold on, I need transition time!" Ha, it is interesting how while I get this illusion of having become decent at speaking in Japanese at home, when I got over there it still was a little shaky at first. I may be able to express nearly anything in Japanese without a dictionary now, but conversation is still the toughest. It obviously got progressively easier as the days went on, but I've still a ways to go. I should be pretty fluent after spending a year abroad though :D

I was a little nervous about my host family at the very beginning, but that's more or less inevitable. In actuality, I could've hardly asked for a better family. The mom and dad were in their 40s and both really nice people, though the dad was on call the whole week and especially busy since it was the Obon holiday, so there would be nights he wouldn't even come home to sleep. They also had two girls, Ryouko, who was 11, and Mikako, 9. First we went to Yodobashi Camera, a electronics/department store at ("at" seems more accurate than "next to", anyway) Umeda station, which had an eighth floor of all restaurants, called "Yodobashi The Dining", haha. We met with Ayumi, the 19-year-old niece of my host parents, and all ate at an Osaka-style udon and soba place. As for Ayumi, she was really pretty, but I never got to talk to her much, so I was kinda disappointed. She's a rouninsei though, someone who couldn't pass the entrance exam of the college there wanted to get into and rather than going to a lesser school studies for a year at a preparatory school to try again on the following year's entrance exam, so while everyone else was on summer break, she still had class, and it would run until like 7:00 pm. =/ She may or may not be my type, but that didn't really matter to me; I was looking forward to spending time with a Japanese girl my own age. Oh well, I'll probably see her again sometime in my year abroad.

After dinner, we took the Hankyuu train back to Toyonaka, the northern suburb that they lived in, and walked back to their place. It was an apartment, probably what one would call a manshon, and though not roomy, it had a homey feel to it. After the genkan, there were two bedrooms, neither used as such, but one having a piano and Mikako's desk (in which I put my luggage), the other with a TV, computer, and Ryouko's desk. There was a toilet room and a room with a sink, mirror, and washing machine which led into the bath and shower room, a kitchen, a living room with a TV and the only air conditioner as well a table for dining that was put to the side at night to make room for a row of futons, and finally a connecting washitsu which I slept in with the door half closed. It was around 100°F every day, which I did get used to by the end of the trip, but I had to sleep with the assistance of an ice pillow (an ice pack wrapped in a towel) and a fan at my feet. The first night I couldn't really sleep at all what with jet lag and excitement and a foreign place to sleep, but after that I was out really quick every night.


Hm, shoot. I'm tired so I guess I'll continue tomorrow...but over the course of a few days I'll cover the entirety of my adventures. :D

Aug. 7th, 2006

出発の前夜

Just fifteen hours from now and I'll be up in the air.

My suitcases are packed and ready to go.

Here I come, OSAKA!! :D

Aug. 1st, 2006

19才

Whee, my birthday today! :D

And just one week 'til Japan, I'm so giddy with excitement!

Jul. 24th, 2006

Better late than never...

Part 2: The Good News

Lots of stuff happening lately. :D

So after trying it for a month, it turned out even my mom, who was in an unbreakable trance about getting a dog at the beginning, finally decided that it was a good experiment but our family is just not right for a dog. Whereas a pet should bring out the best in people, it brought out the worst in all of us. Naturally I was anything but keen on the idea at the beginning, and through the course of this month I came to dislike it quite a bit less, but it was a matter of adaptation like anything else, I figure. My dad wasn't terribly excited for it but figured it'd work out, but ultimately his major complaint was the accidents: "At least babies wear diapers!" And my mom was finding it to be a stressor more than anything, so after she herself brought the idea up, last week they took it to the Humane Society. Now we're able to appreciate all kinds of things we took for granted too, like being able to use both of our bathrooms, being able to talk above a hushed whisper, or (I think this last one's just me, but) not getting ambushed upon walking out of my bedroom and into the kitchen first thing in the morning.

A smaller one, but still neat... I ordered ダーリンは外国人, or "My Darling's a Foreigner" a couple weeks ago from a Kinokuniya in New York (discovering a good way of ordering Japanese books in the process!). It's a manga with interspersed little text parts that's basically really funny anecdotes of a woman who married an American guy and the resulting culture shocks and such. Can't wait to read the sequel :D

And of course, more than anything, Osaka is right around the corner! It does suck that I can't meet Mayu, but aside from that I couldn't be more excited. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that I told the people in Chicago that I wanted to go on August 2 at least two months ago, only seven days ago did they realize, "Hey, it's getting close, we should schedule his flight.", hah. Turns out that they couldn't get me a flight back until the 16th, so they had to move my departure date to the 8th. Hm, well, gives me a little extra time to prepare, I guess. But the really funny thing is, since the flight back on the 16th was the earliest possible one they could get me on, it includes an eight-hour layover...in HONOLULU!! Can't believe I'm going to Hawai'i. :D That's gonna be like three days packed into one though: I leave Osaka at 7:00 PM after a full day, take an eight hour flight that just hops over the date line to arrive in Honolulu at 7:52 AM on the same day, depart at 4:15 PM, and take another eight hour flight that arrives at O'Hare at (guess what) 5:15 AM. :O Naturally my parents can't pick me up then, so I've gotta take a bus or limo back to Mitchell, then get driven home by my mom. I'm gonna be sooo tired, haha. But somehow I've gotta learn to sleep on a plane, 'cause if I'm going to Honolulu, you'd better believe I'm gonna enjoy it! Take a bus (or cab, I guess) out into town, eat lunch, grab a souvenir or two, take some pictures, and get back in time for my plane. :D

Thought I had one other thing to mention, but hmm...I'll mention it later if I think of it.

Jul. 22nd, 2006

ハイヤイヨ 闇に堕ちれど・・・

Today looks to be rich in updates, so I'll divide things into at least two entries...

Part 1: The Bad (or Not-So-Good) News

1a. Everything that Concerns Mayu

I never really elaborated on the emotional problems that Mayu's been struggling with since well before I started going out with her, partly 'cause I figured I shouldn't reveal those kind of things to anyone and everyone, but also because I believed that she was rapidly getting better and ultimately there would be no need to. And so it seemed, but lately things had all of a sudden gotten worse again, and one week ago, she decided a relationship was just too much for her right now. I wasn't so much angry or sad as just...stunned, and that feeling lasted for about three days. The thing is, the whole month before we were hardly able to talk at all, so after the pain from that, it was like we were already half broken up.

It still really sucks, but the worst part of all was that I was just about to go to Japan and finally see her, and that experience I've longed for with all of my being was in an instant taken from me. I suppose I should feel angry. After all, the whole reason I worked so hard on my speech was for her; in fact, I would not have had the motivation to win without her. Yet for that very reason, my mom makes a good point... My going to Osaka is very likely something that I'm supposed to do, perhaps there's someone I'm supposed to meet, something that will be a future job opportunity, who knows. Still, I wish I could see her, even if just as friends...besides being in a relationship for seven and a half months, we've communicated by email for three full years total.

My parents, however, won't back down on the idea that the reason she broke up with me was my coming to Japan itself; that our relationship was wonderful to her as some surreal fantasy, but she feels too vulnerable to have it become real. While I had my doubts on that at first, I realize they may well be right. It was a very sudden and underexplained break up after all. They said she may want a relationship again after I return to America, which I'm not so sure about, though she may well wait that long to talk to me again (she said, "after a while, please be my friend again"). Even if she did ask to be my girlfriend again, I don't think I could do it. The whole reason the loneliness of these months would be worth bearing was that I would get to see her at the end of the summer... I mean, unless it was in Japan next year, perhaps.

Regardless, I'll always love Mayu in some way, and I don't regret the time we spent together, if only online. It's just a shame that she wasn't a more emotionally stable girl, because I truly believe the long distance in itself we could have overcome. Plus the fact that I had a Japanese girlfriend was like a perfect situation. I don't mean that in a weird way; you can say I was "born with yellow fever", but while it's true that "cute" girls are my type and I think Japanese girls are the cutest on the planet, that's not what I'm getting at (after all, I like white girls just fine =p). I just think it would be really great to be with someone of a different culture, someone coming from a different way of thinking, and since I plan to have a job that uses Japanese, a Japanese girl would be just that. Plus, since Mayu's a Christian, (despite any fears I may have had about her "going overboard") that really made one potentially disastrous cultural difficulty go very smoothly.

But the truth is, I do need a physical relationship right now. I do need more than just would-be hugs and kaomoji (emoticon) kisses (^ε^). And being a (ten-days-from-) 19-year-old guy with an inevitable sex drive the size of a semi truck, if I was with the right person, I finally could see myself going beyond that.

Still, my philosophy that dating is a waste of time and emotion (not to mention money) remains as adamant as ever, so I may have to be patient again...

1b. The "Search for Someday" Continues

So, yesterday night my friend Kyle had another of his bonfires, which he's been holding pretty often and are just a nice excuse for us all to just sit around and talk. It was fun as usual for the most part, but when I explained about Mayu, my oh-so-understanding friends decided to start giving me "tips on girls", which could not have been more unwelcome or ridiculous. "Your socks are too high, they should be under the ankle", "Polo shirts and track jackets!", or "Contacts and short hair looked better." (Not that they were even following the latter two.) When I left, I was so enraged I couldn't fall asleep until past 2...

So here's a (not-so-) little rundown on why I'm different:

First and foremost by far is a counterpoint to Jim's comment on "projecting an image": "Do you want people to see Ross, or do you want them to see Fabio?" It's probably amusing if taken as a joke, but it couldn't be more incorrect. I am who I am, and I take pride in being true to who I am. I want other people to know who I am, not some stupid fashionable façade, and guess what? I've found that people like me for who I am, and for being true to that. Naturally, I would want a girl who's no different. Any girl who could possibly give a damn about the above quoted statements is clearly not someone I could ever go out with (preference is one thing, but to actually think less of me for not dressing like some airheaded fashion model is completely ridiculous).

I was told (by Lauren, yet) that that statement basically rules out 98.7% of all women. An absurd statement, but even if that were correct, I wouldn't expect that more than one in a hundred girls would be my type anyway. Certainly I'm picky. People, my dad for one, have joked that I'm "looking for a wife", but that's actually not even that inaccurate. Sure I've no desire to get married any time in the near future, but the thing I've wanted more than anything for as long as I can remember is true love. And since I'm an all-or-nothing kinda guy, if a girl doesn't have ample potential to be that, then there's no point in me wasting the time and emotion in pursuing a relationship.

I realize that's also probably a daunting thing for most girls my age to read, but even if I could change that, I wouldn't. It's what I long for from the depths of my soul.

It's a shame that Jim's concept of having every person's genitals be in a unique shape and having to find the one and only person whose "hole your peg fits into" isn't true, hahahah. Wouldn't life be simple?

I mean, on the topic of looks, certainly no human can say that they don't matter entirely; we're born with eyes that like to see some things more than others, and you aren't going to spend the rest of your days on this earth with someone you can't stand to look at. Regardless, I don't believe it has anything to do with wearing trendy clothing. Rather, I couldn't go out with someone who was too "fashionable" or wore lots of makeup, or whatever. Joey found it a riot when I described such girls as being "too done up", but I think it's a pretty good way of putting it. If we're talking clothing, I prefer people who still look nice, but in their own sort of style, without worrying about what rich assholes are wearing. That's what I do. But I'm addressing this topic far more than it's worth. If we're talking looks, sure, I may have preferences here and there--petite, not too fat nor too skinny--but there's only one thing that's truly important in the looks department, and that's a nice face. And after all, girls have told me in the past that I use cute facial expressions, so I'm sure I can find one who'll agree with me here.

But I mean, a lot of things can't be put into words, and a lot of things don't make requirements, merely plusses and niceties. I would figure a list of actual requirements would be pretty short.

In my case, I wouldn't go out with a girl who... does drugs (obviously), smokes (ew.), drinks (I mean, one drink in a social occasion's probably fine, but no one who's ever wanted to get drunk), is a dogmatist or an atheist (neither's any smarter than the other, thinking is what's important, especially spiritual conversation), or likes rap as a genre (I'm serious!). On the other hand, nerdy and romantic would certainly be compatibility requirements. (Seeing as usually girls are the ones worried about the guy being romantic, that's one less thing to worry about, haha.) At any rate, that's all I can really think of as necessities, and that's not a very long list.

Anyway, I've gone on way too long about this, but there was so much I just needed to get out of my system. Taking an entire afternoon and writing all this really helped clarify some things. In the end, I'm sure everything'll work out as it's supposed to, because I'm true to myself.

Part two of what I wanted to say is all happy news, so perhaps I'll write that when I get back from work. :D

Oh, and by the way, if you actually read all of that, I owe you a hug, so remind me about that next time you see me!

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