Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gray day. Everything is gray. I watch. But nothing moves today.

People walk through the Bamboo Grove on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Me at a park near the Bamboo Grove.
 Saturday marked my being in Japan for three whole months! It is also the two week mark before I leave Japan. Due to this ever pressing deadline, even the rain could not keep me and my roommate from going to Kyoto on Saturday. We visited Arashiyama and the Bamboo Grove, which is one of the sites I knew I wanted to go to before I even arrived to Japan. While I wish it hadn't been raining it was still a cool site to see. Also beautiful is the fall colors, or kouyou, in Kyoto.

Friday night we celebrated Thanksgiving here at JCMU. It was only a week late not too bad. It was amazing. The office staff cooked four turkeys and lots of the stuffing and mashed potatoes. Some of the students even helped make apple pie. It was a fun night where just about all the students and staff got together to enjoy a delicious meal.

Togetsukyo, or Moon Crossing, Bridge in Arashiyama

Monday, November 19, 2012

How did it get so late so soon?

Competitors tie their obi's and get dressed on stage at the Kimono Festival in Hikone.
My roommate all dressed up.
Robert Shelton all dressed up.
The best (and probably most obvious) thing I love about Japan is doing things I'd never get to go at home, like go to a Kimono festival. Sunday, my roommate and seven other JCMU students participated in it. Most just went and got all dressed up by professionals. They all looked beautiful and handsome. Two actually competed. While there are different categories to the competition the basics is the people are on stage, the clock starts, and they are judged on how fast and well they can tie their obi and dress them selves up. I'm so proud of friends who went up on stage and did it in front the crowd. 

This week also begins my less-than-a-month countdown til I'm back in America (25 days to be exact). I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I miss home. I miss my friends, both at school and from Chicago. I miss my family. I miss driving. I miss my cats and dogs. I miss American food. Like a lot. I already told my roommate from Central that we're going to hit up a Mexican food restaurant when I see her, and I'm really hoping my mom picks me up from the airport with a Lou Malnati's deep dish sausage pizza (hint, hint). 

Even though I miss all those things I know when I get back to America there are going to be so many things I miss about Japan. I love the train system here. I travel to a new place just about every weekend here. I actually like not having a cell phone. I love learning a new language. It has been hard but that has just made it that much more rewarding. I'm going to miss the bejesus out of my roommate and all the other great friends I've made here. 

Until then, I'm going to enjoy the time I have left and make the most of it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When the drops stop dropping then the storm starts stopping.

The main walkway leading into the mountain.
Me standing next to a torii gate.
 Usually Friday mornings consists of a weekly test on my Japanese language skills followed by a "Friday Project" which ranges from koto lessons to calligraphy. This Friday the test was moved up a day so JCMU students could have more time at the elementary school we were visiting. I was not excited. It was the morning, I was tired, the idea of screaming first and second graders everywhere did not sound like a good time.

I was mistaken.

Visiting the school has been my favorite Friday project thus far. All the JCMU students got split up between ten or so different elementary schools in the area. I, along with three other JCMU students, visited 156 first and second graders at Takamiya elementary school. We waited in the principals office until a group of four second graders came, with their teacher, where they took each us by the hand and lead us into the gym where 70 or so children were waiting for us and started applauding as we entered. We were than sat down in front of all these children and they sang for us. This was followed by a game of dodgeball. It took me till I was in jail to figure how they play, but it was still a lot of fun. The children would just drag me to where ever I needed to go. The first graders second hour was pretty much a repeat except we made paper airplanes instead of dodgeball, which I'm pretty sure turned into gaijin target practice, but again still fun. Sorry there are no photos I was having too much fun.

Afterwards, my roommate and I spent the afternoon in Kyoto. We wanted to go to both Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine and Arashiyama, but the shrine was a bit more than we anticipated so we didn't make it to Arashiyama. The shrine is famous for the torii gates all lined up. It was massive and very impressive. Most of the pictures I've seen of the place are of the main walk way, which is flat. We come find out however it's actually built into the side of a mountain. It was a beautiful but exhausting climb.

There are thousands of torii gates located along the pathways.
One of the many miniature shrines located along the pathways.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.

The view of Tokyo from the top of Tokyo Tower. It just goes on forever.
The Imperial Palace in Ginza, Tokyo.
Tokyo was different from every other place I've visited in Japan. I don't even know how best to describe it, only to say that two days was not enough to explore it.

Senso-ji Temple lit up at night.
My friends and I decided to take the Shinkansen to Tokyo on Friday morning. There was a bus we could have taken that would have been a lot cheaper but would have taken longer. The trip from Hikone to Tokyo would have taken at six hrs by bus or car but only took two and a half hours my Shinkansen. It was basically a plane on the ground. It even kind of look like a plane on the inside.  We stayed at K's House Tokyo Oasis in Asakusa. It was a great, clean, cheap hostel and the staff there was amazing and really helpful. Asakusa has an old feel to it and the hostel was a 5 minute walk from the subway. You can get anywhere you need to through the subway system and for ¥710 we got a day pass to ride most of the lines as often as we needed to.

Friday we went to Ginza and Roppongi. Ginza has a lot of high end retail shops much like Michigan Ave. in Chicago and the the Imperial Palace which you can't go into without reservations made ahead of time but is still worth going to to look around. In Roppongi we took an elevator 250m up to the top of Tokyo Tower. We really lucked out with the weather, it was a beautiful clear day and we could see for miles. It was amazing to see how all buildings are built around each other to pack everything in and yet there is still room for trees.  Later that night we wandered around Asakusa and found Senso-ji Temple. It is all light up and night and is one of the coolest place I've seen in Japan.

Saturday we hit up Shibuya and Harajuku for some shopping. Both places were insanely packed with people, Harajuku more so. I just couldn't get over how packed in everything was and how everyone functioned properly there. My highlight was sitting in the Starbucks looking out over Shibuya Crossing watching hundreds of people make their way across the street in the one minute that the lights are red. That night we ate at an okonomiyaki restaurant, Sometaro, that has been around since 1937.  Overall,  it was a great weekend.

Fun little side note: I always thought America was bad about rushing into Christmas, but here in Japan it started the day after Halloween. Tokyo looked like Father Christmas had vomited on it. There were Christmas trees and light and music EVERYWHERE.

I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.

Tyler Castner and I practicing with the Seisen University students, Misa Ariyama, Kotono Ootsuki, and Yuta Onishi before our live radio show.
Kotono Ootsuku, Misa Ariyama, and Tyler Castner after the show.
Two months ago I knew zero Japanese. Sunday I did an interview with Seisen University students on a live internet show, in Japanese. Was my Japanese any good? Probably not. Most likely it sounded like two year old repeating the only words he or she knows over and over again. None the less I was proud of myself. Tyler and I had been with working with the university students for over a month figuring out what we were going to talk about.

Aside from my horrible Japanese the show was actually a lot of fun. We talked about JCMU, our favorite Japanese food, anime and other aspects about our lives here in Japan. We broadcasted the show from the second floor of a cafe in Hikone. It was a really cool place that use to be post office. After we finished the show we all went downstairs and enjoyed coffee and cake.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's opener, out there, in the wide, open air.

The group makes it way up the mountain to the top of Azuchi Castle.
The ruins at Azuchi Castle
While majority of my time here is spent trying to learn the Japanese language, Saturday I, along with 5 other JMCU students, had the opportunity to help some junior high student practice their English. It was a lot of fun wandering through Azuchi. The students actually spoke English quite well. Each JCMU student paired up with JET ALT and two Japanese students.  We helped them answer question on a quiz about Azuchi Castle and asked them simple questions about school and their interests.
Azuchi is a place I would have never gone to on my own. It's not a touristy place. The castle is actually just ruins of what was once a castle, but it was very beautiful and serene there. All in all it was a fun day.
View from the top of our climb.

ASAP. Whatever that means. It must mean, 'Act swiftly awesome pacyderm!'

JCMU students take their picture with one of the 70 children that attended JCMU's Halloween Party.

My roommate and I as Minnie Mouse and Katniss.
Last week JCMU held a Halloween party for Japanese children to come and experience a little bit of American Halloween. Halloween in Japan, up until recently, has been entirely non-existent. Even now it is not the same as in America. There is no door to door trick-or-treating, no season stores that pop up in the month leading up to it, no haunted houses, and no pumpkins being carved. In fact it was quite difficult to find any Halloween costumes, most students made their own. All Halloween really is here is some cutesy decorations at some stores and restaurants and the occasional party.

With so many Americans in one place, JCMU offers a unique experience for Japanese children. After our weekly test on Friday, JCMU students set to decorating the building. We set up games, put up streamers, and transformed the library into haunted library. Around 70 children and their families showed the evening. They got to get their faces painted, play musical chairs, bean bag toss and walk through the haunted library. After all that they got to experience trick-or-treating by going to some rooms in the dormitory. It was a lot of fun for both the children and us students. After the kids party some students from local universities came for food and costume contest.

Taylor King helps with paints a girls face. Face painting was one the more popular activities at the party.