Thursday, October 27, 2011

Update on everything

Hello everyone!  I'm sorry for the lack of blogs lately.  I've been so busy with school and having fun here I've forgotten about my blog.  Let me give you a run down of how I'm doing here:

My daily routine at school is like this:
9:00 : leave for class
9:20 - 11:05/12:35 : Japanese language class
After that, depending on the day I either have a Fieldwork Research Methods class, an intermediate Translation class, or Japanese Culture.

 Japanese class itself is a bit different from my Japanese class at OSU.  For one thing, I feel like I can talk a little bit more in class here than over there.  There's also much more discussion, because the teachers has us compare Japan with other countries.  However, there are times when class becomes really boring for me, and I lose my concentration.  Mostly, those are the times when we are going over the chapter reading, and our teacher is asking us questions like, "What is the subject?" and "What is the predicate" over and over again for each sentence.  Other than that, I like class a lot!

My other classes in themselves are fairly easy, but they can be time consuming.  Fieldwork in particular is taking up a lot of time, because I am doing a research project in that class.  That is why I'm learning Japanese sign language (日本手話).  In my Japanese class, I also have a small research project.  With another classmate, I'm going to interview a very old kimono cloth shop.  Besides making the interview questions, I haven't done much for that though.

After class, I do a variety of things.  Sometimes I go to a place called "Japan Plaza", where people can only speak in Japanese in there.  A lot of exchange students and native speakers go there to meet each with each other, or receive help on homework.  It's really fun - because everyone is really eager to talk to each other.  There is another place called "World Plaza", where people can speak anything BUT English.  However, even though this place is bigger and more popular, it's much stricter (if you speak in Japanese twice, you get kicked out).  I haven't gone in here yet, but I want to one day.

For the most part, my classes end so late that I just end up going back to my dorm for the night.  Over there I usually eat and hang out with my roommates downstairs, or watch a movie with them.  On days when I end class early, usually I hang out with a friend or two.  Sometimes we go shopping in Sakae (栄え), or chill at a cafe (喫茶店), or go exploring.

Like today, I went with a roommate to find a golf range (he loves golf and has been trying to find one for a while).  Once we did find it, he taught me how to play golf and we swung a few balls for a while.  It was really relaxing and a very different environment than what I was used to; only the elderly were there.  Afterwards, we went to a French cafe, where we chilled and ate a lot of sweets.  By the way, if you ever come to Japan, please make sure to go to their cafes and try their cakes - they're way better than the ones in America.  Maybe compared to Hong Kong cafes they're similar . . . but anyways, they're really good despite their slightly expensive price.

Next week I'll be going on a small trip with a friend or two to Kyoto!  We have an idea of what sights we want to see, but basically I just have a list of things to do once we get there.  If there's anything that people want from over there, please tell me!  Because I probably won't have another chance to visit there again until after winter break!

And since it is night time over here: おやすみなさい(Good night).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Matsuri (祭り)

Today, I went to a festival in a small village named Tarui.  It was the start of many new experiences, like buying my first JR ticket by myself.  Already, that was a huge challenge for me, because all I knew was my train was at platform 6, it would cost me 950 yen, and that I was going to Tarui.  However, because Tarui is such a small and far village from Nagoya, the random stranger I asked for help didn't know how to help me and had to take me to a station personnel.  Since I was in a rush because my train was leaving any moment, I was doing my best to talk on the phone with my teacher and talk to the station personnel.  In the end, I had to take the next train by myself, and spent even more time trying to figure out which station I had to transfer at.  However, I somehow made it, and met up with my teacher, who got a cab for us to get to the festival grounds.

The festival itself was really cool to watch.  It seemed like the typical small-town festival.  The grounds seemed to be like a school, because there was a long building behind the main area, and a playground off to the side.  Strings of white lanterns were hanging and they were all leading to a central pole.  When I got there, there was already a couple older couples sitting around the pavillion, and kids playing on the playgrounds.  No one really meandered around the middle of the grounds, where the performance would take place.  Immediately, a festival worker greeted my teacher and I and gave us a pamphlet explaining (in Japanese) the whole festival.  Later on, we were joined by the rest of my class who got their earlier and took a taxi tour of the village.

It was celebrating a time a long time ago when the village prayed to their local gods for rain (which our teacher said was an unusual time, since it was the harvesting season and you normally wouldn't want rain), and the gods walked down and granted them their wish.  So, every year they put on a show using taiko drums and small gongs.

The performers (all male), dance around and form a circle while carrying these huge drums all by themselves.  They balance these instruments on their thighs.  Plus, there are other men who also dance to form a circle holding these poles with red and white pom pom looking things.  It's like a mop, but made of paper.  The whole time, my whole class couldn't figure out what it meant until the very end when someone told us it's to represent clouds.  However, their performance was very synchronized - all their arm movements as they played their drums were almost all together.  In the background, you could hear the men on top of a higher platform singing some folk song, and the annoying clanging of the gongs in rhythm with the drums and the singing.

Between each song (about 5 minutes or so), the drummers, pole holders, and gong clangers would switch.  During this break, they would also change their outfits, for each role had a different outfit to wear.  The pole holders wore (what I think are called hakama) huge dark navy baggy pants, the basic uniform (a yukata) and tied some sort of red ribbon around their back.  The drummers wore just the yukatas and a huge straw hat with a pink flower ontop, and the gong clangers wore the yukatas with a helmet on top.

After a while of listening to the awful noise (because even though the drumming was good, the gong clanging was not), some of us ventured towards the food stalls to eat some barbequed squid, sugar candy, corn dogs, and takoyaki.  There were also small games for children to play, and other stalls a little away selling cotton candy and festival masks.  It's there that some of us also got a chance to talk to a local - an old man who was interested in seeing so many foreigners at a festival like this.  That's where we learned the meaning of the festival, among other things.

After the festival, our teacher told us that we were all invited to travel back with one of the taiko drums to its' shrine where it would be put away.  All the drums actually stay in a shrine or a certain place for the year, only to be taken out for the festival (I think).  It was a special honor, so we all went and had a small demonstration done for us.  After that, 3 of us were even able to try it out.  Traditionally, girls cannot participate in the event, but one of the girls in my group got to try on the taiko drum.  We saw quickly why girls aren't allowed to participate - she couldn't hold the drum at all and one of the men had to help her.

All in all, it was amazing little town.  On our way back to the station, we passed another small shrine.  It was really cool to see a different side of Japan - the more rural and traditional part of it.  The town is really different from the big cities like Nagoya and Tokyo.  My teacher told us that these towns are usually in charge of the forest upkeep, which is a huge problem for Japan, and other important duties.  So, a lot of towns have these kinds of responsibilities that makes it possible for the whole community to stick together.

Next week, I'll be attending another festival that celebrates men.  It's one of the biggest festivals around here, so I'm looking forward to it.  The week after is Nagoya festival, which is another huge festival that most people around here are looking forward to.  One thing I'm learning about Japan is that there seems to be always festivals going on.  It might be because of the good weather - I doubt they'll be any once the cold really comes in.  Already, people are complaining about how cold it is . . . and it's only like 25 degrees Celsius, which is around what 70 degrees Fahrenheit?