Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Volunteering at Kugunarihama, Miyagi Prefecture (十八成浜、宮城県)

Last weekend, I volunteered with the Aichi Volunteer Center in the Tohoku region for one day.  We left Nagoya for a 13 hour night bus ride to a small village in Miyagi prefecture named Kugunarihama.

Backward sign pointing towards the ocean

The place we went to is a poor village known best for whaling.  It's basically going extinct - most of the people I saw there were the elderly.

Our group of 80 people were split into three groups: one group focused on clean up, another made bento (lunchboxes) for around 100 people, and the last group which I was in went to each house in the area to invite them for lunch and pass out a weekly newsletter.  We also record how many people wanted lunch, and if it was too cold for them to go out, we would deliver their lunch for them.

New tori being built

While we were there, we also had a rare chance to see a new tori (鳥居) being built / made.  This was the event that we were advertising to the locals to come to, because it was also where we were going to have lunch at.

Picnic in front of the new tori

Looking firsthand what that area looks like now was a really good experience.  For the most part it was all cleaned up.  There were only broken cups or bowls, or other small things mixed in with the dirt.  What stood out was the lack of houses, when you could clearly see the plots of land that separated the homes that used to be there.  That was a humbling experience - to think that in just less than a day a whole home was washed away.

Ship stuck on a parking lot

Debri scattered all over parking lot
Later in the afternoon we also got to visit some of the wreckage that was still there in another place called Ayukawa (鮎川) (like a huge liner and other broken boats that was washed onto shore).  There, we did another type of volunteering - souvenir shopping.  According to one of the volunteer leaders, he told us that the main problem is real estate and the lack of jobs.  The people in that area cannot afford to build a new house, so the government pays for their land.  Furthermore, the work for volunteers are drying up because now many people want to have the locals have those jobs, since their jobs also were washed away by the tsunami.  Economically, they will have a hard struggle in front of them.

For volunteers, they warned us to not come up randomly.  There's just not much for volunteers to do.  Instead, they recommend going with a huge organization that's already involved with volunteering over there (like the org. I went with).  These org. usually have already developed relationships with the people in the area.

In May, my friend and I hope to go once more before I leave, so I'm hoping we can!

Cherry blossom viewing (お花見)

The season is basically over, but here are some pictures I took at a hanami (花見) I went to with my church!

The location is at Tsurumai Park - apparently known as one of the best places to view Cherry blossoms in Nagoya.  There are a bunch of cherry blossom trees here, and walking around the park was beautiful!

One of the reasons I didn't really take a lot of pictures of the sakura (桜) is no picture could every compare to seeing the real deal.  Pictures literally cannot describe how beautiful and amazing they are.  They're like tiny delicate flowers, but there's so many of them it's wonderful.

About what people do during hanami, normally people drink and spend time with friends (basically an outdoor party).  One of my roommates noticed that most people don't do hanami  because they want to see the sakura though; it's mostly to have fun with others.  A cultural yearly party that everyone can join.  A party where you can get drunk for almost the whole day.

Hanami usually happen all day.  Some people start late at night to enjoy the illumination (as well as get even more drunk).  According to Japan News (the newspaper my dorm gets for free), every year the number of people who enter the hospital always increases during hanami.  They're a lot of drunkards who do stupid things and end of getting hurt basically.

However, the best part of this season is seeing the sakura fall.  It's absolutely something to see here.  While I was playing with some local kids, we once stood out to watch them fall onto the sidewalk.  One kid commented that it looked like "Sakura snow" (桜雪).  That pretty much describes their beauty.  It's nice to walk under a road lined with sakura trees too, especially if some petals are falling all around you.

Which brings me to a saying during this time too.  Hana yori dango (花より団子).  It translates as "Dango (a type of sweet) over flowers", which basically means that one would rather receive food more than flowers (so the practical use of food outweighs a beautiful but useless aesthetic).  I've heard of different versions of this as well, such as hana yori sake (花より酒) "Sake over flowers".  ^__^"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sadou (茶道)

A quick post about my tea ceremony class!  I'll be writing in bullets:

  • There's probably over 20 of us in the class, when the tea room can only house 10 people at a time.  This means that the class is split into 2 groups, and for the most part we all just chat, drink tea and eat snacks.
  • As one group practices, the other group usually waits in the "waiting room" and is taught a little bit about sadou's background and what the sweet that day means.
  • Before you drink the bitter matcha, you eat a really sweet Japanese sweet called okashi(お菓子).  It's one of my favorite parts about the class - they're so good! 
  • Since we just sit around most of the time, the class is also really loud.  Not at all soothing or serene at all (unlike what most of us picture sadou to be).  This even gets on our sensei's nerves sometimes, I can tell.  Especially when we should all be watching carefully how each of us make the tea, etc.
  • Each week we have the chance to put on kimonos.  The sensei's are really amazing at this - normally it'll take over 30 minutes or more to wear one, but the teachers can do it with in 5 minutes (granted - they aren't letting us wear everything that's required for a kimono).  It's a fun experience - but it makes doing sadou a bit harder because you cannot get up so easily.  Plus, the sensei corrects your posture more because you are wearing a kimono (so basically they tell you to straighten your kimono when you sit).  At the end of class (and even during the middle of it), people get their pictures taken in them.
  • Last week, we got to do a cherry blossom viewing (ohanami お花見).  It was cloudy, but it was pretty nice to sit outside with a large red paper umbrella.  However, because of the class size some sat on red cloth (which kept on sliding around) or a blue tarp.  So, overall . . . not too must aesthetic value in our class.
  • I learned that someone in Nagoya (or in the area) makes some of the best tea (ocha お茶).  
  • On average, a normal tea ceremony takes over 3 hours to finish (it's like a whole day experience, actually.  There's a lot of waiting and ceremony to the practice.  I remember back at OSU learning that people will sometimes even give invitations by hand still.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    March 11

    March 11, 2011 is a date probably many Japanese people won't forget.  It's the day when their country was hit by an earthquake, one of the biggest ones recorded recently.  It caused a lot of pain and suffering to the people in affected regions.

    However, where I am right now was totally unaffected.  Due to the geographic placement of Nanzan, no one here felt the earthquake.  However, a teacher who commutes did say over there they felt it - all her precious silverware hanging on the wall fell and were ruined.  In fact, a lot of the people here did not even know there was such a huge earthquake until they saw it on the news.  A friend who worked at the convenience store said that once he heard about it, he didn't think too much about it and continued working.  It only struck them once they saw the same devastation that was being shown to the rest of the world.

    Although it's been a year, there are still a lot to be done in the area.  The president for my circle (club) went a few months ago to volunteer and help with the wreckage.  He came back with pictures of places being cleaned up from the tsunami, as well as things that are being left as they are until further notice (like a bus on top of an elementary school).

    According to a friend who was researching an activist group at Nanzan University, there's also a critical look at the government and what information they are censoring about the March 11 event.  I don't know really anything about it; he just mentioned it during his presentation about the group, but it does show that there are many Japanese college students who think about what is happening more seriously than some may realize.

    Lastly, because Japan still needs help to clean up from last year's tsunami + earthquake + nuclear accident, a couple of international exchange students are inspired to go help and volunteer over there.  I want to go with them.  Furthermore, at Ohio State University's (my home university) Japanese Student organization made this video that shows Japanese people in every state giving encouragement to Japan:

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Volunteering at a kinder care

     Us celebrating Hina matsuri (Girl's day)

    I sometimes volunteer at a kinder care home near my dorm.  It's the equivalent of a afterschool program; kids go there to play and hang out until their parents can take them home.  Next door, I noticed, is a kindergarten school where I believe they all attend.

    I learned about the opportunity from a teacher of mine, who has a kid in the program.  She invited our class to go over there and help out with the kids.

    The place is a small wooden house with 2 levels and a small backyard where the kids can play soccer.  There are mostly boys there, but so far I've met one girl there.  And like children, they are very very energetic.  All of them except for the girl loves Pokemon and the boy group ARASHI.  According to their caretakers (who we call おじさん [uncle, although he's more like a grandpa] and お姉さん [older sister]), they also have an interest in America and English, but that may be them just saying that.  One of the kids, Kamui, does seem a bit interested in it.

    Mostly what we've done so far is watch the boys play and talk to the adults.  We also share their afternoon snack with them, and then play some more with them.  It's pretty interesting to watch them be really hyper and always super lively and up for anything.  However, they do help set the table, bring the food out, and clean up after themselves.  Furthermore, before the snack time everyone recites something that sounds like a prayer.  From what I can make out, they say thanks for the food, the people here, and the sun (or something along the lines of that).

    It wasn't until the first time I saw them do that did I realize that this place might have a religious connection.  After looking around and seeing pictures of Jesus and Mary, I realized it's probably a Catholic place.  Today, I even stayed a bit longer and got to participate in their quiet time (静かな時), which was the time where they all settled down in a circle around a single red candle and listen to what the adults have to say.

    Before the quiet time, everyone gathers into an adjacent room where the piano, books and toys are.  All of the curtains and doors are closed to darken the room.  Then one of the boys is made to be the official candle extinguisher, and then they light the candle.  After that, we all held hands and san a song saying goodbye to each of us: "Ojisan, sayonara.  Kamui-kun, sayonara. Tiffany-san, sayonara.  Sho-kun, sayonara . . . ".  We went around the whole circle, and then afterwards there was another pre-determined saying before we let go of each other hands and started the meeting.

    Ojisan first went, and spent a great deal of time saying many things.  He shyed away from no topic, he even brought up death.  During his talk though, all the boys interrupted with their funny comments, sometimes even inciting the Ojisan to add something humorous or caused him to bring their attention back to him.  We all sat in sazen (which is sitting on your legs . . . this can be quite painful after a while), but the boys were so energetic that they would sometimes sit in a more comfortable position or even get up and move about.

    Next was Oneesan's turn, and she said her piece.  She spoke a lot of about helping one another, citing events like last year's Tsunami and earthquake.  The boys then told us where they were when it happened.  After she was done they invited me to say something but I didn't know what to say or add, but I did show them later pictures that I brought with me.  If I have to say, I think the Ojisan was far more interested in them than the boys (or maybe he was being polite).

    Anywho, it was a wonderful experience.  I learned that although I may act like a kid sometimes in real life, it's hard for me to play with kids.  However, I still would like to go by there again - it's really enjoyable to be over there.  A very good experience.

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    The cakes here in Japan

    Just wanted to show you all how delicious the sweets are here, so you won't blame me if I come back a bit chubbier than before.  ^__^

    This sweet shop is one of the famous attractions in Nagoya.  Online you'll find a lot of reviews saying it's one of the places you have to go if you want to have cakes.  It's sort of true - a lot of exchange students go there at least once for the experience of being able to eat unlimited cakes for about 90 minutes (the busier they are, the less time you have).  They also serve pasta and light soups.  However, definitely not all the cakes are tasty - the cakes over there are okay.  Not the best, but the fact that you can pile a plate high with cakes is the main appeal for this shop.  Plus, it's busy enough that it has 2 locations (one in a shopping mall, the other at Nagoya station).

    One of the most unusual places to eat in Nagoya, and it's less than 3 minutes away from my dorm!  MOUNTAIN is styled like it is in the Netherlands, but it serves 'Japanese food'.  What you see in the picture is their famous matcha pasta.  It's a dessert pasta (apparently there is such a thing like dessert pasta).  It's horrible - tastes exactly like matcha + whipped cream.  After your 5 or 6th bite, you're done with it.  They have other dessert pastas like strawberry, banana (notoriously horrible) and melon.  On the more normal side, they serve huge parfaits and greasy pilafs.  However, the restaurant is one of the most famous in Nagoya, being featured in many tourist magazines.  Sometimes, even famous people come and eat over there, giving it a boost in its' reputation. 

    Strawberry Pasta
    One of the best places for cake though, is at the Sir Winston's Hotel Dessert Buffet.

    The cakes here are just superb.  First rate.  Hotel style and deserves their price.  (It's like Sweets Paradise - for 1800 yen it's all you can eat sweets for 90 minutes).  The difference is that not only these cakes are better than Sweets Paradise, but the drinks are specialty teas or juice (sometimes cocktails), so you most definitely get your money's worth.

    But the best place for cakes are here: Cafe de Cozy Cozy.

    This place is one of my favorite places in Japan.  Before, I tried to take Andrea there, but because of the New Year holidays they were closed.  But their cakes are just really good - I can't describe why they're so good though.  I think it's because the cakes that are served here aren't like the usual ones you see in Japan; there's no Mont Blanc or Strawberry cake.  Instead they serve like Sesame cake (Top) and Espresso Chaffron (Bottom).  Their cheesecake is also heavier than the Japanese kind.

    I couldn't wait to take a bite!
    More than their cakes though, the atmosphere is really nice.  The music they usually play is either American music (but like Coldplay or other older songs) or K-pop.  One of the workers, Kosuga-san, I'm pretty close to now.  In fact, I've been there so much that all the workers know who I am.  Kosuga-san in particular treats me like her daughter.  ^_^  I will miss that place when I leave. . .
    But I love eating cake with my friends!

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Night Bus --> DISNEY

    I went to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea!  ^__^

    For those who don't know, Tokyo Disney Sea is another amusement park affiliated with Disneyland, only it's geared towards older people.  It's over there where high thriller rides like Tower of Terror and The Indiana Jones ride are.  You can also tell they put a lot of effort into making the park look out of this world - they built a life-size volcano for it.

    My friends and I went to Disney by the night bus (夜行バス).  It's a popular way to get around Japan, but it's also probably the least comfortable.  Basically what it is is a charter bus that you ride late at night to arrive at your destination early in the morning, being able to spend the whole day there.  The bus we took is one of the cheaper kinds - no bathroom attached.  Instead, during our 6hour+ trip we stopped 2 times at rest stops.  Inside the bus it was really tight - the seats were two-seater, but if you leaned your seats back all the way you would be touching the other person's knees.  We were all able to sleep on the bus (the only thing you really could do was sleep), so when we arrived at Disneyland at 6am, we were all up and ready to go.

    Going into Disney was a cool experience in itself.  There was a mass of people waiting in line.  They first let people in who were staying at the Disney hotels (and so paid more money to be let in a half an hour early).  Even though the intercoms were telling people to not run but walk, no one listened (also the first time I saw Japanese people blatantly not following directions).

    But I had a wonderful at Disneyland.  We managed to only have to wait around 30 minutes for any ride (which considering the crowd that was there was a miracle).  The rides were similar to Disneyworld or California's Disneyland, but some were definitely better.  The Winnie the Pooh especially was really cool - the carriages were electronically programmed so there wasn't any rail that they followed.  Instead, the carriage moved on its' own in whatever way it was programmed to go.  So cool.  ^_^

    Disney Sea was even more amazing.  Because we don't have one in America, I was really looking forward to that place.  Going into the park was awesome, because our first view was the huge landscape Disney created:

    The downside of having such a huge park of this size was we had to walk a lot.  Later in the day we learned that there were cabs, a ferry, etc. that you could take, but since it would require more waiting time . . . we just walked the whole day.  The lines were also significantly longer, and we could only get two fast pass tickets, but we all still had a lot of fun.

    One of the most memorable memories I have about that park is going on the Tower of Terror.  I remember before when I was really little going on it, and I was absolutely terrified of the ride.  If you don't believe me, there's a picture of that time somewhere in the house.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Konomiya's Hadaka Festival (国府宮の裸祭り)

    On the 4th of Feb., I went to a very famous festival here in Japan.  It's called the Hadaka Festival, but a lot of people refer to it as the "Naked Men's Festival".

    The festival took place a little away from Nagoya's main city - it looked like your typical small town / area with no big attraction.  But that day, the trains were packed to go to the shrine area.  Once we left the train area, food stands were side by side, lined up guiding everyone to where the main event would be.

    At the shrine, there was two gates a little out of the way from the main road where people was tying red and white pieces of cloth.  On one there were even bags of some.  I assume this is prayers or wishes made by everyone.  The shrine had lines of people waiting to buy these strips of cloths for ¥100.

    My friends then went down the road to find food.  The middle road, which I think used to be a garden but now was covered in mud, was separated by the 2 roads on either side.  This is where the naked men participants would walk down.  We managed to find a good spot to watch the procession that was happening.  The naked men, wearing mostly nothing except for a Japanese loincloth (褌) were walking down in groups; probably their families or clans.  They were either showering each other with sake as a purification act, or carrying props like a long slim tree-looking thing or a barrel of sake.  At certain points, they would stop, break open the barrel of sake and share with everyone in bamboo sake cups.  They were yelling in rhythm which kept up the mood of the whole festival.  The men, even though it was noon, looked pretty much drunk.  They would go up to people to either take strips of cloth from people or strip some from their own supply for others.  Super super interesting.  ^_^

    Because me friends and I came really early, we decide to leave before the main event.  What we missed was basically all these men who congregated chase down one man (神男?), who would take all the bad luck from the village and purify him.  This man is completely naked, but apparently I missed him when he passed.

    It was a really fun experience.  I got to see  a lot of things that I don't normally have the chance to see.  There was a candy making stall, where the owner was skillfully molding a ball of candy on a stick into animals (like a squirrel or a goldfish), fake corn dog stands, and other traditional Japanese food.  Also, there were some foreigners in the naked men's parade, invited I guess from the community (one guy was from Nanzan University!).  It's definitely something to see if you can when you're here.  ^__^

    Monday, January 30, 2012

    Feeding the homeless (家のない人)

    Last Saturday I went with my church to see the homeless in Nagoya, give them some food and tea and invite them to church.  Compared to the time I visited the food kitchen in Columbus Ohio, it was quite a different experience.

    First of all, from what I've heard there are no food kitchen or homeless shelter in Nagoya.  Or at the very least the church leader I asked said she never heard of one.  In all honesty, I don't think the Japanese government would provide such services unless there's a natural disaster.  Of course, that maybe me being biased because of what I've been learning about the Japanese deaf people.

    Also, a while ago I was actually quickly interviewed by a Japanese friend who was doing a survey on them.  She asked me questions like, "Did I ever meet a homeless man in Nagoya?" "Was I scared" "Would I be scared" etc etc.  When I told her I never had but  I probably wouldn't be scared, she was surprised.  From what she told me, I assume that most Japanese people avoid these people because of they think they're scary.

    Indeed, I was a bit more careful, and thought hard about whether I should bring a bag or not.  You see, I didn't know what I was getting into that night.  I didn't know if we were going to a shelter, but I thought just in case I'll just keep my wallet.  Being cautious, I even thought about keeping my important cards separate from my wallet.  When I arrived and learned we were walking around giving food, I was a bit relieved and laughed to myself about how I prepared myself.

    That night it was COLD.  It was so cold that one of the guys who was there said, "死ねるほど寒い!" which roughly translates as "It's so cold I can die!".  That's why I was amazed by some of the homeless we saw.  Most of them were under the huge overpass in the city.  Some had burners and were cooking dinner when we saw them (it seemed to be some kind of nabe (鍋).  Some had makeshift tents, all huddled together with other tents or in a row like a neighborhood.  The first man we saw just had cardboard that he stood up to make walls around one of the overpass's pillars.  A lot of their homes were in places that were hard to reach as well - a lot was only connected by a narrow ledge that the men deftly walked on.  All homes, except the ones that were grouped together, were fairly separated from each other, but they were relatively close to each other.  The only homeless people we saw were men, and almost everyone was by themselves (except for one group of men).

    About the men themselves, I would say they looked like your typical homeless man.  All wore coats, and actually didn't look too different than the average Japanese man except that they were all a bit dirtier and were living outside.  They also all looked around the same age: about 40's or 50's, I would say.  Definitely we didn't see any young people among them.  Because of the cold, many weren't in their homes ( or perhaps they were sleeping), so we left the food out and flyers out for them.  Most took them after giving thanks and a small bow.  Only one man spent a good time talking to us.  He stands out to me though, because he actually did come to church the next morning.

    I would definitely say it was a shock to see him there.  There was a part of me who thought he was just shooting the breeze and didn't mean it when he was asking where the church was and that he would go.  A lot of homeless people say that and never show up.  But there he was, donning cosplay clothes (cosplay is short for costume play, which is dressing up as a character).  He wore a uniform that looked like it came from an anime.  Definitely the most unusual dressed guy I ever seen come to church.  HOWEVER, everyone was surprised that God brought him, and I have to admit it shows that God does work in mysterious ways.  For one thing, he was so helpful and friendly.  He talked to me and my other roommate as if we were native speakers - or maybe he couldn't help but talk really fast.  He was really intellectual as well; he went from discussing how Japan was once connected to Hong Kong to how Jon should talk to girls and children (by crouching down to their eye level).  It was definitely an experience.  He also helped clean up by putting away chairs with some of the church crew, which was definitely unexpected.  I wonder if I'll see him again.  Probably on another Saturday night when I help pass out onigiri (rice balls) and tea.  ^_^

    The homeless ministry in Japan is a lot different from the one I've expereienced in Columbus.  Instead of the homeless coming to you, we go to them.  We don't preach or talk long to them.  Literally my group leader just introduced us as people from A church (we didn't say which church) and that we were passing food to the homeless.  We also invited them to church and gave them a photocopy of the church's business card with directions and a map of how to get there.  The church does this about once a week for an hour or two.  Afterwards, everyone eats together in the city before dispersing.  At first, I thought that we could do more for the homeless and expand the ministry, but after thinking about it, that's just my American way of thinking.  I'm not sure what the Japanese homeless would do if we tried to engage them in conversation.  Some would enjoy it, but a lot of them seemed like they didn't want to be bothered.  I'm not an expert on this, so I don't have much to say, but it'll be interesting to see what the homeless are like for now on.

    Here's a quick video about the homeless in Japan.

    Here's a small article about the homeless in Nagoya.  Apparently there is a homeless shelter:
    Nagoya homeless

    A more personal article about the homeless in Japan (particularly in Nagoya), along with what Christian orgs or doing to help them:
    Nagoya homeless 2

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Going to the movie theatre

    Last week, I decided spontaneously to go watch Paul at a movie theatre in Sakae (栄え).  I want to talk a little about my experience going, because I realized watching a movie at an actual theatre here in Japan (or at least in Nagoya) is a bit different than at American theatres. . .

    First, the theatre I went to has been probably the smallest theatre I've ever gone to.  It had only one theatre, which limited the number of shows it could have for each film, and the times it can show it.  For my movie, I had to wait more than 2 hours before it was being showed.  During that time, I had a light dinner and shopped around the area.

    After sitting down in my seat, I looked all around me and realized that for a Friday night, the people here weren't what I expected.  I would say that the majority of the people who were there were middle aged men who looked like salary men.  There were also a number of women, also around the same age or younger.  Looking back, I would say there were more people by themselves than couples.

    The movie itself was interesting.  It got a few out-loud laughs including from me.  However, at the end of the movie something strange happened.  Normally in America, most theatres will turn on the lights a bit while the credits are rolling, unless the credits themselves are 3D or had a special clip, but at the theatre I went to the lights remained off during the whole credits.  They weren't even special credits - it was an additional 5 minutes of reading the names of everyone who was a part of the filmmaking process.  BUT almost everyone stayed in their seats and silently continued to watch the screen like it was still an important part of the movie that they couldn't miss.  Only one old man left in the middle of it, but he was sitting in the far side of theatre too.  I remember I was even feeling a bit awkward as I turned around to look at everyone, because I felt like I should've been watching the credits roll too.  In any case, no one got up until the credits were done and the lights turned on.

    So that was my movie night experience.  Even though I first went because I had nothing else to do that day but I didn't want to go back to my dorm, it ended up being a really nice experience.  I guess days by yourself like this can bring good results and good times too.  ^_^

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Where I want to Travel + school update

    It's a late night for me to post, but tonight I looked up places I want to travel to while I'm here.

    Definitely want to check out this city.
    • What to do in Kobe  : When I was researching this city, a lot of the tourist attractions were connected with good couple spots . . . But I think even if I just go with friends it'll be a fun trip!  It's also one of the places many tourists go to (hence it's a big city).

    There's actually not much here, but what's here is pretty incredible.
    • Site of Reversible Destiny : This is a really neat art park - on Wikipedia it says that it can be highly disorienting to walk through.  They even provide helmets at the gift shops!  I think I might be going here soon actually with a friend . . .
    • Persimmon Tree : Probably won't get to see this if I go to Yoro (it looks like too long of a walk), but there's a very creepy legend about it.  A murdered victim (a son, who was avenging his murdered father, was murdered himself) was buried under the tree and locals believe that the tree has soaked up his avenging spirit.  Now, if anyone disturbs the tree they'll die of a mysterious circumstance . . . Plus, the tree looks more like a tree with long willow-y hair and at night it's said to have a bluish hue to it . . .
    • Kikuisen : It's a famous spring, where it's said to make anyone old feel young again.  Once again, a place steeped in folklore . . . Also where Yoro waterfalls and hiking trails are.

    • Takayama : This is an Edo-styled town, one of the best in Japan.  It's a ways out from Nagoya, but ever since my friend went there for a program trip, I've been wanting to go!  It's probably best known for the crafts, its' streets, and FOOD.  Plus, it's a good place to stay if you want to go to the nearby onsens. 
    Tokyo Disneyland(東京ディズニーランド)
    • Need I say more?  I want to go to Disneyland on another continent again!  ^__^  HK Disneyland was fun, and I heard Tokyo is a bit similar to that one (only maybe a little bit bigger).  Plus, there's a discount right now over there (about 1000-2000 yen off).

    I guess you can sort of tell I'm really excited about going to Yoro one day, but I want to travel to at least the other three locations during my upcoming break in February!  This semester, I have multiple week-long vacations (3 at least).  So even if I don't have time to go everywhere (definitely Kobe may have to wait), I still have time to go!

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Taiwan, HK & Japan

    To my uncles, aunts and grandmas,

    Thank you for a wonderful time.  It was fun visiting all the different sights and I loved spending time with all of you.  Hopefully it won't be another 7 years before we can meet again!

    Just a short recap of my trip (mainly for mom's sake)

    Hong Kong: I think the highlight was seeing everyone and being able to spend time with family.  The places that everyone took Andrea and me to were also very beautiful.

    It was also interesting to take the subways and the trains as well.  I was thankful that they were kept so clean too, just like in Nagoya.  However, I would have to say that the subways in HK seem to be newer than the ones where I live.  I really enjoyed riding the Disney line one as well because of the statues in each car and the disney shaped handles.  ^_^

    Going to HK also reminded me how scary and how cool it is to ride a cable car.  In Japan, I don't think there are many of them, so I really enjoyed the cable car rides.  Being up so high though was a little bit scary - I kept wondering about what would happen if something broke down and we stopped.

    The fun was a nice break from eating Japanese food all the time too.  As I said before, it's hard to find good Chinese food where I live; I'm not sure if anyone has found a place yet actually.  I know there are a few places I have yet to try, so I'll try them this semester, but I'm pretty certain it won't be like food in HK.  Definitely I won't find chicken tongue!  :-P

    I went to Taiwan for the first time ever as well.  Thank you for also taking me on that trip!  Even though I'm couldn't understand all of the explanations of certain sights or places, I had a lot of fun.  The pineapple cake was really really good!  It was a good experience.  However, the cleanliness of Taiwan was really hard to be accustomed to; I'm used to everywhere being really clean, nice and not smelly from stinky tofu.

    Going to Tokyo, I was really nervous.  If Andrea and I had to wait for a train for more than an hour, then we most likely couldn't check into our hotel in Tokyo.  Narita is about 1 and a half hours away from Tokyo, and since we arrived at 9, I was super worried about being on time.  That's why I was so relieved when there was an express about to leave when we arrived on the platform - it was worth getting their a half an hour early for double the price.

    Celebrating New Years in Tokyo made me realize how different the celebrations are.  Although there are some people who go out to drink and have 'an American New Years', we didn't see them.  Instead, people would gather and go visit the temple at midnight.  AND IT WAS CROWDED.  People literally waited shoulder to shoulder on the streets, lined up, just to go do their first visit to a temple.  Of course, there were a lot of revelry going on as well.  The next morning was just as bad too - Andrea and I visited Meiji shrine, which isn't the most famous shrine but it is pretty renown, and it was packed as well.  To go from one gate(とり) to the next one (about 50km, I think), it took around an hour.  In order to amuse people waiting, there was a huge screen showing advertisements and instructions on how to pray at a shrine.  Needless to say, we were both a bit bored and started playing with our iPhones.

    It was also during this time that the earthquake on New Years took place.  All of the sudden we started to feel a vibrating underneath or feet.  We all started to feel like we were a bit unbalance - not normal.  It got quiet and people quickly begin to whisper "地震、地震 (earthquake)".  From our right we could see the lanterns with the names of companies painted on them start to shake as well.  That was the most obvious sign.  It only lasted a few seconds though, and afterwards everyone was back to normal, talking and slowly moving up in line.  They treated it as a daily occurrence; my friends who were in Tokyo before for Autumn break said that the one they felt back then was much bigger.

    After visiting the shrine, we spent almost all the rest of time shopping.  In Nagoya, we really got to see how big the sales were - every store had some sort of sale, and people crowded to them.  The malls were way to busy for me - they were lines everywhere and it was literally a sea of people.  In Nagoya, Andrea and I tried to eat at an all you can eat cake buffet, but the line for that was huge, and we had to wait for 2 hours to get a table.  We ended up reserving a spot, and then going somewhere else for lunch.  However, at the other place it was also at least a 45 minute wait, with a line that stretched around the shop.  The mall we went to didn't have a food court, so it was filled with small restaurants or eating places.  We couldn't even order to go because there was no where to eat it if we did.

    However, it was a great time for the both of us.  I know we both enjoyed the food that we ate, especially the desserts!  ^_^

    Thank you again for a great trip!  I love you all!

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Saying goodbye

    Late post to talk about it, but I wanted to make sure to talk about how the 'good byes' worked for us here in Japan.

    We said goodbyes like any other place: lots of pictures and parties.  At school, it felt almost like the welcoming month where there was a party to attend almost every week, only this time we all knew each other pretty well.  There were definitely a lot more picture taking (we all wanted to make sure to get one last picture, etc.).

    Almost every class had a party too.  For at least the Japanese classes, every level except mine had an organized farewell party.  I reckon the reason why my class didn't was because we had the largest group of students, and we also had a lot of things to do before our final exam, so there were no time to plan one.  The huge number of students in our class was probably the biggest factor.  However, it was fine - it just became a joke of some sorts for us students.

    In the dorm, we also had a sort of party, only it wasn't really a farewell party.  More of a Christmas party, because we went out for sushi, and then had our Secret Santa gift exchange later.  For those who don't know what that is, Secret Santa is when everyone has someone to get a gift to (but we don't know who we are receiving one from), and then on a set date we exchange them.  That was super fun - we all gave each other candy or something that we knew the other would enjoy.  Mostly food - it's the easiest kind of gift.

    We also took a lot of dorm group pictures too.  My dorm has only 20 people in it, so in the end many of us became very close to each other.  It was all a really fun time!  A few of us went out to do an all night of karaoke too later, which was really fun.  It was the first time for all of us foreigners, but we all managed to get through without taking too many naps.  All in all, a good farewell party.

    The next morning, I volunteered to help a friend with her luggage, and then I went back later that day to send off another friend of mine, who I already promised to do so.  It may seem like a lot of time and money - going back and forth isn't cheap - but because I won't be able to see these people for at least another 6 months or longer, I didn't mind.  It was a nice time too - I was able to talk to them one last time, and learn how to get to the airport!  ^_^

    So yes, I had a great semester, and I'm looking forward to the next one!