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!