Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-9

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Finishing Up the Official Stuff

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

I met Sayaka-san the next day after her first class. We went to City Hall again (by foot this time since there was no rush) and got me a piece of paper that will serve me as a substitute alien registration card until I get the actual card later this month.

The Japanese post office is one of the largest banks in the world. o_Oa (Photo by sekihan.)

With that, I was able to get a post office account and a bank account. These are both savings accounts. This is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve seen here. I couldn’t get a cell phone without a savings account at the post office, but I can only pay my bills to the city government through the bank. What??? I like how the latter works, since it streamlines your bill paying to the one office. The former really boggled my mind until I looked at the ATM books I got and realized that the post office one looked a little more formal, considering the fact that the post office had officially sealed my hanko into the book.

So yeah, I got a cell phone. It’s green and shiny. My cell phone ringer is a J-pop song, because it’s the best thing that came on the phone. Cell phones in Japan also come out of the box with sub par ring tones. One thing that was interesting to me about it though is that two of the pre-loaded ring tones have a visual component. Not impressive visuals, but I’m sure impressive ones could be made.

The last thing we did was sign me up for a student card. I need to take that to the cell phone company so that they have something official to base my 50% off month fees on. Hooray for student discounts.

After that, I started exploring. I went for a while on a random road away from the school. I found a lot of houses and a second way to the food store Sayaka-san had showed me the day before. I then went toward downtown to actually look through all the stores there.

I found a lot of different things. I went into the game store, but didn’t see any actual game systems for sale, and didn’t want to ask ’cause I didn’t intend to buy just yet. I also didn’t see Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy. :( Ah well. It can wait. I found a ramen shop, an art gallery, a sewing shop (that was lucky, ’cause I need a needle and thread to fix the clasp on my cloak; the old man who ran it was really nice, too), what appeared to be a used book store (it had Harry Potter OotP, but it was the British version), an arcade (Haha! Right within walking distance of my house!), a pachinko parlor, and a karaoke place.

I went inside the karaoke place to do some karaoke for an hour and get a feel for how it works and how much they have in terms of English music. I had always been told that there are English songs in the back of the karaoke books, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was surprised. The karaoke books were actual books, not binders like you find in America. These books were also the size of phone books. As for English songs, you can find almost anything in there. I even found a Blind Guardian song. The only things I looked for and didn’t see were System of a Down songs and the song “The Dolphins Cry” by Live. There were other songs by Live, though. I also tried a couple of songs I know in Japanese. Woot!

After that, I headed home. I’ve been battling a headache since I got to Japan, and sitting in a karaoke box… well, it didn’t help. I wasn’t doing too bad with the headache until I got halfway up the stairs to my apartment. Blarg.

I ate some different foods in this day that didn’t come up in the non-blow-by blow version.

Taste-O-Meter!

Melon Pan (Pan is Japanese for bread): 4
This is what Utsuki recommended to me. It doesn’t really taste like melon, which is good ’cause I don’t like melon. It’s got some kind of glaze on top that reminds me of sugar cookies.

Wantanmen (a random instant noodle from the loot pile earlier): 3
It was noodles with vegetables. It had cute little pig heads made out of what tasted like pork floating it, though.

Special Sweet Bread: 5
It looks kind of like cinnamon rolls, but I could tell before I bought it that it wasn’t. It is, as it claims, a sweet bread. I’m noticing that the Japanese are fond of sweet breads, which I am finding is really quite spiffy. While I ate it, I read the label, and realized at once that the label must be shared.

To this day, this is one of the most delightful bits of Engrish I've come across.

To this day, this is one of the most delightful bits of Engrish I’ve come across.

Aquarius, The Sports Drink: 3
I had to try it. The name intrigued me. This would rate a 4 if I liked grapefruit, but I don’t.

Sprite: 4
It’s different from its American counterpart, but still good. Reminds me of ramune — a Japanese drink that I have not had the opportunity to try yet in Japan.

Realizations of the Period

1) “Conrad” is very difficult to say in Japanese. I’m shortening his name to Con (pronounced more like “cone”) any time I mention him to Japanese people. Con-kun.
2) I have blisters on my left foot from walking around so much. :(
3) Since the one class is all about playing the koto, I have one guaranteed easy class. Yes!
4) I need to pull a Ted and set up an image gallery online. I’m taking way too many pictures for a blog.
5) I pasted this into Open Office to spellcheck it, and it’s 20 pages long.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-8

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

City Hall

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

Ishida-sensei gave Sayaka-san money for a cab, since there was only an hour until her second (and last) class of the day. We first hoofed it to a place to get some pictures of me taken (I’ve gotten my picture taken more times in the last three months than in the preceding year, by the way), then took a cab to the city hall.

Japanese cabs are funny-looking. Like American cabs, they have lit-up signs on top. However, they also have antennae (often v-shaped) symmetrically placed on top. The drivers all wear gloves, though there’s no standard glove type. One thing that’s really awesome about them is the fact that the driver can open the passenger door at the push of a button.

We got some alien registration stuff done, then went back to the school. Sayaka-san had her class, and I got to go to my first class. I had indicated an interest in music, and there was a traditional Japanese music class at the same time as Sayaka’s English class, so I went there. It sounded interesting; history, studying the forms, appreciation.

"Koto Strings". Photo by Adam Chamness, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This awesome koto photo was taken by Adam Chamness.

PSYCH!

How about, “Let’s play the koto?”

It was so awesome, especially since I didn’t see it coming. I got to the class, asked if I could join, and was heartily welcomed. I helped get some more equipment from storage rooms, and as we pulled things out of boxes I saw that it would be some kind of practical class, since these were obviously stands of some kind that we were putting together. When I saw the finger picks for the koto, I finally realized that this class was going to be WAY more awesome than I had thought. Score!

So after that, Sayaka-san and I went back into town on foot to get me a cell phone. The cell phone company had a brochure on rates in English, which helped quite a bit, as well as some phones for sale that were bilingual. Yay! But because I don’t have an account at the post office, I couldn’t get the phone yet. Alas. The next day, then, since the post office was closed.

But to get an account at the post office, I needed an inkan. The Japanese don’t actually use signatures, but stamps. The stamp itself is called a hanko, and the thing that does the stamping is the inkan. Up to this point, I had been using my fingerprint.

"Hanko this" by Neko1998, licensed under Creative  Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This is what shopping for an inkan looks like. I can read a lot of these now, but then? Totally dependent on Sayaka’s help. (Photo taken by Neko1998.)

We sought a store that Sayaka-san thought made inkans. Turns out that they had stopped offering that service, and that it’d take a week or so to get one personally made, anyway. We kinda needed it faster than that. So we went to the nearby 100 yen store, which had common-name inkans just inside the door. I obviously don’t have a common Japanese name, so Sayaka-san asked what kanji I like. I ended up with an inkan carrying the name Mizuki (水木). [2010 Edit: It turns out that my name is a common name in Japan if you go by pronunciation. They didn’t have any Rina (里奈) stamps in stock at the time, though, and it would have taken a week to get one custom-made at the professional inkan store down the street.]

After that, she showed me a decent-sized store near the college where I can get food and such, then we parted ways. I wasn’t tired necessarily, but I knew I would be soon, and my brain was starting to reject Japanese. I went home for the night.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-7

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Now What?

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

This was the view out one of my apartment’s side windows. If my illiterate reading of the sign behind the fence at the end of the block was correct, this used to be a landfill. I wouldn’t trust that translation, though, if I were you. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

At this point, I was tired. But it was only like 15:00! So I decided to work on this blog post. I did that until I got to my recollection of waking up in the hotel room. Then I realized if I was to hand-wash my clothes with time for them to dry, I needed to do that. I’ll tell you what: hand-washing your clothes in a kitchen sink with no drain plug is interesting, especially if you’re using cold water ’cause you don’t want to use the gas to heat the water and are not wearing much ’cause you’re washing most of your clothes. Continue reading

Two Things I Enjoyed, Living in Japan

I lived in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan for eleven months as part of a college-level student exchange program. There were very few English-speakers there and few of those were native English-speakers. I had a variety of adventures (and misadventures), both solo and with friends. The following are two of my favorite things from my stay in Japan.

The Kusuri Bridge (くすりばし)

kusuribashi

The end sculpture art on the bridge has its name written in hiragana. If there are kanji for the name, I never saw them. 薬橋, perhaps?

My apartment building was in a predominently residential area near the Kushiro River (on both sides of which the city is built; it runs from the Kushiro Marsh to the sea). The river was between myself and the main train station, with its obligatory surrounding shopping district. I often had reason to cross the Kushiro River, and the bridge I usually crossed was the Kusuri Bridge. I came to spend a lot of time on this bridge. I watched the river flow by, people at work on or around the river, lights reflected on the surface at night. Standing on one of the bridges over the river wad one of my favorite things to do when I had time to waste, and I almost always paused mid-crossing to have a look at the river.

An old man with his dog in a rickshaw behind him, taking a break to look out over the river.

I was headed to the post office once when this old man in front of me stopped pulling his rickshaw to look out over the river.

The Kusuri Bridge is one of seven bridges connecting the two halves of the city together. I saw most of them up close during my time there, and of those only this one and one other had art built into the bridge. The other one is closer to central tourist territory, and is, I think, more well known; it has statues built into it. The Kusuri Bridge has sculpted flat panels built into the railing periodically along its length. Up close you can see the effects of the weather on it, but it gives the bridge character.

Fat seagulls using ice chunks for rafts.

Some fat seagulls are floating down the river on these chunks of fast-moving ice headed out to sea. Lazy, or playing?

It was in crossing the Kusuri Bridge that I learned that an umbrella truly can flip inside-out if the wind is strong enough. I used to think that was a myth, fabricated for comic effect in fiction. I didn’t see a point in spending money on a good umbrella, and the ones I’d buy at convenience stores would flip inside-out as soon as I stepped onto the bridge if they were open. I wish I could have seen the look on my face the first time it happend. Eventually I realized that I just needed to close my umbrella to cross the river.

Club Activities

Mika performing the tea ceremony, while Yuko and Ryoko look on.

This is taken from the graduation tea ceremony (卒業茶会) the tea ceremony club (茶道部) held for Mika and Mariko when they graduated. Our friends Yuko and Ryoko look on while Mika works.

I was lucky enough to go to a university which had a tea ceremony club and an ikebana club. I joined the tea ceremony club the first week I was in Japan. I made some good friends there; it furnished much of my practice in Japanese speech and listening comprehension in the first five months I was there. They provided companionship and helped me understand Japanese society in the sort of ways you can’t learn in a classroom.

Our teacher, Ikushima-sensei, was a vigorous, vibrant old lady. I saw her at least once a week the entire time I lived in Japan, and only once did I see her wearing something other than a kimono — for which she apologized profusely. She’d had an appointment right before our lesson and it ran over, so she hadn’t had time to “get dressed properly”. Ikushima-sensei was masterful at making people feel welcome, and while that’s certainly due in part to her profession as a practitioner of 茶道 (the way of tea), her hospitality and endless patience with my inability to understand her when I first arrived helped me ease into life in Japan. She was delighted by my honest interest in tea ceremony and how fast I learned, and tried to cram a large variety of lessons into my head before I left.

I really fell in love with the tea ceremony. It’s such a peaceful endeavor. It’s unfortunate that there are no tea ceremony teachers in Alaska. I look forward to the day when I can take up lessons again.

Ikushima-sensei

This is Ikushima-sensei, preparing sweets to go with the tea Mika and Mariko were preparing.

The ikebana club was on hiatus when I arrived in Japan. It was an expensive club to be in, requiring the purchase of fresh flowers for every lesson, so it was never very large. When the ikebana club president, Rina, returned from exchange to Australia at the beginning of the second semester I was in Kushiro, its activities resumed. She and I were the only ikebana club members who went to every lesson in addition to the teacher’s lesson fee, with the three other members (two of whom, like Rina and I, were also members of the tea ceremony club and one of whom was a teacher at the school) usually attending every other lesson. While I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the art and discipline of ikebana, I am not as enamored of it as I am of the way of tea.

I also joined the drama club at the beginning of the second semester. That was initially the biggest mistake I made during my stay in Japan, but it turned out to be one of the best learning experiences of my stay. Since the spring semester is the first semester of the Japanese school year, I joined just in time to be part of the process of selecting scripts to perform that year. Where the members of the tea ceremony club had been deferrent — sometimes to the point of silliness — to my foreign nature and lack of understanding of Japanese, the members of the drama club just tossed me into the middle of things.

My Japanese reading speed tripled within a week because I was sight-reading scripts containing kanji I’d never learned. Sight-reading scripts in your own native language is hard enough; you have to read and process the lines fast enough to add emotion and action to the scene. Trying to do that in a foreign language? Well, it’s a good thing I thrive on diving head first into the deep end.

This was how I learned that clubs come in two kinds — the kind requiring a lot of linguistic proficiency, and the kind where you can do much of your learning by watching. Drama is the former, and I only managed to stay afloat because my past drama experience included more training than any of them had ever had. They didn’t have to teach me the basics. It was a shame that I was unable to articulate myself well, because I could have taught them much. I did manage to teach them some things, though, and had the pleasure of seeing a total newbie improve by leaps and bounds after I had a talk with him about body language.

Joining clubs turned out to be the best way to make new friends and to learn about Japanese society. I got a taste of their traditions and a feel for their work ethic. I learned that the performing arts attract the same sorts of people no matter what country you’re in. If I had stuck to the foreign language students — the students who were interested in the world outside of Japan — for all my companionship needs, I would not have learned nearly as much about Japan as I did by just joining interesting clubs.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Posts 1 & 2

avatarMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

Going, Going…

Originally published on October 2, 2005.

But not quite gone. I am in the San Fransisco airport right now (wishing I had some gatorade). On the first leg of my trip (to Seattle), I was seated next to a lady with an adorable 1.5 year old daughter. Talked to them when we weren’t sleeping. For the second leg, I had an exit seat (Yay! Leg room!) with plenty of room — it was an aisle seat, and there was a guy at the window but no on in between us. I just slept on that flight. I leave here for Tokyo at 11:10 AM Pacific time.

I had some trouble getting on my first plane — I missed boarding by (literally) about 30 seconds. Got transferred to an Alaska Air flight, but lukily for me, my baggage made it to the original plane, so there is no problem there.

Anyway, out of internet time. Talk to you from Japan! :D

Ahahahahaha!

Originally published on October 15, 2005.

I found a computer that will allow me to reach blogger. Now I need picture repository on the ‘net somewhere (the computer doesn’t have Frontpage). Gigantimous blog post soon.