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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie
 
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Epilogue

Posted by maggie on Jul 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Well, I’m through putting this off. I had intended to write a little more, but upon coming home I was whisked off on vacation to the beach, and the internet there wasn’t too good….That and I’m lazy.

Some time has passed, I’ve readjusted to life in the United States just fine. I do miss Japan quite a bit; sometimes while I’m at the office, I get the urge to go down to the underground Yaesu mall and grab a snack from the convenience store. Oh wait, all we have here is gas stations, and to get a snack I’d have to walk out into the heat and go all the way up the street. The horror!

Dramatics. Oh well. I’m happy to be home, but I do miss Tokyo quite a bit. What I am missing the most:

o Melon Bread

o Onigiri

o Orangina you can buy everywhere

(Do you sense a consumption theme here? Because I sure don’t)

o Convenience stores

o Trains that take you everywhere

o Find new and exciting things to see everyday

o My friends at the Tokyo office

o Karaoke

o My apartment

Etc. etc.

What I think I miss the most, though, is the shrines and temples you can find everywhere. Literally, everywhere. You can find them between a barber shop and a 7-11. Out of nowhere, boom. Beautiful, old, and yet they mesh so well with the modernity around them. You would think jamming spiritual structures everywhere and building more stuff around them would look odd, but it doesn’t really. I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the nice blend of old and new. How you can stop by a small roadside shrine and pray before heading off to work. Cindy and I found one next to the university one morning. It was small but pretty and secluded despite being right there in the city.

How the Japanese can integrate the spiritual aspect of their lives so fluently in with their business and daily lives in a constantly changing society amazes me. I’m not sure how they manage it so well, but they do. Maybe even better than we do. And Buddhism and Shinto flow so well together, unlike our religions that either dislike one another or are ignorant or indifferent to them.

I’ll miss being able to walk to a shrine or temple and explore them. I’ll miss finding new and exciting things everyday, things that I’ve never seen before. Overall, this trip has given me reasons to love the United States as well as Japan. If I had to choose where to live, I’d still pick the former, but I definitely plan to visit the latter in the future. Maybe drag some family or friends along and be the smart one on a trip for once. :)

Until then, I wish I had some good, insightful words to leave you with, but unfortunately, being a communication major, I’m nowhere near that articulate. :) But I can say this: Japan is awesome. Go visit it. Heck, if you can, study or work there sometime. It really is an experience if you’ve never been there before. Modern and technical, but still overflowing with unique tradition and culture.

If you go to JMU, take this trip. It’s criminally underestimated and ignored by most of the student population.

Unless I can

 
1

The Last Hurrah

Posted by maggie on Jun 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

This whole week I have been rationing my money so that I wouldn’t have to withdraw again. I’ve been counting coins, using those obnoxious one yen coins you can never seem to get rid of.  Imagine digging through your wallet for the quarter you know is in there, but you keep coming up with pennies. Yeah, it’s not perfect because quarters are huge and you could find them easier than a hundred yen coin in a mass of ones, but that general frustration is there if you’re at the register and you’re trying to dig it out without driving everyone crazy, including you.

Luckily, to help me with this, everyone at the office has been feeding me. Lunches, dinners sometimes, you name it. Every day, I have had someone to eat with for at least one meal. Seeing how it gets lonely sometimes at night, it’s nice to have the company, the conversation, and of course, FREE FOOD. :)

The other night I went shopping in Ginza, what is or was until recently a pretty expensive part of town. Ito-san helped me get an extra bag to fit all my stuff ( getting a little cramped with clothes and souvenirs), not too fancy or expensive but big enough to spread the rest of my stuff out. Then she took me to dinner and drove me home. As the first time in a car in Japan, may I just say wow. It feels so weird. It’s not as jarring as playing the video game Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the gamecube, and then playing the version on the Nintendo Wii (everything is flipped. buildings, landmarks, everything that was once on the left is now on the right and vice versa. And then you have to adapt to suddenly using motion controls on a small white stick instead of your typical game controller….wow. Tangent.), but it is still strange. As the passenger, I was on the left side of the car (in the United States, where the driver’s side should be) and we drove on the right side of the road. So weird, but cool at the same time.

And the parking garage was awesome! I know that sounds weird to say, but it’s true! You drive into the garage and you will see three slots for cars to drive in to. The guys in charge will direct you onto a circle right in front of one of those slots, and then they press a button that causes the circle to turn the car, until it’s correctly facing the slot. You drive in, get out, and exit the slot. Then the guys press more buttons, and it’s like a ferris wheel/lift sort of thing. The car is lifted up and out of sight, and as the lift is going, other cars might come down into view as well. It’s so cool! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFHVukDUI2U

Or type in something to google like “cool japanese parking garage.” The Japanese don’t even bat an eye at this, of course, but I was geeking out because I didn’t expect it to do that. I kind of wanted to still be in the car. :)

But anyways….

The free food is great, the people in the office are really nice and friendly, and despite differences, they have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and useful. I really appreciate that so much. I’ve already friended a few of them on facebook :)

Tomorrow, or I should say today, after work, we are going to go to karaoke. Every party I’ve gone to in Japan (one at the moment XD) has a fee, probably for the food and in other cases the venue. I’ve been told that because it’s my party, I don’t have to pay the fee. Good. It’s pricey. But I find this social thing interesting; I think Morgan mentioned to us once in class that at things like weddings, you basically have to compensate everyone who gave you gifts for your wedding. People almost don’t want to go when they get invites because of the financial and social hassle, which makes sense in a way.

But this extends to other parties. There seems like a heavy obligation to attend, not just if the party is specifically for you or your group. I was joking with Onigiri-san (a pun on her actually last name, which sounds very similar. onigiri = rice ball, by the way) earlier that if you couldn’t pay the entree fee for the party being thrown in your honor, what do you do? In my case with the karaoke, I’d just stand by the door and yell down the hall, “Thanks for coming, guys! Thanks for being here for me! Now someone toss me a mic!”

Ah, randomness. But yes. In the United States, you could probably easily decide not to go to parties. And if you go, maybe you have to bring a dish or a drink or something, not cough up roughly $50. But here, there seems like much more obligation and social weight placed on parties. Although maybe that’s just my weird interpretation. I wouldn’t doubt it; I’m so tired. Blog writing, paper writing, working, packing, all that good stuff.

I went to see Sueko-san one last time yesterday, after work. I mostly went to retrieve a pair of shoes I’d left there before Kyoto, that I apparently forgot to grab when I went back for my heavy suitcase the next weekend, but Sueko-san then invited me in and offered me dinner. Yay! Yet more free food! :)

But more than that, I’m glad I went back. I was tired, almost willing to skip the trip and declare the shoes MIA, but it felt right because I could properly say goodbye this time. Last time I was there, she had to run out somewhere, and our time was rushed. I had a nice dinner with her, then we exchanged phone numbers and addresses. She’s a sweet old lady; I hope to send her letters every once in a while. She has done so much for me, and so much more even when she had no need to do so. Maybe a part of it is her generation and culture, but she seems so happy to do it, and I can only love and admire her more for how much she cares. I can sincerely say that I think of her as my own grandmother now. She has been my host mother, grandmother, teacher, and friend, and all this when we can still speak so few words to one another.

There has to be something said that.

But otherwise, I am not looking forward to the 14 hour flight of death. As someone with a short attention span and a bad habit of multitasking with many media, I will feel every excruciating minute of it, as I keep trying to be interested in the movie I’m watching.  I don’t know. On the flight to Japan, I couldn’t watch one movie for longer than an hour before I got bored and switched to something else.

Am I dreading the states in general?….No. Not really. I expect it to be weird, similar to when I came to Japan but in reverse, as a return to familiarity. Familiarity and I had been seeing other people for a month or so, but now it wants to try again, and that’s going to take some adjusting to all over again. Why are people driving on the left side here? Wow, I can read all the signs and everyone around me is speaking English!

How it will very once I’ve been home for a bit, I don’t know. I’ll definitely post with feelings after the jet lag is out of my system.

For now, bed. Talk to you guys later. Jane. :)

P.S. Indian-style curry for lunch today. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

 

 
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Who Understands?

Posted by maggie on Jun 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

One last week at work, and then I come back to the states. It feels odd to say that, but at the same time I feel ready. I definitely want to come back someday, once I have a budget for it, but for now, I feel like I have had a pretty decent experience. I have gotten to see Japan from the point of view of a tourist, a student, and an employee, and while I am aware that my experience is different from, say, a Japanese student or employee, it has certainly been a valuable opportunity. Maybe a once in a life time chance.

Things are running smoothly in the office, although sometimes it is difficult to understand the nature of a task. Everyone can speak English, but giving directions or even just making conversation can be stilted at times, regardless of the language. English can be just as difficulte to understand at times; some sentences seem unnatural or have added phrases that we just do not use in casual conversation in the U.S.

And no, I am not trying to be mean to anyone. If anything, I sound worse in Japanese than anyone could ever sound in Ingurishu. I am the one who tried asking for a hat at a souvenir stand and ended up asking for a shaved head. :) Don`t ask. Long story, maybe later if you really want details.

So there are multiple language barriers. But I enjoy most of the tasks they give me, and one in particular is correcting grammar. I love getting to do that. :) It is not always easy depending on home much context you are given. For example, if you are given an email to correct. The tone may seem casual to you, but it appears that the writer is speaking to someone they do not know very well, and is actually trying to sound pleasant, but business-like. Things like that are important to know when looking at grammar and sentence structure.

Other than that, lots of data cataloguing and input stuff. It is not the most riveting work, but it makes money and gives me a chance to interact. Some people have been asking me out to dinner or lunch with them, and that has been pretty nice too. So far, it is a good experience, and the fleeting moments of confusion or frustration are easier to ignore. I am going to miss some of this when I finally go home.

In the off hours I just have to stress about the paper and packing. How will it all fit in my suitcase, and do I have everything catalogued for quick reference? Sometimes it helps to be nerdy :)

Maybe I will talk to you guys again later. If not, you can expect at least one more blog while I am in Japan, and then maybe one or two blogs ranting about how confusing it is to be back home, and how strange the U.S. suddenly seems. :)

Until then, jane. Friday is the last day/karaoke farewell party! :)

 
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But the Working Man Works

Posted by maggie on Jun 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

I`ve been working in a Japanese office for a few days now. I purposely didn`t write about the first day right after, but now I feel comfortable to sit down and relate my experience thus far.

I didn`t think there was much culture shock left to be had after spending a month in this country. Call it naivety if you will, but I feel pretty well adjusted and happy that I can find my way around Tokyo on my own, and am no longer nervous about exploring by myself, sometimes without a map. But the working world is a whole new world altogether, and that was easy to forget about up until now.

I was greeted on day one with smiles. Some people seemed indifferent, at least to my mind, but then, I`m used to being around people who are a lot more open, even if they`ve just met me. I have met some pretty enthusiastic freshmen orientation guides at JMU, if you know what I mean.

I felt a little lonely at first, but  they are happy to have me here. They just show it in a different way.

The office is quiet most days, unless people are discussing customers or company-related matters. It`s so quiet, in fact, that you could hear a pin drop. There is nothing but the rhythmic strokes and clicks of several computers running at once. People are very focused on their work.

The majority of the office is made up of men. That seems like a given, but it is a small team, maybe 15-20 people, and there are at least four other women. Other than two men, I have been spending time and interacting most with the women, at least until last night when we went out to eat. I think part of my sticking with the other women is a comfort thing; when there is Japanese spoken, which is very frequent, the women tend to speak slower. But everyone is very nice to me, even if they do laugh at just about anything I do or say.

Part of the laughter is definitely awkwardness. This office has never had a foreign intern before. My Japanese skills are okay, but not great, so work is carefully considered and translated before it is given to me. But I feel like we are getting more comfortable with one another now, being four days in. Now that I`ve had some time to adjust, it isn`t much different than the office I worked in at home. People have their circles of friends, they occasionally gossip about each other, they laugh, all that stuff.

It`s reassuring, but I can`t help but wonder what is unique to this office specifically. I had heard rumors that working in Japan would be much more stressful and the people might be stiff or reserved. Some people at my company are reserved, but they are also focusing on working hard and dealing with customers.

I might also be overlooking the very obvious fact that I am a foreigner and an intern. Of course it won`t be super difficult for me. The complex inner workings aren`t really open for me to see most of the time. I just assist people with whatever they need. But it does make me feel happy, being a part of something larger, even if I don`t completely know what`s going on all of the time. I like being able to help out, even if my part is only a small one.

Ultimately, we are all people with lives and jobs, and we just want to get through the week. I`m happy it`s almost Friday, but at the same time, I`m settling into a routine that I can definitely make it through to next week. 

 
4

A poor man once said, “Man, I could use some money!”

Posted by maggie on Jun 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

I just got back from an interesting new experience: visiting a Japanese cinema.

The idea came to me some time last night. Part of it was that I was bored and wanted to go see a movie. It had been such a long time. Then I thought about how I hadn’t see a movie in Japan, and I started wondering if the experience would be different.

So I went. I know it’s a slight cop out, but I went to see “Snow White and the Hunstman.” Not translated in dub or anything, though to be fair a lot of movies over here are imports. Also, there were Japanese subtitles on the bottom of the screen, so I did stop every now and again to try and read them. I noticed that the translation for the audience wasn’t exact, but that’s not a surprise. Jokes and nuances rarely seem to transcend languages perfectly.

Also, I was worried if I went to see a Japanese movie in straight up Japanese, I’d get a head ache after a while trying to follow along. I try to watch anime in Japanese with no English subs, but those are only for 25-30 minute periods. Try sitting through a complex, adult, 2 hour plus movie.

But it was still an experience, and a more costly one than I expected. But then, I made a mistake and chose the premium screening room instead of what I think we’re the regular rooms. I couldn’t read all of the machine, although there was some English on it.

Here’s how it goes, at least if you visit the Toho Cinema in Roppongi. You enter the theatre and go to a set of machines along the wall to buy a ticket. As I understood it, you choose the movie, the time, the theatre room, the number of seats, and the seat location. Instead of going in and sitting anywhere, at least for the premium room, you have a designated seat on your ticket. I chose one by the aisle in row B; you choose the seats by availability, and if more are available, you can pick a decent location. Mine was pretty good, right near the front but not so that I was straining my neck to look up at the screen.

You are then give the ticket and a drink coupon, and directed to a little bar area down the hall. You can wait there, redeem the coupon, use the bathroom, etc. When the movie is close to starting, you go into the theatre and find your seat. On the end of the rows, there was a little table between the aisle seat and the one next to it, one that was lit up inside but not so bright to distract from the movie. You can set drinks and snacks there if you want.

Maybe my seat position and the fact that it was premium together cost me more. Woops. But nothing I can do about it now.

Most of the commercials are pretty standard; like you would see in the U.S., but maybe with Japanese words replacing English ones in the trailers. Sometimes the whole trailer is in Japanese. The order seemed pretty arbitrary to me, but I guess it depends.

They give you a sign that says “no smoking, no pictures or recording, no talking, turn of the cellphones,” yada yada. But then it added a “no” sign, one that said “no kicking.” I thought that was an interesting addition. I don’t see that one in theaters back home. I guess it’s implied, but here, in the country where there is more subtext and context implied in everyday conversation, I thought it was weird that they felt the need to include that sign. Or maybe any sign at all. Of course, parents should teach their children how to properly behave while out and about, but then I think people would go to the theaters and just understand that. I don’t know.

Then again, you’d think these common sense things wouldn’t really need to be said in the U.S. either. But then, if you don’t make it a rule, there is no real consequence for breaking it, thus dissuading others.

In every culture, there will be stupid people. Those who bootleg movies, talk or answer phones, or kick seats.

Ask silly questions…:)

But the funniest part had to be when there was another sign, this one only warning against recording movies. There was a dark theater with only one woman in it, drinking a soda, and all the sudden this man pops up from the seats in the row in front of her. The man has a cam-corder for a head, and starts flailing and dancing around, camera light flashing, while this very serious Japanese man narrates in the background. The woman just looks at the camera with an overly emotive face of surprise. I literally imagined her thinking, “What the heck?”

And then another man pops up, and his head looks like the light on top of a police car. And he comes with police sound effects, like snippets of a car siren and such. He arrests cam-corder man, and the woman just watches, confused.

Then, in the next scene, the woman is smiling as she goes to upload the footage she’s taken. The siren-head man comes back, points at her dramatically (for nerds out there, think Phoenix Wright) and she makes a very dramatic surprised face again, this time along the lines of, “Oh dang! I’ve been discovered! Oh the humanity!”

It just struck me as really funny. The Japanese have a lot of signs, commercials, and warnings that, by U.S. standards, look like they would be for children. They are so simplistic and cartoony and crazy. The only people I have ever thought could get away with acting so cartoony are the Japanese, and maybe that is fitting. It is in a weird way I can’t really explain.

Or maybe part of it is because cartoons make it so simple that even us dumb foreigners can understand. Maybe some of that is thinking of foreigners traveling here as well, who aren’t as familiar with the language, and then the Japanese just rolled with it and grew accustomed to it. Which came first, chicken or egg? Or was there any relationship between those at all?

The elevator at my apartment complex has a sign inside warning not to stick your hand in a closing door. In America, those words would suffice, but here, there is also a picture of a swollen hand being caught in the doors, and for extra help, there is a cartoon face emoting in a scream of pain, complete with an “X” for eyes. (Like when you make an “x” and “d” smily face while typing, XD)

But back from that tangent, that was my movie going experience. The theatre was much cleaner than any I’ve seen in the U.S. The people didn’t talk at all during the movie, except for one woman behind me who giggled at one point. There wasn’t even the sound of crunching popcorn and slurping sodas, although I know people brought that stuff in. It was kind of nice, and I enjoyed the movie, even with Kristen Stewart being about as expressive as stone wall. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t really bad either. I definitely recommend seeing it, even if you don’t get to see it with Japanese subtitles. :) It’ll keep your interest for the hour-2 hour period.

But because I withdrew yesterday after having no money when I got back Osaka, combined with buying some food for the time being, and I went to go see this movie and accidentally overpaid, this leaves me needing to withdraw again. I feel bad about it because I’ve been pretty good so far about rationing my money. I think souvenir shopping is done now, so all I really need is enough for food, maybe to go somewhere on weekends, maybe to go out with co-workers once or twice. With that, I think I should be mostly fine getting by for two weeks.

Osaka reminded me a lot of New York, and I found I wasn’t the only one to make that comparison. Sad to say, the last day of the actual study abroad trip, everyone was so burned out by the time we hit Osaka that we just sort of saw the castle, which was very cool and gave me some history I’d been missing. Then we had dinner and went back to the hotel to relax. I feel bad for not being more enthused and seeing more of the city, but it was several days of travel and walking in a row. It was bound to burn out at some point.

Oh well. From my glimpse of it, I wasn’t very big on Osaka anyway. The takoyaki is good though. Definitely a staple food. :) We also had Osaka-style Okonomiyaki, different from the time we ate it in Kamakura. It does taste better in Osaka, which makes sense, but I think Hiroshima-style is pretty good. I can’t really describe it, but of the ones we ate, I personally liked the Osaka-style Okonomiyaki we ate in Kamakura best. That may be because the Osaka-style in Osaka was good, but we had to make it ourselves. They brought us the stuff to make it in our little room in the restaurant, with a little guide on how to make it on our hot plate. It’s probably just because we screwed up. :)

Now I have a nice apartment in a nice part of town. I met one of the women I will be working with, who met me at the Shinkansen and showed me to my living space for the next two weeks. She seems very nice and very entertained by my crazy hyperness. Don’t ask. I have weird mood swings sometimes, and sometimes even when I’m tired and dragging baggage on trips, I suddenly get really hyper and chipper. Hopefully it keeps up, though; I’d rather be a little annoying and optimistic and having fun than being a downer, you know? And I have a bad tendency to feel down easily, so I’m loving this good feeling right now.

There isn’t much else to say, really. I start work tomorrow, and I’m in Tokyo for two weeks before I go home and having a rocking 4th of July. I miss home and hope everyone is doing alright. Yesterday was a day to chill and recover from the stress of traveling constantly, but that combined with a good night sleep and I’m ready to be back in Tokyo. I still want to use my time here well, and try to see and do things I can’t do in the U.S. Because soon it really will be over, and I won’t be able to come back here for years, I’m sure. Even if I am a little homesick, I have to use my time well. And hopefully everyone at the office is nice; they sound so, from what I’ve heard. I’ll survive just fine, and try to keep having fun and learning.

 

 

 
0

So much to do

Posted by maggie on Jun 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Yesterday I found some inner peace, saw a house made of gold, and chased the tails of 5,000 foxes up a mountain and down again. Needless to say, I’m a little tired. :)

There is so much stuff to catch up on, but it’s kind of my fault. I haven’t been using the wifi when I had the chance…well, I had, but not for blogging. And now I have about 5 days of events to cover.

We went to Hakone on Sunday and stayed at a hotel with an onsen (hot spring bath). The place had a distinct Japanese feel; the hotel room itself was about as Japanese as it could get. Tatami mat, sliding screen doors and windows, futons to sleep on the floor, and a low table with cushions. Dinner and breakfast the next day followed in that theme; fish, rice, miso soup, the good stuff. It was an experience, like the hot spring itself. Try to imagine a hot tub that you have to wash off thoroughly before you get in, and you can’t wear a bathing suit. A little awkward, yes, but it was an experience I can’t find where I live in the states.

 

Otherwise, Sunday was spent exploring, shopping, walking. The place was up in the mountains; in a vague way, it made me think of Colorado. Not quite sure why.

On Monday we took the train back to the Shinkansen, and took that to Kyoto. I’ve been spending most of my time here seeing temples, doing a little shopping, and just getting a good walk in. At Kiyomizu-dera, there was a part where I could go down in a cave where it was pitch black, guided only by a little hand railing. As a group, we went in, and found our way to this glowing stone. If you turn it 5 times, supposedly it’s good for making a wish. Or giving good luck. One of those two.

So I did. I’ve also seen Ginkakuji, the silver pavilion which isn’t actually silver because the guy never got around to it :), Kinkakuji, the gold pavilion which is actually gold, a temple with a kanji character carved into the mountain (sad I didn’t get to see that, but I didn’t climb high enough), and a real class on Zen Buddhist meditation. So much to talk about, and yet I keep getting distracted :)

The gold pavilion, "Kinkakuji." Not associated with the picture on the left.

On Monday, we stayed at a temple on the eastern side of Kyoto, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought the rooms would be more like the hotel in Hakone; simple, pretty, traditional, and small, because we were getting our own this time. But no, the temple was surprisingly modern-looking once we were inside; the wifi was awesome, the rooms were small but comfy like college rooms, etc. But I did go out and wander the grounds. I found the aqueducts and climbed up the hill to follow them. With the others, I walked up to the spot where you could look over the hotel, and there was even another view that allowed you to see a decent chunk of Kyoto. It was cool.

 

Tuesday, we left for the hotel we’ve been staying in the past few days. This was when I saw a bunch of temples and shrines, and did the glowing rock turn in the cave. There was a nice lady in a pottery shop that spoke decent English, and when we stopped there so that Cindy could buy a rice bowl, she struck up a funny conversation that mixed Japanese and English, telling us how she’d studied some but it was a very hard transition from one of those languages to the other. I could only agree.

Then she pointed us to a cheap place to eat, and even gave us a map. People are much friendlier to tourists in Japan than they are in America. A Japanese person might get off their train to guide you in the right direction, should you need it. Heck, even if you don’t need it, people will still go out of their way to help you. It’s nice most for the most part.

We didn’t end up going there, though; there was another place that was just as cheap but closer to where we were. I got beef and udon noodles and cream melon soda to drink. It was delicious.

Wednesday we went to Hiroshima. I wasn’t looking forward to it, per say, but I knew it would be a worthwhile thing to see. I’ve never been to the Holocaust museum or any place like that, really, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Especially because it was my people that had done such a terrible thing to these people. In a way, it had to be done, and I can’t change what has happened, but it was a terrible, tragic consequence of war. 

I have heard that the Pearl Harbor museum in Hawaii paints the Japanese as being cruel and vile, attacking without warning. I can’t speak for whether or not the attack was warranted; both sides have interpretations of the events. But looking for contrast, the peace museum and park dedicated to the bombing of Hiroshima was surprisingly neutral and calm. There wasn’t anything about the Americans being vile or ignorant pigs, who dropped this horrible cloud of death on their home and killed and deformed so many people. The exhibit only showed the consequences of the bomb, but not an anti-American sentiment. Instead, they expressed a desire for peace, and that such bombs would not be used in the future, on anyone.  

The place was so sad, but I managed to keep myself from crying. It took a bit of effort though. Just the thought of people in pain, dying, searching for loved ones amid the rubble, fire, and chaos. People with extreme radiation burning their bodies and making them sick. I once saw a Studio Ghibli movie called “Grave of the Fireflies,” an animated story about a young brother and sister trying to make it after air raids destroyed their town. This came to mind frequently as I explored the museum, and I thought about how accurate the movie was, even though it was an animated family movie.

It made me sad to think about what it must have been like. And maybe once or twice, I felt bad for the suffering we had caused. I know why it had to be done, but at the same time, to think about wars and the casualties caused to innocents because of them. It doesn’t matter where the war takes place. One has to decide if war itself is worth it.

Several times I thought of the paradox “to make peace, you must prepare for war,” and wondered how the museum’s message could work in any real world context. War is horrible, but can we prevent it? Is it in our nature to war with one another from time to time, for one reason or another?

I can’t say. But the visit to the museum left me feeling down, but surprisingly alright. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I think it was necessary. I personally wish no one had nuclear weapons, but then, are wars fought with guns or swords or tanks any less horrible in their own ways?

After this trip, we went to the island of Miyajima, which perked us up a little. I spent four hours playing with the deer, browsing, climbing mountains to find shrines and temples. It’s a beautiful place; someday I’d liked to come back and climb all the way up to the summit of Mt. Misen. I’d also love to come back to Kyoto and see the Imperial Palace and the castle with the hummingbird floors; stuff I should have checked out while I was here, but hey, I ran low on time. I’ve still seen quite a bit.

Dear on this island just chill and wander around, maybe browse the shops.

Yesterday after seeing the golden pavilion, I took a bus to the Fushimi Inari shrine, a place with thousands of tori gates lined up in a row, which you walk under as you climb up the side of the mountain. I think the shrine has at least 5,000 of them. Supposedly, if you walk under all of them, your wish will be granted. 

So I did. I made it to the top, tried to go down a different way, got lost with this nice fellow from the UK, who proceeded to stick with me even when I need to stop for a breather. He didn’t ditch me in the woods, but helped me find the way back up to the top, and we walked down the right way together, casually chatting. He seemed very nice, and we chatted about tourism and Japan in general being such a friendly place overall. At least Kyoto and Tokyo are, anyway. Even if you know a bare minimum of words, like he did, you can still find your way around pretty well. I’m not scared of getting lost anymore, as long as I’m not stuck on a mountain with no cell coverage :)

View from the climb of 5000 gates.

Also, yesterday morning we went to a temple for some authentic Zen Buddhist meditation. It happened in intervals of 15 minutes, separated by the sounds of bells. The monk burned incense and told us that it wasn’t about clearing our minds, but about letting go of control, silencing our ego, and accepting the neutrality of things in life. Meditation is unique to every person and they can do it the way that makes them the most comfortable. My revelations and thoughts were simple, but they made sense in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t see the thoughts before, but more that I chose not to see them. Meditation brought them out and made them much easier to see and understand. At the time, I accepted them at face value, and kept letting my thoughts drifted to whatever came to mind. I might keep doing meditation when I go home; it was simple, easy, and most importantly, relaxing. And so versatile too. You can meditate by doing just about anything; a simple act that you focus on. That is why the monks rake the gardens into those cool patterns; it’s a simple task to focus on, and it requires patience and calm.

Today is Friday, and we head off to Osaka soon. It’s our last day as a big group, and then we scatter to either go home or do whatever. I’m looking forward to my internship and meeting some new people, but I will miss the friends I have made on this trip. I think it has helped that on Miyajima, in Shibuya, and yesterday in Kyoto I explored some on my own, though. I was worried I’d be reliant on the group, only going where they go and doing what they do just because I don’t want to get lost. It’s been fun, don’t get me wrong. But the solo exploring has made me more comfortable being on my own, which I think will really help when I’m hanging around Tokyo for the next two weeks. I should be a-okay. :) But I will miss people, definitely. This trip wouldn’t have been the same without them.

I’ll probably keep blogging as I work, as long as I can still get on to the site. Because my journey in Japan is not over.

I have so many places I want to come back to. Maybe in a decade or so, when I have more money and can swing another trip. Japan is a wonderful place that’s worth taking a look at, and tourists don’t have to worry about no one helping them out.

I’ll try to keep up to date now, and blog as I see stuff day by day. I make no promises, but I’ll do my best. Also, the wifi is crappy at this hotel.

Jane! :)

 
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Just Dance

Posted by maggie on Jun 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Stray away from the Beatles and over to….Lady Gaga?

……..Weird transition. Sometimes even I don’t get me. :)

I’ve got a ticket to ride (the shinkansen), but I don’t care…..Nah. Tried to keep some of the blog themes consistent by throwing another Beatles reference in there, but nah. I’m the kind of person who quit a song halfway through sometimes, because I got bored and suddenly felt like hearing something else. I don’t do it with other people around, but yeah. Bad habit. :) So I could totally go from Beatles to Gaga to something totally different, like 3 Doors Down. Or Mika Nakashima. Oasis. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Carrie Underwood. My taste in music is as random and scattered as I am.

But anyway, back at the plot….

All things considered, this has been the best couple of days of the trip. Not going to lie.

Admittedly, we just partied and did karaoke, but it was so fun. Everyone was having a great time, and it really did feel like a big hurrah before we go off to see new places.

It feels weird that it has come down to the last week of the study abroad trip basically. Where did the time go? Even across time zone, it’s still undoubtably a fact that time flies. I keep thinking about when I finally go home, and all the things I will be thrown off by. Like walking down a street and understanding every conversation around me, or suddenly getting funny looks for slurping noodles. I always like to take my shoes off at the door, so now it’s even more of a habit.

I won’t miss the squat pots, but there you go. :)

Karaoke was fun. It seems better than in America; you get a little box with few people in it. That way you can be crazy and not have an entire bar full of people laughing at you. :) I screeched all through the evening and by the end of it, I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach by a horse. But it was so much fun. I only wish our TA could have joined us, I think she would have really enjoyed it.

It costs something per person, but you can go in, sing for a specific period of time, have drinks and maybe snacks delivered to your room (unless you want to go get some yourself), and just chill. There were plenty of songs Americans would know and be able to sing along to (Morgan’s rendition of Prince was hilarious). I tried one Japanese song that I was somewhat familiar with and butchered the language as much as humanly possible. But I had fun, and then we did goofy songs, classics, and duets. “Old Man” by Neil Young got me thinking of home, and my old man. I miss our drives, deer spotting, driving in the mountains. Neil Young always makes me think of that stuff. :) Miss you guys.

Good times were had, definitely. There was no analyzing, no stressing, just pure fun. Plain and simple. Sometimes that’s what you need, and it feels great to just go with it.

When songs aren’t playing, people come on the screen and randomly chat with you. Most likely just telling you how stuff works.

It’s apparently a very popular Friday night attraction, if the groups that came in as we were finishing up were any indication.

And today was our farewell party at one of the homestay’s houses. The place was a mansion, and there was all kinds of food. It cost a little to get in, but it was totally worth it. We got more than we payed for in company, food, and entertainment.

Singing performances, then traditional Japanese flute, and then a Taiko drum performance by an all female group. After that, we were handed the drum sticks and got to go through a routine. I have a blister on my thumb from where I was holding the stick. It feels better now, but still. Ouch….

Then, there was dancing. We got colorful robes, and Morgan’s had sequins. SEQUINS. :) It was the funniest thing ever. I only wish we could have danced a little more. I’ve never been to any party where the dancing was over in ten minutes. No, let’s keep going. This is goofy and fun. Seriously.

Then we messed with a microphone and did some impromptu karaoke, I tried and failed to play a Japanese flute (all I play is recorder, and that was from elementary school), took a trip down memory lane and sang “Sakura” for a crowd of people (I learned the song in elementary school), and just goofed around. It was great. And I left tonight feeling the best I had for the whole trip.

It’s sad to think it’s almost over, but then you remember it isn’t over yet and say “shut up, self, the party is still going.” :) Hopefully I’ll see some new stuff over the next few days to start writing better blogs. But I wanted to get this one out before the internet went away. I have no guarantee when exactly I’ll get it back, so until I do, microsoft word and stock up on pictures. :) I’ll let people know when I know. Off to finish packing and clean up and all that good stuff.

Jane :)

 

 

 

 
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“Sure you don’t want it?” “Positive.”

Posted by maggie on Jun 6, 2012 in In Japan

Today at the Tamachi station women’s restroom, I had a funny moment. I was waiting in line behind this woman, and one of the stall doors finally opened. She looked like she was going to go for it, but we both realized quickly that it was a squat pot. She looked back at me, smiled and gestured me to go ahead. I just shrugged, and we both started laughing as she turned back.

There were no words between us, but it was clear that neither of us wanted that stall. That is one thing I can be positively sure about.

In case my blogs haven’t been displaying it clearly, positivity is not really my strong point. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I suppose pessimist can also apply at times. As human beings, I think we like to focus on negative things because in the scope of time, even just a day, something bad that happened in an otherwise good day can stick out more clearly than a good thing during a good day. And a craptacular day overall is awful; sometimes it’s hard to find something good to take away from a day like that, right?

I mentioned before that I don’t see too much negativity in Japanese media. The news in America loves playing up big stories of negativity. “This could be potentially fatal.” “Local man shoots three teenagers.” “The hottest celebrity couple breaking up.”

That’s not to say everyone is this way. I can just see a basis for why the focus on negative things is encouraged. Even in movies, it’s satisfying to watch a character who has been stepped on during the whole film rise up and get revenge. Releasing negativity, getting over it is cathartic, useful and helpful in our daily lives. Whether your a pessimist, optimist, realist, whatever, you feel down sometimes and getting over it feels good.

It’s when there is too much of a negative focus that things can be bad, even unhealthy. This trip is providing so many opportunities for self reflection, but it can lead to stress and overload sometimes, and as a realist/occasional pessimist, this can get to me. Today was just one of those days.

I have always known I was bad at reading signals from others; not because I can’t read people at all, but because I have conditioned myself to read signals when there are none. I’m a very sensitive person who sometimes doesn’t take teasing well; it comes from some bad friendships I had when I was younger, which have put me on edge, even all this time later. I like to feel like I’ve made steps and gotten better, but sometimes when there is a down day….well, it’s like I’m back to square one all over again.

Sometimes I have trouble telling when people are joking, especially if the joke makes me feel stupid or otherwise down about myself. Sometimes that turns to resentment and anger, and I act on it at inopportune times. Then I feel stupid and upset, angry at myself and others at the same time, but I stumble trying to find the correct emotion and response, in a sea of endless possibilities.

By why do I say all this? Because this trip is a learning experience, applicable to so much in my life. By talking to others, both Japanese and not, I’m making discoveries, and trying to develop ways to adjust and get better. I want to be a better person by the time this trip concludes, and I want to hurry up and get with it, seeing as I only have about 3 weeks left.

I found some comfort in talking to people, particularly on this trip. There is so much support coming from my friends and family, but sometimes in this new place, I can and will feel very alone. It is nice to have people over here that understand and care, and I can go talk to if I have things to get off my chest.

I need to be a better communicator is what it comes down to. The reason I joined the major at JMU was not because I was an excellent example and could breeze through the classes; I’m not the greatest at giving speeches, and often times, when talking to people, I resort to gesturing (and making sound effects at the worst of times) when I can’t find a good way to express myself.

I chose it specifically because I like following how people communicate with each other, how they express feelings and wants and emotions in their own ways. Looking at my own experiences, sometimes I cannot understand why people act the way they do, but I want to learn. I want to better develop my skills, to be happy and healthy and be helpful to others, but at the same time know my limits.

I still have quite a ways to go, sad to say. But it’s not completely sad to say, because I’m still trying. I’ll still keep going for it because it’s a worthwhile goal that will be helpful as heck later on. That’s some positivity, right?

I can’t completely change the person that I am, but I can mold and shape that person into being closer to what I want to be. I’m going to practice thinking about things positively, because a conscious effort is the only way I can make a habit out of it. It’s the same with working out, eating right, sleeping well, studying, etc. Being conscious and diligent. Don’t beat myself up, but still hold myself accountable.

Sorry if this mostly seems like pep talking and what now, but I feel like this will help me, and make the conviction feel more solid.

Tomorrow is Studio Ghibli Museum, and after that, who knows. I’m excited to see exhibits for some of my favorite movies of all time. Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and the other directors and producers at Studio Ghibli really do feel like the “Disney” of Japan, but for an added bonus, they still use 2D animation. I wonder what we’ll see there…

On Friday, we’re doing Karaoke too! Actual Japanese “ka-ra-oh-keh!” :) That should be fun. I know the machines probably won’t do romaji lyrics, so I’ll really have to work on reading hiragana fast. If all else fails, shoot for anime themes and J-pop I know.

Last week of class feels weird. I can’t imagine what my internship will be like, but that’s still some time off.

 

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The Strange Encounter

Posted by maggie on Jun 4, 2012 in In Japan

The late day sun drifted lazily through the windows of the car, the whole train lightly bobbing as it sped along the tracks. Every seat was filled that day, leaving many standing in crowds near the doors on either side. With one bag on my back and another in my hand, I slouched against the bar by the right side door and watched the land outside pass in blurs of color. The sun was not setting now, but it would be soon. I looked forward to the change. Even in the city, sunset paints everything in beautiful colors.

The train stopped. Passengers pushed their way in and out, shoving or stepping around the people in front. A few girls near me shifted slightly, but there was no pause in the conversation. I stood silently, shifting when I had to. A large crowd appeared at my door pushing their way in, and I moved to the other side, grabbing the handle above me. In no time, the doors closed, and we were in motion again.

But then I became aware of something. A noise from further down the car. It grew a little louder, and I realized it was a man. I frowned a little at his tone, recognizing a few words directed to someone I couldn’t see.

“Shut up!…What? Can’t you understand me?” 

It was almost palpable then. The entire car was tense, only the bravest daring a glimpse at this man. Some people squeezed around others to see, while others cast their eyes to the ground. Several shook their heads and returned to their business, a wary eye drifting every now and again.

With some subtlety, I caught a look at him from the corner of my eye. A wife beater and a lot of ink decorating his back and shoulders immediately caught my notice.

“What, huh? Do you speak English?….Shut up!”

My first thought was ‘Yakuza,’ or at least some gang member. Not just anyone would flaunt their tattoos so openly here. Some people actually don’t get served in restaurants and other places if they display tattoos.

Cautiously, I moved back to the side I’d been on first, standing with my friend. There was enough of a crowd that he didn’t see us, and I stood faced away, keeping my eyes down as well. I felt bad for the people he was shouting at, but I wasn’t about to get involved. By now, I figured he couldn’t be ‘Yakuza;’ the tattoo was large, but it could have been a few close together. It wasn’t a large landscape or very artsy at all, just straight black ink.

Still, he was obviously some punk kid who shouldn’t be crossed. My curiosity sated for the time being, I resolved myself to admiring various kinds of shoes that were gathered around me.

It was odd; usually all the cars were packed at this hour…

The next stop dragged slowly into view, the train screeching softly to a halt. A few people got off, minding their own business. The man was sitting quietly at this point, listening to his iPod, but no one from our side of the train dared to go near him. Probably just as well.

People shifted awkwardly back to conversations, every now and again casting glances towards the back of the car. I thought about the situation at the time, slightly concerned but also just the slightest bit amused. I knew to keep my distance, mind my business, and above all else, not make eye contact, but I thought about what he had said before. Had the lady provoked him somehow? Or was he just being a jerk because he thought he was tough and felt like bossing people around?

At the next stop, I felt the tension lift a little. After the initial crowd got off, someone must have alerted the police, because at least three or four officers boarded the train. After what I assumed was them nicely asking the man to leave, they ended up pulling him off with little protest. For a moment, we waited at the stop, watching him stand outside, hop up and down, and occasionally make faces at the people he was sitting next to. I couldn’t help but laugh, just a little. It probably wasn’t the best idea, but he was so focused on those people and was acting like an idiot.

We were on our way again in no time, leaving the punk back at the other station with the officers. A few people laughed at first, slowly relaxing back into their little groups, the din in the car mingling until I couldn’t follow any of it anymore.

As I made my way to the next line, checking for sure that it was the local, I couldn’t stop thinking about this strange experience. I had followed my instincts and stayed away from the danger, and yet I was surprised by how unafraid I had been at the time. Surely, in the states, such an incident would have raised the hairs on my neck and sped up the beating of my heart.

But while I was a little anxious, I didn’t feel in danger, per say. Maybe it was the crowded train full of people; but then, no one had spoken up when the punk began shouting at that woman. Or if they had, I didn’t hear it. Maybe he was shouting at several people at the time, and I just hadn’t noticed.

What had been the point of the argument? Of making such a spectacle of himself? Though trying to be tough and command attention and respect, he just seemed more juvenile, and I wasn’t quite sure if people took him all that seriously. Perhaps they were just annoyed by this man being rude and obnoxious on their peaceful commute home.

But it was certainly interesting; I hadn’t expected any commotion like that here. With a shrug, I just kept on walking, vowing to write about it when I was safely home. I boarded the next local train and sighed as it travelled leisurely on.

That is why I proceed with caution. Because even the friendliest city in the world has its dangers.

 

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2

Across the Universe

Posted by maggie on Jun 3, 2012 in In Japan

Occasionally I slip Beatles themes and subplots in here. I have no idea why. But there is an irish pub just inside Tamachi station, and every time I pass it after school, I swear the Beatles are playing. Just yesterday this guy at the ramen shop we went to was playing Coldplay on his iPod.

Music that I’m familiar with is pretty popular here, it seems. Even with all the Jpop and Kpop and such. It’s probably a stereotype I developed from watching anime. Of course Japanese people don’t always just listen to their own country’s music. Americans don’t, although I can count the number of times I’ve heard general Japanese music outside a convention on one hand. It seems we prefer to listen to things we can understand. But I liked listening to music in other languages even when I had no idea what it meant. Sometimes music just speaks to you, and it doesn’t matter how.

Now, to go on a totally different tangent, someone else mentioned this to me yesterday, and I do admit it seems odd. There appear to be a few cases of an American man dating a Japanese woman, but you don’t see much or any of the reverse. While I was on the train the other day, I met a family from Alabama riding on my train, and the father told me that his wife, who wasn’t there at that moment, was born and bred Japanese. I can see the appeal of one being exotic to the other, or maybe presenting more of a challenge in connecting because of the communication gap. But really, why are there so few Japanese men and American women couples? Do the guys find them mostly unattractive? Or is it that the girls see Japanese automatically think “this is the man you will walk one step behind the rest of your life.” Although, to be fair, that can happen in the states too, depending on the couple.

I’ve heard someone say that a friend of theirs, whose origin I have forgotten, got fed up with her husband because she was basically taking care of the man. He couldn’t cook or clean or do some things most American guys and girls would consider basic, and she didn’t want another child to take care of. These thoughts reminded me of each other, and I was wondering if there was something more to them than they appear.

Today I went back to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa to buy a charm. I’ve been collecting charms from every temple or shrine I go to, and I realized I had forgotten to buy one while we were at the festival. I decided to do that instead of going to the baseball game that everyone was attending. I made this decision because I was feeling a little sick and not particularly social, and I was a little short on cash today. The charm was cheaper than a ticket to the game, but I can’t help but feel I passed up a good opportunity.

Oh well. I’m sure there will be a chance to go to another one when I have more cash. Just a shame that I didn’t get to hang with people today.

But, as for not being social, Asakusa was not a particularly good place to go. Full of people, and all of them walking like it’s a funeral procession. Walking slow is one of my pet peeves, especially if I know where I want to go and know how to get there. For some reason I could get over the crowded trains with no problem, but I still have trouble getting over large crowds of slow moving people. It’s because walking slow hurts my legs after a while, and it strikes me as rude, personally, when people do that without clearing a space for faster traffic. It’s like driving, and having two cars in front of me taking up the only two lanes and driving at relatively the same speed. I respect your desire to sight see and take your time, but please respect my time and let me get by.

I originally thought Japan would be politer than the states overall, but then I remembered that what I consider polite is not necessarily the same thing. Oh well. :) I figure it’s better to know yourself and your limits, and judge whether or not you can get past them.

It was a good day, though; I enjoyed getting a seat on the JR line and just riding around, watching the passing scenery while I chilled to my iPod. Then I took advantage of that wonderful bath again, and now I feel good as new. Sometimes you just need a day to recover. After all, I went to the beach yesterday, and that took a bit out of me.

It was so much fun. A bunch of us went to the beach at Enoshima. We met up in Kamakura and caught a tram from there. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures this time. I didn’t want to take the camera in case it got lost, stolen, or sandy. But there wasn’t much to say, other than the sand was black, and the island was tiny. I believe it is devoted to a goddess by the name of Benzaiten, who made the island rise out of the sea sometime in the 500’s A.D.

We ate lunch and looked for shells (sadly, they don’t look much different from shells you can get from the east or west coast of the U.S., but I picked up a few anyway), and then we played some volleyball. After that, we went back to Kamakura for some dinner, a popular ramen restaurant in the area. By the way, authentic ramen is so much better than that cheap stuff we buy in packages and cups in America. :) Then we went on to Zushi to catch the last bit of a fireworks festival. We didn’t go far into Zushi, but we got there just in time to see some fireworks (or hanabi, as the Japanese call them). Then some of us went home, and I was included in that group :)

And there was much Japanese practice that day :) Riho brought friends with her, and they all seemed very nice.

It felt weird to stand on this side of the pacific, and even just go in the water a little. It’s weird to think that way over there across the sea is where all my friends and family are. My house, my apartment, my car, dog, etc. etc. It all seems so surreal after just a few weeks of being here. Now America is the far off place that’s weird to imagine, and Japan feels somewhat more natural and almost home.

I keep thinking about home, though. What’s happening over there? How far of a swim would it really be?

A long one, I’ll tell you that much. :) I still wish I could break things up and visit home, just because I miss home. I only got to spend 3-4 days there before I went on this trip. And it’s not just a couple hours away anymore.

I don’t think I’ll stay in the same place forever, but it will feel weird at some point to move away, when that’s the place you’ve known for so long. I remember missing my grandparent’s old house in North Carolina because I had so many good memories there.

Too much thinking about random things, yeah?

I feel bad for not going to the game, if only for the experience. It reminds me that I have yet to go to a football game at JMU, which I desperately need to do before I graduate. I have seen a basketball game, though, so I don’t feel like the worst student. :) It’d be fun to get a couple of friends to go, or maybe my friend who now lives in the area with her family. That’d be cool. But it reminds me that a lot of my pals just graduated, at that makes me a little sad.

As usual, thoughts jumping all over the place. I’m partly watching the world cup soccer game between Japan and Oman. Japan’s doing very well right now. Hideki-san tells me that they need to win this game, so I hope they do. There, I am getting some sports exposure today :)

7-11 is a big deal over here. It has commercials. I don’t remember seeing any commercials for 7-11 at home. Because it’s just a convenience store. But here, it’s a god send, really. It has the atm, usually in English or at least with an English language option. It also has some of the most delicious, but decently cheap and low cal pork buns. It makes me happy.

I keep wondering what my work will be like. I know it’s at least three weeks off, but I’m curious and I like to be as prepared as I can be. I’ve started thinking about all the supplies I’ll need when I’m no longer living with Sueko-san. I hope I can keep on surviving :)

I miss you all, and really thank you for the support you’ve given me. I keep you guys in my thoughts, and as much as I like it here, I can’t wait to come home and see you. Or just talk to you, depending on where you live. :)

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