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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Uncategorized


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


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.



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! :)


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. 


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.




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! :)


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 :)





The Night Before…

Posted by maggie on May 9, 2012 in Pre-Trip Thoughts

As you can tell from the title, it’s right before I’m supposed to fly and I’m feeling a mix of extreme anticipation and extreme dread. The details have finally hit home, and they smack me with a baseball bat, saying, “You’re going to Japan.”

Thinking of the Beatles movie “Yellow Submarine,” which I watched with my Dad a few nights ago in some last minute bonding time, I feel as if I myself am about to embark on a strange journey through several seas filled with vibrant colors and weird creatures. Well, the comparison isn’t perfect, but really what is? Will I survive? Will I be able to understand anything? Am I going to be fighting off blue meanies with the awesome power of song?

….probably not the last one. But still!

So many stressors are going through my mind. My homestay mother sounds as though she speaks very little English. I’m about to go to a country where my language of choice isn’t the preferred means of expressing myself. A good friend of mine is leaving the area and I’m really sad to see her go. My grades from Spring Semester just came in and they’re mostly crap. Not the worst, but average. This adds a whole new level of agony as I spend the rest of the night making sure every last thing is organized, while all the while thinking about how I could have done better. I’m beating myself up so much about it when it doesn’t do any good, but it’s what I’m used to. I feel like I failed, and now I’m off to do something way, WAY bigger and I worry about that. Some of this can be attributed to lack of sleep and stress for the past few days, but I can’t rationalize enough to make myself feel better.

I’m so excited, but once again, a little voice inside of me is telling me to back out. “Change scares you,” it says. “You were fine before,” it says. “Why such a big step? You’ve got time; why not stay comfortably at home for the whole summer and think about this again someday later,” it says. Of course I won’t listen to it. I’ve wanted this forever, money has already exchanged hands, it’s a great opportunity, etc, etc. But there’s a little part of me that’s always been afraid of change, particularly big change. What will happen? How different will I be when I come back?

But of course, I have to ignore it. It’s a defense mechanism, but here it isn’t helping in the least. College was a huge step, leaving my home town to go to school two hours away with no friends or family there. And it turned out great. I couldn’t be happier, and I’ve seen great changes in myself. I can only imagine what flying 12 hours away will do. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? I sort of can’t imagine, so what will happen?

Here I have to force myself not to be so focused on control. Some of the best things that happen in life are not planned out or controlled, and for me, this could be a big one. I have to trust it, which is hard, especially with all the stress and stuff. But I’m at least resolved in this: I’m going. I’m going to do my best. I’m going to a place I’ve only dreamed about before to study a language and culture I love right at the source. This is great. It’s beyond great. I need to get more hyped!

Last pre-trip thoughts here. I’m going to miss home a lot. I had lunch with some friends today for some last minute authentic “American” food before I leave. I’ll miss family and friends, even if there is skype or google chat, etc. By tomorrow, sleep and stress willing, I’ll be ready and excited, as I fly over on my first ever completely-on-my-own-flight. I have to be open, and welcome what good changes may come. To everyone who is supporting me and wishing me well, Mom, Dad, David, and everyone too numerous to name (cheap cop-out, I know) I can’t thank you enough. I will not waste my time over there, nor will I curl up in a corner and whine. I am going to go over there and do the best job I can. I owe that to myself and anyone else who is going with me, even if they’re not physically going with me. You know?

By the next post, I will be across the sea, and actually have some NEW and INTERESTING info to relate. :) For now I say to myself, “There will be an answer. Let it be.”


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The Beginning: What to do and why

Posted by maggie on Apr 16, 2012 in Pre-Trip Thoughts
A Japanese ad

     Well, in less than a month I’m off to Japan. Get ready to cry  “gaijin” or “gaikokujin” at the sight of me! (Those are words for foreigner, I’ve heard.)

     What you need to know about me: I’m a dork. I have a short attention span sometimes. I have weird but cool friends and a very awesome, supportive family. My little brother is autistic, and that’s had some ups and downs to it. I love Japanese language and culture, to the point where my casual signature is the name I got from my college Japanese class and I doodle kanji and stuff sometimes when I’m taking notes. For the purpose of this blog, I suppose even that stuff might be superfluous. But still. How can you care at all about what happens to some chick you’ve never met or heard of?

     Here’s how I got into the whole Japanese scene.

      It all started in middle school, when a new friend of mine casually let me borrow her manga book “Inuyasha.” About two years later, I had fallen in love with the series, bought several books, CDs, and movies. On the second movie DVD, there was a segment talking about Inuyasha in Japan, showing clips of the country extensively throughout. Once I finished watching it, I wanted to see Japan for myself, like nothing I had ever wanted in my life.

     And before you shake your head at me, the anime started it, but it’s not the only reason I’m going!

     From then on I took two years of Japanese in high school and another two years (two semesters per year) in college, learning whatever I could about the language, history, mythology, and culture. I started watching shows in Japanese dub, turning off the subtitles so I could hear the words myself and try to understand. I watched Pop Japan TV late night when I was still up, and listened to pop and rock bands, always chuckling at those random english words you find floating in a sea of Japanese. (example: something something something my heart something something). That’s a good example of any given lyric.

      You start to know words like “Kokoro” (heart), “Inochi” (life), “Ai” (love), etc. because a lot of pop songs use them. They’re practically buzz words. I started going to cons, bought magazines, went on a few sites that were all in Japanese trying to read the characters. I bought books on myths and proudly discussed Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa shogunate when they came up in the brief segments of Japan that came up in my history classes. (I’ve forgotten a lot of it now, sadly, but I’m looking forward to a refresher in the culture and history class I signed up to take while I’m there. I hope we get into that stuff.)

     So here I am now. All this to prepare me for someday traveling across land and sea in search of the Land of the Rising Sun.

     And yet…

     Getting ready for this trip, I’m just as nervous as excited, which I suppose is to be expected. I’m trying to prepare myself to step into a land that is drastically different from my own, hoping that confusion and homesickness won’t immediately get to me and ruin any of my time there. I was cursed with an overly analytical mind (it’s not as good as it sounds), and so I’ve already begun to anticipate the bad and good of what I will experience on the trip. I wish I could leave the worries and negativity for when they actually arise, because my Dad is always fond of saying “Don’t be unhappy until something gives you a reason to be unhappy,” and I think he’s right, but at the same time I know luck favors the prepared.

     At the same time, I’m trying not to think about it too much. Is that even possible? To do both? Probably not. The first anime convention I ever attended, I went with a friend who had read all about cons and had expectations as to what they’d be like. I was excited when I got there and couldn’t believe all the stuff I was seeing, but she spent a lot of the trip complaining that it wasn’t like the things she had read at all. It taught me that sometimes having little to no expectations is a good thing. You aren’t disappointed because you didn’t expect anything from the beginning, and pleasant surprises are even better. I will anticipate the trip details about getting around, of course, but when it comes to what I will experience there, I want to leave that up in the air a little bit. I want to be realistic, but still optimistic. I don’t want to presume I know all about Japan, but at the same time go to the country completely ignorant and unprepared. In short, I’ll never be “ready.” I’ll just have to go as I am.

      I am preparing to mess up and cope with it, which is difficult for me even it occurs with English speakers. I hate messing up and looking like an idiot, even if it’s over something small and dumb. But I hope that if I mess up, it’s at least funny and memorable, and the person I confuse won’t look back on me as just a dumb foreigner. I can’t control what they think of me, but I can do my best to be nice and humble about my mistakes.

What I look forward to, as of right now:

  • A collectivist frame of mind. I hate upsetting other people or causing them problems, unless of course they do that to me and are very uncaring. If there is one place where people pleasing will be appreciated and valued, I hope it is Japan. I like working for the good of others and helping others with projects. I hope to be able to help others as they help me and be polite and respectful. Maybe it will be a nice change from U.S. cities. But maybe it will also show me how my people pleasing tendencies do not work, and if so, I look forward to developing a better understanding.
  • A rich cultural history and heritage. The availability of historical sites, temples, festivals, markets, etc. I am open to what Tokyo has to offer, and want to take lots of pictures! :)
  • Anime culture from the source. I have to say that I’ve become a bit bored with American anime culture. If you’ve seen one convention here, you’ve pretty much seen them all. I don’t want to go to cons, per say, but I would like to see where some of my favorite stuff originated. I will definitely be paying a visit to the Studio Ghibli museum, the Pokemon Center, Square Enix Museum, and Tokyo Disneyland if I can help it. It depends on the group’s agenda too, but I will do some solo exploring. Also, are Japanese cosplayers/con-goers any more or less obnoxious than Americans? There, ha. I said it. I’m officially an outcast and a hypocrite.
  • New friends and global networking opportunities. I am a communication major with a focus on cultural communication. Understanding how people interact across cultural borders is awesome. I look forward to connecting with a host family and making friends through the university and even through my internship.
  • Figuring out how to get around. This may or may not include the weird toilets or a “businessmen hotel” if I can. :) Mostly it’s about trying to make sense of the directions, train and subway stops, all that good stuff. I hope the worst of it happens when I’m with someone else from the group, because if I’m completely by myself, that’ll be scary as heck.
     I don’t know what else I will want to do just yet, and I’ve already begun anticipating this stuff a little too much. I want to be flexible, but still make good use of my time. I don’t want to get burned out quickly, as someone from the previous trip warned me could happen. I’m writing down these thoughts as they come. I do that, so I’m sorry if they move around a bit, sometimes at a fast pace. I’m a well-meaning spaz, but a spaz nonetheless.
     I almost can’t believe this is happening. I’ve wanted to take this trip for a while, but I don’t think I imagined it would be a study abroad. Or that I would get a chance to intern in a Tokyo office for a little bit afterwards. I feel so happy and privileged to be able to do this, so I want to thank my folks for paying and helping me get ready for this great endeavor. I will never be able to pay them back for all they do, as much as I wish I could, but the least I can do here is give them a shout out for being the most awesome parents ever! :) I’ll miss you, Mom and Dad. 
      And still we have less than a month left. “Bye guys! I love you!….Oh wait……” Jumping the gun now, I guess. :)
     What I don’t look forward to are the “bumps” along the way, particularly in communication, but those are standard and will hopefully be helpful learning experiences. I have been out of practice for a year, believe it or not, and I feel like I’ve forgotten everything. I want to remember it, and I want to get better. Ultimately I want to grow more as a person and understand myself through this trip, as well as Tokyo and Japan itself. Maybe I’ll come back wishing I could have stayed over there. Maybe I’ll be kissing the ground the second I’m let off the plane (I doubt it, but you never know).  Maybe I’ll realize the extent to which I am spoiled here in the U.S. But whatever happens, I want to take this experience and make use of it in my life from then on.


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