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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Fun

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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Looking Ahead, and Behind

Posted by maggie on Jun 1, 2012 in In Japan

I tried authentic ramen the other day. Very good, very big. I liked it, but if I must indulge, I’ll go for the cheapo ones you can buy at the supermarket :)

It’s hard to believe there is only one week left of living with my host mother. For as frustrating as communication can get sometimes, I’m thinking about how much I’ll miss her already. I want to keep up and write letters and maybe send a picture every once in a while if I can. She’s a sweet old lady. I hope she’s not lonely when I leave; true, Hideki-san will be here for a little bit, but then when he leaves I hope she’s fine. I’m pretty sure she will be, though. I’ve learned through some very short, jointed conversations that she sews and goes to dance classes on some days. We even stopped and spoke with one of the neighbors a weekend or so ago. So she has things to do and people to talk to.

I still will worry about her though, because I’ve come to love her like another grandmother. It’s kind of cool in a way; you don’t need to perfectly understand someone in order to form a lasting relationship with them. Regardless of our cultures, norms, locations, etc., we are all human beings with an inherent desire for connection. Being so far from home probably strengthens the feelings, I’m guessing, but it is reassuring in a way. I’ve met all kinds of people in my short time on this earth; good, bad, and everything in between, based on my own biased standards. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy kids’ movie, it would be nice if we could get passed some of the more superficial things that drive us apart and come together as human beings, and my trip to Japan has shown me that it can be very possible if we have the drive and make the effort.

In many of the classes I have taken since coming to college, I have heard all sorts of different policies on people treating other people. I don’t think of myself as an “ist” of any kind, but as I learned in conversations with some of my group members, you can be a racist or a sexist in any situation when it is twisted the right way. And we all have ways of defining these situations by ourselves, so I could go out of my way trying not to be an “ist” and the right person could still argue that I was being one anyway.

Japanese culture and language focus heavily on not offending anyone. There are numerous ways to apologize, varying forms of politeness that you can use in only certain situations, and it is considered polite to be very humble. If someone compliments you, the correct answer is, “No, I’m terrible, really.” You tread carefully so as not to step on any toes or say things too brashly, even if you dislike someone. It’s like working in 24 hour customer service.

To me, it comes down to suppressing emotion and natural inclinations. Here, they are the enemy, only to fraternize with in the quiet comfort of your own home, when Big Brother isn’t watching you. Haha. Not really really.

But even in your own home, you still have to be a little conscious about things if you live with other people. I bring this back to the bit above about human beings all getting along and not being racist or sexist or any form of “ist” you can think of.

I find it important to gain and maintain strong, long-lasting relationships in my life. I realize that is not how everyone wants to be. But I also see that I cannot make close friends with every person I meet on the street. Whether I want to or not, I’m going to offend someone at some point, probably on multiple occasions. It’s unavoidable and uncontrollable. All I can do is try to accept it and move on.

So here is what I think about the “isms” and “ist’s.” True, I don’t want to purposely offend people. I want to make friends, as many as I can, as close as I can. But I can’t spend my life trying hard not to step on anyone’s toes. It’s a lot of hard work with no guaranteed reward other than that they might think back on that nice girl what’s-her-name for a moment and then promptly forget. Also, it will only make me more tired and annoyed when others don’t show me the same courtesy.  I will do my best not to personally insult people for dumb reasons, but I can’t always guarantee that either. I am a human being with emotions, thoughts, and opinions, and while they might get me into trouble every once in a while, they mostly serve me very well. Above all, my emotions and instincts make me human, a smarter animal than most but an animal nonetheless. To try to completely suppress my emotions and natural feelings is, to me, to make me less of a human being, because whether they are bothersome at times or not, they give me the ability to care as well as to hate.

It is a two sided coin, and all that philosophical yadda yadda. :)

Tying back into humanity as a whole, Japan and America are quite different in many ways, but fundamentally, as collective assortments of human beings who strive to make a profit, connect with others, and lead fulfilling lives, we are not that much different. And while I can shake my head at someone who I perceive as being ignorant, I soon realize that there are many things I am ignorant of as well.

I think we take ourselves way too seriously. It’s hard designating which lines should not be crossed, but maybe we could start by not getting so whipped out about small things. I’ve seen too many people getting upset with each other over whether or not Glee is good. I’m bad about it too. Really, who cares? It doesn’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

I feel like my musing is very contradicting at times. I love arguing with people over whether or not a tv show or a game or something is good. But I think it is when people get nasty about it is when it starts getting too personal. So someone doesn’t like Star Wars. Or Glee. Or whatever else. Nachos, I don’t know. That’s their preference. Just don’t hang out with them then if it bothers you so much.

By the way, please don’t take this as me nagging at you. This is a message to me more than anyone else. Maybe this gives me more of a motivation to listen to my own advice :) Everything is relative.

I love writing, maybe because I love to talk so much. Writing gives you a good forum, where you aren’t interrupted unless it’s a chat and you type too slowly.

But what did you really come to hear about? The trip, of course! I promised to talk about where I went on Tuesday, and here I keep putting the blogs off. I get easily distracted, especially in Japan where there is so much to look at. Lots of color, flashing lights, bells, whistles, and such.

So on Tuesday, I went to Shibuya to see the Hachiko statue just outside the station. It’s a well-known story over here, that a professor who lived in the area found this dog, and they would meet at the station at the same time everyday. But the man died one day, and the dog just kept coming back to wait at the station every day.


It’s kind of sad, but also sweet. Dogs may be slobbery and not the smartest of animals, but they are certainly loyal companions. Makes me miss my own dog.

So I saw the statue, and then I wanted to go look for the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi. I had to leave the station to see the statue; I didn’t want to pay to get back inside, so I figured I’d walk. It’s a bit of a way, but Shibuya and Roppongi aren’t super far apart. It would have taken a while though, even if I hadn’t walked in a giant circle for an hour and 20 minutes. Eventually, I was tired, and decided I had spent enough time wandering to warrant getting back on the train, so I hopped back on and then took the subway two stops to Roppongi.

After 30 minutes of searching, pausing to explore a music store and Japanese cold stone. They sing if you tip them here, too. I saw someone tip them and the song was funny, because I recognized the tune but few of the words. When I finally found the restaurant, it was closed til the 19th, but that means I can come back maybe on a weekend while I’m still here :) I like collecting stuff from hard rocks when I can. It’s not extreme, but if I go to a new country, it’d be cool to visit the hard rock there and grab something. So I’ll go back to that. 

Then, on Thursday, we went as a group to Meiji Jingu, a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shouken. The original building was destroyed in World War II; what we saw was the shrine that had been restored in 1958, I believe. It has the (maybe one of the) tallest gate in Japan. It’s a cool place. I hadn’t seen any sacred trees before, but this shrine had two, bound together and each carrying a spirit within.

After this, we parted ways at about noon to spend the day as we wanted to. I followed Cindy to Omiya looking for a kimono shop that had an employee who spoke English, but when we arrived, the shop was closed. So we walked for a while looking for the bonsai nurseries, instead finding the Hikawa shrine, a big park, and a zoo. It wasn’t how we expected to spend the day, but it was a lot of fun. And the unexpected can lead to new and interesting things. I’m glad I resisted the urge to go home and nap, even though I desperately wanted to by that point.





I’m just throwing in pictures all over the place. :)





I feel bad for talking so much this time around. So here I go dumping pictures on you instead. That’s pretty much all that has gone on since the weekend. Interesting stuff, at least. This trip is so awesome. Japan used to feel like a dream, and now home seems more faint and dream-like. I can barely imagine what it will be like to come home after all of this.


Going to bed for now. Thanks for journeying with me again today. Jane (jya-neigh), not Jane, Dad. :)


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What do you do with a free day?

Posted by maggie on May 28, 2012 in In Japan

For some reason the song, “What do you do with a drunken sailor,” is stuck in my head. Oh well. It gave me a title….kind of…sort of…not really….

I had a very nice dinner with my host mother last night. I managed to tell her a decent chunk about my day (thank you, class grammar/vocab lessons), at least about how we went to class and later stopped by a convenience store to pick up tickets for the Studio Ghibli museum. The lady behind the counter told us right away that she spoke no English, but I did my best to indicate what we needed and I think it turned out well. She knew what I was talking about and helped us through ordering the tickets on the little machine near the manga and magazines. Now we have tickets.

Today is a day off, so there will be some vegging time, naturally. I thought I might go explore a district on my own for once. I need to break from the stubborn habit of only really exploring when with other people. To make the most out of this trip, I need to try going at it alone a little bit. What is nice is that Tokyo feels pretty safe in contrast to some other places I’ve been. No body bothers you here unless you’re asking for directions. I’ll be wary of people being too friendly or too insistent, of course, or people following me.

Wow. Now I have the movie “Taken” stuck in my head and I’m getting paranoid. Maybe not extremely, but it never hurts to be aware of your surroundings. I want to see some stuff on this trip and be around to tell about it. Sound good?

Nothing much new to report. Akihabara was nice if a little on the flashy-too-much-stuff-to-look-at sort of way. It’s easy to get distracted there. Lots of anime stuff, electronics, and otherwise shiny objects of many varieties. It was a fun trip though, and I got some stuff from it to help satisfy my anime needs. :)

Maybe I can write something about where I explore later today. I’m still not set on anything, but there are some touristy type spots I have in mind that I’m deciding between. I’ll leave those a mystery until later.

I feel like I’m losing weight from all the walking and stuff, but it’s harder to notice for me because I’m more likely to see “noticeable changes” as opposed to small things like “toning” or losing a little fullness in my face. I’m trying not to hyper focus on it, but it’s hard in a country where EVERYONE is smaller than you. I thought America could make you feel bad. This is about on the same level, but it would be worse if I was clothes shopping, I’m sure. The one t-shirt I picked up in Asakusa, which by the way looks very geeky touristy by Japanese and probably American standards, was blatantly labeled “American sizes.” Which to me screams more of “People of Unusual Size,” to misquote Princess Bride. “Come one, come all, fat people! We actually have something you can wear!”

All though it makes sense. No Japanese person in their right mind would wear the shirt I bought. It’s the equivalent of one of those “I heart New York” shirts. Literally.

I just wanted something with a place name on it to prove I’d been there. Hats are ridiculously expensive to buy over here, although those would have been easier. Japan, why do you make clothes and souvenir shopping so hard? Do you not want us here?

I kid. I just think it’s funny. It really feels like I have to adapt. Some people over here may speak English, but they don’t cater to me and my needs just because I’m American. It’s harder, but more rewarding I guess, because I feel like I have to earn it. I consciously strive to eat less and walk more over here. Maybe some day I could fit into a Japan extra large. :)

But I digress. This is kind of a filler blog. I wanted to update because I’ve been forgetting to go on facebook more and more, except of course to upload pictures. Gotta have those pictures. :)

I hope everyone at home is doing well. Being able to easily understand other people they pass on the street….

Being able to at least read every sign they see….

You lucky people :) That is going to be a weird feeling when I come home. You get so used to being confused half the time here, or you just stop caring about some of the miscellaneous things you can’t read and focus on the important stuff. Like “This is a bike lane,” or “Stop.” Stuff like that.

I’m off to eat something and go make use of this nice day. If it is a nice day; my window makes it very hard to tell. :)

Before I go, I felt a mini earthquake last night. It was cool. It was like when we had that one in fall, all along the east coast. Nothing shook very hard and it was over in a minute or so, but it was still cool and scary in a way. I was watching the ceiling for any cracks or anything, not sure why. But yeah.

Talk to you guys later.

That’s another thing. I don’t hear “y’all” anymore. I never picked up the habit because I always say “you guys,” not “you all.” But it is weird, because that phrase is all over the valley, and no one says it here. Haha. Just one of those little weird things you notice.

By for real this time. Jane. :)

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Religion, Politics, and Scary Movies

Posted by maggie on May 26, 2012 in In Japan

I just learned something new today. Watching a scary movie before bed is just as scary in America as it is in Japan. Too bad I can’t resist the urge sometimes, so now I just have to suck it up and deal.

So whilst I do my best to avoid turning off all the lights and trying to sleep, let’s recap what’s been going on.

On Thursday we went to Kamakura to see a shrine, a few temples, eat some Osaka-style okonomiyaki (aka meat and seafood pancakes of awesomeness), and a giant Buddha. There was also some shopping involved. But going away from that topic, looking into the religious aspect we saw how heavily Japanese culture and society weighs Shinto and Buddhism. Which makes a lot more sense having seen some of this stuff.

Not to be ethnocentric, but a lot of American society and culture has roots in Christianity and its rules and traditions. Whatever your opinions on Christianity may be, you can’t ignore the impact that it has had on more than just our holidays. How we treat others, how we conduct ourselves and our businesses. All this stuff ties in.

Some of this is changing with the growing diversity of the population, but a lot of our behaviors and standards come from religious bases, and while this might change some day soon, Christianity in its multiple forms still dominates. This notion of religion is true of Japan as well with the two afore mentioned practices, but it is much slower to adapt to new things and people, perhaps partially due to the country as a whole still being a little xenophobic.

It’s not strange if you think about it. Japan was isolated for a long time, and seemed content to be so. Who knows what today would look like if they had never engaged in wars, trade, or expanding territory. But even with the changes brought on be these, tourism included in there as well, I still walk down many streets and notice that I am the only caucasian present.

It was a bit weird at first, coming from a country where I am in the majority, but it didn’t take as long to get used to as I might have thought. I don’t receive a lot of stares from people, or at least I don’t notice them; though that could be because it would be rude to be caught staring at someone or even making eye contact for too long. In a strange way, going about my business just like everyone else makes me feel more like I’m participating in the culture.

It’s hard to explain. If I go out in public back home, even riding on a bus full of people I feel oddly alone. Maybe it is because we’re all off doing our own things, trying to ignore each other. But in Japan, just being a part of the crowd of business people en route to work everyday makes me feel like I not alone. Even if my headphones are in, I still feel more engaged and conscious of the people around me, and for once not in a “someone’s-giving-me-a-weird-look-is-my-makeup-wrong-or-something?” way.

Weirdly, although I get jostled frequently in crowds, no one has yet stepped on my foot. Not even when I decided to be crazy and wear sandals. Am I just pushing my luck, or is there something to that? Maybe it’s okay to shove past someone a little, but stomping on their feet with your dirty shoes is bad? Just curious.

Oh, what was I talking about? Religion? Woops.

But I guess it fits in a little bit. There seems to be a sense of order and harmony to many things, and if you don’t see it right away, you’re able to go beneath the surface and find it. As I understand it, Shinto offers the belief that ordinary things like objects, man-made or not, are special and contain spiritual significance. My immediate thoughts drift to Disney’s Pocahontus, where every rock and tree and creature has a life, spirit, and name. Yadda yadda. But there is an underlying sense of order and purpose; nothing is wasted. The city of Tokyo is very clean and organized all things considered; traditional practices are valued and carried out with diligence and patience. Maybe everyone does their part in one way or another, even the people going about their business; cleaning up or helping out the poor tourists like me that get lost every now and again. It all betters the community somehow.

Then again, I’ve only been here two weeks now. I’m just trying to make sense of the world around me.

I can definitely see the value placed on the past, particularly in ancestor worship (if there is a better term for this, I lack it). The Japanese language has a definite sense of past tense, which can also be used to describe the way things have been. Meaning, you could say, “I brushed my hair” in Japanese and the sentence could also imply that brushing your hair is something you do frequently. Establishing a habit, if you will.

The present tense pulls double duty to be the future tense as well; it depends on the context. But Japanese culture seems very focused on a connection with the past. The old are respected and the ancestors revered. In America, we seem to focus a lot of attention on the future, and younger generations treat old people as either unimportant or a nuisance. Not like a storehouse of wisdom and experience like they are; more like handicapped people who only serve to cause vehicular accidents and drain our resources. Or the nice grandparents who cough up good money for birthdays and holidays every year. This is a gross generalization, but I’ve seen it. We focus on what is new and now, and the old is out of luck. Which is a shame.

To loosely tie this back in with events, today I went to see the Square Enix museum and the pokemon center, not greatly impressed by either, but  enjoying the experience and the company all the same. I kind of wish pokemon would bow out gracefully at some point; not that the series had a lot of dignity in the first place (thank you 4kids and the American dubbed cartoon). Also, because the Japanese seem to lack subtlety and sense by most Americans’ standards. But now I feel like it’s beating a dead horse, and can’t really connect with the new pokemon as well because I feel so far removed. In the past I loved the video games and the tv show for all its corniness, and now if it’s on I swiftly change the channel. Why can’t we agree that pokemon is/was a good series and let it die in piece? Must we keep putting out new stuff that’s only half as good? (cough cough star wars prequels cough cough)

Yeah, I’m weird. But the past, for me, represents nostalgia; a simpler time when I didn’t need to question as many things, was easily impressed, and the world made more sense. It’s like Eve and the apple; now that I’m older and more aware, I can never go back, and it saddens me a little bit. It doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the future or changes to things, although admittedly I’m not crazy about change when it comes to the things I love just as they are. But with new times come new innovations come new problems, and it’s harder to adjust to those new problems because no body’s had to deal with them before.

My main beef with the future mostly has to do with the media; things getting either cheaper, dumbed down, or unoriginal. But that’s another story for another day….er….night.

Tomorrow, Akihabara. I can slip back into the fun of being a fan in Japan, provided I keep a tight hand on my wallet. But so far, that hasn’t been a problem. I feel a familiar voice in the back of my head asking, “Do you really want this or not?” when I go to buy something. It’s very helpful from a saving perspective. It’s only a few weeks in after all. Plus, some of the stuff I see here I could probably get cheaper in the US. I try to avoid impulse buys, at least expensive ones. But I was happy that my postcard made it through to the US; hopefully the others will get through alright.

By the way, Okonomiyaki is delicious. :)

I’m having so much fun on this trip. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, but some of this stuff I might never have seen until years later. I think it’s good to see it now, when I have the energy and excitement for it, but also the ability to let it mold me a little as I go. I admit that I can be a stubborn person, and my tendencies really clash with the culture sometimes, but honestly, I am so happy to be here. I would gladly take the frustration and confusion for the experience I am getting here. I can already feel some changing going on, hopefully for the better. :) I hope tomorrow is a lot of fun.

Oh God, why did I watch Pet Sematary again?…I’m never going to shut my eyes tonight, I can tell. Even with the light on, I’m creeped out, and I’m not even thinking about the scenes. Just hearing the music from the soundtrack in my head while I type is creeping me out. (O.o) scared face now.

Must. stop. thinking. about. it. Right. Maybe I can offset it by watching a Japanese horror movie?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

No. Just…just no…

I’m going to try to sleep now….somehow. Can’t wait for Akihabara tomorrow. Hope everyone is doing fine at home. I’m on skype sometimes, so if you’re on, feel free to call me. :)


P.S. Enjoy the whimsical Miyazaki store. I love that they have these all over the place, wherever I go :) Gotta love the Japanese version of Disney (figuratively)

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Sanja Matsuri

Posted by maggie on May 19, 2012 in In Japan

Today was a lot of fun. We went to Sesoji Temple in Asakusa for the Sanji Festival. We were chased frequently by moving shrines, “mikoshi,” well not really chased by them, but everywhere we went, we would come out of a shop only to find them right outside, creating a large crowd. The temple is apparently the oldest in Tokyo, and the festival is about two fisherman brothers who caught a statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon in their fishing net, and a third guy who converted them to Buddhism. They then took care of the statue and consecrated it in the temple.

Saori, one of the Keio students we met yesterday, met up with us (the girls) at Ueno station, and from there we went to Asakusa. There was much shopping involved, lots of wandering and looking at vendors and sharing food we got. I tried takoyaki (fried octopus meatballs) and immediately burned most of the inside of my mouth. At least I wasn’t the only one. :)

It was good, I remember that much. But because my mouth is numb now, I can’t really remember what it tasted like. Just that it was good.

Katie tried the little game where children try to catch little goldfish in a net. She didn’t win, but the game owner gave her two fish anyway. Then, while Cindy and I were getting fortunes told, I wanted to take a picture of mine. As the picture shot, Katie’s bag of goldfish spilled out, so n my picture, there appears to be a goldfish randomly sitting on the top of my fortune. That was a funny moment once we got them safely back in the bag.


We had yakitori (fried chicken) too, and I got a shaved ice because my mouth was still hurting like heck. It still hurts, actually, but it’s better now. It was a fun experience.

Coming home, Hideki-san showed me his photography portfolio, which was really cool. And Sueko-san practically dumped all this stuff into my arms. She gave me a lot of stuff; it was free for her, so I guess I feel a bit better. But still. I was so confused at first, but that made her laugh and she kept giving me stuff. It’s pretty cool actually. Also, apparently there is supposed to be a solar eclipse on Monday around 7 in the morning. I want to see that, maybe take a picture if I can.

All in all, it was a great night. Shopping fun, sight-seeing, making new friends, all that good stuff. I had such a good time. If only every day could be that fun. I’m just going to keep hoping all the days will be, because that will make this the best trip ever. It reminds me of how lucky I am, and how grateful I am to my parents for getting me here. I wouldn’t be here without them, literally :)

Also, love Sueko-san so much. She’s like my Japanese grandmother, like Ozeki-sensei from JMU but easier to understand, believe it or not. I think I’m getting better at speaking with her. I just have to keep working at it.


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Posted by maggie on May 18, 2012 in In Japan

I’m quickly getting over my sense of personal space. It is hardly ever respected in Tokyo, especially not on trains, but it’s been much easier to adapt to than I had thought previously. Maybe it is because the people on the trains are quiet enough that if I want to sit there and just enjoy the ride with my headphones in, I’m not struggling to hear them like I would be on the buses in Harrisonburg.

On Wednesday we went to the Tsukiji fish market, a massive place with dead, alive, or just plain bloody fish. Then, on Thursday we went to go see the sumo tournaments at Kokugikan. That was an interesting cultural experience, and I have to say I now roll my eyes a little at people who say “Fat Guys in Diapers.” While the sport is not particularly my cup of tea, I respect it for the cultural and entertainment value it represents. And no, they aren’t just fat guys. They work out and train for this, so while it looks like flab on the surface, a lot of the underneath is muscle. The matches were quick, and if I have to be perfectly honest, a bit more interesting than I’ve found football so far. What are these things but parallels in different countries? The arenas have boundaries, there are referees, T.V.’s at home do instant replays if the match looks close. It’s actually kind of cool, and it has a significance beyond just two big guys trying to push each other out of the ring.

Other than that, not much is going on. Some of us are heading over to a religious festival in Asakusa; I hope that will be fun times for all. Sueko-san and I have conversations now; they may not be very long or delve into much depth just yet, but we’re conversing a lot, and I think that’s certainly something.

Some Keio University students came to hang out with us in class on Friday. They seem nice, I hope I get more time to talk to them. One of them expressed an interest in having contacts in the U.S. It’s nice to find more people to talk to.

I feel exhausted a lot when I come home at night. I’m trying to get better about that; last night I stayed up until 1 a.m. just to prove that I could make it. I need a lot of energy to make it through the day, and I don’t want to eat too much.

These all just seem randomly strung together, I know, but I’m thinking about all that’s happened this week, and honestly, I’ve been feeling low a lot of the time. I know it’s natural and fine, but I’ve been trying to keep it under control, and so far, that works about as well as it usually does. Sometimes at night, actually mostly during that time because I find myself alone and just kind of chilling, I reflect on the day and come across a few things that make me feel a little homesick. These blogs are supposed to get us thinking, but I feel like, for right now, I wish I could just turn off my brain and enjoy the ride. During the day, my brain is on, of course, but there is so much to see and learn that I don’t have as much time to think about bumming stuff. Maybe I need to find something to do at night. I still need my time to be introverted, but maybe I should find something else to do, like take a walk or something like that. I haven’t seen much of Japan at night. I’m sure Sueko-san wouldn’t mind, considering Hideki-san comes in late from work anyway. As long as I lock up. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it sometime.

I need to get more comfortable exploring on my own. I know how to ask for directions, and I’ve learned that it’s easier to ask women, because women in general speak more slowly. But there is stuff I want to go see, and anyway, once the group trip is over, when I’m not interning I’m going to want to spend my free time somehow.

Off to the festival soon. I hope it’s fun. Yesterday I picked up some more batteries for my camera, so I’ll be posting on facebook for sure. I hope everyone else is doing well at home, I miss them so much.

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Exploring and Bananas

Posted by maggie on May 14, 2012 in In Japan

Okay, so… I was smacked by an old man holding a banana. Sounds pretty strange, right?

The day (Sunday) started out with breakfast and a nice ride to the University. Sueko-san was nice enough to ride with me and show me the way, but for the life of me I couldn’t make out more than 4 words per any given sentence. Then I met up with the others and did a short tour around the campus. It’s not as big as JMU, thankfully, but there are plenty of stairs anyway. Not bad enough to put the ones by Godwin to shame, but still decently tiring. I like to think I’m building more muscle though.

After we split up near noon, the girls formed a group and went to Tokyo tower, pausing for many tourist moments here and there. I got to try melon bread for the first time, and it’s good. Also, Orangina seems like a bigger deal in this country, which makes me happy. You can only really find it at Trader Joe’s and Potbelly’s at home. We took pictures of the park we came across and a small shrine near it. Then we hit the tower.

We didn’t go all the way up to the top, that would cost us. But of course shopping was a priority. XD We did go up high enough to get some good shots, and to see the kiddie amusement park on the roof. I might go back at some point to go up further if I have time, but for now, we shopped around on the lower floors. It was packed with shops. I got a cute key chain and a magnet. Hats cost the equivalent of 15 bucks or so in US dollars; I wanted one, but I would never pay that much for a hat. And it kind of sucks because Japanese clothes are no where near my size, so I couldn’t buy a t-shirt. But hey, I saved a little money then, didn’t I?

Back to the banana. One area had a bunch of little shops all crammed into one area. We discovered this because Katie picked up something and the shop keeper stalked her around until finally explaining that the shops were separate. I was off looking at something else at the time, but it was kind of funny. Funny in that “you messed up and laugh it off but feel a little bad about it” sort of way. It didn’t happen to me, but I can sympathize. I’m having plenty of those moments just living with my host mom.

I noticed one little shop had these weird banana things. They were clearly fake and really squishy, like those stress balls people squeeze to feel better. I point it out to one of the others and suddenly this little old guy comes up. He’s speaking some English, obviously trying to sell us the thing, and then he just up and whacks me on the arm with it! He’s talking about how yielding and squishy it is and it can help with stress and all the while he’s hitting Cindy and me both on our heads and arms with a fake banana.

…..Not the most exciting, is it? Oh well. It made for a good hook. XD

On the way home, I got lost and ended up at the station one stop away from where I was supposed to be. I walked in circles for 30 something minutes before I finally called Morgan and found out how to get home. Sueko-san was waiting for me at the station, patient as ever. This morning (Monday) she even laughed at me and asked if I could find the station alright this morning.

Our communication is improving, I can tell. Just at dinner a few minutes ago, we were talking almost like there wasn’t a communication gap. She asked what was okay for dinner, I answered. I asked if it was alright to turn on the T.V., and she said, “yes, go ahead.” I put on this campy show I didn’t even know what was happening on it; sometimes it was like it was paralleling star wars and random american stuff, and other times it was silly people smacking each other with mallets and talking about super heroes in sexy outfits….Don’t ask.

I told her bits and pieces about my friends and family, and she asked what sort of things my mom makes for dinner and so on. We ate and watched T.V. and laughed and I felt understood for the most part. I hope she did too. She’s opened her home to me and been so nice and helpful; I can only hope she understands what I’m trying to say most of the time. I spam thank you’s a lot, but try to branch out and find other ways to express it. XD

I offered, very badly, to help with cleaning up, and I think it went alright. If I messed up once or twice, she laughed or smiled when she helped me out. It’s kind of fun, actually, though constantly trying to think and speak in another language is very tiring at times. I used to think it was the jet lag that made me tired at 7 p.m. the past few nights, but I think a part of it is psychological. It’s partially trying to bridge that gap in understanding.

This was the best night so far. I’m feeling a little homesick, but it’s been nice to still see and hear my family on skype from time to time. Sometimes the country makes me feel lonely and confused, and sometimes, ironically, it’s the other Americans with me on my trip that make me miss home and comfort the most. They’re all pretty nice, but I miss my friends who understand the sort of weird person I am. I feel like I’m trying to both adjust to a new country and make new friends at the same time (not meaning friends I may make in Japan through interacting with new  people) and it’s very hard. But I want to have fun and learn and I think the less I worry about it, the more naturally it will begin to flow.

Speaking of flow…water…bath…it’s a stretch, but okay! I can’t avoid talking about it. The bathtub here is AWESOME. I tried it tonight, and it is heaven! I love being able to fill it up to my chin. I love being able to fit some comfortably and be fully immersed; it could only be better if the tub was long enough to fit a 5 foot 8 inch person comfortably lying down, because then you could really just lie back and relax and it would be wonderful. It is awesome to just lounge for a while in that huge thing. I don’t care if I’m ever rich or anything, but I want that tub no matter what. Even if I have to have one imported, it is sooooooo worth it. :)

Other than that, not much else to say. Sometime I miss being able to read the signs and commercials; strangely, that’s one of the big things I miss about home. The stupid jingles and commercials; Japan has them too, but even if they were subbed in English, the cultural gap is wide enough that the jokes and nuances would probably be lost on me. Even with all the anime I watched. Speaking of which, I think I want to study a little and see if I can load a subless anime on my computer. The internet is slow where I am but I can get a video completely up in maybe 25 minutes and I can practice by picking an episode I haven’t seen and watching with the subs off to see how much I can pick up on my own. I’m sort of rambling now, but as anyone who knows me can probably tell you, my mind just works that way. It’s random, and sometimes there’s no traceable train of thought from one thing to another. But hey. Short attention span for you. Oh look, a house fly!

Nah, just kidding. :) But now I’m going to study, maybe watch some anime stuff, skype if anyone’s on, then go to bed. I’ll see what happens tomorrow. Thanks for reading :)



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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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