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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Kamakura

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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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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Posted by maggie on May 21, 2012 in In Japan

I understand that family and togetherness is very important. It’s important in my family back home. But every once in a while, for me, it’s nice to go off and do my own thing without a) always having to tell someone, and b) coming across as rude.

I’m not trying to be rude, honestly; that’s the last thing I want. But I’m used to being in college, in charge of my own time. Sometime I like just chilling by myself for a little while, I’m more of an introvert really. I need some time everyday to be by myself, or else I get overloaded and that makes me not fun to be around.

Every once in a while, I like making myself breakfast, and enjoy eating it in silence. It gives me some time to think about the day and just relax into my routine.

That doesn’t work here.

I know, because Sueko-san constantly talks to me at breakfast, and sometimes I don’t catch much because I’m only half inclined to listen. I’m grateful that she’s making me breakfast, so grateful that I spam “thank you’s” as much as I can. But every now and then, I’d like to just sit and enjoy breakfast and not have to talk around a full mouth. And I’s also love to be able to say, “I will let you know if I want something.” She literally does this every morning: empties out her refrigerator and offers me everything she can find. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s very hard to adjust to.

My friends would tell you that one of my biggest pet peeves is people constantly asking if I’m okay. They know, of course, because they do it all the time. You guys know who you are :) My philosophy is, I’ll tell you if I’m not okay. Just assume for the most part that I’m okay. Just because I go silent for a little while does not mean I’m angry or upset necessarily. Sometimes even I can shut my big mouth and just think about stuff :)

Here, in Sueko-san’s house, I am constantly being asked if I’m okay, if I need things, and all the while she’s trying to stuff me with as much food as she can. Even though I asked if she could let up, I said it nicely by saying I want to go on a diet because I feel too big, she insists on shoving more and more food at me. It’s off-putting after a while.

I also don’t like having to plan out my day from start to finish all the time. Sometimes I like to relax, or be spontaneous. Unless I’m going to school, which is fairly easy to explain, and the only added details may be that I’ll be back around 6 or so, Sueko-san asks what I’m going to do every day. And I’m not sure how to say “I have no plans,” as of yet.

Seriously, I love this woman to death. She’s so kind and helpful, and I want to make her happy and give her things too, but it wears on my nerves a little bit. I don’t retreat to the bath or my room to get away from the language barrier anymore, I can deal with that. Sometimes I retreat because I’m just not in the mood to be so talkative. As much as it would shock my parents, I actually like silence every now and again :) I like chilling when I don’t feel like talking. Sometimes when I truly have nothing to say, I don’t try to fill the void. I actually do shut up. :)

The social nuances in Japan are sometimes full of mental gymnastics. I want to be able to express that I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just the way I am and sometimes I need that peaceful time. Or I wish I could find a nice, polite way to say, “Is it alright if we just eat in silence?”

If I came here in middle school, like I had originally wanted to back then, I would have come here with a sugar-coated, anime-induced vision of what Japan should be like. Maybe I could have gotten used to the constant togetherness of family; I wasn’t yet living a few hours away in college, after all. But now, as I stay here, I’m finding that I love Japan for so much. I just wouldn’t live here.

As much as I love this country and its many wonderful sights, sounds, tastes, etc, I find more and more reason not to live here. It doesn’t mean I’ll never come back. I’d love to, for work or a vacation or something. But as of right now, I know that I could never live here for an over-extended period of time. Or not with a host family maybe.

It’s a wonderful experience and I’m thankful for it. I never would have found this out if I hadn’t tried. But I discover more and more that I enjoy being my own person, and I like some of the ways Americans do things. They aren’t perfect, of course, but now I’m growing to like things about America as well as Japan, more than just because those things are familiar in a strange land.

I’m discovering more about myself this way, mostly through small encounters like the one I mentioned having breakfast with Sueko-san. Most mornings I can chill and go with it, but this morning I just wanted to be in college again, hanging in my room with a box of cereal. But oh well. Life goes on.

Today we were going to go to Kamakura, but it’s pouring outside and apparently the trip won’t be so fun if it’s raining. So we’re just kind of chilling today. Maybe later I’ll go out for a walk or take the train somewhere, if I’m bored. There’s plenty to see. But for right now, I’m chilling, and quite happy doing so. I need some time to be by myself, and then I can spend the whole evening with Sueko-san and Hideki-san, watching goofy t.v. shows together. Actually, that walk sounds pretty good, if the rain lets up. Wouldn’t want to get any bigger, right? :)

I’m not trying to write chapters that are downers or anything, sometimes I just need to express my thoughts. Sometimes negative things stick out more in the mind, but the nice thing about being in a strange foreign country is that the positive things stick out a bit more because their bizarre and note-worthy. :) That’s another thing, though. Did you ever notice how American t.v. and news focus a lot on negative things? Like murders and celebrity break-ups and what not?

Here, the t.v. shows and news seem much lighter, at least as far as I’ve seen. Heck, people jumping in front of trains at the stations is a daily occurrence; I think I heard someone mention 80 something people jump every day, and yet it’s not really focused on at all. Is this the collectivist society at work? Is group cohesion more important than the straight up facts that might depress people? Or, knowing that so many people are unhappy, do they purposely try to make light-hearted television so that people will cheer up?

I don’t know. At first, I thought it was cold that “human incidents” are common and no body I’ve met seems to pay much mind to them, but really, what would American’s do? If people suddenly started jumping in front of cars and trains by the boatload, how would we handle it? Beef up security? Put in more railings?

Maybe the Japanese have an unstated agreement about the whole thing, and I just don’t know it. This is just a lot of speculation on a rainy Tuesday morning, slightly agitated from a not so relaxed breakfast. But I wonder…

Maybe it sounds dumb. I don’t know, personally. I have an overactive imagination. But why do Americans care so much about failures, break-ups, and unpleasant things? What does it say about our society that such things are everywhere, constantly being focused on? If media reflects society in any way, what does our media say about us? What does Japan’s say about Japan?

More food for thought. Anyways, thanks for listening. I’m off to find out how to spend the rest of my morning/afternoon. Jane (bye). :)

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