Days 4 and 5: Interesting foods

So I said yesterday that I wasn't really going to talk much about food, but... that was before dinner.  Dinner last night was fairly straightforward, with rice, mackerel, and some other basic stuff, except there was one dish that I had no idea what it was.  It was a bunch of long off-white strands in a little bit of clear liquid, with occasional black specks and darker lines.  I could tell it was a mix of a few different things of similar color, but I didn't know anything else. I asked what it was, but started eating before she could really answer.  It was too vinegary for my tastes, but I planned to go ahead and eat it anyway.  I really am trying.

Anyway, the answer was that it was Japanese radish, which I'd had before and was fine with, and some type of "small fish."  I was reasonably satisfied with that answer until I took a closer look at the food and realized that all those little black dots... were the "small fish's" eyes.  They were more like albino eels or something, each maybe 1/8 inch across and 1 1/2 inches long.  Yukie looked up the word on her phone, but there wasn't an English translation.  I managed to swallow what was already in my mouth, but I couldn't bring myself to eat any more of it.  It didn't help that it was also cold, and I wasn't sure if it had ever been cooked or not.  I'm okay with a lot of strange foods I've had in the past, but if it's looking back at me... that's usually where I draw the line.  Or if it obviously poses a health risk.

Breakfast today was part of a pancake/hotcake, a couple small slices of watermelon, some yogurt with raisin-like fruits and some gelatin cubes, and a glass of milk.  All fairly standard.  Here at school, I went to the cafeteria and tried the A Lunch.  It had some chicken, rice, a little bit of soup, and salad.  And I could have gotten tea, too, but I just had water.  That was pretty good, but not as filling as I was hoping after my rather small dinner and breakfast.

I think I've had more beef and chicken here than I've had fish, which seems a bit odd.  Although all the chicken I've gotten has been at school, and they do have fish available as well of course.  I'm just not a big fan of it.

Today's lessons were by far the easiest so far.  I actually already knew most of what they were going over, or had at least heard it at some point, so I only had a couple of new points to remember.  I can manage that much.  And for the rest, the review was helpful.  Still, I need to review/learn another 20 chapters worth of grammar before classes next week.  We've only got a few left that they'll cover tomorrow, but I also need to really get the ones that they've already gone over drilled into my mind.  I think I'll focus on studying the grammar for tomorrow tonight, and then learn the stuff they've already covered over the weekend.  That way I'll actually be able to fully participate in the class tomorrow, rather than just remaining a couple classes behind by studying the grammar in order.

The sky has been gray all day.  But not cloudy, just gray.  I think it's probably smog?  Yesterday was pretty gray, too, but I think it was blue over the weekend, so I'm not really sure.  At least it's not raining, though.

If anyone has any particular questions about anything in Japan, feel free to ask and I'll try to answer.  I can always ask my family here if I don't know something.  Or if you have any ideas of things I should do, I could hear those, too.

It hardly feels like I'm in a foreign country.  Everything just seems like one really long day of school so far.  Maybe it'll feel different when I hit the weekend.

Days 3 and 4: 雨のち曇り (Cloudy after the rain)

Every day's classes start out easy, and stay fairly easy until the last hour before lunch.  After lunch we have kanji, which isn't too bad overall, especially after switching to my easier book, and listening practice, which is practially impossible.  It's not that I can't hear what they're saying in the recordings, but every conversation has at least five, often more, completely new words that I'll probably never see, hear, or use again.  That also applies to the last hour before lunch.  Additionally, as I've said before, the grammar they're teaching as a review is beyond what I ever learned.  If I actually manage to get it all down, I'll have learned a year's worth of grammar in a week.  Seriously.

Unfortunately, the majority of it is for super polite conversations.  Things like "I'm so sorry, but I'm going to miss the appointed time for today's meeting.  I got on the wrong train and will be about 30 minutes late." "Oh, I'll be busy then." "Can you please change the time (for poor little me [super humble form])?"  Anyway, it's hard to explain without going into detail on Japanese.  The important point is that this sort of speech is much harder than plain or polite, and I never learned it.  However, one of my classmates who did take the higher classes just spent fifteen minutes going over a lot of the important stuff and explained it in a very simple and efficient manner, so I think it'll be at least a little easier from here on.

Regarding the weather yesterday, it started out sunny, and started getting cloudy and gray by late morning.  Just after I bought my lunch it started drizzling and we all hurried back to the main building.  There was a break as we went to the computer lab to do homework, then it started pouring while we were in the lab.  Between the time of my first and second blog comment yesterday, it slowed to a drizzle, and by the time I got to my bike outside it had stopped.  Very fortunate timing.

I came home to an empty house and a note on a towel by the front door.  The note read (in Japanese hiragana) "Thayne - Did you get wet in the rain?  Use this to dry off."  I wasn't wet, but it was so considerate of my host family it made me feel both happy that they thought of it and sad that I didn't use it.  I left a note on the reverse of the paper and put the towel away, then thanked them again when they got back.

For dinner last night, I had the first real exotic-seeming food of the trip.  Every day has had new stuff, but it's mostly been at least within reasonable bounds from what I'm used to.  So, dinner yesterday included tako (octopus), and natto (soybeans) with raw egg.  The octopus was actually just fine.  Better than the times I remember trying it in the US.  I tried a bit of the natto, too, and while it wasn't all that bad, I didn't particularly care for the raw egg on top.  It was very gooey and not exactly the best flavor.  Ranmaru was all too pleased to finish my portion.

My family also pushed several Japanese snacks onto me last night, and I've decided to bring them to school to supplement my lunches.  It's kind of hard to talk about the different foods when I don't even know what to call them, but so far the snacks have been pretty hit and miss.  For my actual lunch today, I had croquette bread and some sort of spicy chicken on a stick.  The chicken was pretty good, but the bread was so-so.

Sorry I don't have anything fantastic to report about the food; I know a lot of people are interested in that sort of stuff, but food has never really been my thing.  It's generally either good enough to eat, or it isn't.  So I've been sticking to buying whatever is cheap and looks relatively filling.  I'm aiming to make it through the school portion of the trip spending less than 7,500 yen.  Most of the real lunches are in the 450-600 yen range, so that means averaging well below that for the 20 days I'm here.  So far, my lunches have been 110, 398, and 240 yen.

Anyway, I should get back to my host family.  I'm still in the computer lab after working on homework, and I still have studying to do for tomorrow.  Sorry about the lack of pictures.  I'll try to get some more off my camera soon.

Day 3: The first day of school

Once again, I woke up too early and stayed in bed as late as I could.  I got up around 7, even though I didn't plan to leave until 8:30.  Today's breakfast consisted of half a piece of toast with some butter and possibly sugar on top, or at least something sugary, along with some milk, a strudel-type pastry, and a yellow kiwi.  All very normal food.  They're not making it special for me, since Ranmaru was having the same thing, too, and seemed used to it.  I haven't had the so-called "golden kiwi" (kiniro kiwi) before, but it tasted basically the same.

I found out today as I was preparing for school that I apparently forgot one of my textbooks back at home.  I brought 2 more that weren't required, but left one I was supposed to have.  However, I've worked out an arrangement with a friend that should let me get everything done just fine anyway.  I think that book is only used for at-home journal entries, so it's not a big deal.

On the way to school, I got lost for about 5 minutes, but I left with 35 minutes to get there, because I kind of expected that to happen.  I only realized I missed a turn when I saw a huge hill in front of me that I was sure I hadn't biked up before.  Then I backtracked and after one more wrong turn, I found the right one.  The rest of the way was fine, and the total trip, counting the time I was lost, was only about 20 minutes.

Once at school, I found out that I've been placed in the upper level class, due to my placement test score.  However, the textbook I was told to bring (and did bring - we were supposed to have 2 different ones) was the one for the lower level class, because that's the level I'm getting credit for at my school.  It's a messed up system.  The class I get credit for is based on what's next on the list of courses I have to take, and the class I'm put in is based on how well I tested.  So... apparently I'm going to need to buy the other textbook here.  Unfortunately, it's sold out at the bookstore, and they won't be getting it in for another week, so I'll have to wait until then.  In the meantime, I'm taking pictures of the relevant pages in other people's books so I can do the assignments.  Good thing I have a high quality camera with me.

The class itself started out just fine, and I understood everything the teacher said.  That lasted for about an hour.  The next two hours I mostly understood, except for a few words here and there that I had to look up.  That's to be expected.  Also, there's a grammar point that I completely haven't learned, and she was going over it as a brief review.  I'm going to have to find some way to study that on my own.  After lunch, though, it got really bad.  We studied kanji, which was mostly fine (except that I didn't have the book), but after that we went over several more grammar points and phrases that were all completely new to me, and I had no idea what half the vocab or grammar was.  One or the other, I can handle, but when I don't know either, it makes it hard to learn anything.  I was feeling completely overwhelmed by the end of the sixth hour (three before lunch, three after).

Afterwards, I asked people in the other class, and they said it was super easy, basic reviews.  I could transfer into that class if I wanted to, and it would probably be really easy, but then I probably wouldn't learn anything new for a couple weeks.  Or, I can stay in my current class and struggle for at least a week or two while I try to find ways to catch up to where everyone else already is, and be learning a lot the whole time (assuming I can manage to learn anything at all).  There's also the possibility that if I do well in this class, then when I get back home I can test out of one or both of the remaining classes, and effectively get up to 12 credits instead of 6.  That would be awesome.  For the time being, I plan to stay in the hard class.  I hope it works out.

And now, pictures.  I still don't have wi-fi access, but I'm going to make do with what's available.

Looking down at a street and some hills from the plane on the way in.

A set of snow-covered mountaintops.  I tried to get a better picture, but it got covered with clouds a few seconds later.

At the airport.  Most of the people here are either fellow study abroad students or students from Momoyama.

Of course, what do we see when we get to the train station?  McDonalds.  And a KFC, but I didn't manage to get a picture of that.

An interesting-looking building we drove by.  One of the first that looked like a traditional Japanese building rather than the mostly Western architecture that I saw closer to the airport.

Ranmaru at his softball game, getting instructions from the coach.  He's the one in the middle.

Practicing picking up grounders.

Ranmaru playing around during the game.

And again.

A street near where I'm living.  Typical in the neighborhood.

The door to my room.

The staircase.

Each step is very tall, and very narrow.  My foot doesn't fit entirely on a step when I'm walking.

The staircase from the bottom, and the door to the toilet next to it.
I'll have more pictures of the rest of the house, and my room, later.

Anyway, it's still before dinner, so I'm not sure what I'll be having tonight.  I should go study and do my homework soon, though.  I've spent long enough on here.

Day 2: Introductions and learning my way around

I still don't really have access to the internet, except via the family's computer, but it should work out.  It just means I can't post pictures or respond to messages easily until I'm at school, which starts tomorrow.

I woke up tired a little before 5:00 am, but forced myself to stay in bed until about 9:30, because I knew I'd need the sleep.  Still, adjusting to the time difference has been surprisingly easy.

The first event of the day, after breakfast, was Ranmaru's softball game.  He's 6, and was playing in his first match ever today.  I met his grandparents, and we all went to a nearby middle school, which seemed to be having a sports day of some sort.  There were lots of different teams for different games from different schools.  I've never really been into sports, but it was fun to watch him play.  His team won, but Ranmaru himself didn't really help.  He did manage to hit the ball once, though, which is more than some of the other young children.  I got a few curious looks at the game from some of the students, but not as much as I'd anticipated.  At least, not that I saw.

After that, we had lunch and my host parents took me to the local church, where I met the bishop and arranged a ride with one of the members for the next three weeks.  I had been writing down directions, but apparently I won't need them.  We also went by bike to the school, so I've learned that route (I hope).  It was probably about 20 minutes getting there, but they were riding pretty slowly.  I'll probably do it in 10 or 12.  Speaking of riding the bike, there are a lot of streets here that don't have any sidewalks or anything, and barely enough space for two (very small) cars to pass each other.  It's kind of unnerving, riding my bike on the wrong side of the road, with traffic behind me curving just a few feet out of the way to not hit me.  The main roads have sidewalks, though.  It's just the smaller residential ones that are problematic.

I spent the evening playing piano and talking to my host family.  The mom, Yukie, speaks English to some extent, but the dad, Hiroto, doesn't really speak much English at all.  So far, we've managed to communicate the most important things, and we usually find some way to say what we want to.  Almost all in Japanese, unless I can't understand something they say and they look up the English word online.

As for the piano, I started off with an American piece, then Korean, then basically all anime and games after that.  Hiroto requested Final Fantasy music, particularly from 6, which I am fortunate enough to be able to play and have with me.  They all liked my playing, and said I can play whenever I want, so I plan to do it frequently.

I should probably be heading to bed soon.  Oh, before that, about the food: So far, everything has been pretty good.  I'm eating everything they serve me, which is usually enough to push me well into "full" territory.  I've had fairly normal meals, but something new each time.  I've also managed to eat everything with the chopsticks so far, except for a little bit of the very first dinner last night, where they gave me a fork.  I'm going to try to keep that up.  Actually, they gave me my very own chopsticks before we ate.  They have my name embossed in them near the top: セイン.  It's kind of cool.  I wasn't expecting that.

Alright, that's enough for today.  I'm sure I'll have more tomorrow.  Oyasuminasai.

I'm here

So, I've arrived in Japan, safe and sound after a 23 hour trip, plus the two or three hours between landing in the airport and reaching my host family's house.  I managed probably about 4 hours of sleep split across my three flights (mostly the 2nd and 3rd).  Somehow, I've actually not felt tired until just a few minutes ago when I sat down to write this.

Getting through customs was a lot faster and easier than I thought it would be.  After they took our papers, we got fingerprinted and sent through, picked up our bags, gave some other people other papers that said our bags didn't have anything illegal, and went on our way.  They didn't even check anything, which really surprised me.

I do have some pictures, but I'm using my host family's computer tonight, because for some reason mine can't connect to their internet here.  They don't have wireless, either.  I'll upload the pictures when I'm on campus sometime.

It didn't really start to feel like I was in a foreign country until I met my family here.  The construction is remarkably similar, and the plant life is only slightly different.  The farther we got from the airport, the more different things became, though.

My family's son is very cute, and somehow both shy and invasive.  It's interesting.  It seems like half of what he says is "Thayne," just to call me over to look at something.  The surprising thing is that he actually says the "th" correctly.  So far, no one else has been able to.  I didn't even have to teach him; he just did it.

The parents are both very nice, but it's really hard communicating anything complex.  I can understand their instructions on how things work, and I can answer most of their simple questions, but anything requiring an explanation is beyond me.  The two winning questions for today (translated from Japanese, of course): "Why doesn't your church let you drink tea (or coffee or alcohol)," and "Why do you (or people in general) have a middle name?" For the first, no matter how I try, I can't seem to find any words that would work to explain yet. I'll try to come up with something before I leave, though.  For the second... I have no idea how to explain why people have a middle name.  I mean, they just help to distinguish people further.  It never occurred to me that it would be so strange to them.  My answer so far was barely more than "That's a good question."

I should really get some sleep before tomorrow.  It's going to be a busy day.  I should be able to post from this computer again at least.

Host family information GET!

With less than 2 days left before I leave, I finally got my host family's information.  It looks like I'm going to be having a fun time with them. :)  It's a young couple (early-mid 30s) and their small son.  He should be especially fun.  I always like little kids (provided they aren't constantly yelling and screaming.  At me.  Occasionally is fine).

They put down two things as their "interests/favorite activities:" Piano and reading.  Now I definitely have to bring a lot of my sheet music to play while I'm there.  They must have matched us up because I also listed both of those as my interests, piano first.  They also say they have a dog, parakeet, and blowfish (?).  Not sure why you'd have one of those, but okay.  Almost the whole self-introduction sheet is in Japanese, so there are a few things I can't read, but most of it I can manage.  Mine was almost all in English, so I wonder how well they could read mine.

Apparently, I'm supposed to bike 20 minutes to school each day.  Hopefully they'll be providing the bike and helmet. <_<  I'd half hoped I would be taking the train, just to get to experience that whole thing, but biking is fine, too, and should be a lot easier to get used to.  I just hope it's not a hard ride, or I'll end up sweaty and tired every morning before I even start classes, and that definitely won't be fun.  On the plus side, it's free, and I don't have to worry about train schedules.

Alright, so now I need to be sure to pick up some sort of small toy for the kid.  I plan to do most of my packing today, and go out shopping tomorrow for some omiyage.  I'm getting so excited!  I haven't been able to calm down for a week!

One week to Japan

Just one week from now, I'll be in Japan, trying to navigate an airport and meeting my host family for the first time.  I'm getting so nervous!  I've never left the country before, aside from a couple hours in Canada seeing Niagara Falls.  That hardly counts.  This will be my first time going somewhere where I won't be able to reliably communicate with everyone.  I mean, my Japanese isn't bad, and I'm a quick learner, but there's no way I can prepare for everything I'll want to say or that other people will tell me.  And after all, learning is the whole point of the trip.

It also doesn't help that I've been learning the Tokyo dialect (the primary national dialect) but I'll be staying in Osaka.  From what I've listened to before, it seems like almost half the words and phrases they use in the Kansai region are exclusive to that area, and I hardly know any of them.  This will definitely be a challenge.  On the plus side, they're a lot more direct in Kansai than the typical Japanese, so I don't have to be so worried about offending people if I don't do the whole "say no without saying no" thing properly.  Although they might think of me as being all high-and-mighty for speaking only the Tokyo dialect instead of their own, but that can't really be helped.

I still haven't figured out what gift to bring my host family, and I haven't been told anything about them yet.  I was supposed to hear something during this past week, but I haven't.  I'll probably end up buying some generic box of chocolates or something if I don't find out anything soon.

That's it for now.  Until next time.

Omiyage, a gift for my host family

I'm trying to figure out what I should give my host family as a gift when I arrive.  I don't know anything about them yet, which makes it kind of hard to decide on anything.  I need something that is distinctly American.  I could go with food, but there's not much American food that isn't just borrowed from somewhere else, and what food there is wouldn't survive the trip.  I could get a decoration of some sort, like colonial-era glassware or something, but it would need to be small and I'd have to make sure to pack it extra carefully so it doesn't break.  Anyone have any ideas?  I'd appreciate some suggestions.

Coming ever closer

Only 3 weeks left before I leave, and most of that time is going to be extremely busy.  I still have 4 finals to take (I finished 2 classes yesterday), and of course I still have to finish preparing everything for the trip. Got to register for the credits I'll be taking - I plan to do that today or tomorrow - and go to the orientation this Saturday.  Then I've got a bunch of stuff I should buy before I leave, like a new backpack.  I've needed one for years, because my current one is falling apart and hardly closes anymore.  I'll definitely need something better if I'm traveling.  So busy, and I am so not ready... >_<

By the way, what do you think of the background?  Too flashy/gaudy?  I chose it since it's summery, and related to Japan, so... yeah.  And it was big enough to fill the space.