Days 34-36: Preparation for departure and farewell

Once again, not a whole lot to say about these days.  I didn't end up going out and doing anything exciting, although I did go into downtown Yokkaichi with Charlie for dinner last night.  He took me out to a Chinese place.  It helps that he speaks Chinese.  There were actually a lot of Chinese people on the street there, too.  It wasn't exactly a great neighborhood, but we were okay.

I did get out some to do shopping and such, but otherwise I've mostly been at home preparing to leave.  I'm going to do one last bit of shopping this morning at Book Off and see if I can find a couple of good mangas with Charlie's help.  I haven't bought any yet, but they've got really cheap ones, and reading will definitely help to improve my vocabulary.

After that's done, I'll get to the train station around 11:00 for the 11:13 train, and start my journey back home.  It should take roughly 25 hours.  That's a long trip.  I've got three train rides, followed by three plane rides and a car ride before I get home.  I'll be bringing my two suitcases, which each now weigh in at about 48 pounds, and my backpack, at about 25 pounds.  At least the weight is a little better distributed than when I came to Charlie's house, but it'll still be a pain lugging it all around.

Okay, I'm going to finish up the last-minute packing (like with this laptop) and head out.  It's been fun here in Japan.  I hope to return someday.  Bye!

Days 31-33: Living in Yokkaichi

The past few days have been pretty slow as far as noteworthy events go.  I've been mostly spending my time at my friend Charlie's house, but I've also gone around and seen some of the local town.  Charlie works during the afternoons and evenings, so I'm mostly left to my own devices.  Monday was mostly spent recovering from my trip to Tokyo, but I also went out shopping for a couple things to use around the house, like soap, and some milk and cereal for some cheap breakfasts that should last all week.  Later that night, we went out to a bigger shopping mall and got some more food for various meals.

My arms and shoulders were extremely sore from Saturday through Monday night, because of lugging around about 100 pounds of baggage.  I didn't mention it before, but it did make Akihabara a little less enjoyable than it could have been.  I mostly tried to ignore it anyway.  They're still a little tight now, but it's not too bad.

On Tuesday, I sat in on one of Charlie's English lessons with a couple of small boys.  He seemed like a pretty good teacher, and the kids were alright.  It was pretty fun to watch.  I participated a little bit, but there wasn't much for me to do.  His boss wants him to teach by pure immersion, so I couldn't practice my Japanese with them, either, since I was supposed to be speaking English only.  His boss was a pretty nice woman, though, and we talked for a while in both English and Japanese.  She even took us out for a light lunch at the shopping mall's cafe.

After all that was over, I went to Book Off, a used book/movie/game chain, and got a couple more Japanese games: Lunar: Silver Star Story and Remember 11: The Age of Infinity, for PS and PS2, respectively.  I already own Lunar in English, but it was 500 yen, so I couldn't pass that up.  Remember 11 was also 500 yen, and it's a visual novel I've been playing in English with a fan translation patch, so when I saw that I could purchase it legally, I had to do that.  I try to get my games legally whenever possible, but that game hadn't been possible until now.

Today, I've mostly just sat at home.  Charlie went out to work around 1:30 and got back around 9:00, and in the meantime I've done a bunch of cleaning for him and played games.  I doubt anything exciting will happen in the rest of tonight.

There's a chance I'll go out to see Ise Jingu before I leave, but that sort of depends.  It's a 90-minute train ride to get there, which I really don't feel like doing, and it'll also cost another 4000 yen or so, which is basically the rest of my entire budget, aside from the train fares to get back to the airport and go home.  I haven't decided for sure one way or the other if I'll go.

Miscellaneous stuff:
  • The cereal selection in Japan is very limited.  Pretty much corn flakes (frosted or chocolate), or bran flakes.
  • When you buy anything, the store clerk will almost always tape the top of the bag closed for you.  This does not apply in grocery stores, because by and large you are expected to bag your own purchases there after you're done.
  • When people are trying to explain something, or give a somewhat-rehearsed speech or lesson (such as in church, at school, or my host family choosing their words carefully so I could understand), they tend to stress their particles (ha, ga, wo, ni, etc.).  Those come up every few words in a typical sentence, so the result is that they'll say a few words at a lower pitch, then a longer, more drawn out and higher pitched syllable for the particle, then back down and up and down and up.  Lots of people do this.
  • People here in Yokkaichi stare at me much more openly than they did in Izumi.  This isn't exactly a big city, and foreigners are pretty rare.  I haven't seen any other white people besides Charlie, so we attract a lot more attention.

Day 30: Akihabara

I'm no longer in Tokyo.  I took the overnight bus back to Nagoya, then the train to Yokkaichi.  But let me back up.  Yesterday was a very long day.  Continuing where my last post left off...

After we got cleaned up, we planned our trip to Akihabara in a little more detail, then went and got breakfast at Sukiya (すき家).  It's a common chain restaurant here in Japan.  I had curry rice, because it was cheap, but I soon regretted it, as the hot food was really not agreeing with my stomach at that hour.  It didn't last long, though, so it was okay.

Tokyo Station, shortly after our arrival on Saturday night.  The central station of the biggest city in the world, and it's practically deserted.

My capsule that I slept in.  My friend had the one above mine.

The view out of one of the capsule hotel windows.  The window itself was wide open, and it would have been easy enough to jump or fall out.  This really wasn't a great neighborhood, which was fairly obvious when we got there, but nothing happened, so it was okay.  The hotel itself was also rather unappealing.

The nearby park.  Near the station and the hotel.  It was actually kind of nice.  We spent an hour or more Saturday night wandering around here before going to bed.  My friend was trying to get a group of local people to invite us into a conversation, but it didn't happen.

Another part of the park.

A rocket park.  They really need adult playgrounds.  If there had been fewer people around, I probably would have gone on this one.  When we saw it again in the morning, it was crawling with kids.

Tokyo Sky Tree.  It doesn't look that big in this picture, but we walked closer and closer, and it didn't seem to move much, so that's gotta be pretty far away.
We used the Tokyo rail map we picked up the day before to find how to get to Akihabara, then went to the station and set out.  We arrived probably around 11:00 or so.  The first thing I noticed at the station was that all the ads were anime- or game-based.  That's not common elsewhere.  The second thing was a huge tower labeled SEGA, to which my friend was immediately drawn.  We headed towards it and found ourselves (after a few stops) on the main street of Akihabara.  Both sides were lined with shops featuring gigantic images of anime characters, many of which I recognized (and took pictures of).  The main stretch of the street is probably a little over a mile long, but the shops spread into side streets, too, for roughly a square mile of solid otaku shopping, I'd guess.  Except that the shops had anywhere up to 7 floors each, so multiply that by at least 4.  And I covered ALL of it.  Except the restaurants.  And the technology shops.  But I at least looked in every shop, even if I didn't go in.

Our first open view of the main street.

Looking to the right.

After walking to the right quite a ways, looking across the street.

Persona 4 had a huge ad campaign going here for the newest version, Persona 4 Golden.  There were gigantic posters and murals everywhere.
The stores were divided fairly evenly among anime/manga/related media, PC and console games, and miscellaneous technology (cameras, phones, computers...).  There were also lots of restaurants, including maid cafés.  I didn't stop to eat, though.  I'm not really interested in the maid café thing.  Speaking of maids, almost every street corner had one or more girls in maid costumes or other similar attention-grabbing outfits handing out flyers or other ads for their stores.

I was sorely disappointed at the lack of true cosplayers there.  I think I saw two, plus someone dressed as Saber from Fate/Stay Night to promote the store's upcoming release.  I didn't recognize any but her, though.

The only true cosplay I saw and recognized, and it's part of the store's advertising.  Oh well.
One of the side streets, and there's still this much advertising on the buildings.

They close the main road down on Sundays for a good portion of the day, so people just walk everywhere freely.

Back to the shopping.  The stores had just about anything I could have wanted to buy.  I must have seen thousands each of figures, CDs, video games, mangas, light novels, doujinshi, anime magazines and so on, and hundreds of wall scrolls, visual novels, and miscellaneous other items.  I ended up buying Sister Princess for Playstation, since my friend said he can let me use his Japanese PS2 back in the US since he obviously isn't using it now.  I also tried to buy the Haruhi PS2 roleplaying game, but I found out too late (only after I got home) that the box only had the included figure, and not the game itself.  Very disappointing.  At least it wasn't too expensive.  I also got a White Album Cospa t-shirt for 2/3 off, several music CDs, a Noizi Itou/Zatsuon art collection CD, and a Little Busters! Kud Wafter mini handkerchief.  I planned before even coming to Japan that before I left, I'd have to find an anime handkerchief to buy and bring back.  I'm satisfied with this one.  Surprisingly, the only figure I bought was the one that was supposed to have the Haruhi game.  There were a ton I would have wanted, but the lack of space in my suitcase and the insanely high prices on a lot of them kept me from buying any.  Honestly, I could import a lot of them for the same price or cheaper in the US, if I looked around carefully.

Here's one store that had things that would be nigh-impossible to find in the US.  The entire store was packed with retro games and consoles.  These are original Famicom cartridges.

And here we have Super Famicom.  Including Chrono Trigger over there, for a whopping 680 yen.  That's pretty cheap.  The store also had a guarantee that all the games and hardware worked.

A portion of the Gameboy collection.

Many of the stores had these sorts of labels on each floor, saying what was for sale where.  This isn't the best example.

There were quite a few anime card games around too (the green and yellow sign in the middle is advertising that).  You could buy cards and play in a lot of the shops.

In addition to the labels outside, most stores had the steps show you what was coming up on the next floor.

The stairwell wall posters also gave you a hint of what to expect.

The biggest find and purchase for me, though, was the one thing I had really hoped to be able to get in Japan: The Key 10th Anniversary Memorial Box, which includes all of their Visual Novels through Little Busters! Ecstasy (Planetarian, AIR, Kanon, CLANNAD, Tomoyo After, and LB! Ex).  The reason I wanted this so bad is it's the only version available of AIR, Tomoyo After, and LB! Ex that doesn't have the adult content, and it's a collector's item besides.  I'm pretty sure it has more than just the games inside, but I haven't opened it yet.  I had previously found the box for sale, used, on eBay, but it was over $400!  This one was 8800 yen (about $110), although it's also used.  I actually asked the guy at the counter if he had the game, and he looked it up and said no, but I decided to go ahead and browse anyway, and sure enough, there it was.  It was the only copy I found in all the stores I went to, so I don't think any more of them exist.  I really lucked out.

My spoils.  In the top left, the Haruhi figma (minus game :( ).  The top right has music: Kyon's Sister image CD, Genesis of Aquarion opening CD, Deep Blue Sky and Pure White Wings vocal CD, Bamboo Blade OP/ED CD, Fate/Stay Night: This Illusion, and the Rewrite OST.  I haven't listened to any music from Rewrite, but it's Key, and from my experience they can do no wrong when it comes to that sort of thing.  On the bottom left is my t-shirt, in the middle is Sister Princess, and to the right is the Noizi Itou art collection.  On the bottom is my Kud handkerchief.

The big find.  I can hardly believe it was actually there, but it certainly took some searching to find it.  Also, this thing is HEAVY.  I had to lug it around the rest of the day, and I'll have to figure out the best way to bring it back to the US.
A note if you're planning a trip to Akihabara.  Akihabara is NOT KID-FRIENDLY.  About 3 in 4 stores have adult products.  Of those, I'd say about 20% have them in visually concealed areas or on separate floors.  The rest are right out in the open, usually (but not always) mixed in with all the good products.  You really can't avoid it here.  And, as with everything else in Japan, they never actually check IDs or anything for age, even if you buy it.

Oh, so my friend had to leave around 4:00 to make it home in time to go to work the next day.  I stayed by myself to finish exploring.  The shops seemed to start closing up around 7:00 or 7:30, and by 9, it was basically shut down except for the big ones.  That really surprised me.  I had kind of figured everything would be open until midnight or later.

Akihabara in the evening, as things start to wind down.

One of the two station entrances right there by the main street.  I took this one in, but not back out.
Since I'd seen basically everything at least once already, and run out of money to buy anything else, I decided to call it a night and go to the station.  But actually, I didn't even have enough money on me to make it back to Yokkaichi anymore.  I could afford the bus to Nagoya, but probably not the trains, so I needed to find an international ATM.  I was also on no schedule of when I needed to be back, so rather than take the train from Akihabara to the Tokyo station (where the buses would be), I decided to walk.  It took about an hour, maybe a bit more, counting stops to rest and look at maps.  I didn't actually have a map besides the train system one (and I still don't), and those aren't exactly drawn with complete accuracy in mind, so I just knew I needed to go southish.  The maps you see on the street in Tokyo don't put North on top, though.  Generally they orient it to the direction you're facing.  This is a problem when they forget to put on any indication of which way actually is North.  Anyway, it was a nice little adventure, and I was fortunate that I found maps every couple blocks to help guide me.  I also found an ATM that worked, after three that didn't, so I managed to get the money to make it back.

Even after leaving Akihabara a good 10-minute walk behind me, I still ran into these Evangelion "Keep out" cones.

A cool bridge I passed under on my walk.

Another view of the two layers of bridges.

These were decorations on the bridge.  Pretty impressive.

Oh, I missed one thing.  In Akihabara, on my way towards Tokyo station, I encountered someone from my home college!  He was one of my friends back in my first Japanese class, but he didn't come on the school trip.  Talk about a small world.  We met each other on the opposite side of the planet completely by chance in a fairly densely-packed area of the largest city in the world.  I mean, really, what are the chances?  So we talked for a while, reveling in the unlikeliness of the situation before parting ways.  I'll probably see him back in the US sometime.

So yeah, eventually I made it to the station, and took the 11:20 overnight bus to Nagoya.  I arrived around 5:45am, after little if any sleep, and I worked my way back through the train system to my friend's house.  I've gotten pretty good at navigating Japan by myself, it seems.  Which is a good thing, because I still don't have a cell phone.

Day 29: To Yokkaichi and Tokyo

I left my host family's house a little before 7:00 yesterday morning, carrying my 20+ pound backpack, a 50-ish pound suitcase, and another smaller 20-25 pound suitcase.  I carried all that luggage up and down at least a couple dozen flights of stairs, because that's how the Japanese train system is organized.  After three separate train rides, totaling about 3.5 hours, I made it to my friend's middle-of-nowhere station, too small to even bother staffing with anyone.  You toss your tickets in the bin when you get off the train, rather than actually having anything check them.  It's interesting.

My friend showed up to take me to his house a few minutes later, so I dropped off my stuff and relaxed for a little while before we went out for lunch and looked around the area briefly.  After a couple hours, we went to the bus station with a much lighter load to find a bus to Tokyo.  There wasn't one.  So we instead went to the train station, took the train to Nagoya, and from there found a bus to Tokyo.  We ended up arriving around 10:20 at Tokyo station, where we walked to Otemachi station and then rode to Kinshicho station, where our capsule hotel is located.  I have a couple pictures, but our particular establishment has got to be on the lower end of the capsule hotel scale.  It was roughly $30-35 a night, and you get a locker about 6 feet tall, 8 inches wide, and 1 foot deep for your stuff; access to the public bath/shower; and a bed to sleep in in a box roughly 6 feet long and 4 foot wide/tall.  It has a TV and radio included in the capsule, but I didn't use them.  There also wasn't a door on it, just a curtain you could pull down.

After checking in, we wandered around the area for a couple hours just seeing what was here.  There's a park nearby, nice and green, with a couple playgrounds for the kids and a baseball field, and we could see the Tokyo Sky Tree from just about anywhere.  It's also kind of a seedy neighborhood, so there were the less desirable types of people around, especially considering we were out around 11pm-1:30am, but we didn't have any problems, and there were enough people around to be safe.  Although it was actually a lot emptier than I thought it would be considering it's the biggest city in the world.  The train station in particular looked deserted when we first went in.

Eventually, around 2:00, we went to bed for the night.  This morning we got up at 9 and haven't done much so far, besides use the public bath.  Not something I exactly wanted to do, but also not something I had much of a choice about.  Either I do that or I start the day feeling even more disgusting than I went to bed feeling last night.

I have a few pictures that I'll post later when I get the chance.  It looks like our plan is that my friend will head back to his house this afternoon, and I'll stay another night.  If I can manage, I plan to just stay out all night and save money.  If not, I always have the option of coming back to this hotel at any point.  24-hour check-in.  Now we're off to Akihabara and wherever else we decide to go.

Days 27 and 28: Family restaurant, finals and the farewell party

First to finish up yesterday's events.  For dinner, the family wanted to take me out to a restaurant as a sort of farewell gift.  I didn't have any particular preferences, and I don't know much about the restaurants around here anyway, so I let them suggest some, and we decided on a family restaurant.  I don't know the name, though.

When we got there, I looked through the menu and felt right at home.  A lot of the stuff would have been pretty normal to see on an American menu.  I ended up ordering a mixed plate with kind of a meatloaf, fried chicken similar to what I had at the izakaya, mixed vegetables, hashbrowns, corn soup, and french bread (sort of).  And I got the juice bar, which is just unlimited drinks of whatever was there.  The food was really good, and I ended up drinking three cups of Calpis water when I saw it was on the drink list.  That stuff is really good.  I've heard it's some sort of yogurt thing, but I don't think that's quite right.  According to their website, it's a "lactic-acid" drink, so it's milk based in some way, but I don't know.  Yukie thought it was really funny that I liked it so much.

Now on to today.

Despite the weather report saying 100% chance of rain through about 4pm today, it had already stopped before I woke up and it didn't rain at all today.  That was a nice, unexpected boon.

I was a little late to school again, but it didn't really matter.  They tell us to get there at 9, but class doesn't start until 9:20 or 9:30, and they usually don't give announcements until 5 or 10 minutes before that, so I didn't miss much.  Anyway, we all had to fill out surveys about our host families, the school experience, the trip in general, and so on.  We also returned the cell phones and ID cards the school gave us in the beginning, so I am now trapped in Japan without a cell phone.  To be precise, I have one, but it only works in America.

In class, we each did a practice run-through of our survey result presentations and got a little feedback from the teacher, then did the real things in front of both classes, both teachers plus the program head, Kanzaki-sensei, and a couple of our Japanese buddies.  I don't think there were any particular issues with the presentation.  It seemed to run pretty smoothly.

After that, we paid our phone bills (mine was 300-some yen, by far the lowest.  They charged 100 yen per minute), then went to lunch, which was the usual cheap kitsune udon for me.  Kitsune means fox, but it's actually just tofu stuff.  After lunch, I had my final kanji test.  I'm not too confident in this one.  I might have gotten 10/10, but I'm only really confident in 7 of them.  This was one of the harder tests, and I didn't study much at all for it with everything else that's been going on.  Oh well.  Even if it's just 7/10, it's not as bad as I did on some of the early tests.

I came home and played piano for what will probably be the last time in Japan, then started packing my suitcases.  At this point, everything's basically packed, minus what I'll be using tonight and tomorrow.  I did manage to fit those figures in, but there's not really any room for more, so the rest will have to be shipped home.  Well, maybe a couple small ones, but I don't know...

As I was packing, Yukie came in and told me that she had bought Taiyaki, which I vaguely remember telling her was one of the foods I wanted to try while I was in Japan.  Taiyaki are fish-shaped pastries, usually filled with an, a red bean paste, but really they come with all sorts of sweet things inside.  I of course had one, but I chose the custard-filled one instead of an, since I've had an before and didn't care much for it.  It tasted really good.

Yukie also bought two bottles of concentrated Calpis formula for me to take home.  Each bottle is supposed to be enough for 15 cups of the drink, so I'll be able to share it with everyone when I get back.  She got two different flavors, though, one original and one grape, I think, which I've never tried.  We'll have to see what it's like.

Around 6:00, I went to the farewell party at the school.  I was biking over by myself, because Ranmaru had tennis at 6, so they'd be late.  On the way over, I was going a little (a lot) too fast down the big hill right before the school, and came very close to being hit by a car when I went across a street on the hill.  Like, within a few inches.  Granted, he was already stopping anyway, so the car would have barely tapped me, but even still.  I'd say it was about 80% my fault, although he was also pulling a little too far forward before stopping.  Not like I'm likely to ever have the opportunity to again, but I don't plan to ride quite that fast when there are streets like that in the future.  I roughly stopped my bike about 5 feet past the car, turned back and signaled that I was alright, saying "daijoubu" (which I'm sure he didn't hear), and continued on.  I did get a slight scrape on the side of my knee from hitting the bike as I was trying to stop it, but it's nothing to worry about.

Ok, so anyway, the farewell ceremony closely resembled the opening ceremony, taking place in the chapel with much the same service.  The difference was that this time, they presented us with certificates saying that we participated in the course and so on and so forth.  I can only read about half of it.

Then we moved on to the party portion, and everyone toasted everyone (which I could actually participate in this time, since they had juice and not just tea) before moving on to dinner, which was all sorts of small foods.  I stuck to dishes where people didn't have to use their own chopsticks to serve themselves, at least after the first trip, since I don't trust people to not use the end they eat off of.  It was good, and enough to fill me up.  They had a slideshow running most of the time on a giant projector screen, showing a lot of pictures that they had taken throughout the trip.  It was fun to look at all those again.  They also gave all the students a farewell package which included a CD, presumably with those pictures on it; a towel with the school's name and logo; and a bottle of... glue.  I'm still scratching my head over that one, but whatever.

They also gave out prizes for the best presentations in the classes, one for the beginner class and one for the advanced class.  My team won the prize for the beginner class.  We each received an envelope containing... a cow keychain.  But not just any cow keychain, oh no.  This one has a button on its head, and when you press it, it moos and shoots blue lasers out of its nostrils.  Seriously.  Okay, maybe not lasers, but a really bright light.  I really don't understand these gifts.

Most of the other students went to an izakaya after the farewell party, but I decided to come straight home instead.  After all, I wasn't going to drink, and I was already pretty full from everything else, so I really didn't see the point in going to a buffet.  I said my goodbyes and headed out.  I rode my bike nice and slow on the way home.

So that's it for this house.  I think I'll quickly take a few pictures of the rest of the house, since I never did actually do all that like I said I would, and then I'll get ready for bed and go to sleep.  I have to get up pretty early tomorrow, so I should get as much sleep as I can.  Goodnight.

Day 27: Drawing to a close

I just realized my day numbering has been off since the first week, so I went back and corrected all the titles since then.

Today was raining all day again.  I got soaked from the waist down on my way home, despite my umbrella.  I walked this time instead of biking.

A classic shot.  I had to get this at some point during my stay.  These mirrors are designed to help you see around corners so you can tell if cars are coming before you pull out.  I've gotten used to using them somewhat when I ride my bike, and it's actually pretty helpful on the narrow streets.

All the drainage systems were full of rushing water.
We were going to do the archery today if it hadn't rained.  It got rained out last week, and they moved it to today, then it got rained out today, so it's just not happening at all.  That's one I was really looking forward to, too.

I can't believe how quickly time has passed/is passing.  For some reason, all day I've been thinking it was Wednesday instead of Thursday, so when I just noticed what day it actually is, that made me feel as though it was passing even faster than it already felt like.

I leave here Saturday morning, but I don't have any of the actual details worked out.  I think I'll take a train from here to Osaka, then a bus to Nagoya, then a train down to Yokkaichi.  It's a longer trip than trains the whole way, but fewer transfers and cheaper.  Once I arrive there, I'll meet up with my friend who will take me to his apartment where I can deposit all my stuff.  Then I think we're planning to go out and get lunch somewhere, then we'll take a bus to Tokyo.  I still don't really know what I'll be doing there yet, or how long I'm going to stay, but my friend can only stay one night, and he'll come back on Sunday night.  I may or may not go with him.  That depends on if there's anything else I really want to do there, and on how confident I am that I could find my way back by myself.

I should probably start packing everything up tonight, and make more solid plans about how I'm getting to Yokkaichi.  My host family should be able to help me with that, I hope.  I also still have homework to do, and a final test and presentation tomorrow.

Another round of quick observations:
  • Keyboards on Japanese computers are all different from the standard US ones.  They have the hiragana printed on them, of course, but they also have a few extra keys here and there.  One of the worst changes is that all the little symbols (!@#$%^&*()[];:'" etc) are in different places, so when I've had to use the computers to write things, it always takes a while to search for those.  Also, the spacebar is tiny, and there's a button where the right side of it should be that changes it from English to hiragana/kanji, so it's really annoying when I keep accidentally hitting that.  And apostrophe is something like shift+7.  I never did figure out how to get an underscore.
  • You don't hand cashiers money directly.  Instead, you put it all into a tray next to the register.  Once you've stopped putting money in, they'll count the coins one by one, pushing them with their fingertips as they go, and total up the bills, then pick it all up and put it away.  When you get change, they'll take any bills first, count them for you while holding them up in front of you so you can see you're getting the right amount, then hand them to you.  Coins are handed to you in a single pile, and generally not counted separately.
  • Dryers seem to be rare.  Looking at any apartment complex or on any residential street in the middle of the day, you'll see clothes hanging out on a line to dry.
  • Meats are often served with all the fat, skin, cartilage etc. still on them.  This is generally just eaten as is.  I've only had bones in the meat twice: once at the barbeque, and once a couple nights ago in some fish.  They apparently ate the fish bones, too, which I can't understand.  Those things hurt when they jab you in the gums.  I didn't eat those (well, I tried not to), and I took off most of the cartilage from the meats I had, but otherwise I ate it basically the same way they did.
Right as I was about to publish this, I heard the doorbell.  I'm the only one home, so I went down to take a look, and apparently there was a package that I had to sign for.  I wrote my name out in katakana.  Hopefully that's alright.  Alright.  Off to do my homework.

Days 25 and 26: Typhoon and flower arrangement

This post was written yesterday (Wednesday), but I didn't post it because I didn't have the pictures on my computer yet.

I spent yesterday after school holed up in my room.  In the afternoon, maybe around 5:00, Hiroto came in and pulled metal shutters over the outside of the window, so I couldn't really see anything that was happening outside.  All the windows in the house were blocked off, and I didn't really want to open the front door in case I'd get pelted with rain or something.  And at the time he closed everything, nothing was going on.  During dinner, though, around 8:00, we could hear the shutters rattling pretty hard.  Either that or something hitting them hard.  I'm not entirely clear on what it was, but I know there was at least a lot of rain, and I could hear the wind sometimes, too.  It really wasn't that exciting.  It seems like the people here are all used to it.  Aside from blocking off the windows, all that really happened was that I got a bit wet on my way home, and Ranmaru got sent home from school early.  In the morning, everything was a little damp still, but it wasn't raining, and it didn't seem particularly windy.  So that's about it for that.

Class today was spent working on our final project, including interviewing students and making a poster.  Tomorrow looks like it'll be largely finishing up the poster.

Today's cultural activity was flower arrangement.  We were given two roses with very long stems, two branches, and a basin of water with a thing with needles in it to hold the flowers up (by stabbing them on the needles).  There was a specific way we were supposed to arrange them all, selecting a larger branch, trimming the flowers to different heights, and adding in a few small branches (twigs) to help blend it.  The placement was also pretty specific.  Anyway, the teacher liked my arrangement.  After the activity was over (it only lasted about half an hour) they let us take the flowers and branches home, but not the water basins to hold them in.  So all the arranging was undone and they stuck them in newspaper bouquet wrappers to carry back.  I gave it to my family.

Everyone's flower arrangements.

A closer look at the one behind me.

My arrangement, from the front.

And from the side.

Days 23, 24, and 25: The final week of school

This week marks my last at Momoyama Gakuin Daigaku.  It's been fun.  Not as hard as I was fearing, but generally busier than I had expected.  This week, though, we don't have many of the cultural activities planned, so I've got more free time at home in the afternoons.

Sunday was church again.  I got rather lost during the second hour, but so did the native Japanese, so it wasn't entirely my fault.  I bid farewell to everyone at church and thanked them for their help.  There weren't any special activities in the afternoon, so I pretty much just stayed home.  Lunch was a few pieces of bread, including one of the ones I bought in Kyoto but didn't manage to eat there.  Japanese breads are really something.  Most of them are more pastries than bread, but they sometimes have things like hot dogs inside, or chocolate, or spices, or whatever.  It's pretty interesting.

On Monday, we worked on our final projects for class.  We have to make a survey and ask a bunch of Japanese people questions, then present the answers to everyone on Friday.  Our topic is home and school life, targeted towards the college students.  School ended at lunchtime, so I ate at the cafeteria and came home.  It was too hot to go back outside, so I stayed inside all day.  It was also too hot to stay inside, but at least that way I didn't have to move.

Today (Tuesday), we've got a typhoon on the way!  This morning was cloudy (as were yesterday and the day before), and it started raining shortly after I got to school.  It let up when I went to the cafeteria, but was raining again when I biked home, so my hands and legs got pretty wet.  I had a rain jacket that helped with my upper body, and my helmet mostly kept my head dry, so it wasn't too bad.  My shorts, socks, helmet, and jacket are all hanging up to dry now.

Japanese people have this amazing talent of riding bycicles in the rain with umbrellas held over their heads.  I haven't tried it yet, but it seems like it would be really hard to do.  Instead, I just opt to get a little wet and dry off when I get home.  Granted, I also bike about twice as fast as they do, so maybe it would be easier to do if I slowed down.

So yeah, typhoon (taifuu/台風).  It's supposed to really hit tonight, sometime between 6 and 9 pm.  I heard it's a super typhoon, roughly equivalent to a class 4 hurricane.  I haven't confirmed that myself.  No one really seems all that worried about it, but they did close the schools early today.  It's sort of like getting a snow day, except it's a typhoon day.  This seems to happen somewhat often.  It's a little odd, because it's out of season, but it's not a huge deal.

I don't have any new pictures today, but I've got some old ones from the first week that we've received from the school.  These have everyone who was there at the time, so not including the people from England.

Our arrival at the airport.  The really big Japanese guy on the left is the only Japanese person I've seen so far who was taller than me.  There have been a few who were pretty close, though.

One of the classes during the first week.  The teacher for this day was Kanzaki-sensei, who is in charge of the whole program.  He's a really cool, nice guy.  Everyone loves him.

Standing outside in the sun, blocking all the foot traffic next to St. Johns Hall.
I've gotten to know everyone pretty well by now, since we see each other every day.  There are a few people who I don't really talk to still, but overall we all get along.

Day 22: Back to Kyoto

Saturday I took another trip to Kyoto with the school.  This wasn't officially part of the program I'm in, but it was part of the foreign exchange student program for those people who are staying for full semesters, and we were invited to join in.  Only two other people from my group came along.

We visited another temple, Byoudouin, and saw the Phoenix Hall from the outside.  We would have had to buy separate tickets to go inside, and the group sizes are limited, so it would have been hard to get in anyway.  Also, I've kind of seen enough temples and shrines by now, they're starting to all get mixed up in my head.  This particular one is famous as being the image on the back of the 10-yen coins.

It was raining on and off all day, but nothing too bad until late at night, when I was already home.  I did get some use out of my umbrella, though.
A shot of the Phoenix Hall as a group is starting to enter for the tour.

Probably my favorite angle of the building.

A more frontal view.

I don't actually know these people, except the one on the far left, but they were in the exchange student group that we joined in on.
I like the look with the lillypads, too.
This was on the temple grounds.  Some sort of trellis with trees growing up underneath and all the branches collected on top.  It looked pretty interesting.
After that, we walked through the museum section, which had a lot of the typical style of ancient statues and scrolls and things.  Since I can't read the details about most of them, they all end up looking basically the same to me, no matter which temple or shrine I visit.  Still, kind of interesting.

When we finished there, we left the temple area and went out in search of lunch, but found none.  Instead, I got some pictures of the surrounding scenery.

A flock of birds perched on a tree near the river.

The calm river.  It was hardly moving at all.  This was taken from atop the bridge.  I'm pretty sure they designed this river specifically for the reflection.

The clouds/fog in the mountains looked pretty impressive.  I had to get a shot of it.  It was probably like that because of the rain.

A shot of the second river, which was basically rapids.  The water was moving way too fast to be safe, and they had big signs saying (in Japanese only) not to enter the water, because it moves too fast and is dangerous.  I could actually understand the whole sign, kanji and all, which was nice.
When we toured as much of the area as we cared to, we headed back to the bus and waited to go to the next stop, which was the center of Kyoto city itself.  We did a lot of walking here, roughly 25 minutes from the bus drop off point to the first stop, then another 20 minutes backtracking to the shops.  Along the way back, my friend and I grabbed some bread from a Family Mart for lunch.  I bought three things, but ended up getting full after one and a half.  I saved the rest for later.  Bread is always good because it's so cheap and filling.

Our first stop.  Another temple.  This one was packed with visitors as well, but seemed to cover a pretty large area.  We looked around inside the grounds for a while, but didn't see anything particularly impressive, so we headed back.  If you want more pictures anyway, I do have them.
This was the main shopping arcade where we spent most of the time.  It was really long, taking probably a good 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other, and there were two full streets of it, next to each other.

One shop was nothing but crane games, where nearly all the prizes were anime figures, pillows, pictures, clocks, or other goods.  Most of them looked completely unwinnable, without even accounting for the pre-programmed failure rate of these things.  And if you did manage to pick up a figure and drop it down the chute, it would probably break.  Needless to say, I didn't try any.

I also found another shop that had a ton of anime figures, posters, wall scrolls, etc., which was where I spent most of my time.  There were a few 3D pictures there from different series, but the most impressive thing about them was that...

...not only were the images 3D, but there were 3 images on each poster.

I ended up buying this one.  It's just too cool.
I also bought a couple of small, cheap stick posters (vertical-hanging wall scrolls, about 8 inches wide by maybe 20 inches long).  Those had a couple Touhou characters on them.

After shopping, we went to one of the shops, where we learned how to make a type of candy called yatsuhashi.  This was part of the group's planned activities.  Everyone got to try their hand at it, and make 16 pieces of candy.  In the end, they gave us each 33 pieces of candy (32 in a bag, and 1 freshly made) and a can to carry them home in.  The candy itself is sort of cinnamony, and very stiff and crunchy.  It wasn't spectacular, but it was pretty good.

We had to wear the aprons, gloves, and hair nets while we worked there.  I'm pretty sure they ended up selling all the candy we made to random other people.

At any given time, there are 8 pieces under each board, and one or two extra sets at the end, for a total of 48 or 56 pieces.  You put on a new set, then rotate the board on the far right (left in the image) to the second uncovered set, remove the pieces that were under it before you moved it, and press them into the curved shapes with the metal dowels.  Each of the other boards has a specific action you have to do to the pieces under it as you go, sliding them all one space to the right each time.

Receiving my gift of candy after having finished my two rounds.
After all that was done, we headed back to the bus and came home.  It was raining again by then, so I had to use my umbrella.  I'd walked to school instead of biking that day so I wouldn't have to worry about biking in the rain.

Another thing: despite the rain all day, it was still really warm.  Not as hot as it has been, but uncomfortably warm all day anyway.  It's not as hot as it is back home, though, and probably roughly as humid.  The real problem is the lack of AC.  Except in rare cases, the temperature inside and outside are basically the same.  There's no comfortable place to cool off, so I just sweat all day long.  That's not very fun.

Only one more week of school left, and then I'm off to Yokkaichi and Tokyo with my friend for another week.  Then back home.  Time has passed really quickly.