Friday, December 30, 2005

My FairyTale Honeymoon

My FairyTale Honeymoon

My FairyTale Husband

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

so much to catch up on

It's winter break, and I'm busier than ever. I've been to Disneyland, ridden the roller coasters with screaming girls (I love you Laila) and been to a live Japanese rock bar. (utterly bizarre). Hatim bought a Play Station 2, and my current goal is to improve my fighting skills until I can kick his @$$. Hannukah starts tomorrow, and Daniel has told me that I can light candles with him in his room, although to be honest, I never lit them back home and I don't really care much about doing it here in Japan.

I am currently trying to book my flights to Hokkaido, because the train takes ELEVEN hours and costs more, while simultaneously chatting with Richie on our faux honeymoon. Everyone around seems to have the Christmas bug, although everyone is remembering to wish me a Happy Hanukah either in person or on their blogs (yay!). Coffee @ Excelsior feels weird without Lukas - not to mention having to buy my own coffee always sucks, but I'm sure he's having fun back home. His Hanukkah present was a roaring success. He actually described is as one of the best gifts he's ever gotten, so yay me!!

On my 3rd attempt, I made it to Kaihimmakuhari, (the outlet malls) and finally bought Claudia's birthday present. Now if I can just figure out where to find Natasya's gift before I leave for Hokkaido, I think I'll be on track. There are so many people and so many birthdays, but I figure it's worth it. Both because I love getting people gifts that make them smile, and then when my birthday comes around, I get to be on the recieving end!!

When I have more time, I'll upload some of the Disneyland pictures, but for now, Dad, this is for you.

69 stories up, in the Yokohama Landmark Tower

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Can you say ouch?

Today, I got hit by a car. No, I am not exaggerating, and yes, I will explain. On my way home from school today, I was riding solo, a somewhat rare occurrence. With plenty of time before I had to meet Daniel for the ride to tonight’s Christmas party, I was taking my time, riding carefully and patiently on the sidewalk versus my usual reckless weaving in and out of traffic to bypass annoying pedestrians. In fact, as I approached an uncontrolled intersection, I even slowed down long enough to make eye contact with the woman stopped and waiting to turn into the intersection. Since she saw me, and I did my sort of head nod/bow thing, I figured it was safe to ride past. I was wrong. Before my bike had time to pass her car, the woman must have eased her foot off the break and her car nudged forward just enough to knock my rear tire and send me sprawling to the ground before I realized what had happened. I was floored, both figuratively, and literally. Shaken, and not really sure what to do, I stood up, surprised to find I wasn’t hurt, and picked up my bike to inspect it. The basket was distorted, but it was otherwise unharmed, and I was prepared to hop back on and ride home, but the woman was rushing towards me from her parked car in a panic. She was appropriately concerned that I might have been hurt, and she wanted to make sure that I was okay. Speaking to me in Japanese, of course, she checked to make sure I was alright. She insisted I show her my leg, which was scraped up and down from sliding along the ground. She tried to straighten out my bike basket, and seemed frustrated that it wouldn’t regain its shape. Giving me her business/name card, she wrote down my information, and made sure that it would be alright if she called me tomorrow to make sure I was okay, because I kept insisting I was daijoubu. The people around that had witnessed the accident seemed concerned until I nodded and waved them off. The woman that had hit me seemed reluctant to let me leave, and while I was trying to convince her in my broken Japanese that I was alright, I could hear my phone ringing. Shaken, and not thinking clearly, I answered the call, surprised to hear Lukas on the other end. For some unexplainable reason, he wanted my advice on choosing between various towel brands during his shopping excursion to Chiba. He still hadn’t gotten his Christmas present for the party and thought I could enlighten him as to which was the better choice between Yves St. Laurent and some other brand that I’ve never heard of. I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t understand what he was asking me, and since I’d just been hit by a car, I needed to go. I’m sure I was incomprehensible, but at least the phone call seemed to be enough to convince the woman who had hit me to finally say goodbye and let me ride home, although not before insisting that it was alright for her to call me tomorrow afternoon so that she could verify that I was in fact, okay.

It’s now hours later, and my right leg has been throbbing somewhat painfully for nearly the whole evening. It’s nothing serious, but the scraped area along my knee is sore from rubbing against the inside of my pant leg, and my skin is getting all bruised around the scrape. Also, I think my muscles and ankle are slightly strained from the crash, although again, not seriously injured. I have no problems walking, or climbing the stairs to my room (I’ve gotten so used to the 4 flights of stairs, it seems surprising to me how aware I was of them tonight after getting home from the party.), but I’m still not sure how I will feel in the morning. I’m planning on taking a few Tylenol and heading to sleep, hopefully to wake up refreshed and with a colourful knee to show off to everyone when I tell them about my run-in with the car.

Package from Home

It’s surprising the range of emotions a package from home can bring on. Even more surprising when I knew the package was coming, and what it would entail – mainly a list of odds and ends that I specifically requested. And yet, despite all of my preconceptions, the notice in my mail box this morning (letting me know my package was in the office), was a catalyst to the emotional roller coaster that I’ve traversed throughout the day.
To begin with, Stephen put together 6 CDs from my ever-expanding collection. He had a list to follow, which I’d emailed to him, and he managed to find almost everything I had been missing (sigh, the Tragically Hip never made it) which brought on feelings of nostalgia. For example, when I put Alicia Keys into the computer to import the songs into I-tunes, it brought back memories of dinner parties in my condo back home, laughing and sharing stories with Lauren, Heather and Patrice. Or, Matchbox 20 (the First and only GOOD album), and it being the first birthday present from Stephen I can remember, and therefore a milestone in our relationship. And the other disks each have their own memories attached, whether good or bad, and all reminded me of the quality of my friendships back home, and therefore makes me question the false closeness between myself and the other people living in this dormitory. This isn’t to say that I am not developing friendships with people here, or that I don’t enjoy spending time with the other exchange students, but rather, that living in such close quarters lends itself to a false notion of friendship. It is easy to delude myself into thinking that because of the amount of time I spend with these people, there is a measure of value to that time, but the truth is, we are living together (and therefore to a certain extent) spending time together out of convenience rather than mutual interest or friendship.

Along with the CDs and my animated Clerks DVDs (woohoo), Dad included a letter from home, which included updates about Brandy, info about our Hawaii vacation, and some info about the upcoming holiday. (Hanukah, surprisingly, begins on the 25th this year, and will most likely be void of presents seeing as I’m in a foreign country.) Dad didn’t want me to be left empty handed I guess, and gave me instructions to access my gift in Japan. It was extremely thoughtful, both the gift and knowing that he’s thought about it so far in advance, but at the same time, again reminded me of the distance between myself and the people I care about back home. Everyone here is talking about Christmas-whether discussing vacation plans, or traditions back home, but Hanukah is usually forgotten, or worse, unknown. Lukas, although I’m not sure if it was out of friendship or in the hopes of getting 8 presents) has been joking around with me saying he’ll be celebrating Hanukah this year, but of course, it’s not the same. Not even remotely. Somehow, I had convinced myself that in Japan I wouldn’t have Christmas shoved down my throat like back home, but it is. The stores are all plastered with Christmas decorations, they play Christmas carols on the radio and even in class we have to answer stupid questions about plans for Christmas break. It’s as though the world puts on these ‘ignorant’ glasses for a month every year, forgetting that Christmas is a CHRISTIAN/CATHOLIC holiday, and that surprise surprise, NOT EVERYONE observes it, either as a religious or festive holiday. In fact, the people that try to act hoighty and suggest that it’s NOT a religious holiday, but instead a winter holiday, are usually the ones that upset me the most, because they just don’t GET it. Christmas, was, is and always will be based on the notion of Jesus Christ. Despite the secular traditions that have been adopted across the globe, they still exist at Christmas time, and refer directly to a religious icon both in name a spirit. GAH, I could vent about Christmas for pages if I thought there was a chance I wasn’t going to end up debating this in my comments. But irregardless, the letter from home reminded me that while at home, there is a support group of family and friends that understand how I feel and can usually help buffer some of the hated Christmas paraphernalia, here in Japan, it is full front and center、and completely blown out of proportion, as is truly the Japanese style.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Inage Sunset

A beautiful sunset in the background with power lines running across it in the foreground; classic Japan.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hawaii, 2006

Well, for those of you who are out of the loop, I am spending March break in Hawaii!! Dad has booked my flights (Feb. 28 - March 11), a hotel room (at the Renaissance Hotel) and a 10 day cruise on the Pride of America.

I can't wait.

And, as if that's not incredible enough, before Hawaii, I am going to Hokkaido for 4 days over winter break!! January 2nd to the 6th, Claudia and I will be heading up north for a visit to 'super snowy' Sapporo, where I will get to visit Lora and see the wintery wonderland that is Hokkaido.

Monday, December 12, 2005

holy shit batman

It's snowing!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

December 11th, 2005

My First Japanese Home Visit

When I woke up this morning, I was shocked to see the clock say 10:45, and I glanced at my ringing keitai with dread. It was Eugenie calling, to see where I was and if she should wait for me to walk to the station. I quickly told her I was running late (quite the understatement) and that I would meet her there. I quickly jumped out of bed, practically spun through my morning routine like a tornado, and was out the door at exactly 11 o'clock, only 5 minutes later than I should have been. I remembered, as I was locking the door, that I still had Hatim's speakers in my room* and I rushed back in, unplugged them, and made my way downstairs juggling the two speakers, speaker wires, my house keys, the present for my home visit family, and breakfast (a mandarin, like usual).

By the time I made it to the train station, I was 10 minutes late, and I felt awful, but the home visit wife was there waiting, and she quickly recognized me as the gaijin that she was meeting. Eugenie and the woman had been standing next to each other waiting for me without realizing that they were also there to meet each other. The three of us quickly introduced ourselves and turned to leave the station from the opposite side. The woman was friendly, and chatted with us as we walked the 2 minutes to her home. We offered to carry her parcels, but she refused, claiming that she was fine, despite her age (60) and the evident weight of the bags.

When we reached her home, her husband (65) was inside waiting for us. Together, they invited us into their sitting room, where we were given cushions to rest on when we sat (in my dreaded) saiza style. The couple sat across from us, sans cushions I might add, and we talked about Australia and Canada, both of which the couple had visited. Their son (31) arrived soon afterwards with his two daughters, 4 and 7.
The children were shy to begin with, but as the day progressed, they warmed up to us and by the end were practically inseperable. Together, we ate lunch with the couple had prepared. They made pizza, and because I had written of my cheese issues on my application form, they made me my own platter of Yakisoba. It was DELICIOUS! There was also cake, and homemade sushi, and bottomless tea which they continued to serve us all day long.

Conversation lasted all day, ranging from discussing places we've been and things we've seen in Japan, to what we hoped to see and do while we were here. When I mentioned that I was looking forward to trying Japanese Calligraphy, I had no idea that Obaachan (as the children called their grandmother) would run to the other room and pull out her calligraphy set. We got to practice Shodou with the children, who's handwriting was nicer than my own. Obaachan had an incredible flourish that made her calligraphy beautiful, and I felt ashamed to give her my inadequate page that I had drawn thanking her for having us.

After Shodou, we had the children teach us some origami, to which I in turn taught them the one and only piece of Origami that I knew. Did you ever, as a child, make the paper game that began with someone else choosing a color (or a number) and ended with them having to perform some random action? Check it out here, the Cootie Catcher!

The kids had a blast, and after making up things for them to do, such as sing a song or act like a monkey, they had fun getting us to play in turn. We ended up playing with the children for such a long time, that their dad took a nap, their grandparents cooked dinner, and we stayed for Nabe a Japanese style hot-pot with delicious noodles, vegetables and various types of seafood all simmered in a soup, served with rice and more homemade sushi. It was delicious, and when we left, the family invited us to visit again.

I had so much fun, I hope I actually get the chance to see them again. With all of the pictures I took, I will be choose one to send them as a new years post card, and Eugenie & I will write a formal thank you later this week during Home Room.


* - last night, Lukas came up to my room and we watched 0:34 (creep), The Life Aquatic, and after he cooked yummy chicken, we stayed up talking until around 5 am, thus the late wake-up. Because we wanted to watch the movies on my laptop, we borrowed Hatim's speakers to increase the sound quality. But, because I knew I would be out all day, I didn't want Hatim to have to suffer without his speakers all day! (he said after the fact, that he wouldn't have minded, because he's just that kind of guy, but when I got home and saw his projector running, I was glad I'd dropped them off before I left.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December 8, 2005

Because of my brainstorm for Richie’s birthday present, I decided to head to Makuhari today between classes to look for a nice picture frame. Also, I wanted to buy a new pair of shoes, and I remembered Daniel mentioning outlet stores in Makuhari that offered ‘American’ sizes. With this in mind, Claudia, Pu and I left campus, determined to enjoy our shopping experience.

Unfortunately, other than the name of the train station, I had no idea where the outlet malls were, and worse, no idea how to find them. For this reason, when we left the train station in Makuhari, we ended up in a pharmacy asking for directions. The pharmacist was extremely kind and helpful, explaining that we needed to walk to the bus station and take the bus to the outlet area. Following her advice, we found the bus station, and enjoyed our ride to the shopping center.

Once there, we found a bakery where we had a late breakfast/early lunch, and then hit the shopping arcade. I managed to find one pair of shoes at the Adidas store, and put them on hold while we searched the rest of the mall. I went back and bought them, wishing they had my size in so many other pairs, but comforted in the fact that I can always go back. I like the shoes, and actually wore them home. Also, I bought myself a new scarf (it’s soooo warm and cozy) and figured out what I’m getting for Claudia’s birthday present at the end of the month. Claudia and Pu also each found something to buy, and all in all it was a very successful shopping trip.

If only the trip home had been too. Because we had taken the bus from Makuhari station to the outlet malls, we found ourselves on a train line that did not connect with any of the stations we were familiar with. Instead of taking the bus back where we came from, I thought I could navigate us through the maze that is the Japanese rail system and get us back to school on time for Economics (during 4th period). I had the route figured out, and we could have gotten back smoothly, except for the tiny fact that the train we needed to catch from Kaihin-Makuhari station doesn’t run between 11am and 4pm. Because of this, we had to transfer about 5 times at various stations, and didn’t make it back to the University until nearly 4 when class was ending.

Our one shining moment on the long trip home, was my first Japanese IKEA sighting!! Yes, they have Ikea in Japan! It is in Nishi-Funabashi (for those of you with good memories, this is the same place that Lalaport mall and mine & Dad’s fateful movie outing took place) and I am now consumed with the desire to go shopping at Ikea. I am dying to find out if there are items unique to Japan, or if the same things I can find in Canada are available here. I have no room in my dorm room for any major furniture, or even anything vaguely resembling furniture, but perhaps just being in Ikea will be enough. I can always buy art or a plant just to say I bought something in Ikea-Japan.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

December 7, 2005

Today was a day full of misunderstandings and confusion, mainly because of language barriers. The day started out normally enough, I had class during 2nd period (I LOVE Wednesdays) and afterwards, a planned lunch date with Natasya in the cafeteria. She saved me a seat because the cafeteria fills up so quickly during lunch time, and we enjoyed the time to catch up and share notes about our weekends and what has been going on. She was eating some sort of Kimchi-don (a Korean pickled cabbage on rice with chicken) that looked really good – I’ll have to try it one of these days.

After lunch, we walked back to the CIRE where I sat and waited for over an HOUR to get online and check my email. She went back to her lab, where I imagine she was able to get online immediately, but then again, she needs it to prepare for her Master’s entrance exam, so, 仕方がない (shikataganai – meh, what can you do).

As 2:30 approached, I rounded up everyone that had signed up along with me, and we headed back towards the cafeteria, where we were going to get to try on Kimonos! When we found the right room (on the 3rd floor that nobody knew was there), we were invited into a Tatami room (a room lined with Tatami mats, in which you must take off your shoes before entering, and should sit in Saiza [kneeling on your knees with your feet tucked under] style). Around us were a throng of Japanese women, and lying neatly on the Tatami mats in front of one exquisite one hung as a demonstration, were various Kimonos. We soon learned that despite the fact that 12 of us had signed up, our hosts for the afternoon had only brought 5 Kimonos with them – one bridal Kimono, 2 ‘regular’ Kimonos, and 2 men’s Kimonos. In order to decide who would get to wear them, they had us play ジャン,ケン、ポン (rock, paper, scissors).

Katya, a girl from Russia won the bridal Kimono. Ruth (Canada) and Eugenie (Australia) won the other two women’s Kimonos, and the men’s Kimonos went to Evan (USA) and Michael (Germany). The rest of us, especially me, were NOT impressed. In fact, I spent at least 10 minutes afterwards sulking against the far wall, not very excited to watch as Katya was slowly dressed (somewhat like being wrapped) in the bridal Kimono.

After an hour of watching the 5 lucky winners being dressed and photographed in every imaginable (and I suppose traditional) pose, the women decided that there was enough time to offer the rest of us a chance to dress up. Shocked, and pleasantly surprised, Suvi (Finland), Sack (Australia), Richie (Hungary) and myself quickly jumped at the chance. The boys began with trying to fit their feet into the たび (tabi – unique socks designed to accommodate Japanese sandals). As they were being dressed in their under robes and Hakami, I was ushered off by the women to begin my own transformation. I wish I’d known in advance what type of procession this would be, but I will do my best to describe it for those of you who haven’t been through the ordeal.

First, as two very short Japanese women held a Kimono open behind me, I was told to undress in the corner of what now felt like a very large and public room. I hesitated for only a second as the women chattered at me in Japanese and I feared they might try to help me. A third woman then held the under robe (somewhat like a thin cotton house robe) for me to put my arms through, and the 3 women quickly wrapped and tied it around me before I had time to realize what they were doing. Unfortunately, because I’m somewhat larger than the average Japanese woman, the robe did not accommodate my desire for modesty, and I had to keep my back to the room as my dressing progressed, and I missed seeing what everyone else was doing.

After the under robe was on and secured, the women began wrapping my chest with what felt like long giant ribbons. The material felt somewhat like linen and is meant to flatten everything under the Kimono, but again, because of my size, the women had difficulty finding enough (or perhaps just long enough) ‘ribbons’ to properly wrap me. It took them nearly 10 minutes of searching to wrap me, at which point I felt suspiciously aware of my chest size. After this, the fun part finally began: the Kimono. Originally, I was given the Kimono that Eugenie had on before, but because of the style, it did not fit around my newly wrapped torso. Instead, Suvi and I switched Kimonos, which I was extremely happy about, wanting the red one anyways, and the three women that were helping me instructed me when to lift my arms, when to put them down, when to kneel and when to stand up straight. Throughout these directions, they had assorted strings and clips that they were assembling, and by the time they were through, I must have had at least 30 knots holding the Kimono together.

The best part of the day was my Obi. The Obi is the intricate belt that accompanies a Kimono, and in my case, I was too tall for the standard ‘knot’ that the women knew. This meant that the professional Kimono lady (who was mainly taking care of Katya and more likely, the bridal Kimono) came over and tied a complicated bow with my Obi. They women kept oohing and aahing, admiring it throughout the rest of the hour as I posed for my share of pictures.

The pictures by this point were being taken quickly and the women were anxious to get us out of our Kimono so that they could pack up and go home. I managed to get a picture taken with Richie before undressing, which doubled as proof to our ‘wedding’, and his birthday present. Let me explain – ever since we had signed up for the Kimono event, Richie has been insistent that I be his wife for the pictures. It has become a sort of private joke, talking about each other as fiancés, and other such playfulness. In fact, his birthday present, as I decided on Wednesday, is a picture frame. Inside, on one side, is the picture of us in our Kimonos. The other half is a message written out in Japanese that translates as, “To the first man I ever agreed to marry, may your next bride be as beautiful!”

Anyways, that’s the story of my first Kimono experience. I would happily wear one again, although perhaps at a professional Kimono shop where there are more choices in terms of size & colour. Also, it might be nice to try it in a private dressing area versus getting changed in a large open room, which, by the following photo of Sack, you can see was less than private.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

December 4th, 2005

Happy Birthday Stephanie!!

Unfortunately, Stephanie spent the weekend of her birthday in her room, sick, and wasn't much in the mood for celebrating. On Sunday, while I spent the afternoon at Excelsior with Lukas, I waited to hear if she still wanted to get together for dinner. She finally emailed me around 5:30 and I scrambled to email everyone who's address I had on my keitai to invite everyone to Saizoriya for 7 o'clock. As I was overwhelmed with email responses and questions about the dinner plans, I remembered that I had to run home to pick up her present & cake. Because I met up with Anthony, Kai and Claudia there, and we had to wait for Lukas to head to his room and change. While we waited, Hatim joined the queue and Madoka came around looking for Andrew. By the time we all made it to Saty (where Stephanie, Desy, Natasya and Andrew were waiting), we were almost a 1/2 hour late. Because I brought cake, I didn't feel too bad.

Dinner was fun, although because Stephanie was still feeling nauseous, she didn't eat and Lukas & Hatim shared her food. While we were eating, she went to the pharmacy to find some medication for her nausea. Becaues the pharmacist had so many questions, she came back and asked Andrew to help her. They came back laughing, and Stephanie barely able to catch her breath long enough to explain.

The pharmacist had understood that she was feeling nauseaus, but rather than simply suggesting a medication, she was asking Stephanie the following questions, which Andrew had to translate for her:

  • How long have you been feeling nauseas?

  • When was your last period?

  • Is your period late?

And eventually, the woman suggested that Stephanie try a pregnancy test before she take any medication to help with her 'sickness'!! As you can see, Stephanie's reaction says it all:

~ ~ ~

After dinner, we had cake in the Saty Food Court. Stephanie cut the cake with the back of a plastic fork, and we enjoyed the chocolatey goodness. (I picked well!). Afterwards, we went back to the dorms and watched Mallrats in Hatim's room. Stephanie had never seen it before, and I hadn't seen it in almost 2 months.

Afterwards, Lukas, Natasya and I went for a late night walk through Inage. I'd never been there before, so Lukas and Natasya led the way, although I kept asking to go in various directions. We ended up in a playground, that had 2 swings. After drying the swings off with my gloves, Lukas & I sat down while Natasya took pictures of the deserted playground. I had Lukas show me constellations, and I can now actually recognize both Orion and the Big Dipper. Woohoo!

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Because of the length of this post, and the number of pictures I want to include, I am instead adding the direct links to my photo albums. Enjoy, and don't look at the fish market pictures on a full stomach ;)

Midterm Exam
As I already posted, I wrote my first midterm here on Friday morning. After studying for it all week, I still felt less than prepared, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that 3/4 of the exam was in multiple choice format, and the remaining sections included a listening section which was WAY easier than expected, and a written section that involved regurgitating a dialogue that I’d written and memorized for a homework assignment earlier in the month.

I was the 2nd person finished the exam, and left the room after about 40 minutes. For those of you that remember, I often finished early back home also – the pressure of time limits usually gets me processing faster, and I still look over my answers before handing it in. I wandered up to the computer lab, added some torrents to Hatim’s download queue and waited for Kai & Claudia to finish up.

From the exam, we went to our newly discovered 2nd floor cafeteria, where the portions are bigger and the food tastier than the 2 we usually frequent on ground level. Unfortunately, lunch isn’t served until 11, so we had to wait and chat for a half hour until we could eat. We compared notes about our exam and figured out which mistakes we each made where. Lunch was good, although slightly rushed because we wanted to get home and wake Lukas up for our day trip.

Day Trip: Part 1
After we did so, through a combination of emails and throwing stones at his window, we sat on the star between the dorm buildings with Katchan (who was studying Kanji, yay) and waited for Lukas. He kept us waiting for nearly an hour as he first researched our route for the day, and then tried to convince Hatim to join us. Hatim was too tired and stayed home, which Lukas only sulked about for an hour.

Train Ride = Kanji Lesson

After a preliminary visit to Excelsior and a Grande Caramel Latte, we were on our way to Hakone. The train ride began with an hour long commute from Inage to 小田原 odawara. When I pulled out my book to start reading, Lukas pouted and made a remark about it. (which, for the record, I deserve because I do that to him everytime he pulls out his IPod!) To be fair, I put my book away and instead, he taught me Kanji for the hour, as Claudia and Kai looked on. His methods differ from Andrews, and instead of focussing on similar sounds, he wants me to learn Kanji that look similar (share one common part called a radical). My hour long Kanji lesson included a quiz, in which I had to remember the on and kun readings of the various characters, as well as their general meanings. He's a tough teacher, but one I really want to impress.

Our Kanji lesson was not without it's humour. To begin with, I learned the character 建(たれ.る) which means to build or to erect. Then I learned 健(けん) which means healthy, but consists of the first kanji, to erect, and a radical which means man. Thus, when a man is erect, he is healthy. And surprise, surprise, I haven't forgotten the kanji since!

When we arrived at the train station where we needed to transfer from the JR line to the private train, we decided to try and scam our way through the ticket gate. Originally, because I had paid for my entrance to the train on my Suica (pass card), I thought I could swipe it on my way out and Lukas could squeeze through the gate behind me before it closed. Unfortunately, as we tried to rush through, my card's balance wasn't high enough, and laughing, we had to detour over to the fare adjustment machine and fix the card. Because Lukas got there first, he put his own card in and added money. Instead of following his example, I saved 2000 Yen and got through the gate behind him. A free trip on the JR, thanks Lukas!

箱根 Hakone ::: Hakone/Koyo Photos

Our train ride from Inage to Hakone, via Odawara, covered 126 km and took approximately an hour and a half. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that we were anxious to stretch our legs and find something to eat. Unfortunately, to do so, we had to exit Hakoneyumoto station and re-pay to get back in. Lukas found a sandwich with crust (extremely rare in Japan – the bread they sell in the supermarket actually has the crust removed) which he devoured while the rest of us looked on. Not sure how far we were going, we boarded the ‘scary’ mountain train [so named due to it’s 2 car total, extremely wobbly support system, and otherwise shoddy appearance] and admired the view of the Koyo as we slowly made our way up the mountain.

About 1/3 of the way up the mountain, we made a rash decision to get off of the train, and try to take advantage of the last precious moments of sunlight. (Throughout our travelling time, we watched despairingly as the sun slowly sank behind the mountains, knowing that we'd left too late for Koyo viewing.) After snapping a few pictures from the train stop, we began our hiking climb up the mountain. Passing a combination of civilization and natural growth, the path led us past a waterfall, a stream, scenic views of the Koyo, and the always important gas station.

At one point, after it had gotten dark, we found a cross roads. Instead of continuing on, Lukas ran up first one side of the mountain, where he 'discovered' an orange shrine, and then the other, where he found a residential neighborhood. (do homes on the side of a mountain count as a residential neighborhood? I digress.. ) While he was exploring the latter, Kai, Claudia and myself headed up to the orange shrine, where we discovered it was actually an Onsen (hot springs) resort.

The gift shop was an experience, ranging between the over priced souvenirs, home-made pastries, and numerous free samples. We took advantage of the warmth and the posh public washrooms, and slowly worked our way back outside. We thought, briefly, about maybe staying the night, but without even stopping to inquire about prices, we knew it was WAY out of our price range. Instead, we went back to the shrine that served as a sort of entrance to the resort, and explored the leaf-covered path to it's side. This was where we found our haven.

Not only did the path provide us with a setting for our numerous Koyo photos, but it also included a foot-bath type wading pool, which was steaming in the night air. Across from the structure that we could only assume was meant for shoe storage, was a beer vending machine - practically an oasis for the Europeans I was travelling with. The night progressed to the three of them soaking their feet over a can of beer, as I watched, amused, from the sidelines. Maybe under other circumstances I would have gone for a dip but I was worried that the steaming hot water would make me sleepier than I already was.

After nearly an hour in the steaming water, L, K and C got out and dried their feet off. We caught a bus back down the mountain and a train headed towards Yokohama. Lukas and I contemplated finding a place to stay in Yokohama, and returning to the mountain in the morning to see the Koyo during daylight, and possible a view of Fuji-san, but the plan was quickly forgotten as a night in Yokohama and Tokyo loomed ahead.

横浜 Yokohama ::: Yokohama Photos

I'm still not sure why, but it's always been a dream to go to Yokohama, and after the beautiful mountain side in Hakone, I was hyper and excited to finally arrive at the Japanese port city. Walking through the station area felt similar to walking around any other major station that I've been to, but at the same time, there was a new feeling in the atmosphere. I quickly realized what it was as we crossed a bridge over a section of the Ocean run-off, and remembered that we were at the ocean. Unlike Kujukuri or Odaiba, which are the 2 genuine beaches that I've seen so far in Japan, Yokohama is a bustling urban center and ocean front, combined. (yay!) Not sure where to start, we caught the subway to Minatomirai where we enjoyed a nice quiet dinner at the gourmet 'food court' of the Landmark Tower. The food court consisted of actual restaurants, not eateries, whose menus tended to be a bit extravagant. We found a Korean restaurant that was somewhat affordable, and enjoyed tasting each other's meals, and for everyone else, an actual pitcher of actually dark beer.

After our meal, we walked through the tower's garden court (basically like a shopping mall) where Lukas sighted a poster featuring an Austrian company, that seemed to make his night. We wanted to go to the top of the tower, but it was already closed, and instead, we rode the moving walkway (nothing fancier than the moving sidewalks at the airports back home) back to the station. We could see that the ferris wheel and roller coaster in the distance were not running, so after one final look back at Yokohama, we caught the train destined for Tokyo, and the next leg of our adventure.

Mad Dash for Tokyo

Our return trip to Tokyo began with the plan to work our way to Odaiba, where we could relax at the Onsen and sleep through the night before making our way to Harajuku for the next day's field trip. Unforunately, karma was not on our side, as we first had to wait 10 minutes for the Yamanote train, which was late, and then had to get smushed together on the train, that was ridiculously over-packed as it was the last train of the night. At Shimbashi, where we were meant to transfer from the Yamanote to another line, Lukas dashed through the station to catch the escalator, and was stopped short by a little Japanese man in uniform who informed us that we had missed the last train, and that the station was closed. Ticked off, he checked with a nearby taxi driver, but the ride to Odaiba from Shimbashi would have cost us over 1000 yen each (10$+) and we were not game. Checking the train schedule back inside the main terminal, our choices were limited as to where we could ride before the trains were all stopped for the night, and instead, we decided as a group to walk from Shimbashi to Roppongi. We didn't know at the time, but this was over a 5 kilometer walk!!

Walk to Roppongi ::: Roppongi Photos

The walk began simply enough - Lukas found our general direction on his keitai's GPS system, and we stopped at a combenie to pick up some noshes for the road. What we didn't count on, or at least what I hadn't experienced yet, was that on walks with Claudia that cover long distance, she gets easily distracted by 'unusual' sights, and wanders off in various directions, or worse, stops altogether to stare at something she finds fascinating. Our walk therefore involved many stops and turns that were not on the GPS route, but as a reward, we got to visit what we now fondly call, the Stair Shrine. The shrine began with a steep 86 stair climb to the front gate, where a sign describing the historical importance of the site and the significance of the stairs, was posted in front of the shrine's lakeside. We each split up, taking photos and contemplating life, in the picturesque landmark. We also couldn't help but notice the view of the Tokyo Tower, which we hadn't realized was nearby. We headed there next, following the trip down the back stairs, that were much less steep, and which led us to the back of the shrine and facing the general direction of the tower.

Because I've been to the tower before, and posted pictures, I'll skip a description now. Check back in September if you're curious.

After the tower, and a second trip to a combenie, we found our way to Roppongi where I finally had my first glimpse at the night life that is Richie's home away from home. Unforunately, my first impressions were not as gleaming as one might expect; the area was crowded with foreigners, most of whom were drunk and rowdy, unlike other areas of Tokyo, even on a Friday night. Wandering around, we had difficulty findind a place where we could sit and relax until the trains began running the next morning, and we therefore ended up in a cafe called the Cafe de Paris.

Besides the pictures that you must see to believe this, the cafe located just off the main drag featured 1880s European décor, 1920s dishes and to top off the strangeness of the cafe, Sean paul on the stereo as we walked through the door. Our time spent at the Cafe de Paris (approximately 2:30 - 6 am) was uneventful. After we each sipped a coffee, Lukas and Kai each took a Japanese style nap. (sitting in place), Claudia read my Doraemon comic, and I reviewed/studied my Kanji. (yes, I actually studied Kanji on a Friday night in Roppongi!).

築地市場 Tsukijishijou fish market ::: Tsukijishijou Photos

原宿 Harajuku ::: Harajuku Photos

(description to come)

Return Trip Home

(description to come)

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I just finished writing my first midterm here in Japan, and it was WAY easier than I'd expected (and than the midterms back home!). I of course don't expect to do well, seeing as I never do on Japanese exams, but at least I don't feel like a complete moron right now. I ever think I did half decently on the listening section!!

Yay me. *happy dance*

The rest of today will hopefully be spent travelling to Yokohama and visiting a national park nearby to see the 赤葉 koyo (autumn leaves) that Japan is famous for. We're a little late, but hopefully we'll still be able to enjoy the autumn aura. I can't wait! Check in soon for photos.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

update #2 for today

Claudia just told me about this movie, mainly because of some of the crazy Japanese people that frequent Excelsior.
The Idiots

my earliest memory

Lunch today began with an interesting conversation. Last night, Yoichiro emailed Katya asking her to recall her earliest memory. As she told us about it, I tried to remember mine, and found that it's not altogether early at all.

I couldn't have been older than 6 when this memory took place. Mom had just dropped Stephen and I off at our grandmother's house. He was only 3 or so at the time, and while he probably knew better, was running around the living room with his shoelaces untied. Mom was on her way to a golf tournament, dressed all in white, and had barely made it to the car when she heard Stephen screaming from inside the house.

Tripping on his shoe laces, Stephen fell head first onto the fireplace mantel. The skin on his forehead broke and what I remember most vividly from that fateful day is my mother's clothes bleeding as they soaked in the blood from his pouring wound.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Harry Potter & the Goblet Of Fire

The movie had it's good points and bad, but without sounding too pretentious, I still say the book is better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

November 23, 2005 - Road Trip 2005 (updated)

The plan for Japan’s Labour Day was to head out into the wild craziness that is Japan via a monstrously enormous rental car and Lukas’ shiny new driver’s license (actually, not shiny at all). We originally intended to leave the dorms at 10 am, but after an early morning call to the dealership, Lukas was told that the car would not be ready until 11. Between all of the paper work and waiting, and his solo drive back from Funabashi (to Inage), it was practically noon before we hit the road.

I quickly called shotgun (I suppose I had the advantage since nobody else in the car had ever heard of shotgun before – I explained) and got to sit in the front passenger seat, Claudia and Natasya took the middle section, and Kai got to stretch out in the back seat by himself.
Lukas seemed disappointed that he’d been given an automatic, and the day’s trip included a few brake-petal mishaps when he meant to reach for the clutch. Let’s just say that I now understand why you’re not supposed to eat in the car!

Without a clear destination in mind, we drove in the direction of downtown Chiba, hoping to find a place for some decent coffee to start the journey out in truly Western style. I should take a minute to describe our rent-a-car. For starters, Japan’s road systems are designed English style – with drivers on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. This is not the same as Canada, Austria, Germany or Indonesia and took some getting used to for all of us. Inside the car, everything is automatic, including the GPS console with the touch screen in the center of the dashboard. This became the center of our attention a number of times throughout the day, as we could use it to watch TV, listen to music (radio or CD), and plan our trips with the aid of the GPS tracking system. We also had 2 road maps in the car, one of which even listen each convenience store in Eastern Japan. Because I was riding shotgun, I got to manage most of the map-reading duties, and between Lukas and I, we figured out the GPS in no time. (ok, mainly him because I couldn’t read most of the kanji!)

The drive to Chiba was easy – we followed the road that runs parallel to our dormitory and it led us directly towards Chiba Port, which is where we decided to take our first stop. Chiba port is unlike any harbour front I’ve ever visited before – namely, it had a bizarre tower structure in which we could ride up to the viewing area, but chose not to because there would be nothing worth seeing in Chiba. Other than the tower, there was only a tiny beach front and a few barely-moving wind surfers. One family was having a good time as they forged through the task of building a sand castle, but otherwise, the people around us seemed mutually unimpressed with the industrial view along the coast line, and we didn’t stay long before returning to the car.

Again, without knowing where exactly we were going, Lukas pulled back onto the street in hopes of passing a Starbucks or Excelsior because by this point I desperately wanted a latte. Just before we left the port grounds, we saw some men in uniform handing out red flags to pedestrians around the park area. Wanting to know what the flags were all about, we had Lukas pull over against the curb, and I asked the woman who came up to the car window the following, “赤いの物をお願いします” [literal translation: the red things please] which of course elicited laughter from everyone because I didn’t know the vocabulary for flag. Afterwards, we realized that the flags were in celebration of Labour day, and we quickly lost interest in them, forgetting them in the various pockets and cubby holes in the car.

On the road, we saw a street sign directing us to Kujukuri, which Lukas explained was the opposite coast of the peninsula. We left in the direction of the beach, still hoping to find a "Cori approved" coffee shop, as by this time I was desperate for a latte (which for the record we never found!). After a half hour or so of sitting in the car, we were all ready for a snack/pee break, and the easiest place to pull over was at a supermarket called Hayashi food market. The only memorable moment at the su-pa was when a Japanese woman smiled at Claudia for the first time since she's come to Japan. It was so memorable, in fact, that 2 days later she is still beaming about the incident and wondering why the Japanese people in Inage aren't as friendly. (In my opinion, Japanese people in Inage *are* as friendly, they're just bitter about the fact that they live in Inage).

Kujukuri beach is better understand by the vast number of pictures that we each took with our cameras. I'm not sure if it was just the incredble openness of the area or the fact that I was sharing it with a group of friends that don't require a happy facade, but the coast line brought back all of the anxiety that I've been feeling since talking to Dad about Brandy earlier this week. I found a place in the sand where I could sit and think for a while, just staring out into the water and enjoying the fresh air.

Among the sights we enjoyed at Kujukuri, there were Japanese surfers, thousands of sea shells, and a washed up jelly fish. The waves (which were not very high) were crashing against the rocks and the clouds were forming strange shapes around the slowly setting sun.

After the beach, we decided to stop at a Japanese restaurant for lunch. The 5 of us sat back and relaxed over Udon and Ice Cream, and just enjoyed being in a new place with a new environment. The meal was delicious -- the noodles were homemade and the soup was so flavourful that I almost regret sharing with Lukas (who usually finishes my meals for me since my appetite has shrunk here in Japan).

Afterwards, because we had spent such a long time in the restaurant and missed the sunset, we decided to find an onsen (hot springs). Between Lukas searching on the GPS and Natasya looking through the road map, we found one that looked nearby and promising. I was given the road map, and with the use of my keitai's flashlight, navigated us from Kujukuri to Kimitsu, via 2 rural highways, and an extremely windy mountain road, which Lukas insisted on driving too quickly.
I ended up getting queasy (surprisingly) and I took advantage of the back seat and laid down with Lukas' IPod and just chilled.

From my vantage point (lying in the back seat), I missed most of the sights en route to the Onsen, but after I felt the car stop and could sense everyone shifting around, I sat up to see what the situation was. We had arrived at our destination, the Koito Onsen but it was closed! Frustrated and tired, we decided as a group to head back towards Chiba, hoping to find someplace along the way to relax over a cup of coffee (as the search for the perfect latte continued) and eager not to drive back down the winding mountain road, Lukas and Kai used the GPS system to find us the easiest (and fastest) route back. We ended up taking the toll highway and made it back to Chiba in record time (for us, anyways). The trip would have gone off without a hitch, except that after exciting the toll highway and following the GPS to downtown Chiba, Lukas drove a little too close to the side of the road and got into a fight with the guard rail. As you can see from the photo, the guard rail won out, and I have now experienced my first car accident in Japan.

Because the 'crash' didn't actually feel like anything serious, Lukas kept driving, and even after surveying the damage when we parked the car in downtown Chiba, we didn't think that calling the emergency line that the pamphlets explained, as very necessary. Instead, we walked as a group through the Yakuza (mafia) neighborhood in search of a coffee shop that Claudia & Lukas had discovered earlier in the week. We found it closed, a common trend on this trip, and returned to the car. We decided to drive back to Funabashi (Tsudanuma) and return the car, thinking it would be easier to find a coffee shop on foot.

At the dealership, Lukas was informed by the rental agent that because he had purchased the extra insurance (thankfully), he would not have to pay for the damage, but he did have to return to the scene of the accident and call the police to fill out an accident report. Because it was already so late, we split up into two groups. Lukas & Natasya (the 2 with the best Japanese language abilities) went in the car back to the now infamous guard rail, and Kai, Claudia and myself caught the train back to Inage, where we grabbed a quick dinner (Takoyaki) and went back to the dorms to do our homework.

Lukas and Natasya didn't get home until nearly 3 am, and they explained that after they had waited an hour for the police to show up, they had to wait an additional hour, answering questions and waiting for the police to finish. It was too late to return the car, so after driving back to Inage, they had dinner and returned to the dorms. Lukas then had to call the insurance company and give them the information regarding the accident and the police report, and while the rest of us went to sleep hoping to wake up in time for class, he and Natasya arranged to meet up in the morning and return the car.

All in all, I'd say our road trip was adventurous and full of stories. The pictures tell it better than I ever could, so check them out!

Monday, November 21, 2005

what to do...

I wasn’t expecting good news when Dad emailed me this morning asking what time was good for him to call, but I also wasn’t expecting the news to be as shocking either. Spinal disks in Brandy (my 14 year old Shih-tzu) have disintegrated and left her hind legs paralyzed. Over the weekend, she struggled to pull herself around the house with her two front paws while her rear ones dragged limply behind her. Between shaking from the pain and not eating for nearly 2 days, she worried Dad enough to leave work early on Monday and drive her to our family veterinarian, where she received a shot of cortisone and a prescription for medication that has a 20% chance of repairing the disks in her back.

These are the options that Dad has laid out for me, and basically what I have to think about and decide on between now and Sunday, when her medication is finished and decision making time will begin.

1. Do nothing – this means that Brandy will most likely be in constant pain and will also be a burden on Dad & Stephen who will have to carry her everywhere: to eat, to drink, to bed and outside. She most likely will not regain any feeling in her back paws, and within 3 months, the vet has predicted that she will lose control of her bladder (a sign of more internal injuries) and we will have to put her down.

2. Surgery. There is a procedure that offers a 60% chance of recovery, but because she is already 14 years old, there are added dangers in the use of anaesthetics and she may not wake up from the surgery table. Also, she would then need to be bed-ridden (which means kennelled when there is nobody home, and which she has never been before) for 4-6 weeks, and she will be much more susceptible to various infections and other fun maladies. Besides which, even if she recovers after the surgery and 6 weeks of healing, we’re not sure how long the repaired disks would even hold out.

3. My suggestion, although not much of a solution, is to find some sort of attachment on wheels for her back legs that will allow her to pull herself around and increase her mobility to almost normal. Since there are no stairs in the house, this seems like a viable option, but again, I don’t know – none of us know – how much pain she is in, or will continue to be in, and whether or not the ruptured disks are due of something worse or what will come next.

Irregardless of what solution I/we decide on, I’m having difficulty facing this problem from thousands of miles away, especially after the last time I went through this, barely more than one year ago. I remember reaching the end of mid-terms back in my 2nd year at the UofA when Dad called to tell me that Bogey, my first Shih-tzu had been diagnosed with cancer and I was faced with similar choices. At least in that situation, I knew that he was in incredible pain and there would be no chance of recovery, and the decision to put him down seemed at least humane. I was devastated – as those of you around me will remember, and I could barely get out of bed for days. My grades suffered, my friends didn’t know how to help me, and I ended up back on medication to help deal with my depression. After feeling so torn at not being with him for the last few years of his life, I decided to bring Brandy to Edmonton with me, where we lived together for the last year, and I got as attached to her as I once was to Bogey. Now, to be going through this again, seems almost incomprehensible. Rationally, I knew she wasn’t going to live forever, and that being away for a year left a good chance that I wouldn’t be there when/if something like this happened, but that doesn’t help emotionally, nor does it make going through this any easier.

It’s probably not fair to post something like this on a blog, where everyone expects to read about my adventures and experiences in an exotic country, but since I feel so disconnected from people back home, I’m writing this in hopes that everyone will take a few moments to share some thoughts and stories from that side of the world.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

November 12, 2005

3 people, 4.5 hours of karaoke, need I say more?

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 11, 2005

I don’t know why, but I woke up today with a shooting pain in my upper back, and after class this morning & lunch on campus, I came back and spent the day in bed, napping and trying to feel better. I have taken tons of pills for it, but they don’t seem to be helping – what I really need is a massage. Ouch!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

November 10, 2005

I got my microwave! Thanks Tedi!! Have I mentioned this microwave yet? It’s been in the works for a few weeks now, and after hearing from a mysterious source (thanks Desy) that Tedi had a microwave that he wasn’t using this year, I’ve been anxiously awaiting my room’s addition. Since Tedi moved his micro to Mae’s room, I checked with her how late she would be up tonight, and with my 11 o’clock curfew, I asked Kai for help carrying the microwave. (Normally, I’d have no problem schlepping it myself, but Tedi said it was ridiculously heavy). After kidding around for a bit, Kai of course agreed to help (such a sweetheart) and finally, the plan was in motion.

After school, Lukas, Claudia, Stephanie, Kai and myself biked to Chiba and sat around at a coffee shop shooting the breeze. It was nice to just relax and catch up – I can’t believe how often I am organizing coffee shop visits here in Japan. Afterwards, we went on another visit to Yodobashi Camera, where Lukas bought his IPod, I got an S-Cable (to watch DVDs from my computer on the TV) and we once again tried to get me a faster internet connection. From Yodobashi, the gang went for dinner and I left them to return home. I had to teach at 7:30 and didn’t want to risk being late, especially after calling in sick the week before.

Kaori-san came early, and was already waiting outside when I went down just before 7:30. We headed to the meeting room after she told me her mother wasn’t coming, and spent the next hour talking about what we’d done for the past 2 weeks. She had some difficulty getting a handle on the phrase ‘the week before last’ but by the end, was using it like a pro. She has asked me if it is alright if she spends time throughout the week writing me a letter and then we can use it for content to talk about during our weekly sessions. I of course agreed, although somewhat nervously when she explained that the letter would most likely be in Japanese. She agreed to use very little Kanji and I will bring my dictionary from now on, just in case. (hah, who I am I kidding, I’ll need it!)

After class, I came back up to my room and was just ready to settle in for the night when I got an email from Claudia that they were back from Chiba and wanted to do homework together. I invited her and Kai up to my room, and quickly claimed the best seat in the room (on the bed next to the pillows). When I heard a knock at the door, I was surprised to find Kai by himself – Claudia had to make a “quick” stop at her room, which turned into nearly 20 minutes in which she was outside of her room looking for her keys, which were inside on her desk. Oops! The 20 minutes turned out to be the best part of my day, Kai came in and we chatted one on one for a change. It was nice to have a conversation with him, rather than feeling like I’m the only one interested in talking, and I was a bit disappointed when Lukas called asking if he could come up. But, he came, finding Claudia along the way, and he was able to help us with our dictation homework. Afterwards, Lukas spent well over an hour playing with his new IPod (and my computer!) while Kai & I continued bits of our conversation with Claudia. Since we all got hungry, Lukas cooked again, and we enjoyed noodles with Chicken & Tofu a la Austrian, while listening to a bizarre CD that Claudia was lent by Salvatorez (the Italian). They all enjoyed a group named Stereo Tonic which had a woman singing French and German songs in a terrible accent. Even I thought it sounded funny, but then again, sometimes when L,K & C are chatting in their native language, I think the same thing.

Just before 11, Kai reminded me about my microwave (which I’d been hinting about all night long) and we headed across the mini-quad to C building. On the 4th floor, we found Tedi, Desy and Poo in Mae’s room, and they kidded around with us for a bit as Kai picked up the microwave, exclaiming how heavy it wasn’t. He ended up carrying it all the way back for me while I opened doors for him.

The microwave looks right at home on my desk, but the inside is nauseatingly dirty. I will have to spend a few hours over the weekend cleaning and airing it out before the microwave will be safe for use. Afterwards, I’m looking forward to being able to warm up my own food rather than running down to the combenie.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

November 9, 2005

Another Wednesday meant another visit to Tsutaya, and today we rented the following:
- The Machinist
- Shrek 2
- Aladdin
- Blood & Bones (Japanese)
- Pi
- Requiem for a Dream
We watched the Machinist and Shrek 2 in C building (with the couches) after which we had a late night homework party and went to bed way too late for a school night. I love Wednesdays!

Monday, November 07, 2005

November 7, 2005

After missing each other for nearly a week, Richie and I met up and headed over to the combenie together after school. Grabbing a chu-hi and a beer respectively, we proceeded to the park nearby where we sat for over an hour just talking and catching up. His Japanese experience is so completely different than mine, it’s difficult to believe we’re here on the same program, but it’s definitely nice to hear what type of lifestyle I could be living if I’d come to Japan back when I was 18. (clubbing in Tokyo sounds like a blast, if only I didn’t require 10 hours of sleep on a school night, heh).

Following our talk, we headed back to the dormitory and ran into the usual suspects drinking beer and planning a karaoke excursion. At first I was excited to go with them, but when messages got mixed up, I ended up getting ditched by them when I had to excuse myself up to my room for a minute. I wasn’t impressed at the time, but when I found out afterwards (i.e. Wednesday afternoon) that they were all drinking, smoking, and singing until 5:30 in the morning, and while half of them slept the day away to wake up hung over, the other half had made it to school without any sleep at all, and all of them were in rough shape. Kudos to me for staying in and sleeping, I suppose. It would have been fun, but there will be plenty more karaoke visits on the weekends.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

November 6, 2005

Good grief, trying to read an ENTIRE school book in one day is not fun. Today was spent struggling through “You’ve Got To Have Wa”, the novel basis for Tom Sellick’s film “Mr. Baseball”. While it started out semi-interesting, after the 5th chapter describing all of the racism and difficulties that foreigners face in Japan, I was sick of the one-sidedness and needed someone to vent to. I emailed Kai asking if he wanted to come up later, and after getting a vague answer, gave up on him and invited Lukas up. He agreed to come, after he’d finished the first 100 pages, and so I settled back in to read while I waited.

When he came up, he brought food (yay) which we shared while we vented about the novel, and then sat down to read (surprisingly quietly) for another 45 minutes or so. We mutually agreed to skip that last few chapters, reading only the titles and headings for a basic idea of what each chapter was about, and then we skimmed the epilogue for any last minute information.

When we finished, we decided we deserved a treat, and after calling Kai to come up, we set up my computer to watch a Japanese Mafia movie called “Brother”. The film takes place in LA, and used too much English for our tastes, but otherwise had a really good story line and some decent cinematography.

After the movie, Kai left and Claudia came up. After I made the mistake of mentioning that I was hungry, but didn’t want to go out in the rain, Lukas excitedly took over my kitchen and cooked for us. I invited Natasya over and the four of us shared Lukas’ interpretation of Japanese stirfry over noodles. I’m glad I had a fridge full of food, but we were somewhat short on the bowls and chop sticks. I guess I’ll have to make another trip to the 100 Yen shop one of these days. I plan on having many more ‘hanging out in my room’ days – it feels more like res. this way.

my contact info

sorry everyone, I got tired of looking at the giant picture of myself so I deleted the blog entry, but I saved all of your comments in my email folder. Anyways, I've been asked about contact info, so here goes.

Cori Plucer
263-0043 Konakadai
Inage-ku, Chiba-shi, Japan
6-33-7 E-405

Japanese (for those of you brave enough to try the kanji)
パルサー コリー
263-0043 小仲台
6-33-7 E-405

For anyone interested, my keitai (mobile phone) is 080-5413-4196, but I'm not sure how to call from overseas, and my keitai email is but use for urgent emails only, since it costs me LOTS to reply from it.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

November 5, 2005

Another day trip to Tokyo included a visit to Akiba (Akihabara), an hour in Yodobashi Camera, boy shopping in Ueno’s Ame market (where Dad & I did most of our souvenir shopping) and late night drinking in Ueno park. Check out the pictures for a better idea of what that entails!

We finally got to play pool, which we did back in Inage after catching that last train home from Tokyo. The pool is located in a building that is a members only club. We had to join up, which was relatively cheap, and head upstairs to the third floor where 5 pool tables and some dart boards line the walls. I took a detour to the private computer cubicles, where I jumped at the chance to catch up on email and blogging, now that internet is impossible back at the dorms, and then I joined the gang for pool. We were there well into the morning, after which, we came home and sat in the meeting room laughing and talking until 5 am.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

October 30, 2005

Old news already, but I got my hair cut! Today was also filled with 9 hours of shopping in Chiba. First, the Indonesians at Uniqlo, then after coffee with Lukas at Starbucks (sorry Dad) another trip to Uniqlo and then finally Mister Donut with Lukas, Hatim, Daniel and Ahmed. A long day without much to write about..

Saturday, October 29, 2005

October 29, 2005

Architecture Field Trip #1 -- Samurai House & National History Museum

After the late return home last night, I wasn’t impressed with my 9 am alarm going off. I hit snooze 3 times, but guiltily got out of bed at a quarter past 9 and stepped into the shower. While I sat drying my hair, Richie emailed me to say he was running late, and I quickly got dressed & ready to go. By the time I made it downstairs, there was a group waiting for me, and together, we ended up waiting together for Hatim, as per usual. The train ride to Sakura was simple enough – mainly because our professor and his family led the way. His wife spoke English, and their 2 sons were happy to attach themselves to Richie & Hatim throughout the day, ironically, the two with the least amount of Japanese language abilities.

Our visit to the Samurai house began with a call from home - Babi called me, which I had not been expecting, and I fell back behind the group to talk to her for nearly 20 minutes. It was so nice hearing her voice, despite the fact that I was melancholic for the rest of the day, and to hear her version of how things were back home was such a treat. After the call, I wandered around the Samurai houses mainly by myself, lost in thought of history and all the things I'd learned about Japan's Samurai class back home. The simplicity and functunality of the homes was inspiring (see pictures!) and I'm so glad I was in a somber mood - which I think the feel of the houses helped to accentuate.

From the Samurai houses, we took the scenic route through a bamboo thicket towards the National History museum. It felt like a scene out of a movie, between the stairs built out of rock and the bamboo lining the pathway. Claudia, Katchan and Richie even managed to get so caught up in the forest that when we arrived at the park entrance for the museum, they were nowhere to be found. Between emails and phone calls, Kai & I figured out that they were finding their way to us, and we gave them directions as best we could.

The park began with a steep climb of nearly 100 stairs, and then a stroll across an empty field before squeezing through the brush into the museum area. The park that lined the museum included a large cafeteria-styled building, where we sat as a group to eat our lunch and wait for the three castaways. By the time they showed up, lunch was finished, and we began our tour of the museum.

5 hours and many many pictures later, when our field trip came to a close, we began the long and tiring trip back home. After a bus ride back to the train station, and 2 trains back to Inage, we again split into two groups, half of us going to Tengu for dinner, and the others returning home.

Dinner was delicious, and full of laughs. Some of the Japanese students from our class had joined us and we were able to continue practicing our Japanese. We shared stories of the party the night before and afterwards, we said goodbye and returned back to the dorm, where Daniel surprised me with Starburst that he'd gotten from back home. Starburst!! (thanks Daniel)

After a failed attempt to share the day's pictures in Stephanies room (failed because there were so many people and only one computer, lol), Kai, myself and Hatim sat back to watch Dragonhead, one of the worst, and I do mean WORST, movies I have ever seen. It was so bad, in fact, that Hatim turned it off halfway through and decided to watch Zatoichi. Since I'd seen it a few days before, I headed off to bed, intent on updating my blog to include a warning to those out there that might one day have wondered whether Dragonhead is a must see or not.

Friday, October 28, 2005

October 28, 2005

After classes, Desy and I decided to go on a bicycle excursion to Inage Kaikan, the local beach. After getting directions from Yoichiro, we headed off with Desy in the lead. The ride took nearly 20 minutes, and as we rode through areas of Chiba that I've never seen before, I couldn't help but wonder just how big Chiba really is.

The beach was less than exciting. The coast was crowded with industrial sized factories and the smoke from their chimneys could be seen drifting into the sky. The shore itself was rocky and deserted, and I almost felt like we were trespassing on some forgotten piece of land, rather than visiting what should have been a beautiful and inspiring sea shore. To make up for our disappointment in the beach, we enjoyed a bike ride through the neighboring park, which was everything we'd hoped the beach would be. Beautiful trees and flowers lined the perimeter and a large green space looked inviting as we rode passed. Perhaps we'll have picnics there next summer - if we're up for the 20 minute bike ride, of course.

After returning home, Lukas and I headed off to Saty for a late lunch at Saizoria. The family style Italian restaurant is cheap and delicious, and has a nice atmosphere for just chilling out and shooting the breeze. We caught up - it had been a few days, and then headed back to the dorms, where I helped Desy re-arrange her furniture.

After a quick nap, we met up in front of the dorms and rode our bicycles back to school for yet another welcome party. This time, the party was being held in one of the cafeterias, and students (other than us 'new' international students) actually had to purchase their entry tickets. Inside, we assumed our usual groups and enjoyed another 2 hours of self-introductions and broken Japanese conversation with some new faces, and mostly old ones. Afterwards, when the party was over and we were ushered out of the cafeteria, we walked to the nearby conbenie and bought some refreshments. We then stayed on campus until the wee hours of the night, chatting, laughing, and sharing stories from back home.

My favorite part of the evening was finally sharing a decent conversation with Kai, a surprisingly quiet friend from Germany. He describes himself as someone who prefers to 'observe', and he rarely says anything just for the sake of hearing himself speak, as so many other people do. We talked about friends and family, life back home, and why we were both here in Japan.

While our other friends drank enough to do the following (see below), Kai & I just chilled, making him one of my favorite people here in Japan.

- getting drunk enough to fall off a bicycle (Katchan)
- shouting my name out and calling me while I snuck away to pee (Lucas)
- dancing without any music (Claudia)
- chatting up the crazy lady who then proceded to stalk him (Lucas)
- happily using my camera and taking all sorts of crazy pictures (Andrew)
- and so many other things happened that I can't even share on a public blog!!

After the party, we split into 2 groups. The first, mainly filled with the Americans & Europeans, headed into downtown Chiba to find a bar where they stayed and drank until very early (late?) the next morning. Andrew, Kai and myself decided instead to ride back home, where we split up and I headed to sleep. All in all, I'd say the drinking party at the Uni was successful - everyone had fun, and it felt true to the Japanese way of bonding -- over sake!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

October 27, 2005

So much homework, I don’t understand why everyone says that Japanese University is comparatively easier than the classes back home – bah!

I went for coffee with Lukas & Kai today, at the coffee shop at the station that Dad & I went to on our first day in Japan. It was a nice visit, they’re both really interesting – usually :). Afterwards, I had another English class, and when I went down to meet Kaori-san and her mother, Aki was in the building. He asked Kaori if it was alright that he join, and she agreed, so the hour was spent having the three of them introduce themselves and practice conversation. I think it is much easier with more students, because they can each practice asking and answering the same question until they really understand the individual phrases.

Afterwards, I settled into bed and watched Kurosawa’s “Zatoichi”, one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. The English subtitles were helpful, but there were even scenes in Japanese that I could mostly understand. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

October 26, 2005

I got to play a shamisen (Japanese guitar) today!! So much fun, I hope I get to try again!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

October 23, 2005

I have now officially seen the Pacific ocean from both sides, and can say that the best vantage point is still dead set in the middle in Hawaii! Odaiba, a coastal area of Tokyo made famous by it’s towering ferris wheel, was a day trip to Tokyo that brought us to my first beach in Japan. The ferris wheel, as you can see in the pictures, was HUGE, taking 17 minutes to make one entire revolution. The wheel actually doesn’t stop, and we had to get on and off while it was moving (relatively slowly). The view from the top was incredible, seeing Tokyo on one side and the vaste expanse of the ocean on the other was exhilarating. Also, it was Richie’s first time ever seeing an ocean, and his energy and excitement was contagious, making all of us enjoy it that much more.

We stayed around Odaiba Park until sunset (check out the pictures!) and then headed back, on a very long and error filled train ride. Somehow, we managed to catch the wrong train, THREE times, and the ride home took over 2.5 hours. We were all so happy to be back, that I think we each returned to our respective rooms to lie down and prepare for another school week.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

October 22, 2005

Saturday October 22nd was a day spent celebrating Andrew’s 23rd birthday. He was busy throughout the day, preparing for his clubs welcome party that night, and he & Madoka could be seen diligently working away at preparing sushi & other various food prep while we went back and forth to Maruetsu and Saty over the day. I managed to spend some time blogging, and catching up on my internet stuff before the party, and otherwise, spent the day close to home just vegging.

The party for new students started like any other – everyone mauling the food and grouping up into the usual cliques. To remind us of our place, the party included a time where all of the ‘new’ students had to parade up to the front of the room and introduce ourselves (via a microphone) to the room. In revenge, I suggested to Andrew that since everyone now knew who we were, we had a right to know everyone else, and they in turn had to do the same. While we were approaching the end of the self-introductions, I spread the word that it was Andrew’s birthday, and after the last person had been introduced, Sack (short for Alexander from Australia) headed up to use the microphone. He informed the room that it was Andrew’s birthday, and then sang happy birthday to him. We all laughed and clapped, and I swear if Andrew was white he would have been the color of a tomato!

From the party, everyone wanted to do something as a group, and so we headed towards the station to sit in a coffee shop. We enjoyed a long talk over our lattes and cappuccinos, and then stopped by the game center (arcade) to take some puri-kura, the miniature photo stickers Japan is famous for. As 9 of us crowded into the purikura booth, I knew it had been a bad idea, but the photos came out relatively well. I have since affixed one onto my denshi case and gave the rest away to people that weren’t with us.

After returning home from the arcade, we met up with a group of people that were heading towards Karaoke. There was already a huge group there, and it turned into a bit of chaos as we waited to get a bigger room. Karaoke was fun, and before Andrew lost his voice for the night (he had been emceeing the party before hand) we managed to sing BEPs together – one of his favourites.

Friday, October 21, 2005

October 21, 2005

You can imagine how I felt waking up today, knowing I would finally, after a MONTH of waiting, be able to access my money and finally feel like I can afford to live in Japan. I didn’t make it to the ATM before class, but immediately afterwards, a group of us walked over to the train station and I happily approached the cash corner, expecting to stuff my wallet full of crisp thousand yen bills. I was NOT impressed when the bank machine refused to process my withdrawal, and continued to tell me I had no money. Pissed off, and ready to tear my hair out, I hopped on the train back to Inage and marched into the bank ready to go postal on Chiba Gin. Instead, I calmly approached the lady who by now is definitely afraid of me and probably every Gai-Jin, and handed her my ATM receipts asking her what the problem was. She ran up to one of the bank clerks and huddled together, they tried to assess what the problem was. Finally, she came up to me and meekly asked if I would wait until 2 pm and re-try. I of course, said yes, knowing there was no other choice. I decided, mainly since I was so stressed out, to blow off psychology class, and instead, I came back to my room and had a nap. At 2, I went back to the bank, and thankfully, was able to take money out at the ATM. I did so, updating my bank book at the same time, and from now on, I intend to never step foot into the bank ever, EVER, again.

Stephanie and I headed over to Saty together, where I bought myself 2 new futons and a bed sheet. One of the futons is a fuzzy blue velvety-type one, that has elastics that attach it to the mattress, and which I sleep on top of. The second futon is a thicker duvet-style and I use it as a comforter. The 2nd is also blue, but with darker blue squares all over it, and it matches my curtains. The combination now makes my room the prettiest in the building (my opinion, and not yet confirmed) and about 3 times more comfortable than the rented sheet package I’ve been using previously.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

October 20, 2005

I bought curtains!! After almost 3 weeks of living with dingy, dirty, gross looking curtains over my windows and (for one night) against my bed, I took them down and stuffed them into my suitcase until the end of the year. I bought some pretty blue embroidered curtains at Maruestsu (the grocery store with the 100\ shop on the 3rd floor) and put them up. They look so clean and fresh, and make the room feel so much prettier!! Yay me!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

October 19, 2005

Since I begin classes during the 2nd period on Wednesday, I had the chance to run to the administration office at 9 am sharp, the second that they opened. I got my registered mail, which was finally my bank card!! I immediately ran upstairs to get my cheques and headed over to Chiba Gin. When the bank lady saw me again, she refused to come out from behind the teller desks to help me, and I patiently waited until one of the ‘unexpecting’ employees came over. I explained that I had my bank card and wanted to deposit my cheques, and we began the HOUR long process. After many phone calls, questions and dazed looks, the banker finally managed to process my deposit after I agreed to pay 2500 Yen (25$) each and to wait until Friday (2 days) to access the money. I agreed, figuring I had no choice and that a 2 day and 5000\ processing fee was worth it to finally have my money for the year. After the hour in the bank and the many many frustrating questions and waiting periods, I explained that I had to leave for class, and they rapidly got my signature on the necessary forms and said goodbye.

Other than the usual class stuff, I wrote out my first Japanese sakubun (essay) today, and I will include it at the bottom for those of you who are interested. I had Nobu (my tutor) edit it for me, and he had only minor changes, which made sense when I saw them. I’m not sure what the marking criteria will be for assignments like this, but I’m thinking mostly just completion marks, so the writing exercise is more practice than anything else. Keep checking in for my weekly essays and we’ll see if I actually improve.

On the ride home from school, Eugenie and I stopped in at Tsutaya, the video rental store down the street from our dormitory. Together, we signed up for membership cards (which are free for students). Every Wednesday, renting movies or CDs (which they have tons of) costs 210 Yen each. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to watch, but I began my movie renting history with a classic: Aladdin. I figured if I could follow along with the Japanese version, I’d be ready for just about anything.

After dinner and a visit with Stephanie, I began my first teaching session with Kaori-san. Her mother had to work and was going to miss our first class, so we spent the hour introducing ourselves and talking about various things that Kaori likes to do in her free time. Her English proficiency is better than I was expecting, and with the use of our electronic dictionaries, she was able to describe Odaiba to me since I am planning on going there this weekend. I hope each week will go as quickly as today’s session did, because the hour was over before I even realized. We said goodbye, confirming our date for next week, and that was it.

Afterwards, I caught up with the girls outside and was in the process of telling them about my tutoring session when I experienced my 2nd earthquake. We were sitting on the steps of D building and felt it begin to shake. Stephanie was in her room (4th floor) and she ran out onto the balcony. We were all freaked out, but she had it worse than us, because after the ground stopped shaking, the building kept going for at least 1 more minute. I guess it’s a relief to know that when I feel it in my room it will feel worse than it actually is, but for now, I’m glad I was at ground level.

Being shook up by the earthquake, and somewhat energized by my successful English class, I spent the rest of the night in my room, cleaning and rearranging furniture. I put my bed against the balcony doors and flipped my desk around to the opposite wall, where the bed was to begin with. As a result, my room feels bigger (and therefore, less claustrophobic) and after I get some decorations up, this place might start to feel like home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October 18, 2005

After school and dinner and all of the usual stuff on Tuesday, I headed up to Laila’s room for a visit. I didn’t realize it, but I was heading into the middle of a pajama party, and I wasn’t even wearing my PJs! Desy & Steph joined us in Laila’s room, and we had a mini-party just chatting & laughing as girls will do. I wish I was in the same building as the rest of them, but I suppose there’s some merit to living in my own place – they can be pretty noisy when we all get together.

The only other thing worth mentioning today is that when I was online (back in the lobby of my bldg), Richie came out and let me listen to one of his CDs from home. I heard some Hungarian Hip Hop, which was an experience. I definately recommend getting your hands on some if you get the chance - any music repertoire would be incomplete without it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

October 17, 2005

My first Monday of classes included Japanese History in an International context. The class reminded me of my history teacher back home, Professor Vinh who suffered a stroke this summer. I hope I can get his gift home to him (Lisa, I'm still waiting for your address!!) and I am looking forward to the class to see how learning about Japanese history differs in Japan from back in Canada.

After class, I headed into downtown Chiba with Richie. We wandered around, exploring new stores and a shopping mall. I introduced him to Tower Records, where I picked up another copy of J5, which I've been missing since leaving all of my CDs back home. What was I thinking? I am in music withdrawal here. We wanted to sit in a coffee shop somewhere and just chat, but because we had another welcome party back at the dorms at 6 o'clock, we ended up catching the rush hour train back to Inage.

The party was somewhat dissapointing.. for the 500 Yen (approx. 5$) it cost to get in, most of the food was pork and/or cheese, and I barely ate a thing. After the party, we broke up into smaller groups and visited like usual.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

October 16, 2005

Today I experienced my first earthquake. I was lying in bed, just about to fall asleep for a nap and the bed started shaking. It was very subtle, and at first I thought maybe a big truck was driving by and I was only feeling the vibrations, but the shaking kept going and I realized what it was. According to Daniel, the quake was only a 3 on the Japanese 7 point system, so I guess that would make it about a 2.3 on the Richter? Anyways, as the quake settled down, I drifted off to sleep and woke up 4 hours later to a bunch of missed emails and text messages.

** You'll notice that I have started an Earthquake Counter on the right hand side of my blog. It will stay as current as possible, mainly because the earthquakes continue to freak me out, and that way, everyone back home will know I've been through another one **

I met up with Steph for dinner, we had Italian, and afterwards, everyone was grouped out front chatting about the quake and life in general. It sounds like we’re going to the Tokyo Amusement Park next week and our new vocabulary word for the day was Ferris wheel ‘kanransha’.

The rest of my day was spent trying to do some of my Economics reading. It is so dry and full of concepts that I don’t really understand that I made very little headway. I finished up my Japanese homework but I still have my self-introduction essay to write this week. If I can get it written by Tuesday, Nobusan (my tutor) will help look over it for/with me.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

October 15, 2005

Thanks dad!

I just got my first package from back home, my rain jacket and pillow - the two things I've been missing most from back home. After getting my stuff upstairs, I had a 30 minute from home and other than that, I spent all day blogging!! Still so far behind, but I'm trying to catch up, I swear!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

October 14, 2005

(From now on, I'm going to make the blog entries short & sweet until I catch up. There is so much happening almost every day that I can't keep up with it and I want my comments to be in sync with what I'm actually doing!)

My first day riding to school by myself, started with a visit to the bank at 9 am when the opened the doors. I was actually a few minutes early and got to experience waiting in line for the bank to open, followed by the chorus of irashaimase as the gates opened up. The bank manager was waiting for me, and together we filled out all of the forms that I needed and sat through the hour long account opening process. I wonder if it takes that long for a local to open an account? Anyways, after an hour I explained that I had to leave for school and so he told me that they would mail my bank card to me. After I got it, and ONLY after, would I be able to deposit my bank drafts. I thanked him and left, vowing to bomb threat the bank under my breath. If I never have to deal with a Japanese bank again, it will be too soon.

From the bank, I followed the course that I thought would take me school. In hindsight, I should have asked someone for directions before I left the dorm this morning, but I thought I remembered the route Stephanie led me on the night before. I was wrong. After nearly 30 minutes of riding around in circle (mainly following various Japanese teenagers in school uniforms) I pulled into a convenience store and asked the clerk for directions. Thankfully, she was able to show me on a map so my limited Japanese language abilities weren't an issue. I managed to pull into the CIRE (center of international research and education) building a mere 2 minutes before class started.

Getting home after school was exciting, mainly because I had a slip in my mailbox from Fed Ex. The package I had asked for from home was here, and I had Yoichiro (a Japanese friend) phone them and arrange a drop-off time for Saturday morning. After wards, I went on a bit of a shopping spree and I filled my fridge with goodies.

After dinner and some visiting in the front steps area, Hatim gave us a glow-stick show. He has been glow sticking for a year back in Chicago, and in the dark it looks really cool. The glow sticks are attached to strings, which he uses to spin them around and perform various tricks. I tried taking pictures, but because the background is so dark, first my camera wanted to use a flash - which of course ruined the effect. Also, the glow sticks move so quickly that I couldn't get a decent picture. I wish I had a manual camera so I could have set the shutter speed, but my digi-cam doesn't have that option.