Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Thank You

Thank you to my parents who call so often I think I will slowly go crazy, but am constantly reminded that they miss me and that unlike some of my friends who hear from home so infrequently here, that there are people back home still thinking of me.

Thank you to my friends who read my blog and COMMENT (ahem). It is nice to hear from you and I'm always appreciative to think there is someone out there who cares enough to hear what I have to say. Besides which, it makes me feel like less of a stalker when reading your blogs.

Thank you also to my friends who do not comment. I know you're out there, reading silently, hopefully laughing when appropriate. It is nice to not feel overwhelmed by comments and messages from those of you who communicate better face to face and I know you still love me, so all is good.

Finally, thank you to whomever decided that the school year in Japan would consist of the entire month of March off, and March, where are you?! I cannot wait to go to Hawaii, to get a break from Dorm Life, to get a holiday from studying and writing reports and sharing computers with throngs of international students, and I miss the sun!!

BTW, I finally added some more pictures to my photo page.. check out Desy's and Natasya's birthday parties, as well as my home stay. I should be able to get some more up sometime later this week, but for now, back to studying. またね~

Sunday, January 29, 2006

not much to report..

I spent the weekend pretty much hanging around the dorm bored and wishing I had friends all over Japan that would whisk me away for some excitement, but alas, I had to make do with a lunchtime visit to Chiba. I was at the station on time, nursing my miniature caramel latte and waiting for Mariko when my phone rang - she slept in. While I waited for her to get her sleepy @ss in gear, I wandered through some stores, window shopping and enjoying one of my few solo excursions in Japan. By the time Mariko called me, I had spent 2000 yen and was starving. Lunch was fun, we ate Italian at a restaurant called Ducky Duck. Afterwards, she introduced me to a new mall with some interesting stores, and then we made plans to head into Tokyo together in late February for a day trip.

Afterwards, I spent nearly 8 hours sitting in the meeting room with Claudia and Daniel, where I finished writing my Japanese Essay homework for today, studying for my vocabulary quiz, writing my History paper (4 pages of weak, WEAK babbling) and then headed up for a chat with Amed, my friend/lawyer/doctor. He had some interesting words of wisdom related to recent health matters (like why my cold is still bothering me??) and afterwards he shared some new anecdotes from the "old-timers" group. (I call them that because a-they are allllll older than me, and b-they got to Japan before me and will be here long after me, they are all long term students).

My History paper isn't due until tomorrow afternoon, and it feels strange to be finished so early.. maybe because most everyone else will be working on it tonight and I will have yet another night wasted away bored in front of the TV. I suppose since Lukas' new posse will be writing their papers, (namely Anthony) we'll have some quality one-on-one time.. then again, I've learnt Not to get my hopes up where he's concerned.. fickly Austrian that he is!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

architecture class says goodbye

and just like that, another semester concludes

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Japanese 'home stay' -- part II

After arriving at the Yoshida house, Akichan gave me a tour of the house. The main level begins with a ground level space at the front door and a step up into a hallway which leads to the garage on one side, and into the main living area on the other. It was here that I left my shoes laying neatly beside each other, only to find later on that someone (probably Aki) had thoughtfully turned them to face the door for a quick get-a-way. Through the door from the hallway was the main area, where I spent the majority of my time. The kitchen was on the left, the eating area across from it, and to the right was a sofa/tv space and a tatami room that seemed to be a play area for the kids. We left my bags in the tatami room and proceded through a door that led to the bath/shower room, a toilet room, a second tatami room and the stairs to the 2nd level. That was where the family lived, in 3 western style bedrooms with beds, desks, bookshelves, and even western-style clutter (only in the kids' rooms, of course, the parents' room looked freshly organized in anticipation of a guest visiting the house). By the time we returned to the living room, lunch was being served.

meal #1: chinese ramen noodles

After lunch, the kids chose to go outside and play in the snow, which I was told is extremely rare in this part of Japan. For the kids, they had never seen this much snow before. (~1 foot high) I sat inside with Kei and the Aunt, trying to get to know each other. After a while, the 2 girls came back inside, and we spent the afternoon enjoying my second opportunity to try 書道 shodo (Japanese Calligraphy) and playing various games (Reversi (Othello), Go, and the always popular card game, memory) and eating countless snacks (the kids, not me). While Kei kept refilling my tea and the kids ran between playing with the snow and warming up in front of the floor heater, I enjoyed just sitting back and watching everyone interact using an intriguing combination of Chinese & Japanese.

meal #2: 手巻きずしte-maki sushi (hand rolled sushi)

After dinner, we watched hours and hours of Japanese television before taking a Japanese style bath (see earlier post) and then heading to bed.


The next morning, I was awoken by my alarm bright and early at 7:30.I quickly got dressed and packed up my things, and hurried out to the kitchen for breakfast.

meal #3: left over sushi fillings, fried fish and rice

Following breakfast, we, (Kei, Aki, the female cousin & I) rushed to the car and drove to Aki's cello lesson. It was taking place in a large orchestra hall in the next town (all Japanese towns are actually connected, so it is impossible to recognize when you've left one and entered the next). It was here that I was left to sit by myself and observe the practicing children's orchestra. After listening to them play the same bar of music about 40 times, I was going choutto baka and pulled out my keitai to surf the net. I made the mistake of reading my emails from home, and got the news about Brandy while I was stranded in Kisarazu away from all of my family and friends. I spent the remainder of the day in tears, unable to explain to the family what was wrong or why I was upset, and when they finally took me to the train station, I think they were as happy to be rid of me as I was to be heading home.

meal #4: ramen, again. this time with Chinese dumplings and spring rolls

I will write them a letter ASAP explaining (sort of) what I was going through on Sunday, and I will apologize for my emotional episode. I don't think the home stay or my letter will result in any long term relationship with the family, but at least I can say I tried a home stay during my year in Japan, and next time, I'll make sure to avoid any and all news from home while I'm away.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

run-down on my 'Japanese' home stay

Things started out normal enough, if I was in Canada, that is. I woke up Saturday morning to nearly 1 foot of snow piled high on the balcony, and fluffy flakes drifting down over the quad between dormitories. Peering outside my window, I saw some of the South East Asians building a snow man and thoroughly enjoying their first snow experience, and I quickly rushed across the hall to make sure that Mi Ran, my Korean (south) neighbor had seen the snow. After a quick shower & morning routine, I finished packing and headed downstairs precisely at 9, our pre-arranged meeting time. Everyone was reacting to the snow - a true rarity this far south in Japan, especially since there had been no warning. We walked to the station, most of the students huddling under umbrellas, and me thoroughly enjoying the falling flakes on my face. By the time we reached the station, however, I was happy to find refuge inside where at least the wind and snow were blocked out, although the open nature of Japanese buildings left the inside just as cold as outside. Catching the train, we headed towards 木更津 kisarazu wondering what lay ahead.

After arriving, the program organizer met us at the station and took attendance, making sure that everyone had made it as scheduled. Afterwards, he and his helpers led us through the streets of kisarazu until we found the meeting hall that had been reserved for this occassion. Inside, a table formation like that of the United Nations (it even went as far as to include miniature flags for each of our countries on the tables) and hoards of kisarazu locals waited eagerly for us to find our families. As I was the only Canadian, my family was easy to locate sitting in front of the flag. We quickly introduced ourselves, and in a flourish of activity, one kid took my bag, another led me to the coffee station, and two more swarmed around behind me trying to get a better look at the big scary looking gaijin.

After we were all seated, a microphone was passed around the room and each of the exchange students had to introduce themselves. Afterwards, the program organizer spoke to us in Japanese, most of which I didn't catch, and then my host family led me outside to their car, and from there, to their home.

The 吉田 Yoshida Family
お母さん okaasan the wife: ケイ Kei
お父さん otousan the husband: 真 Makoto
姉さん aneesan the daughter: アキミ Akimi
弟さん otoutosan the son: シュンキ Shunki

Extended family included Makoto's sister and her 2 children, but even after 2 days with the family, I am unsure of their names and will refer to them instead as the aunt, girl cousin, and boy cousin.

Makoto Yoshida is a Japanese man. He speaks Japanese, Chinese and English, fluently, but unfortunately (for me), he was away on a business trip this weekend. He did manage to call me from the Phillipines, and we were able to chat for 2 minutes. His wife, however, is Chinese. She is a sweet woman and tried very hard to communicate with me, but she has been studying Japanese approximately as long as I have and we had some trouble understanding each other. The daugher, Akimi or Akichan, as she is called by her family, was the one I spoke with the most because she spoke some English (she had been studying at an International School in China) and she often translated my English into Chinese for her mother or brother. The Yoshida family had only moved to Japan last August, and although their Japanese language abilities far surpassed my own, the weekend was dissapointing as I had hoped to experience living with an authentically Japanese family.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Brandy`s gone.

I feel lost.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I can only think of the word bliss to describe the indescribable sensation that comes from snuggling between two futon after steeping in the 42 degree bath that my host mother drew for me earlier tonight. And this was no ordinary bath - to begin with, the tmeperature is controlled automatically by a wall mounted thermostat. The tub itself is so spacious that I was able to submerge myself completely, head to toe, under the scalding hot water. The water was so hot, in fact, that even now, as I type this, the window beside me is fogging up with the heat trying to escape my body.

If for no other reason, the bath alone has made going on a homestay worth it.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lukas Visits Munchkin Land

I'm not sure how many of you have seen the original Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (it might be in the remake, but since I haven't seen it yet.. ) but there is a scene just before the group enters the chocolate factory in which the room they are standing in personifies the illusory Ames Room. What am I talking about? Well, the actors move from the foreground where the room is normal to the background where the room shrinks in rapid proportion to their actual size. In fact, the Simpsons have an episode that parodies this exact movie scene, and is more likely to have invaded your memories via Matt Groening & popular culture. Anyways, what I'm talking about is what came to mind when Stephanie, Lukas & I stopped at a 1000 Yen Hair Salon in Inage today. While Stephanie got her haircut, Lukas walked over to the washroom, where he was reminded once again of his exhorbitant height.

His haircut isn't bad, either.

Hitching Rides With Buddha: an excerpt

We lingered for a moment at the contact point of hitchhiker and driver-the roadside-like people in a doorway at the end of a party.
"Any last questions?" he asked me, half in jest. "You know, Japanese ancient secrets. Such things. It's your chance."
"Yes, actually. Inside, in the deepest point, under all the layers, are the Japanese arrogant or insecure? I mean the kernel. The hard centre."
He gave me a shrug. "Insecure, of course."
"Did you hear that?" I said.
"The way you said of course, it was very arrogant."
"Was it? Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"Now you sound insecure."
He laughed. "American humour," he said, but I wasn't joking.

After a number of days contemplating Japanese society and coming to the conclusion that it is impossible to find definitive ways to describe Japan from a cultural/anthropological stand point, this excerpt from my library's latest gem seemed almost perfect. Although the context is missing, you can appreciate the simplicity with which Will Ferguson gets to the heart of Japanese identity, which remains a mystery, even amongst themselves.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Honeymoon - Richie Style [first installment]

Where to start? After complaining for weeks that I've lived in Japan for 3 months and have never seen Shinjuku, Richie invited me to spend a day/night with him in Tokyo, on our honeymoon. I should back-track for everyone back home. If you recall (and feel free to scroll back if not) we had a Kimono-wearing session on campus a month or so ago. At the time, Richie decided that he had to choose one of the Kimono-clad woman to be his 'wife' for pictures & poignancy, and I was the lucky one he proposed to first. Playing along, I took the liberty of printing our 'wedding' picture and framing it as his birthday present. Since then, it has become common to hear friends around the dorm refer to us as each other's husband/wife and Amed has even gone as far as proclaiming himself my lawyer in case I decide to file for divorce. (He thinks he will be entitled to 10% of whatever I win in the settlement, hah!).

Anyways, as a continuation of our marriage facade, I titled our Tokyo adventure as our 'Honeymoon' and with that, Richie made it feel like one, between the sparkly lights, honeymoon suite and homemade breakfast the following morning. As I think back on the excitement, I can honestly say that whomever he marries one day, and I fully expect to beup theree beside him @ the alter, will be in for a treat, and thus begins my blog, perhaps as a sneak preview for his future bride...

As I woke up after a late LATE night of Karaoke for Claudia's Birthday Party, I was happy to receive a msg from Richie asking me to head out later than originally planned. I took advantage of his request by catching up on an extra 3 hours of sleep, and then headed out to the train station not quite sure what I was getting into. I had packed for theday tripp without any idea of what to bring, and thankfully remembered to grab my MP3 player because I had a long train trip ahead of me. To begin with, I caught the Rapid from Inage to Shinagawa. En route, I got Richie to write me out directions of which trains I needed to catch, and we made arrangements to meet at Hiro-o metro station, the closest to Rob's apartment**, where we would be staying. From Shinagawa, I had to transfer to the Yamanote, and then from JR I had to switch over to the Tokyo Metro. I realize this means nothing to most of you back home, but it was just a real schlep to get from home to the apartment, and I realized that this is the route that Richie takes nearly twice a week. He must have the patience of a saint! Anyways, via the metro, I finally found myself @ Hiro-o and emerged back to ground level in Ebisu, a bit of a residential area in the midst of the Tokyo metropolis. While I waited for Richie to arrive and lead me back to our apartment, I enjoyed sitting back and watching the people passing in front of the subway.

Richie was there within minutes, and we headed back in the direction he'd come from. He asked me what I wanted to do, and besides the fact that I was STARVING (note: by now it was past 4pm and I hadn't eaten anything except for karaoke ice cream since dinner the night before), I asked to go first to the apartment, so I could drop off my bag. The walk was quick, as walks with Richie usually are (he has such looooong legs), and it was nice to see him feel so at home at the apartment building, what with greeting the security guard sitting by the front door, and the other tenants who rode the elevator with us. As we reached the 5th floor, I admired the view from the open hallway and Richie unlocked the door. In we went, and thus began my visit to my first Japanese apartment.

Immediately, at the front door, I could feel the difference between Rob's home and my own back in Canada. There was a bench stretching from the door to the front stoop, and it was an obvious home for shoe storage. Despite all of my Japanese restaurant experiences, I am still somewhat surprised by the subtleties with which the Japanese clarify proper behaviour (such as a step to differentiate between where it is acceptable to wear shoes, and where it is not). Another stark difference between Japan and home is also that because the shoes are the first thing to be removed, as I worked my way further into the apartment, I still carried my bags and had to deal with my jacket long after settling into my temporary lodgings. The stepseparatingg the home from the entranceway ran parallel to 2 doors, one on either side of the hallway. The door to my left was the entrance to the bathroom - sortof. The room on the otherside of the door consisted of a sink/washing area with a surprisingly large counter space and many drawers/cupboards. Across from the sink was the apartment's washing machine, surrounded with various household cleaning tools & supplies. On the far side of the room was a second door, this one leading to the actual bathing area. The room featured an oversize (at least compared to what I've gotten used to in Japan) shower space, and a Japanese style bathtub.

Returning to the main hallway, I crossed over to the other door, which opened into a second bedroom of sorts. I didn't want to invade Rob's privacy and therefore didn't ask Richie who the bedroom belonged to, but I assume it is meant for Rob's kids (he has both a daughter who lives in NY and a son here in Tokyo) when they come to visit. Between this bedroom and Rob's bedroom (which is directly beside it) is a door and a small cubby hole where the toilet is located. I didn't actually know this until much later in the evening, when I asked Richie for directions. I like the Japanese style ofseparatee toilet/bathing areas; it seems much morehygienicc.

Rob's room featured a HUGE king size bed. Both sides had anight tablee with pictures of his family and a large wardrobe in one corner of the room was covered in books (mostly English, for curious parties). I didn't open the closets, but one wall was covered with sliding closet doors, which helped to keep clutter out of a traditionally space efficient style room.

Across from the door to Robyn's bedroom was the first entrance to the surprisingly large kitchen. This first entrance had a door that closed, should Rob want to keep the kitchen area closed to the public hallway, but generally, I think it is kept open. Inside the kitchen, the fridge was somewhat empty (remember that Rob was out of the country on holidays), but I was happy to see the cupboards fully stocked. So happy, in fact, that I took a picture because it has been so long since I've seen a fully stocked kitchen, and I wanted to remember it! Richie quickly took stock of what the fridge had to offer, and decided that we would eat 'out' for the day, and that we would have to buy groceries for breakfast.

The 2nd entrance/exit to the kitchen was the size of double doors, and opened into the dining area of the living room. The large dining room table seemed a bit out of place to me, but that's only because I had been expecting a Japanese style (ie. low) eating area. The living room was full of interesting artifacts from all of his world travels, and the final room, where we spent most of our apartment time, was the family/TV room with a giant over-sided sofa, a large TV, a coffee table with Hannukah decorations & dreidels on it, and a computer desk (sans computer! wahhhh). Rob took his computer with him on vacation, but Richie forgot to tell me and I didn't bring mine with me to Tokyo.

As my tour came to a close, I dropped off my bag in a corner of the bedroom and we headed back out into the vast Tokyo metropolis.

[[Check back next week for the further adventures of Richie & Cori, coming soon to a TV set near you]]

** Rob is a friend that Richie met back in Hungary. Originally from New York, Robyn has gratiously opened his home to Richie since he arrived in Japan, and has been somewhat of a saviour in terms of giving Richie a stable place to live when he's been in Tokyo. While Robyn was on vacation with his family this winter, he gave Richie permission to invite me for a night to stay with him at the apartment, and thus our honeymoon suite was arranged. Thanks Rob!! He really is a mensch.

Eternity in Hell

Or so it seems.. in Architecture class last week, somehow we got onto the topic of Buddhism and the 108 defilements of humanity. Curious, I looked them up recently and discovered that due to my sarcasm alone, I will be spending eternity in Buddhist hell. Seeing as I a) don't believe in Buddhist philosphy and b) don't believe in hell, I'm not altogether concerned at this revelation, just somewhat amused.

On the other hand, there have been a surge of comments lately about my sarcasm and my meanness that make me think I should try and tone it down a bit. The problem, as usual, is that when talking with people, my sarcastic nature precludes my honest intention, and they therefore assume I have some sort of malicious intent despite what I tend to actually say. This makes it complicated when trying to 'change', ne? (shrug)

Hokkaido update is still coming, I promise, as is a brief look at my honeymoon in Roppongi with Richie and my latest adventures with Lukas @ Excelsior. I'm still trying to get over my Hokkaido cold, and spent nearly the entire weekend in bed-sleeping, studying, and hosting (as my room was taken over last night for another cooking caper by none other than the Austrian himself). As a result, my blogging has come to a stand still, and I have no excuse other than pure laziness - but those of you who know me back home, know that slothfulness is a way of life and unavoidable during periods of self-gluttony such as holidays, travelling and winter. *ahem*

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Currently Reading:

(Normally, I wouldn't take the time to add this to my blog, mainly because I go through books so quickly, but this one is worth the trouble!) A Hannukah gift from Mom, this is the tale of one Canadian's journey hitchhiking across Japan. Both hysterical and informative, a great find. Thanks Mom!

In other news, getting access to the computers at school is increasingly difficult. I will write up my Hokkaido trip when I have time this weekend and post it sometime next week. Other than that, school is slowly getting more intense, with exams looming ahead and reports suddenly popping up in most of my English classes. I'm still getting everyone's emails both in Hotmail & on my keitai, so thank you, and I love keeping up with things back home via blogs & such.

Miss everyone,

Monday, January 09, 2006


Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Between sleeping in a tatami room, visiting a temple on a mountain and walking past snow drifts taller than me, Hokkaido has been an adventurous experience. Catching up with Lora has been fun, and hearing all of her wacky Hokkaido-Dai stories, entertaining. Caitlin seems to have left her mark - in the form of a purikura on a wall in her old dorm. And to be fair, I'm using the internet in Crystal's old dorm building, so I feel like a part of them is here reminiscing with me.

We're off to Ramen Alley tonight, and tomorrow, to a national park called 'Lake Toya'. Friday is still unplanned, but I'd like to visit an onsen if possible.

For everyone back in Inage that's been keeping up with emails & such, thanks, and for those of you aren't, thanks too! See everyone soon!!