Glory be! New SMB! Happy me! Skills there be!

Written on Saturday, mostly:

Today's been a very good, relaxing day. I paid my electric and gas bills this morning at the nearby MiniStop convenience store (konbini) and also filled up my rechargeable calling card. After that, I talked to my father on the phone for a little while. Soon thereafter, I surprised some friends back home with my first landline call to them. (Oh, the look on their faces! (Probably.))

I then walked to the ATM to pull out some money (you know, it doesn't seem that my bank back home is charging me for these transactions) and then walked a little farther to Aeon, the mall about a mile or so away. Specifically, I was going to buy pencil leads. (Unbelievably, Daiso, 100-yen store right by my house sells 0.7 and 0.9 mm mechanical pencils (shaapu penshiru) but only 0.5 mm leads.) I ended up buying some red lead, which I didn't know existed. (At one point, I asked the ladies working behind the counter which was darker, H or B leads. "HとBと、どちらが黒いですか," I said. I don't think asking which was one "blacker" was technically correct, but it's getting the point across that most important. (「くらい」はいい?))

And that's where it happened. I played New Super Mario Bros.

There was a Nintendo DS Lite on display with a demo of the game. This was definitely another one of those moments. Another guy beat me to the kiosk and I watched over his shoulder for what must have been almost 10 minutes. Poor Mario died about three times. Suddenly, in the middle of a stage, the game reset itself to force him to stop. (He said something and I replied with 「残念だね」 (Disappointing, huh?").) Then it was my turn.

It was pretty fun to play a new old-school Mario game for the first time in over a decade. I started from the beginning of the game and I'm proud to say that I didn't die once. I actually fell down a pit but wall-jumped my way out of it. Wall-jumped! That was awesome. I made it all the way to the first castle. Actually, thinking about it, I did die here (in a section with a pipe that shoots you up—I got squished). But I managed to make it to the top of the level, put on a Nokonoko shell, and face Bowser Junior (who's just not as interesting as his father). The game reset just as I hit Junior with my turtle-based powers for the last time. I've still got it.

Man, I want that game. Oh well, one day. It was a great opportunity. In fact, I should head up there again soon. It looks like a pretty good game indeed.

It kind of reminds me of when my parents got my first NES way back when. Super Mario Brothers was very new back then. Good times, those.

I need to go eat and study right now, though.


Biking to Yoshinoya

Well, since I now own a bicycle (自転車), I can bike to Yoshinoya, an inexpensive, 24-hour, meat-serving restaurant that I visited once with Mikawa Ossan several weeks back. I could have walked it, actually, but I wasn't sure how far it was. Turns out that it wasn't as far as I'd remembered, but biking there cut at least three quarters of the travel time.

Today, I ordered 牛焼肉丼, which I believe is pronounced "ushi yakuniku donburi" but I'm not sure. The thing about this restaurant is that its menu is largely (if not entirely) in kanji sans furigana. And on top of that, a lot of the kanji is part of images, so I can copy and paste into WWWJDIC (my number one online Japanese tool) to get a reading for it. I was able to get around the latter issue (through the image's ALT tags), but reading this stuff isn't easy. But as long as I prepare ahead of time, I should be fine.

I was worried that the place would be crowded, it being six in the evening and all, but only one other guy and I were there. When I sat down at the bar, I was given a cup of hot tea. (I asked for water as well.) I'd written down my order to prevent any trouble and it was quickly delivered unto me. Delicious. After paying 540 yen (I'd ordered the big bowl, which of course is actually a medium bowl) and I headed out.

So I lived to the north, I rode to the south because the view of the mountains to the south of Okazaki allured me. I rode through unfamiliar areas, the first of which was Minami Kouen (南公園). It was a nice looking park. As I rode up to the entrance path, I saw a sign and wondered if riding my bike in the park was feasible. I looked at the sign and was able to make out something about "bicycles" and "please not doing" something. Hmm. Guess not. But then I saw a woman coast on in on her bike. "Methinks I'm not so sure," I could have thought. A woman pushing a stroller with a baby within happened to be passing me. Activating my social overrides, I engaged her with unskilled Japanese:

Me: "Excuse me, is bike-riding allowed in the park?"
Her: [looks at sign] "Yes, yes, it's fine! Only when there are a lot of people [I think] is it not okay."
Me: "Oh, really? Thank you very much."

And I used some of the new grammar that learned last week too! 「公園で自転車をのってもいいですか」と僕は女の人に聞いた。この文法は先週学校で習った。いいだね。意外に僕は習うことが出来るね。)

(Jonathan gained 8 experience points. Jonathan leveled up!)

So I went in a ways, but not too much farther, at the start of another path, I saw another bike-related sign which I couldn't make out. So I played it safe and turned back. This place has a ferris wheel too. I wanna ride that sucker. (観覧車あるけど、彼女いないから、さびしくなるだろう。 (Japanese speakers: we've been learning how to drop particles too, as you can see.))

So headed a little bit farther south. I stopped at a large field to admire the sunset to the west and the mountains to the east. Nearby a couple of children played soccer and women walked their dogs. (Akitas are really popular, it seems, by the way.) After this, I hopped back on my bike and took the scenic route back to the main highway.

Unfortunately, the main highway was not the main highway but another one. I was a bit lost for a while, but successfully navigated back to the highway (248, for the record). On the way, I passed a middle school girl that was walking home. She actually said "Konnichiwa" to me and I returned the favor. I like that sort of thing. I gave her +2 points.

And back home I came.

Even though I thought that it didn't, my bike does indeed have a light on it. When activated, it comes on when the wheels are in motion. Sweet deal.

Oh. I got my test results back. (I had a test on Friday.) A 92% (A) on the written test and a 75% (B–, somehow) on the listening test. I'm a bit disappointed, but that listening test was bloody difficult. Next time, Gadget. Next time. (I made a couple of stupid mistakes on the written test. For example, 「日本に山が多いです。」 What was I thinking there? (It should be 「日本…」, see.) However, I forgive myself for 「車を運転が出来ます」, because that's pretty wild, it's actually being 「車運転が出来ます」 and all.)

Memorial Day?

Apparently this past weekend was Memorial Day in America.

I had no idea.


Bought a bike! 自転車を買った!

I bought a bicycle today! I was supposed to go somewhere for a sword-dancing and lute-playing event today. It was far away but since I don't know the bus system and I didn't have a bike or a ride of any sort, I decided to walk. During the walk—about 20 minutes into it, maybe—I came across the first used bike store that I've seen. I've been intended to buy a bike—and it would save me a lot of walking ...

So I stopped and looked at the bikes that were sitting outside. A friendly older man came out and tried speaking with me. I couldn't understand anything he said. Well, very little, at least. It was a bit frustrating for me, but I told him that I've only been studying here for a month so far. At any rate, he didn't seem all too bothered.

I test drove three bikes and finally settled on a 4000 yen (~USD$36) model. I'll have to post a picture of it. It's not all that pretty, but it works. It has a basket in a front and little bell—both standard features here in Japan.

So off I went in the direction that I was walking in. It's been a long time since I rode a bike and it was fun. In Japan, bikers actually get some respect—not like in nasty ol' Houston. I have rights! I can ride on the wide sidewalks in peace. And I had no problems "remembering" how to ride. I was off like Mario on Yoshi, man. (Though my bike has yet to eat anything or anyone.) Honestly, buying it felt very RPG-ish: on my slow journey to the Place I'm Supposed To Go, I stop by a shop and buy an improved vehicle ("improved" in the sense of n > 0) and then continue on, as I'm supposed to. I didn't get to beat up random creatures and steal their money, though. Tsk. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, just ignore it.)

Long story short, I never found the place I was supposed to be going. The map I was given wasn't very helpful, unfortunately. But I rode waaay up to the north. It's beautiful up there—the small town settings and the mountains. It was a good ride. It's hard to get a peaceful ride like that in Houston. I rode over rivers, in front of streetside shopping centers, by a few shrines. Then, coming back, I did it again. Halfway back, I took a second look at the map and decided to try to find the event again. No good. So again I turned again and, this time, rode home.

I think I have to register my bike with Yamasa tomorrow.

Excuse the typos. I'm tired.
("We always do, Jonathan. We always do.")

iMeep conversation

I just had an interesting experience. Via Digg.com, which I never visit, I came across a site called iMeep. Via this website, you can have anonymous chats with random people. All you have to do is press a button to start. So, since I'm currently wasting time, I did.

I'm Buddy 2.

[Buddy 1:] hello

[Buddy 2:] Hmmm. This is interesting.

[Buddy 1:] haha, i wonder

[Buddy 2:] This is a pretty cool idea, I think.

[Buddy 1:] Possibly. who knows how far this can go

[Buddy 1:] Where you from buddy 2

[Buddy 2:] Hey, did my last chat not go through?

[Buddy 1:] The last thing I recieved from you was "This is a pretty cool idea, I think."

[Buddy 2:] It's dropped two messages from me.

[Buddy 2:] I said that I'm from America but I'm in Japan for a while. You?

[Buddy 1:] Texas

[Buddy 1:] You should know where that is, hoping so.

[Buddy 1:] By the way, how is japan this season?

[Buddy 2:] I do indeed. I'm FROM Texas!

[Buddy 1:] NO WAY!

[Buddy 2:] Houston, in fact.

[Buddy 1:] what area?

[Buddy 1:] oh not to shabby

[Buddy 2:] Heh heh. How about you?

[Buddy 1:] I'm from the dallas area

[Buddy 2:] Ah, cool. What are the odds, eh?

[Buddy 1:] Kinda almost near Irving though

[Buddy 2:] Ah, I see.

[Buddy 1:] Yeah, seriously

[Buddy 1:] Random chat, with someone who's from the same state.

[Buddy 2:] It's getting as hot here in Japan as it is in Houston.

[Buddy 1:] Were going to japan the end of this year, a friend invited some close friends and me to go visit and travel there

[Buddy 2:] Oh, sweet. It's a nice place to visit. I hope you have a great time.

[Buddy 2:] I'm here studying for a few months.

[Buddy 1:] Thanks, where are you studying?

[Buddy 2:] In Okazaki, which is in Aichi, which is in central Japan.

[Buddy 1:] Isn't that near Nukata?

[Buddy 2:] Umm, not sure, actually. Unless you mean Nagoya.

[Buddy 1:] Possibly, don't know for a fact, but the friend who invited us is near the city I just said

[Buddy 2:] Ohh. I see.

[Buddy 1:] Well I have work in about an hour or so, It's been fun talking to you.

[Buddy 1:] Oh before I go, what is your name?

[Buddy 1:] My name is ___

[Buddy 2:] Jon! And same here!

[Buddy 2:] That's an interesting name.

[Buddy 2:] Oh, right -- it's really early there. Heh. Have a great day, then.

[Buddy 1:] I guess, but yeah I gotcha

[Buddy 2:] Since you're pretty nice, if you're interested, you can check out my Japan blog at http://j78.blogspot.com

[Buddy 1:] Alrighty Jon, I wish you a good day/evening

[Buddy 2:] I wasn't planning giving something like that out, but, hey, what the heck.

[Buddy 1:] anything's possible rite?

[Buddy 2:] Exactly. Oh, and I just looked. You're right: Nukata's nearby.

[Buddy 1:] Awesome

[Buddy 1:] Is some of your blog in japanese?

[Buddy 2:] Yup, it is. Mostly English, though.

[Buddy 1:] No wonder, I was wondering why there was tons of question marks everywhere

[Buddy 2:] (Testing software Japanese capabilities: ���) [Note: This worked during the chat.]

[Buddy 1:] Maybe

[Buddy 1:] How'd you find imeep?

[Buddy 2:] Shoot. I already forgot. I think it was through Digg.com. If not, some Digg-like site. I was just testing them out.

[Buddy 2:] Okay, it was Digg.

[Buddy 1:] Same, I saw this on the front page, quite interesting.

[Buddy 2:] The coincidences!

[Buddy 2:] Oh, check out this Wikipedia blurb: "The town of Nukata was incorporated into the neighboring city of Okazaki (岡��) on January 1, 2006 and is no longer part of the district."

[Buddy 2:] Okazaki is the city I'm in.

[Buddy 1:] so the town is now part of okazaki?

[Buddy 2:] The town of Nukata is. But there's apparently a district of Nukata as well.

[Buddy 1:] Oh, okay

[Buddy 1:] cool

[Buddy 2:] Indeed.

[Buddy 2:] Well, I'd better not hold you up any longer.

[Buddy 2:] It's been a pleasure chatting with you.

[Buddy 1:] Well it's been great talking to you, across the globe.

[Buddy 2:] Indeed. Ain't the Internet great?

[Buddy 1:] hope you have fun studying there, plus I checked your blog, i'll be posting some later throughout the day

[Buddy 1:] viva la internet

[Buddy 1:] [hugs[

[Buddy 1:] byee

[Buddy 2:] Great! I appreciate it.

[Buddy 2:] Take care.

So. It was interesting. There were a fair number of coincidences in our meeting, I'd say. iMeep itself is an interesting idea. Entering messages seems to be an occasionally frustrating affair, since your messages are sometimes dropped. But it's an interesting idea. And it was a bit fun.


The symbol for Aichi Prefecture could too easily be turned into a cartoon character.

That is all.


Bikkuri Donkey brings America to Japan—aurally, at least

This evening, I walked to Bikkuri Donkey, a nearby somewhat-American-themed restaurant that serves hamburgs. The place was cheaper than I remembered, too.

They play a lot of American music in this restaurant. I've heard Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You," The Jackson 5 (I think), Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," and all sorts of songs that feel familiar and that, in the restaurant at most given times, only I probably understand.

Well, the kicker came tonight: they played the full version of the Welcome Back, Kotter theme. That there was a moment, I tell you.

I don't know—I just found that pretty funny.

On similar note, one of our class worksheets the other day featured the Keaton family from the perennial American sitcom Family Ties. That was a shock. Turns out that Oyaizu-sensei has apparently seen the show. We Americans had to explain just who these folks were and why we were laughing. Great moment, that.

I really liked that show.



After classes on Friday, a group of students, led by Yamasa's Hattori-sensei, gets together—conveniently enough, in my normal classroom—and studies one chapter of a manga.

The manga chosen for this quarter is entitled 「よつばと!」 (Yotsuba to!) and is apparently done by the same author as Azumanga Daioh, another popular manga. This was my second time going (I discovered the class quite by accident and sit in the first time out of curiosity) and, because I bought the first volume of the series last week at a nearby bookstore, I was prepared. I wandered around that bookstore's manga section for several minutes before I found it, right before I was going ask someone.

I'm, by some degree, the member least skilled in Japanese in the class and I can't understand most of the conversation and I have to work to understand the manga itself, which we read over slowly. (The manga, of course, uses a lot of casual speech that I'm unfamiliar with.) But everyone's been patient with me, including Hattori-sensei. I asked to read next week, so that'll be fun. We even go over the onomatopoeia (i.e., sound effects) in the "class."

Denny's menu

Remember when I was going on about how different Denny's menu is in Japan? Check it out for yourself. And they only serve breakfast in the mornings!


New Japanese books

The other day, I bought three used books from an upper-level Yamasa student:

完全マスター (Master of Perfection?)

The first book is an all-Japanese grammar book. It's beyond me right now but a number of upper-level Yamasa students use it. Since grammar is an interest of mine, I thought it'd be a good purchase.

2004 Japanese Language Proficiency Test Levels 1 and 2 Questions and Answers

This book is a study aid for the JLPT. There are four levels to the test, the easiest being level four and the hardest being level one. I have two goals in terms of Japanese proficiency: being able to hold an intelligent conversation in Japanese and passing level one of this test. This book looks very helpful. (Now where can I buy the answers for the 2008 version of the test?) Hey, and it came with two CDs!

New Approach Japanese Intermediate Course

Right now, I'm studying in the first Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語) book. Next quarter, I'll be in the second book. If I'm still here after that six months, I'll be in this book; and if I'm not still here, then I can at least study it on my own. It's entirely in Japanese, unlike Minna no Nihongo. Serious stuff.

All in all, the purchase was 2,500 yen, or USD$22.25. Not a bad deal at all. The second-level Minna no Nihongo set was for sale too (and I will actually need those in a month), but they were scooped up by a schoolmate before I got to them.




ぼく、今何をする?食べるだろう。それから、寝る。でも最近スーパーファミコンの「MOTHER2」というテレビゲームをする。「ゼルダの伝説 神々のトライフォース」を終わったから。初めて、「ゼルダの伝説」のシリーズのゲームをした。もちろん、楽しかった。

Another week ends—and I'm pooped

Once more, the weekend is here. This week, while enjoyable, was a bit difficult for me because I haven't been feeling too well for the past few days. But now I have time to relax some and become genkier.

This week, we began studying something I've been waiting to study since day one: the plain style of speaking. Japanese is divided into two main groups called plain style and polite style. Until now, we've been studying the polite style (丁寧体), which makes sense since you don't want a bunch of new Japanese students wandering around the city using impolite (or rather, non-polite) speech. Now we're into the plain style (普通体), which is casual and shorter and has totally different verb conjugations. It's taking some adjustment. But since I studied the verb conjugations heavily back in America, I already understand the basics.




I almost forgot! We had our first kanji test yesterday afternoon. I felt confident about it and, sure enough, I scored a 99 on it. One kanji combination totally threw me (and others, apparently) off and led to me losing that point. (For those in the know, we were given the hiragana 「じゅうねんご」 and were told to write it in kanji. We didn't discuss this in class much (if at all) and I didn't study like I wanted to, so I couldn't remember what the 「ご」 was supposed to be. 「五」? No. 「語」? No! I think I ended up writing 「十年五」, just so I'd have something there, but the answer was 「十年後」. Argh! That kanji will haunt my nightmares for days.) Still, 99 ain't bad!


日本語の練習: conditionals




I've been looking at conditionals for the past couple of days—you know, if A, then B—so I thought I'd do a bit of practice. If you're curious to know what this banal narrative is saying, Excite translates it the best, though the nuances in the Japanese will be pretty much lost. (And, no, it's not supposed to be me talking.)

Bad means good everywhere

Some things, I suppose, are universal:

やばい [yabai] (adj) (1) (sl) dangerous; risky; (2) awful (young persons' slang); terrible; crap; (3) terrific (young persons' slang); amazing; cool


New grammar: "-nakereba narimasen"

Today we learned a somewhat awkward construction that I'd seen before: ~なければなりません (-nakereba narimasen). It's a polite negative conditional that's used to say that one must do something. For example:

Tabenakereba narimasen.

What this pretty much means is "If I don't eat, it's not okay," which essentially means "I have to eat." It's things like this that lead people to say that polite Japanese is indirect and vague. Though this is just the tip of the iceberg.

After a break, I'm going to study some more using Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar, my favorite online resource.


BBQ to the north

Today, I rode with a four schoolmates to a barbeque about maybe 30 km to the north. It was a community-organized event, I think. We arrived by bus about noon and it was over around two. Nothing much happened. There was short gaming segment, though, and once I was done eating, I kind of got dragged into it. It was really silly—we essentially formed a mambo line (is that the right term?) and "danced" for a few minutes. My fellow schoolmates managed to escape this fate. It was a bit embarrassing but I am in "Rome," after all.

Everyone in the group was disappointed by the outing, since we'd paid for it. Even though it was not very fulfilling, it was a nice trip and a good way to get out of the house, I think. After the barbeque, we ate at a Mr. Donut back in town near the bus station. We chatted for a good long while. We decided to walk back to our residences instead of taking the bus, which was a good four-mile walk, I'd estimate. It was hot but clear as could be. (Take that, rainy season!) The walk home was a bit odd because I couldn't get a conversation started, though. The two Spainairds chatted away in in Spanish and the other two and I just walked in near silence. I thought it was weird and a wee bit disappointing, but everyone was fairly tired, though.

On a side note, I was able to read a bit more of the all-kanji signs at the bus station. In particlar, 「岡崎駅前」 made perfect since. It reads "Okazaki eki mae." Literally, it says "Okazaki station front" and it does indeed mean "in front of Okazaki station."


新しいアイロン • New iron

Beetle cordless jet steam ironBeetleという会社の安いコードレスジェットスチームアイロンを買いました。しかし、この取扱説明書を読めませんから、正確な使い方を分かりません。大変です。とにかく、初めてつかってみます。大丈夫でしょうね。



I bought a cheap Beetle cordless jet steam iron, but because I can't read the instructions, I don't know exactly how to use it. How unfortunate. At any rate, I'm going to try to use it. It'll probably be all right.

(Later: "Augh! My clothes! Shoot!" That probably won't happen, though.)

Learning Japanese via YouTube

Coming from an American background, the Japanese counting system is not simple—at least, it's not over ten thousand.

I feel compelled to mention this after finding a YouTube video that intends to tutor viewers on counting in Japanese from one to twenty by means of the old-school Sesame Street style. (As we all know, nothing could top Sesame Street's classic one-through-twelve song.) Just a note, though: 「六」 (6) is not actually pronounced "rocku." (More like "loku," really.) The first twenty numbers are pretty straightforward (in this context, at least).

Anyway ...

On a more interesting note, I found an interesting series of segments that is intended to teach kanji (Chinese characters) to children. It's called 「漢字だいすき」 ("Kanji Daisuki," literally meaning something like "kanji great-like"). I can't understand too much of it, but it's pretty interesting to watch. The host is a puppet named Kan-chan and her tomodachi is the kanji 「光」 (Hikari-chan). Interesting.

Throughout the journey, the viewer learns the very brief etymologies of a few characters. The big phrase to learn in the first episode is 「刀光剣影」, which I'm not sure of the meaning of. (The characters roughly mean "sword, light, sword, shadow." Can anyone shed more light on this? It it one of those four-character Chinese sayings?) During this, the phrase 「一触即発」 ("critical (touch and go) situation; explosive situation") popped up too. Interesting.

Who's knows ... I just might learn a thing or two.


Finally, the weekend | やっぱり、週末だね

Finally, the end of the week has arrived. It's been a long one for me, so I'm glad indeed. I'm about to starting cooking some dinner, but at the moment I'm doing important Japanese study.




Mario Kart Arcade GP

Mikawa Ossan and I visited a large store named Midori the other day. It's very large and sells everything from Office Depot–like home maintenance supplies to furniture to electronics. Well, there was also a small arcade. And what should be there except Mario Kart Arcade GP. I think it's a Japan-only release, but I'm not sure. Whatever the case, it was certainly one of those defining moments of a geek's visit to Japan. I was going to be sure of that, as there was no way I was passing this opportunity up. (Glaven!)

The game has two screens and two seats, so Mikawa Ossan offered to join me. I've played a lot of Mario Kart 64 and a fair amount of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, so I know the Way Things Work in Mario Kart pretty well, which gave me an advantage; but it's pretty easy for a newcomer to get the gist quickly (especially in this version, which is considerably simplified). Plus, neither of us were used to the steering wheel.

We each sat down, put in our 100 yen, and selected our characters. Anyone who's played Smash Bros. or Mario Kart with me before knows who I chose. ("Let'sa go.") The sound is amazing. The game features great immersive surround sound that, sitting in that seat, you really experience fully. Rich. The level of the graphics is the best the series' has shown (being an arcade game and all), though courses don't seem as interesting as true MK games. (This game was developed with Namco's help, which is why strange characters (like Pac-Man) and items (a pan?) exist in this version.)

The gameplay was definitely not as rich as it is in previous versions, nor did it really feel like MK (it did lack some of Nintendo's touch), but it was enjoyable. Steering with the wheel is very odd. I tended to overcompensate a lot and spent a lot of time scraping the walls. In the end, I only beat Mikawa Ossan by a small margin. (I think I was third overall.) It was fun.

Now I can scratch that off of my to-do list.

Studying well / よく勉強します

Ohhh man, I'm pooped. It's almost two in the morning here. I just got finished studying. I've been falling behind in my studies and so I'm using this week to catch up and I'm going to make sure that I keep caught up. I took a nap earlier today, so my being up shouldn't be that detrimental to my performance tomorrow. But, yeah, I'm ready for bed.

つかれましたぁぁ。今晩たくさん日本語を勉強しました。今すごく眠たいです。今日新しい文法を習いました。「写真をとってもいいですか。」/「いいえ、写真をとってはいけません。」面白いです。「どうして「も」ですか」とぼくは先生に聞きました。先生は知りません。むずかしい質問でしたね。英語で答えは「It just is!」でしょう。

What I'm going on about is the new grammar that we learned today. I asked my sensei why a certain particle (も, mo) is used and she didn't know. I think it was just one of those "It just is!" moments.


I haven't forgotten this journal | 日記を忘れませんでしたよ!

I haven't died. I'm just very busy. Sorry.

Because I've been really busy this week and last week, I've only written a bit.

I'm sleepy right now, so I'm going to take a nap.

After that, I intend to study Japanese.

Thank you for your patience.


Direction Okazaki, Japan

Another current Yamasa student has his own blog, Direction Okazaki, Japan, and it has far more pictures of Japan on it then I have on mine (I swear, everybody here has a digital camera but me, man), so you can check it out if you're curious.

Mmmm ... digestive ... [drool]

Today, I went to Seiyu (the grocery store) with a friend and saw a scrumptous-looking treat by the name of Digestive Crackers. Nothing says "delicious!" like a package with DIGESTIVE written on it in huge letters, eh? (They were something like this.)

Not quite myself yet

As those who know me fairly well know, I'm a very private and immensely reclusive person. For my trip here to Japan, mostly for purposes of learning Japanese but also for personal development's sake, I've been trying to come out of that shell a bit. It's taken effort and the results have been positive overall, but I feel that I've been acting awkward and not quite like myself. I don't think that I'm conveying my true self to my friends here.

Socially, I'm more anxious and jumpy and I seem to be over-analyzing my closer friendships (i.e., possibly even seeing issues that aren't really there, or at least magnifying smaller things that might be innocuous) and my role in them (e.g., "Am I being too _____?"). This, of course, is self-destructive in that it makes me less attractive to be around long-term (even though my intentions are pure) and it serves no purpose except to make me paranoid all the time and perhaps to even cause me my own difficulties. Plus, because of my nature of isolation, I try to get closest to a select few people. In America, my closest friends worked the same way and it was all good; but here, I suspect that I might be annoying some folks with what might be considered over-insistent behavior. All of this is unacceptable. If I'm not careful, it could lead to various small implosions in my social life, which is the last thing I want or need. It's like my worst social traits have flared since I arrived.

So I'm trying recenter myself, calm down, keep myself occupied, not be so sensitive to these sorts of things, and just be myself. My nerves are just getting to me, that's all. I'm more anxious about being over here than I expected. Also, I really never actively attempted to make friends out of the blue like this, with no mutual references, so I'm pretty unskilled in that area. But, hey, I'm a pretty nice guy, right? (I can't help but imagine Jack Nicholson saying that he's a nice guy ... once you get to know him.) But like I said, overall, I'm pleased, as I have made a number of friends here.

All right, then!


A rainy end to the week of gold

It's raining today. Golden Week is almost over. I didn't do much, though, except for Thursday's good trip to Nagoya. That's fine, though, because being here in Okazaki is a getaway and adventure itself. (I do feel kind of bad, though, because of my classmates here, I'm always the one saying that I can't do this or that or go here or there because I don't have the money to do so. It's kind of embarrassing and is troublesome to my friends here, but such is the price I have to pay.) Today, I'm going to do that Golden Week studying that I've been wanting and needing to do since Wednesday.


Hey, it seems my little journal has reached 1,000 hits. Thanks, folks!


FM Okazaki

For the first time, I'm listening to the local radio station, FM Okazaki, which located on Yamasa's "campus." I don't have a radio but their broadcast is available via Internet stream. (They recommend Windows Media Player but XMPlay, my standard choice for streaming audio, works perfectly with the .asx stream.) It was recommended by Yamasa that we listen for obvious reasons.

They have weekday and weekend schedules posted online. Right now, one dual-DJ show just finished and there should be a show by singer-songwriter Akira Inaba, but there seems to be only silence. I note with amusement that he is listed as being with the talent agency Up-Front, which is the same one Hello! Project (the umbrella organization for such groups as Morning Musume, Mini Mono, and Melon Kinenbi) uses.


山田さん: 木村さん、こんにちは!
木村さん: あっ!山田さん!お久しぶりですね。お元気ですか。
山田さん: はい、元気です。木村さんも元気ですか。
木村さん: 元気ですよ。
山田さん: いいですね。
木村さん: 奥さんはまだシンガポールにいますか。
山田さん: はい、そうです。忙しく働きます。
木村さん: そうですか。たいへんですね。
山田さん: そうです。来月帰ると妻はいった。
木村さん: あっ!いいですね。
山田さん: はい、とてもいいです。


Radical(s)! ・ 忍法!漢字部首暴露の術!

There is satisfaction within me at the moment (and a lack of food) for I have successfully looked up my first kanji by using the radical-search function at WWWJDIC, which is hands down my favorite online dictionary.

The 'Naruto' series's Ero-senninI found the target kanji when I just now sat down to eat breakfast and opened an image file on my laptop. (That's the one featured to the left.) This character is Ero-sennin from the Naruto manga and anime series. I've seen that kanji on his forehead many times, but I never found out what it means. (Or if I had, I forgot about it somehow.) So began the short search to find out. (Sure, I could have Googled it, but that violates the primary tenets of my education here.)

A kanji's radicals are basically its component characters. (I'm told that this is a very simple explanation that isn't totally spot-on, but it's sufficient enough for this demonstration.) Looking at this character, I figured there were two radicals: the three strokes on the left, and the rest on the right. Radicals are arranged by their number of strokes, so I found the obvious three-stroke combination on the left quickly enough. But the figure on the right eluded me. (I thought it was a five-stroke character.) I then realized that my alternate supposition was correct: this was actually two radicals, the top just being a straight line (one stroke) and the bottom being the square (five strokes). Once I realized that, I was in.

I had WWWJDIC find all kanji that use these radicals. There were three and the one I sought, 油, was at the top of the list. In this context, the kanji means "oil," which I know to be corrent since Ero-sennin is associated with oil attacks in Naruto. It is pronounced "abura" (あぶら). (Unicode.org has information about this character as well, since one can't link within WWWJDIC's results.)

Looks like Mikawa Ossan's quick kanji-lookup lesson the other day was a success.

I like this feeling. The feeling of progress.


Now I need to eat breakfast.

Sleepy ・ 眠い

If I'm tired, why haven't I gone to sleep yet?

Three new books ・ 三冊のあたらしい本

週末Book Offというすばらしい本屋で三冊の本を買いました。

① 「こわっぱのかみさま」
② 吉本ばななの「うたかた/サンクチュアリ」
③ 「TRICK the novel」


Last weekend, I bought three books from a great bookstore named Book Off. Each book was only 105 yen, which only 93 cents. The titles are as seen above (assuming you can see the Asian characters on your computer). The first book, Kowappa no Kami-sama (possibly meaning "The Messenger Boy's God"), is a children's book and shouldn't prove too challenging. I bought the second book, which contains two stories, because Mikawa Ossan recommended the author, Banana Yoshimoto. The third book is the novelization of a Japanese drama whose first episode I saw and rather liked.

The books all have vertical text and are read from right to left. Every book that I've seen is like that. I really expected to see more horizontal, left-to-right books, but vertical text does indeed seem easier to read.

At last, to Nagoya ・ ついに名古屋へ

Today was my first trip to Nagoya. I went with a couple of classmates and had a great time.

Our plans were to meet up at JR Okazaki train station (which is near school) at 3 PM, but we actually met up while walking there. We rode the densha to Kanayama (about 23 miles away, which really isn't all that far in Houston—from UH to Sugar Land, plus a couple of miles or so) and then rode a chikatetsu to Nagoyajou (Nagoya Castle) was, as it turns out, was just closing for the day. After mingling a bit with a kind cat belonging to an older lady selling overpriced wares, we headed toward the center of town (I guess) by chikatetsu. I haven't ridden a subway since a family trip to New York when I was really young. It's very much like riding the train, really, except that it's pitch black outside the train.

As a park near the station, which was near Nagoya TV tower (which was way too expensive to ride up in), we found some vendors selling food. After one of my classmates bought a bottle of milk, I broke down and bought one too. It was good, but not as good as some American milk I've had. Probably just a difference in taste. I like milk a lot, but haven't had it regularly in many years. There was also an interesting modern-design structure across the street that provided a great view of the surrounding area.

Later, as we wandered, there were many stores and many more people than I've yet seen in Japan. We stopped by a few stores, including a Gap that was playing ghetto rap. I saw a McDonald's that looked more like a café than anything else. As we walked, we heard heavy percussion coming for a nearby mini-park and walked over to find a group of about eight guys playing traditional drum music while a girl in a short skirt danced in a style that really reminded me of 1960's American dancing. My, what a long sentence.

After visiting a few stores, it was becoming darker and we decided to eat at Denny's. This Denny's was on the second floor of a shopping complex and was a caliber higher in terms of style than the Denny's I know in America. I just ordered some potato wedges and drank water, being on the tight, tight budget that I am.

After that, we took the chikatetsu and the densha back home. Quite a great way to start Golden Week.

Ah, yes. This week is Golden Week, so I have four days off of school. I intend to do a fair amount of studying to solidify what we've gone over before and to prepare for upcoming lessons as well. I'll probably need to leave my room to do that, as my study habits when I'm holed up here are abysmal.







Ayano Tsuji ・ つじあやの

Ayano Tsuji is a Japanese singer whom I recently discovered by means of a video for her excellent song "Kaze ni Naru" ("To Become the Wind," loosely) from 2000. She has a weblog and, because her posts are not too long, I'm going to try to keeping up with it and practicing reading it. Too, she apparently was born only a few days before I was. I dunno—just thought it mildly interesting, is all.



A small moment ...

Just now, I was able to read the following sentences without any reference:


It just ... surprised me, is all.

(My own translation:
How many hours do you study Japanese for each evening?
—I study for two hours.)

Stranded at JR Okazaki!

About three weeks ago, nearer the beginning of my stay in Japan, I became somewhat stranded in Toyoake, a nearby city in Aichi. Simply put, I got a ride out there but that ride unexpectedly left me to take the bus and train home. I knew how to do neither of these, really. But there was someone to give me information about schedules and fares and such, so I was able to get the information I needed to get home via one bus and a train (JR Line).

Unfortunately, there was either a lapse in the instructions or I wasn't paying enough attention because I was supposed to switch trains a second time and I had no idea. My second train was nearly empty after a very long trip, so I leaned over and asked a guy about my age if the train that we were on was going to Okazaki. Nope. And it so happened that I asked right before the final stop, so we disembarked together. He was kind enough to help me figure out a train service map that was posted on the wall. I had to take the same train back to a previous stop (Obu, I believe) and transfer there to get back to Okazaki. I thanked this helpful man and jumped back on the train before it left. (Seems that I had a few minutes, as the conductor and his second-in-command were walking through the train to the other side, flipping seat backs along the way so that people would be sitting facing the other direction.)

So I got back to Okazaki after it got dark. The station that I was at, JR Okazaki, is near Yamasa which itself is near my apartment, so I intended to walk. But, no, the weather decided that rain and freezing wind would be more appropriate. I had an umbrella, but it's a cheap one that's already falling apart and the wind was far too strong for it. And on top of that, I didn't know which direction I should walk in.

So here I am, stranded at the JR Okazaki train station at night in the cold, strong winds and rain, dressed semi-formally (with a tie and no jacket in too-thin clothes (it was a job-related trip), and having no direction home was in. It was cold. And the station has no doors, so wind can just cut right through the building. It was pretty miserable. I began to expect that I'd have to sleep the night at the station.

I thought that a map (chizu) might come in handy, so I walked to the convenience store within the station and asked the two ladies within, "Sumimasen, chizu ga arimasu ka?" ("Excuse me, are there any maps?") I was directed to a location within the store. The refrigerated foods section. Uh ... ah. The lady that answered me thought I'd been asking about cheese (chiizu) not maps. Oy. After correcting that, I found that they had no maps. At least I got my first misunderstanding story out of it.

In desperation, I'd tried a taxi once. Following the instructions that I received from Yamasa, I showed the driver my identification card (which has the school's address) and asked if he could take me here. He had idea where it was. As I've mentioned before, too, roads in Okazaki don't have names, so I couldn't say "It's at such-and-such and such-and-such streets." However, I probably should memorize the intersection names around here—at least a couple or so.

Ultimately, I got home by getting in a taxi (after waiting in the rain for a while) and asking if the driver knew where the Denny's on Highway 248 was. He did. So off we went. It was about a five-minute trip. What a waste. The fare was only 630 yen, but I absentmindedly told him to keep the change from a 1000 bill. (D'oh!) Well, I ran the rest of the way home in the wind and rain and counted myself happy as being in a room that, at the moment, felt more like home than it had until then.

漢字練習 (Kanji practice)

I just now completed a moderately intense personal study session. My focus was kanji—specifically on writing and recognizing some characters. I've found that I'm coming not only to like kanji, but to prefer the use of kanji, as it makes Japanese considerably easier to read and understand.

This is long way from my first impression of kanji. I thought it was a totally insane idea at that time. And to an extent, yeah, it's a bit insane. But at the same time, the use of kanji is immensely useful, and kanji themselves have intrinsic beauty and deep meaning within their concise containers that I find very interesting.

The other day in class, we watched a seven-minute listening-comprehension video. It was based around four people in an office and their going out to drink together after work, and it also has romantic underpinnings since one of the guys, Yoshida, liked one of the girls, Suzuki. (I might as well mention that Suzuki didn't go with the group, but was seen at the same bar with an unknown male. Yoshida made a small fuss about that ("Shouldn't we go over there?" "No!"), but the male just turned out to be Suzuki's brother.) The vocabulary level was kept nice and simple. It was an enjoyable little micro-drama.

I almost forgot why I mentioned this ...

As part of the exercise, we received a sheet with most of the dialogue printed on it. Some lines were empty or incomplete and we were to fill them in. Just now, I used that sheet for kanji practice, as some of the printed words are in kanji (with the phonetic reading handwritten in by the instructor, for good measure).

A few of the words I've been practicing:

  • 今 ("ima," meaning "now")
  • 電話 ("denwa," meaning "telephone")
  • 払う ("harau," meaning "to pay")
  • 時 ("ji," meaning "hour," used for telling time)
  • 日・土・金・木・水・火・月 (kanji for the days of the week, backwards)
  • 食 ("tabe," meaning "eat" but isn't a word on its own)
  • 飲 ("nomi," meaning "drink" but isn't a word on its own)

So, yeah, that's what I've been up to. Today, I meet a guy from New Jersey who's in the class next to me—the highest class, A-class. His obvious skill after one year and his motivated attitude really invigorated me to step up my studies.

Thus, all of this.


The trip to Gamagori, Nishio, and Anjo

Sunday, Mikawa Ossan and I visited three cities—Gamagori, Nishio, and Anjo. We visited an island shrine in Gamagori and, due to my astonishing hidden powers of good timing, found that huge community clam-dig was in progress. Several hundreds of family were out on the beach digging for clams in the sand. I'm not sure of the occasion, but it was great to see. And the beach was very relaxing. (I held my first crab, too.)

Later in the day, after having finished looking at a very, very small castle, Mikawa Ossan and I got spoken to by a bunch of middle school girls that had just completed a tennis tournament. A number just stared, but a few were willing to say hello to us, and we said hi back. It was a fun experience and was the first time that anyone's tried their English on me. (I seem to have forgotten what they said, though.)

On the way back to Okazaki, I saw my first shinkansen (bullet train). At least, I think I did. That sucker was fast, all right. I caught me offguard because it just appeared on a bridge in front of us and was out of sight very quickly. (What was that masked train?)

Man. I'm going to have so many great pictures whenever I'm able to get my film developed!