4/26/2006

I'm writing in kanji now.

I just completed my first kanji homework and am now reasonably familiar with writing the following characters: 月 火 水 木 金 土 日 山 田 川 一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九 十 百 千 and 万. Our first kanji class begins tomorrow afternoon. I await eagerly.

Also, I found a list of many of the kanji I will have to learn. Gack!

たった今、私は漢字のしゅくだいをしました。あした、漢字のクラスがはじまる。いいですね・・・。これから、漢字でかきます。レベルアップ!

Yamasa's musical chairs

I was informed today that we'll be changing seats every Monday, starting today (which, yes, is Wednesday). Though I miss my great seat on the end of the U-shaped series of tables, I think it's a great idea. Today, we drew numbered hashi (chopsticks) to determine our new seats. I'm three seats down and I still have my great view outside.

Writing assignments

Yesterday and today, we had our first real in-class writing assignments and I've enjoyed them immensely.

Today's was a full sheet of writing about our lives in Japan. I tried to express myself using a variety of grammatical techniques that don't come as easily to me when speaking. As Oyaizu-sensei walked by looking our work, he pointed at my last sentence in surprise. I believe it read 「私は日本にすめば、よく日本語をまなぶことができます。」 which means "If I'm in Japan, I can learn Japanese well." I asked him, "Chigaimasu ka?" ("Is it wrong?") No, he said, it's just that the grammar (the –eba conditional form) is from lesson sanjuuyokka (34) apparently. We're on lesson 8 now, I think. Apparently, I impressed Oyaizu-sensei. Never hurts to impress the sensei a bit.

そうだってばよ!

4/25/2006

Test results!

I found out what happened to that homework that I mentioned in my previous post: I'd turned it in early, apparently, with some other papers. So I did get credit for it, sticker and all.

Also, I got my rest results back already. (That's Yamasa for you, I guess.) On the written test, I got a 98 (107 out of 109). As I expected, my other two mistakes were the result of writing the wrong thing down (i.e., sloppiness), not of not knowing the material. Here's what happened:

きょうは なんがつ なんようび ですか。
Kyou wa nangatsu nanyoubi desu ka.
What month and what day (instead of date) is today?

ここで しゃしんをとります
Koko de shashin wo torimasu.
We'll take a picture here.


The annoying thing is that the second question isn't wrong; it's just not what they were seeking right then, and there weren't any real clues. They apparently wanted torimashou (とりましょう) instead, which would have changed the sentence to "Let's take a picture here." I almost wrote that, too. Ah well. That'll teach me.

I received detailed comments about the speaking section. I got a 91 on this part, and my ratings (out of a possible five) were as follows:


  • Pronounciation/intonation: 4
  • Flow/speed: 4.5 (between "smooth" and "somewhat smooth")
  • Grammar: 4 (only a few mistakes)
  • Assertiveness/effort in speaking: 5 (very assertive)
  • Understanding/comprehension: 4.5 (between "received a little help" and "understood everything"


There's actually a packet of notes and results about this test that I'll be going through later. I like it because the papers within show exactly how I was graded to a surprising degree.

On the listening test, I scored a 96 (48 out of 50). Just got a couple wrong.

So all in all, I'm pleased with my performance. There's some real competition in the class, so I need to really keep pushing myself.

Today, we began talking about adjectives (けいようし), which I already have a pretty firm grip on, and we continued our discussion (and games) regarding the verbs of giving and receiving. They're throwing out vocabulary at a pretty fast rate now.

Also, kanji classes start on Thursday. 漢字タイムだよ!

4/24/2006

Tests! Missing homework! Speaking Japanese with strangers!

Quite the busy day today ...

Test!



Today, we had our first test. It was delivered in three parts: reading/writing, speaking, and listening. While I didn't find them very difficult, the sudden intense atmosphere emanating from the sensei was surprising. This was a grave undertaking.

The writing test was not difficult since I've been keeping up with the lessons and haven't had much in the way of problems in that area. I expect to get everything or almost everything correct.

After a short break, we were sent to the first floor library in pairs for our speaking tests with Arai-sensei and Oyaizu-sensei. Mine was administered Oyaizu-sensei. We sat a table facing each other and we proceeded to ask me questions as he tape recorded it (!) on a digital recorded (that might have been a PDA). As I would have expected, telling times slowed me down. He asked me when Yamasa's lunchtime, which 11:50 to 12:40, is. I find it difficult to even remember that let alone say it in Japanese, but after an initial misstep (I said it started at 11:40), I managed. This test was easily the toughest and the one I performed least well in. Still, I doubt that I'll get below a B for this part.

Last was the listening test, which I didn't even know was coming. Back in the classroom (and after lunch), Sano-sensei played a CD for us with our exercises. The people speaking on the CD spoke at normal speaking speed and only repeated themselves sometimes. It was a bit tricky but still not all difficult, though I missed one or two.

So hopefully I'll get an A on this first test.

Homework!



What was really annoying, though, was that I seem to have lost my homework for today. I had some of it, but the one sheet that we turned in, I couldn't find. Of course, today was the one day that I decided to leave behind all of the old worksheets and assignments they've given us. I explained to Arai-sensei that I'd actually done the homework but that I'd left the sheet at home. Just bring it tomorrow, she said. I told her that I'd go home and retrieve it at lunchtime.

So I came home during lunch to get those papers. But when I went through them after I got back to school, I still couldn't find it. I was pretty bothered at this point. After the final test with Sano-sensei was over, I walked down the sensei's office and found Arai-sensei. She gave me another sheet to turn it later, but I insisted on doing it right then. Which I did. Again. (When I wrote my name on it, I wrote "バージョン2" (Version 2) underneath it, just to make a point. Hmph. I hope Arai-sensei believes me.)

So I returned home with the intention of finding that worksheet and walking it back to Arai-sensei before she left at four today. But that sheet is totally MIA. I have no idea ...

This will probably result in a blank space next to my name on the homework sheet that 's on the wall in our classroom. Everyday that we turn in homework, we get a dot next to our name. Argh.

Let's Speak Japanese!



I've seen posters for something called "Nihonjin to nihongo wo hanasou!" (meaning "Let's Speak Japanese with Japanese People!") and a classmate had expressed interest in visiting the next meeting. The meetings are held every Monday from 3:30 to 5:00 in Aoi Hall across the street. I decided that it would be good to check it out. As I understood it, volunteers came to Yamasa and chatted with students in Japanese. Well, I figured, it'll good practice since speaking is my weakest area. I imagined that it'd just be bored housewives or somesuch.

It's more orderly that I expected. There were about five or six volunteers—mostly middle-aged aged ladies, but also one older gentleman and maybe five Yamasa students. (That's all?!) I spent most of my time speaking with a nice lady named Matsuyama. Matsuyama-san actually had a copy of our textbook, Minna no Nihongo and asked what lesson my class (M class) was on. Er, six, I said. And she pretty much spoke with me on that level. It was almost like an extension of school.

I was pretty nervous. Or rather, anxious. I'd taken my dictionary and a notebook and a pencil. (Hey, all three of these things are recent vocabulary words, so I should type this in Japanese too: "私は じしょ と ノート と えんぴつ を もってきました." That's how I'd actually write it. The I-know-kanji! way is "私は辞書とノートと鉛筆を持って来ました。")

Annnnyway.

Because I was anxious, I kept making really stupid mistakes in my speech and even in my notes. It was frustrating, but I kept at it. Matsuyama was very patient.

The 90 minutes was spent in conversation with Matsuyama-san; the gentleman, Ogino-san; and a fellow student, Alex, whose been here for 6 months and can speak surprisingly well, which fires me up about being here. A lot of the conversation went over my head, but a lot didn't as well. Another Japanese lady showed up near the end of the meeting and we spoke some too. (She knew some English. I forgot to get her name, though.) Everyone insisted that my Japanese was skillful. I guess it's not too bad.

I was really anxious the whole time but I enjoyed it and intend to attend those weekly meetings. That means that I'll be in class on Mondays from 9 AM to 5 PM on Mondays. Man. But I can tell that it will work wonders for my speech comprehension and conversational abilities.

Apparently, the group's going to some nearby restaurant next week. Ulp!

Vocabulary In Use!



Yesterday, as I rode with Mikawa Ossan, we passed a clock shop. I realized that "clock" and "shop" were two recent vocabulary words, so I called out "tokei no mise." Well, that's about it, really. It was one of those small meaningful moments.

Mikawa Ossan and I both have an interest in NPR, which is kind of cool. I went through a fairly big NPR phase about three years ago, I think, but stopped listening to the radio. I might start listening to some of their programs online.

Anyway, I've got studying to do! Ja!

4/23/2006

Oy ...

This weekend has been immensely unpleasant thus far, but things are taking a move upward and I'm starting to feel a more relaxed and centered. I have some serious decisions to make quickly, so this is important.

4/20/2006

Who wants to be a ten-thousandaire?

The Japanese version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? just came on. It's called クイズ$ミリオネア (Quiz Millionaire). It models the original very closely, from set design to lifelines to the music.

No Regis, though. Instead, there's Mino Monta, whose a good analogue. Man, and you thought Regis held the revelation of the answer for a long time! (Remember that scene in Evangelion when Shinji was contemplating killing Kaworu? Yeah, think that, but with cuts to different people during that time.) The target prize appears to be 10,000,000 yen, which is only USD$85,324 (!).

Tonight's celebrity star seems to be Jinnai Takanori (陣内孝則) whom I'm familiar with from the excellent Japanese television drama 1 Litre of Tears, which is among my favorites, in part for Takanori's likeable role in it as the protagonist's father. Takanori comes across as a likeable guy in this show.

I'm going keep watching this, though, because the host reads the questions slowly and then they appear onscreen, so it'll be great Japanese practice for me. And just maybe I'll win some imaginary money.

This is my fainaru ansaa.

Yes, they actually say this. It wouldn't be this show without it.

Oops! Takanori just got eliminated at 5,000,000 yen. So close! I wonder if the celebrities play for charity here as they do in America.

Random experiences

1. Yesterday, while walking home from school, I saw two young girls, around seven or eight, riding unicycles. Riding pink unicycles. Maybe it's just me, but I thought that was rather cool. They obviously weren't particularly skilled with them yet, but they were successfully riding short distances. As I passed them, I said "Sugoi yo!" (kind of like, "That's awesome!") and they smiled with delight. (Or were they baring their teeth at me? Nahhh.)

2. Today, a young teenaged schoolboy wearing a gakuran {image}, a type of traditional Japanese school uniform, and I walked down the same street toward each other. In a surprise move, he called out "Konnichiwa!" to me. (This doesn't happen. Not to me, at least.) I called the same out to him and he nodded toward me. Japanese people tend to keep to themselves on the streets, such that there are movements to encourage people to say hello more often and greet people on the streets.

3. Last week, I ate lunch at Kitsutsuki (part of Sakura House) for the first time and found the place pretty full. All of the seats at the bar were taken, so I sat at an open table for two. Soon thereafter, a Japanese businessman walks in and, finding a dearth of available seating, ended up sitting at my table. So thus was I thrust into conversation with a stranger.

We chatted a bit, though it was choppy. I spoke a little bit of Japanese; he spoke a little bit of English. What a fun bunch we were! His name was Shinkai-san (新海さん). He gave me his business card while we ate. In Japan, this is no small matter. Because I remembered the "how-to-bow" presentation that I blogged about before I came here, I knew the basics of how to treat his card, so I didn't make any huge social gaffes that led him to pull out a katana and slice me apart. I apologized for my lack of business card, but he was understanding. I guess I could have given him my Yamasa studend ID card ...

I had to spend most of the time rushing to eat so that I could get back to class on time. I hope I'll see Shinkai-san again in the future.

4. I saw my first (and honestly, only) Nintendo DS at the nearby AEON shopping center not too long after I got here. A young girl was playing it, and I think she had the light-blue model. Also, it's nice seeing Nintendo DS commercials everywhere.

The rain is gone; yet, I can't see clearly

Looks like the rain from this morning dissipated into a warm, sunny afternoon. Pleasant.

Today wasn't the best day at school. It was largely boring and was over material that we'd already gone over and that I already understood—plus, I didn't feel very well in the morning. I began feeling better as the day went on, though. I haven't been feeling too wonderful all week, really.

My current problem: my eyeglasses. The left lens in my glasses, which have increasingly begun showing their age, has begun popping out. I can't tighten the screw because its head has been worn, so the screw is essentially stuck in place. I have nothing in the way of tiny needle-nosed pliers either. Fortunately, there's an eyeglass store between here and Yamasa on Highway 248 by the name of Kikuchi, so maybe they can help. I hope so. And I hope it's not very expensive.

Update (3:04 PM): Good news! I was able to use my fingernail clippers to twist the bad screw out and replace it with another screw that I had in my small eyeglass repair kit. While I was at it, I gave my glasses a good scrub-down too, as they were pretty nasty-looking. Crisis averted.

4/19/2006

"The Cheater" (ザ・チーター)

「私はチーターではありません。」
"Watashi wa chiitaa de wa arimasen.

These words, meaning "I am not the cheater," open the Japanese television game show The Cheater (ザ・チーター), which I happened to catch while studying. (Well, I had baseball on in the background for a change of pace. While I wasn't paying attention, the baseball program disappeared and gave way to The Cheater.) I've been watching it for a while and think it pretty interesting.

Apparently, this show is the Japanese version of an American game show entitled Dirty Rotten Cheater. It plays just like that show. When a person is supposed to announce whether they are or not the cheater, they'll say, "Watashi wa ... usotsuki chiitaa—" and then cut immediately (and I mean immediately) to a commercial. They finished the line upon the show's return. This works well with Japanese grammar because the verb always comes at the end of sentences. So contestants are essentially saying, "As for me, the cheater I ... am [or, am not]!"

The Cheater featured Mika Kano, one of the legendary (in Japan, at least) Kano sisters as well. I think they look waaaay too plastic. I also again saw that Uma Thurman vehicle commercial in which she says "NEXT PROPORTION goes next" at the end.

A new instructor? Hiroe-sensei's surprise arrival!

Today, a new sensei showed up. His name is Hiroe-sensei, a young, pleasant, and energetic guy. (In fact, I believe he's the sensei who claimed the gun the other day.) In contrast to the other sensei we've had, he speaks quickly. At first I had trouble keeping up with him, as listening and speaking are my two weakest qualities, but toward the end of the day, I was keeping up fairly well.

We had a lot of new vocabulary today, and we've started getting in verbs, an area that's among my strongest. (It's interesting that they are giving us the polite "-masu" forms first, but I guess that's to be expected given that, one, you want new students to speak politely and not roughly and, two, that these all verbs conjugate regularly.) Things are beginning to pick up now. Just wait 'til next week when my kanji classes start!

Having just finished reading an explanation that I requested about Japanese grammar, I'd best continue working (job-hunting and studying).

(Not many would note this, but the title of this post is very similar to the style of a Sailormoon episode title. Can't you just hear the music?)

4/18/2006

"Give me your money by 1:00. I mean, 7:00!"

I've had two very interesting class experiences that I'll relate.

"Okane ga arimasu ka?



The other day in class, we went over introductions and ownership. After practicing our introductions on each other for a while, Arai-sensei introduced some objects she'd brought into the class. There was no apparent theme to the objects, though. They were largely toys and other random objects. I got a beer—an actual Asahi beer. The guy who sits next to me, Lee, got a not-too-unrealistic–looking gun. So we ran through the introductions again. I ask Lee if the beer is his, and he asks me if the gun is mine. We both answered affirmatively, so we switched items.

Then Arai-sensei informs us (in Japanese, lest ye forget) that we're all going down to the instructors' room (先生の部屋) on the second floor (二階) to practice on the sensei. The entire class was pretty surprised by that one. We we filed downstairs, me carrying my gun. ("I feel like a such a stereotype," I told a couple of classmates. Cosmically, one might argue, here's the sole black dude wielding a gat. It was pretty funny, really.)

So into the sensei's office we go. There are about eight sensei present and we all go around introducing ourselves to them and then asking if the item we carried was theirs. As you can imagine, asking four or five sensei if a gun belonged to them was a pretty bizarre and hilarious experience. Each sensei jumped a little at seeing the gun for the first time. (After the second sensei, I believe, I began hiding it so that I could surprise them with it. I might have scared a couple of them.) The last instructor I asked said that, yes, that was in fact his gun and took it. And thus did my firearm ownership come to an inauspicious conclusion. As the class returned to our third-floor classroom, I remarked that, as I pulled out the gun, I should have asked at least one of them "お金がありますか" ("Okane ga arimasu ka?"), meaning "Do you have any money?"

But at least I'll be prepared when it comes time to ask people on the street if a specific gun is theirs.

104



Yesterday, the class went over telephone-related information with Oyaizu-sensei—you know, things like how to read and write telephone numbers, call Information (the telephone number is 104), how to asked stores what their hours are, and what days they're closed. As practice, then, we were to return to the sensei's office to use the phones in there to call Information. It became clear that the companies whose numbers we'd been practicing on were, for a change, actual companies. Again, the class is surprised.

So down we go. I'm up first, so with my script in hand, I dial zero (to get an outside line) and then 104. Ring, ring.

104: "Yes, this is 1-0-4's _____-san."
Me: "Excuse me, Okazaki Matsuzakaya's telephone number, please."
104: "Okazaki Matsuzakaya, right? Certainly! I'll retrieve this information. {pause} Okay, the number is 0564-23-1111."
Me: Thank you very much!
104: "You're welcome!"

Success! Everyone else did theirs and we returned upstairs only to find that were we going back to call our companies to get their hours and their days off. Class, surprised—you know the drill by now. So back down the stairs we went. And guess who was first. Ring, ring.

OM: "Yes, this is Okazaki Matsuzakaya."
Me: "Excuse me. From what time to what time are you open?"
OM: "From ..."

That's where I lost her. I couldn't understand her.

Me: "E-excuse me. One more time, please."
OM: "Okay. From ..."

Augh! No good! I still couldn't make it out. Well, I didn't want to bother this poor woman too much—did these companies know we'd be calling?—so I just skipped ahead.

Me: "Okay. On what days is the store closed?"
OM: "On Wednesday."
Me: "I see. Thank you very much. I'm sorry [for the trouble]."

I was pretty disappointed. It's true that my listening skills are fairly weak, so this was no great surprise or anything, but I was quite displeased with how that went. Especially since another girl, one of the folks in the class who's been struggling a lot, had to call the same company to call and apparently met with success.

I asked Oyaizu-sensei for another go. Okay, he said. Ring, ring. (Actually, more like "Ring.")

OM: "Yes, Okazaki Matsuzakaya."
Me: "I'm sorry, one more time please."
OM: "Yes, yes, no problem."
Me: "From what time to what time are you open?"
OM: "From ten o'clock ..."
Me: "Ah, ten o'clock."
OM: "Yes. Until one o'clock."

Clear as a bell.

Me: "Ah, I understand. Thank you very much."

Ha ha! Success! I returned to the waiting room near the entrance of the office and compared notes. The other girl wrote that the store closed at seven o'clock. Huh? I realized what happened pretty quickly: In Japanese, "one" is ichi and "seven" is shichi, and I'd misheard the lady again. I'd never really noticed that "one" and "seven" rhymed until that moment. Indeed, a Japanese department store was unlikely to be open from 10:00 to 1:00 everyday.

Oyaizu-sensei was as understanding and supportive as always, but I came away a bit disgraced from that. Still, it was a good experience—my first time calling a place within Japan. The ladies on the phone had understood me perfectly, it seems, too. So it wasn't a disaster by any means.

I just need to watch 1 and 7.

Notes during lunch, is all

This is the first time that I'm posting from Yamasa. I logged into Blogger and found that, inexplicably, everything is in Japanese. I guess Blogger uses the language of the computer you're accessing it from instead of an option that you set.

Japanese keyboards take a bit of getting used to. The standard apostrophe is on the seven key (that's right—Shift-7 types an apostrophe) but there's a more Japanese apostrophe (`) in a more convenient location. The at symbol (@) has its own key. And there is a hiragana/katakana/roomaji key. Cool. The parenthesis keys are shifted one key to the left as well, which keeps throwing me off.

Well, after checking the you've-got-mail board, I saw that I had my first piece. I walked to the Gakuseika (that is, the student services office) and found my first bill. Whee. After some explanation by the office's Hoshino-san, I found that I could pay this bill at a konbini (convenience store), which is pretty cool indeed. It's my gas bill, apparently. It's for 2,661 yen (maybe about $22). I guess I'll do that after class today.

4/17/2006

Kanji textbooks and the job search

Today, we received the kanji textbooks that we'll be using for our kanji elective classes. (I wonder why they're called elective classes when, as far as I know, we have to take them.) Those classes begin next week and I'm very excited. But that excitement is muted, again, over concern about work. I think I have less time to find a suitable job than I thought.

I've begun looking for non-eikaiwa part-time work (for now), but it's difficult. Thus, if anyone has any leads or ideas, please let me know. I'm looking to work on weekday evenings if at all possible. I wonder if the Osaka Employment Service Center for Foreigners and the Tokyo Employment Service Center for Foreigners might be of use to me. For working part-time, probably less than they could be.

Another idea I had was working for an American company part-time "from home," as it were. If those of you back in America come across anything like this, please let me know.

4/16/2006

日本語のショートポスト

ハロ!今、日本語で書きたい。

今まで、日本が楽しいと思っている。まだクラスが少し簡単だ。けど、日本語のクラスが大好きだ。さしあたり、二年ほど日本に住むのが可能と知らない。とりあえず、僕ががんばるよ!三箇月が大丈夫だね?アメリカに帰る場合、もう一度日本に訪れる。

下手な日本語、ごめん。じゃ!

Just watchin' TV (今晩のテレビ)

I turned on the television a while ago and, finally, saw my first two anime (of sorts). Both were very old series (I believe) that are being aired today on Fuji TV (フジテレビ).

The first was named Chibi Maruko (ちびまる子) and was about schoolchildren. I saw two short cartoons, the first about a girl in Maruko's class that wanted to write a romantic (I think) haiku, and the second about well, I'm not too sure. But I enjoyed it and it was good listening practice.

After this was Sazae-san (サザエさん). This simple show, about a family, was named after the family's mother, it seems. This was strange to me because neither of the cartoons featured her too much, but instead focused on her youngest son, whose name I didn't catch. I liked it. It had that innocence that I sometimes find refreshing. I understood a lot more of the second cartoon of this show. The story was as follows: After seeing a young friend of his out shopping by herself and secretly followed by her mother, Sazae's youngest son also wanted do the same. After talking Sazae into it ("一人で買い物に行きたいです," meaning "I want to go shopping by myself"), he headed out. Sazae, attempting to be surreptitious, followed him, but he was able to lose her (after commenting that Sazae was just like his friend's mother), so Sazae called the stores he was going to. (I'm not sure why.) I didn't understand the ending—something about a vendor continually raising the price of his bananas ("70円!80円!90円!100円!")—but the ending turned out all right, of course.

And now a show that most of my friends are at least peripherally aware of, One Piece (ワンピース), is on. What's with this show's art style? Well, it seems that this is the last anime for the night (on this channel, at least). Looks like the next show is some variety show that features HG (ハードゲイ). (Priceless.)

The commercials have been just as interesting since it's now anime time. I saw one for a Naruto (ナルト) video game, one or two for various card games (one for a Digimon game), and a few very Japanese McDonald's commercials as well. ("Am rabin ee.") Oh! And I saw my first commercial for Pixar's upcoming movie, Cars. Lots of subtitles in that. I'm curious about that film.

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of stations on my TV. Like, four or five. I hope I'll be able to catch an episode of Naruto on Wednesday evening.

Slow day at home doing schoolwork

I had trouble becoming productive today, but I did some studying for a while and completed my homework. The class is slowly working its way into grammatical particles, which I'm pleased with. I'm still having lingering doubts about my level placement, I admit. The thing is, I'm very familiar with the grammar but I'm not familiar with counting, time-telling, and a lot of the vocabulary that's been introduced thus far. If I jump ahead from M class to L class, I might have to fight to keep up. But I guess it wouldn't be that bad. I should look into this tonight and mention this to somebody tomorrow if I still think it a good idea.

Apparently, Mikawa Ossan used a couple of same reference books that I used in my self-study until this point: Random House's Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary and Everett Bleiler's 1963 Essential Japanese Grammar (which Mikawa Ossan owns but never used). I just thought it interesting.

4/15/2006

Money, meals, and Melee

Today, with Mikawa Ossan's help, I was finally able to pull money from the post office ATM. It was quite simple to do and we're not sure why the ladies at the post office that helped me couldn't figure out the process. But whatever the case, I have a little money to live on again.

After that, we went to grab a small bite to eat at a very inexpensive place near my apartment. I ate a small bowl of chicken and rice. (It was a surprising amount of chicken for less than 400 yen ($3.37). We then stopped by The Daiso (ザ・ダイソー). Daiso is the local 100 yen store. It's huge and sells a wide variety of goods, from knick-knacks to office supplies to foodstuffs to clothes to tools—even things some that are more than 100 yen. I've been to other 100 yen stores before, but this was my first trip to Daiso. Surprising, since it's right down the street from me and it's a very popular and useful store. Well, believe you me, I'll be going back.

Later, Mikawa Ossan and I went driving for a relatively inexpensive place to eat—yes, I ate out twice today, okay?!—south of Okazaki and found a restaurant from a chain with which he's familiar. Its name is Gusto. I ate a delicious (and rather inexpensive) meat-filled meal (chicken and Australian beef) and shared some french fries with Mikawa Ossan. It was a pretty nice place.

(While I was there, I went to the restroom and, when it came time to wash my hands, I found that the soap dispenser was part of the sink—it was actually in a spout right next to the water faucet and looked like a second water spout—and was automatic, as was the water. But I found no towels to dry my hands on. Not even a blower. Then, though, I saw that the blower was also part of the sink, on the near inside side. The air comes through a thin but wide slit and you use it to blow your hands dry from the wrist down. It's like an air squeegee, if that makes sense. "Classy," I said.)

Later, Mikawa Ossan came by my place and we played Super Smash Bros. Melee. (We turned to the game to Japanese mode to complete the mood.) He's never played before but he did surprisingly well, and by playing as almost all of the characters, I think he went a long way toward understanding the mechanics of the game. (He described the stage Jungles Japes as a place you die in just by looking at it. Ah, how true.)

I'll be going to bed soon. Tomorrow, I need to study, do homework, and do a small amount of household chores as well.

4/14/2006

Seiyu shopping experience: the Gawkening!

Yesterday, after walking to the main Okazaki post office, I walked over to Seiyu, a nearby grocery/department store. I bought some more gyuudon boxes and also a little refrigerated tempura treat (that I'm not sure whether I should eat cool or heat up or boil or whatnot).

Japanese stores are interesting. First, most of the time, there is a small tray into which you are expected to place your money when paying. Generally, you don't hand your money to the clerk but place it in that tray. If you forget that, they might pull their katana on you.

Second, the clerks often call out the price of the item they're ringing up at the moment. This is pretty good for numbers practice. I'm just glad that they have the total amount to pay on their cash register displays. ("Gomansanzenroppyakuhachijuunanaen" is still a bit indecipherable to me.)

Third, in most stores, unless perhaps you purchase a small amount, your purchase is not bagged up for you. After you're done paying, you walked over to a small table and bag your items up yourself. I found this to be pretty surprising coming from Japan's comparatively effusive service culture. If you buy breakable items, newspapers are provided for you to wrap those up in. When you're done, you tape up your bag's opening (if desired) and depart. It's interesting. (For the record, I bought so little yesterday that the cashier dumped everything into a small bag herself.)

So yesterday, after I was done, I stopped near the front of the store to look at some odd-looking video games. (One of these was, I swear, a beetle-wrestling game. Additionally, the beetles apparently have flashy super-moves. It was infinitely amusing. There was a Naruto (that's a popular anime series, of course) game as well.) A couple of young boys were busy playing one of the games. A third one was wandering about and, once he caught a glimpse of me, walked in front of me, staring with this grin on his face. An older gentlemen chided him from a few meters away and he slinked away. I just smiled at him. It was an amusing encounter and was the first time that I've been stared at so obviously. At least it wasn't a malevolent glare. (When I rode the train the other day, I caught a guy staring at me because I saw his reflection in a window.)

But when you're just so hideously good-looking, it's something you have to live with, right?

Right ... ?

4/13/2006

A brief class introduction

今日はすばらしかったです。YAMASAのクラスがとても好き。僕の同級生も好き。いい気持ちだね。

Oh, I did accidentally and oh so unintentionally slip into nihongo mode without realizing it? Sumimasen. That text (or if Asian characters aren't enabled on your machine, those blocks or question marks) reads: "Today was wonderful. I very much like Yamasa's classes. I also like my classmates. It's a good feeling."

So anyway, things are great at Yamasa. I'm in the M class, which is a pretty low level. I was thinking about asking to move up today, we're starting to get into things that I actually don't know. One of these things is numbers—that is, the moderately large ones. The way the Japanese count is a bit difficult coming from English. They essentially do it like this:

61 is pronounced "six ten one"
243 is "two hundred four ten three"
83927 is "eight ten-thousand three thousand nine hundred two ten seven"


It's perfectly logical, of course, but takes some getting used to nonetheless, mainly because of the terminology, phonetic changes, and such. This is what we went over during the last class of the day. I didn't bother studying much in the way of numbers during my casual self-study back in America, so it's kind of new to me.

Before that, we went over the location words koko, soko, and asoko and their polite equivalents, kochira, sochira, and achira. I was already familiar with these, but Arai-sensei really filled in some important gaps. (I swear, finding good study resources on your own can be difficult. I should have known some of this stuff before!) She did this by giving us a tour of the area around Yamasa, heading towards the nearby JR Okazaki train station. That was quite useful and enjoyable as well.

So I should briefly introduce my sensei, huh? The first one I met was Oyaizu-sensei, the sole male of my group. Apparently, having a dearth of male instructors has been a problem in the past, so Yamasa began adding more to the roster. (This is important because males and females speak in very different ways in Japan.) On that same day—the first day, by the way—I met a Arai-sensei, a kind lady. Both are excellent instructors. Today, though, there was a twist: a new sensei added to the mix. Her name is ... uh ... {looking in notes} ... ah, Sano-sensei. She came in during the last period to teach us some numbers. That was the most grueling class yet. (Hey, I still loved it.) Our classes are entirely in Japanese, which is I'm finding helpful. (When we met her, Arai-sensei said that she can't hear any other languages.)

I've been pretty proactive in my classes, trying to participate and volunteer often and talking to my classmates. Honestly, I get frustrated with the many breaks and the shortness of the class days. The latter problems will be rectified very soon, though, once our elective classes begin the week after next. As for the breaks, though, they always seem to come right when I'm in the zone, as it were. For the record, this is my schedule for class:

      9 AM to  9:50 AM
10 AM to 10:50 AM
11 AM to 11:50 AM
12:40 PM to 1:30 PM
( 1:40 PM to 2:30 PM )
( 2:40 PM to 3:30 PM )


The time in parentheses are the times for electives, which, as I said, will be beginning soon. Electives are not held on Friday, though. Also, not all elective time slots will be used. However, I do know that my electives, as chosen by my sensei, will be kanji-related. Whoo!

Today, when Arai-sensei introduced a break, I said "Yasumitaku arimasen," meaning "I don't want to take a break." She laughed and said that I was an "ii gakusei" (a good student). Later, at the end of the day, I said "Owaritaku arimasen" ("I don't want to finish [the class]") to Sano-sensei. This apparently intriqued her. She responded positively in some way and then asked me "Kyou wa atsui desu ka?" (meaning "Is it hot today?"). It wasn't that warm, so I after error-checking my translation, I sat for a few seconds trying to figure out why she'd said it. Ohhhhh. I see. It was a mini-test to see if I could say it wasn't hot. You wanna dance, Sano-sensei? Let's dance. "Atsuku arimasen." Heh. Well, it was pretty amusing and it made me look capable. (I did study grammar almost exclusive before coming, after all.)

I'd like to add that I'm sitting in my room right now with the window open and I just heard a little girl across the seat say "tadaima" (meaning "I'm home"). It was cute.

I made an effort to speak with my classmates today and discovered that one of them might know of a small part-time job that could be right up my alley: proofreading English, it seems. (Hey, don't judge my proofreading abilities by my blog! I'm terrible in stream-of-thought exercises like this, and by the time I'm done, I don't even feel like editing anything.) I have to get more details from her, but I'm pretty interesting in it even though she says the money isn't great. There's also an every-other-weekend English conversation class that might work for me too. Excellent.

Yesterday, a group of students were bussed to Okazaki's City Hall to handle our Alien Registration cards and I met a group of new folks during the trip. I've met a lot of folks thus far.

Right now, I'm very happy with my situation. I hope things will continue looking up.

4/12/2006

Quick update: still alive in Japan, it seems

Hey, folks! Yeah, I'm still alive over here. I was able to get everything straightened out finally. I'll have to explain more later, though, as I didn't get in until late I have some homework to do before I go in in a couple of hours. Things are great at Yamasa.

By the way, today's the day that I get my Alien Registration Card. So, yes, it's true: I'm an alien. Why, agents Kay and Jay were here just a couple of days ago.

Did I mention that I need to eat as well?

4/10/2006

First day of Yamasa is a success

Well, my first day was class was great. I met two sensei, though I'm not sure if they will be my only ones. Probably so. Their names are Oyaizu-sensei and Arai-sensei—a male and a female, respectively. I liked them both and the classes went well.

I want to write more, but I'm not feeling very much like it right now. I've got a lot of other things on my mind right now.

Augh! This is it: the first day!

Within an hour, I'll make my way to Yamasa by foot. It's about a 10- to 12-minute walk over there. I haven't eaten yet. Hmmm. I wonder what to do about that. Well, at any rate, this is it. Hey, I'd better get my backpack ready!

4/09/2006

Today, Okazaki castle. Tomorrow, school. Tuesday, work training.

Today was another great day and it was the final day of my introductory pseudo-vacation in Japan.

Mikawa Ossan and I met at 11 AM with the intention to visit the famous Okazaki Castle. We drove to the castle's area, which is near one of Okazaki's train stations—Higashi Okazaki Station—but we couldn't find a place to park due to the overwhelming number of people in the area. Mikawa Ossan was surprised at the large number of people on the streets, but since some of the females were dressed in yukata, which are a casual type of kimono, he assumed that there was some sort of matsuri (festival) going on. So we rode to JR Okazaki instead with the intention of riding the train to the area instead, since I had not yet done this and need to next week to obtain official permission to work. (I have to ride to Nagoya, which is the closest major city.)

After Mikawa Ossan provided a brief explanation of how to buy tickets and how to figure out which train to ride and how to find said train, we boarded the train—the densha—and rode two stops over to Higashi Okazaki. Riding the train is a fairly complicated issue, but it's not undecipherable—except for the almost-kanji–only maps.

We followed the crowds to the area around the castle where, indeed, a festival was in progress. There were crowds of people. Folks laid blankets on the grass by the nearby river and celebrated with their friends and families. Vendors lined the walkways, hawking their wares, and almost all of them were selling foodstuffs. Mikawa Ossan and I partook of a tasty treat (the name of which I cannot remember right now) that was comprised of meat within a yeasty enclosure (plus sauce). I'm sure there might have been more to it, but that's all I know at the moment.

Then we heard drums. "Can you get any luckier?" he asked me. Indeed, a taiko presentation was in progress. We made our way to the performance area just as some children were wrapping up their act. The full adult taiko team came out and gave a rousing performance. I felt it in my head. No, literally—the drums were so loud that I could feel the vibrations in my chest cavity.

After that, we made our way to the castle. Okazaki Castle cost 200 yen to enter (apparently, that's comparatively inexpensive). It has four or five floors that house artifacts from the period when the castle occupied several times the area that it currently does. And on the top floor was an observation deck that bestowed a beautiful 360-degree view of Okazaki from on high. (I also saw some students that had been at the Yamasa orientation with me. I said hi to one of them when I first saw him, but he had little to say to me, which was fine by me, really.)

After we were done, we took the train back to JR Okazaki and hopped back in Mikawa Ossan's car. (He's very kind to drive us around, as gas here costs around 130 yen or so. Per liter. That's like five bucks a gallon.) Most of the rest of the day was spent running errands and buying supplies. We went by the recycling center again and bought a color inkjet printer for about six dollars. I don't yet know if it works, but it does power on all right. I purchased a number of items from the dollar store, and we went by a grocery store named Kahma and bought some items too. The items I bought include an iron and ironing board (some of my clothes need to be ironed before I can wear them to work), a laundry basket, a ladle, and printer paper. Mikawa Ossan also gave me a broom and Swiffer-like device that he didn't need.

After that, we stopped by Mikawa Ossan's place to unwind and watch a movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me. After running around all day, we both needed that break. Earlier, I'd begun worrying about the job again and worrying about my future job possibilities in Japan. Without a degree, I'm extremely limited in Japan. And on a not totally unrelated note, I've heard that you can only apply for a student visa in Japan once. So, I should try to stick out the two years at Yamasa, then return to the U.S. and complete my degree. I can return to Japan after that if I want to (on a work visa, which requires a degree), as I'll then be marketable. Well, at least I'd have some sort of motivation to do it now. I still don't know what I'd want to study, though. Asian Studies?

The one thing that will most influence my enjoyment and effectiveness of my time here, whereas I'm concerned, is my job. Not the job that I almost have now—just whatever job I have. That's the clencher. That's the one thing that will make or break this trip. Mikawa Ossan said that I should remember that my studying Japanese is my primary goal, and this is true. But at the same time, my being able to study at Yamasa is wholly dependent upon my having the money to pay for it, meaning that some sort of job is absolutely necessary. And of course, the only reasonable job that pays what I need is teaching at an eikaiwa, which aren't known for making people happy. Well, that was the risk, right? (Say, does anyone have $15,000 dollars that I can borrow and start paying back in a couple of years? Anyone? At all?)

So anyway, now I'm back home and the first day of school is tomorrow. I'm excited, though my excitement is decidedly muted over the concern about the job situation. But I think tomorrow will be a good day. Tuesday evening, I have to report for job training. I think watching other teachers work will give me sufficient data to form better opinions on. Nothing will get me more antsy and anxious than the basic concerns over having money and not being homeless, especially so now. But I also get like this and it always ends up being okay.

Plus, there are other ways.

As for now, I need to cut my hair. Finally. I've been waiting to do this since I got here.

Well, as I said at the outset, the so-called mini-vacation is over. Life is about to get a lot more hectic and difficult. I hope I'm up to the challenge and I hope that things will continue going well for me as they have been.

4/08/2006

Motorcycle gang occurrence

I just heard a motorcycle gang going down Highway 248 about 10 minutes ago. Mikawa Ossan warned me about them. They are, apparently, where the bulk of the relatively small danger in Okazaki comes from. It was recommended that I avoid them. (Of course, I'm in my apartment right now, so that was easy to do in this case.)

I really don't like loud motorcycles as it is. At 10:30 PM, it's just uncivilized. Uncivilized, I say.

Three days of wonder, a few days after the fact

This post is the culmination of a few days' worth of typing. Though I'm posting it now, much of the text was written on and from the standpoint of yesterday, Friday. Please excuse this (i.e., deal with it). Due to the amount of effort this took, I'll probably edit it later, so please excuse (i.e., deal with) the typos that I'm sure plague this post. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, too. Now, enjoy!

And I thought the first few days were amazing ...

Wednesday


I've spent the last three days with Mikawa Ossan. The timing of our meeting is very excellent because he has the week off and I don't have proper classes until next week. He has been very patient in showing me the ropes. Due to his being here so long and to his strong, mature interest in Japanese culture and history, I've learned a lot from him. (三河おっさんさん、もう一度どうもありがとう。)

A lot of Wednesday was spent running errands for me. One of the most important stops was to purchase a hanko, a stamp used in business dealings and pretty much act as a substitute for a signature. They are what identify you as you. I got one of the cheapest plastic ones I could find (if not the cheapest) and paid 1200 yen for it. It takes a week to make it, so it will be ready next Wednesday.

After this, we ate pizza in the food court of the shopping center that we were in. See, we went by Kariya, which is Mikawa Ossan's stomping grounds a few miles away. This particular shopping center was a few miles past his city, though, so I got a nice drive and got to see where he lives.

After eating, we browsed the shopping complex and stopped at a few stores including a musical instrument store, a bookstore, and an inexpensive clothing store. It was a nice shopping center.

You know, one thing I'm glad about is that I haven't been getting an uncomfortable amount of stares. I look and act different, so, sure, I stand out. But the people have been nothing but kind and patient with me thus far, and I appreciate that. Thank you, Aichi. (Mikawa Ossan says that it can be pretty different in other parts of the country, though. Think I'll stay in Aichi.) Shoot—even at Yamasa, I'm the only black guy I've seen thus far, and definitely the only one in the group of new students. I like that, though.

Before we went to this shopping center, we stopped at a couple of cell phone providers' stores to get some keitaidenwa (mobile phone) information. Mikawa Ossan prompted me to speak for myself, but my lack of vocabulary on such things put an end to that pretty quick. I tried, though. (Hey, I spoke a good deal at the hanko store. In fact, my introduction was this: "Watashi wa Amerika kara desu ga, nihongo ga dekimasen," meaning "I'm from American and can't speak English." The lady smiled in an understanding way. That's right—understanding.) We visited a Vodafone store first and then an AU store. AU seemed to have more of what I was looking for, plus it's what Mikawa Ossan uses himself, so I'll probably go with them.

Another great place we stopped at was a Kimble Recycling Center. (Heh. Their website says "recycle & discount deveroper." Classic Engrish, there.) This store is great—even better than the hundred-yen stores I've been to thus far, in some ways. You can get items (some new, some used) for really cheap. I bought some old manga (Japanese comic books) for 21 yen each. They have drinks, food, furniture, decorations, CDs, manga, and even VHS videocassette renting machines. Seriously. I forget at this point everything I bought, but it was so cheap that I bought so much that I spent more than I expect.

Mikawa Ossan and I stopped at his apartment for a while, too. It's a nice bachelor pad. Honestly, part of me wants to say that it's very Japanese, but that'd be a pretty stupid thing to say. His apartment is located in a very convenient place, it seems, which is pretty cool. I liked his apartment and it makes me wonder if I'll have my own one day.

That night, Mikawa Ossan came up to my room for a little bit. He was very surprised at how much Yamasa provided me with. Whereas Yamasa provided me with two desks, two lamps, two chairs, a bed, a mini-fridge, a rice cooker, a wall-mounted heater, a gas stove, kitchen utensils, and more, most Japanese apartments apparently come with absolutely nothing. I believe Mikawa Ossan's description was "walls, a roof, a floor, and windows." He didn't even get a heater when he moved into his place. Man, I need to keep that in mind in case I ever do move into such an apartment. Yamasa's doing right by me.


Thursday



Yesterday was my most amazing day in Japan yet. Mikawa Ossan drove from Kariya to pick me up. He had a gift-hunting errand to run up north, so I was able to accompany him. So we hit the new expressway, which happened to be the same one I took from the airport. This thing is so smooth!

Before long, we began hitting the hillsides and tunnels (トンネル [tonneru], according to the signs) which ran through the large, mountainous hills. The tunnels were very interesting since I came from Houston where there are no really tunnels. Or hills, for that matter. (Did I mention that I've barely seen any construction at all? And—ha!—no Sugar Land mothers in SUVs? Eat that, Sugar Land friends.)

It wasn't too long before I saw snow, then mountains, and snow-capped mountains. This is where things really got even more interesting. Snow has fallen on the vast fields that were visible from the expressway. I also saw small villages sitting in their traditional Japanese glory. They looked simple and so peaceful. One day, I should visit one. Okazaki is a moderately small city, but these were very small towns. I got some pictures, but it was tough getting good ones with the expressway's railing in the way.

I enjoy Mikawa Ossan's company, so the trip was pleasant, and it was a lot longer than I expected it to be, too. I was pleasantly surprised. We learned a bit more about each other and talked about all manner of things. We see eye-to-eye on a lot, it seems. I'm glad to have run into someone who lives here who's intelligent and mature, too.

Anyway, as we drove, we realized that we were behind schedule for our original destination. (Largely my fault, I think, as I didn't want to leave until nine instead of eight. In my defense, I was really sleepy the night before.) So we decided to stop at a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was closer to us. This place was (I believe—I should verify this) Shirakawa. (On the way, we passed through the town of Shokawa (which is now apparently Takayama, though most of their signs don't reflect that), which might be the most beautiful place I've even seen. Pretty much everything about it was stunningly beautiful.)

The area is known for its unusual houses constructed using no nails and with very steep roofs (to prevent the build-up of snow on them), so Mikawa Ossan and I were expecting to see a few interesting houses—nothing outside of that. A lot more waited for us, though: an entire centuries-old rustic Japanese village. This was the real Shirakawa-go.

So here I was, faced with an entire village of pure Japanese history in many forms, and I'm down to my last roll of film. (I bought an extra roll.)

The village was amazing, even staggering. We were out in the middle of the country, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and huge patches of snow everywhere. There was a number of tourists there, some foreign, but it wasn't really crowded. The village was littered with the type of house that, in large part, led the area to its fame: the gassho-zukuri (or, "hands-in-prayer") houses from Japan's Edo Period. (Japan File has more information about the houses.)

We entered one of the first houses that could be toured to have a look around. Upon taking off our shoes and walking in, we were presented with green tea by a polite Japanese lady that sat kneeling on the floor. Admittedly, Japanese tea isn't the most tasty thing to me, but I drank it, of course, as we toured the first floor. The original owners' decendants had put out many old tools, decorations, and trinkets for display, including an ornate butsudan, or "Buddha cabinet."

We then climbed the small steps and toured the upstairs gallery, which was full of very old tools and equipment. We saw everything from buckets and field tools to snowshoes and silk machines, and we looked at everything for several minutes. We did the same thing on the top floor. While I doubt that I derived the enjoyment from the experience that Mikawa Ossan, a Japanese history and cultural expert (whereas I'm concerned), I found the house very interesting. (I know you want pictures. One day, you'll see them. So will I. Once I have the money to develop them. When I get back to the U.S. Probably.)

We spied a very high observation area populated with a few people and desired to make our way up there, but the small road was submerged with snow in a couple of places, meaning we had to climb over the large piles of snow to get there. As I tried climbing over the second heap of snow, I decided to turn back because I felt uncomfortable, given the occasional instability of the snow, the unpleasant-looking fall that awaited to my left in the case of a fall (it was a steep slope—mountain-like, I guess), the fact that we were pretty isolated, and that I carried my camera. Mikawa Ossan turned back too, which I felt pretty guilty about. (ごめん。)

Soon thereafter, since I'd been hungry for a long time, we made our way to a noodle restaurant, at which I ordered a bowl of tempura udon, noodles "topped with tempura, especially shrimp, or kakiage, a type of mixed tempura fritter." It was a nice-sized bowl and the meal was quite delicious—more than Mikawa Ossan was expecting.

As we sat, an upper-aged foreign couple sat down near us. (We sat at a square bar.) They were accompanied by a Japanese lady from Nagoya who served as their guide. We talk with them for a long time. The conversation was geared toward the idiocy of the President for a while, as the older lady kept talking about him. We talked about some more general things as well—it was pleasant. Toward the end of the meal, I took a picture of the three of them with their panoramic camera and we bade them farewell.

Mikawa Ossan and I explored the rest of the town, which was larger than we'd ever expected. There were omiyage (souvenir) shops everywhere, most of which sold the same things.

This town is not just a historical souvenir but is still active today, so we saw the town's residents as we wandered about. Some seemed to be getting off of work. And there were cars and schoolchildren on the tiny roads as well. We wanted to go up to a shrine at one point, but the stairs up to it were submerged in a lot of snow, so that was impossible. Mikawa Ossan was able to have a nice conversion about the snow with the older gentleman whose job, apparently, was to shovel it. It shows to an egregious degree up there in the winter. Even now, the snow was two meters deep. Two meters in April!

As it began getting later and colder, we decided to leave. We'd missed our original destination, but came away with a life-enriching experience.

So we drove back down to Okazaki town, with a couple of stops along the way. (They have machines in convenience stores that can recharge your cell phone in 20 minutes for 200 yen.) I bought strange-looking Fanta (ファンタ) in a hourglass-like–shaped can as well, which tasted more orange juice–like than American Fanta does.

At one point he stopped to answer his phone and, listening to him speak Japanese so well, I began feeling impatient, wishing that my own level of Japanese was higher. I'm dissatisfied with my current level. Which is kind of weird since I've not even had one bloody class yet. But, yeah. Soon, though, I'll get my wish in spades.

Before we called it a night, though, we shopped at a restaurant that Mikawa Ossan hadn't been to for a while and wanted to show me. I forgot the name of it, but it was a nice small place. Apparently, the Japanese baseball season just began, so a game was the TV. At Mikawa Ossan's recommendation, we got some gyoza, which was totally delicious.

After that, I think we called it a night. I was pretty tired and it was late. This getting tired early business needs to stop.

I know this post seems really empty without all of the amazing photos that I took. Sorry. You'll just have to excuse (i.e., deal with!) this.

Point is, it was a fantastic and adventure-full day. Thanks much, Mikawa Ossan!

Friday



Today felt like my first official day at Yamasa. I suppose, though, that in a sense, it was, because today was the opening ceremony.

Unfortunately, I was running a bit late today (in part because I was distracted by a children's television show named Pitagora Suicchi), but I made it to the campus on time. On the way, I met a nice Taiwanese fellow named Shu and we talked a bit as we walked. The path was scattered with a few Yamasa employees guiding us the right way. (The first person I encountered was one of the fellows who picked me (and the other new arrivals that got to the airport at the same time I did) up the bus stop on that first night. His name is Ken Uchida (内田さん). I haven't spoken to him much, but he seems quite nice.

As Shu and I approached the Yamasa II building, we saw three or four Yamasa employees in the street. With hearty good-mornings ("Ohayou gozaimasu!"), they indicated that we should go to Aoi Hall, which was a bit farther down. Since it was about 9:02 at that point, Shu and I jogged down. (It's only several dozen meters down the street, so it wasn't a long run or anything.) We arrived, greeted another set of employees, and entered the building.

In the Aoi Hall auditorium were well over 100 new students—maybe 150 or more. I stopped at the table near the entrance. An employee held out a sheet of paper and asked for my name, which I pointed at. (Remember, Yamasa's an international school, so there were English names and there were also Chinese names written in kanji.) That lady told another that my number was 48 ("yonjuuhachi"). This lady dug for an envelope and handed it to me. From there, I was directed toward a seat. The seats were filled from front to back so, since I was one of the last folks to arrive, I got a seat near the back (next to Shu). Within the envelope was a lot of necessary information, including my Yamasa student ID card (which which I can get a discount at Eden!).

Soon thereafter, the program began. The emcee was Aya Yamada-sensei (山田あや先生), one of the ladies who interviewed me in my placement test on Wednesday. After some opening comments—and let me mention now that this entire part of the program was in Japanese, so I couldn't understand most of it—she began introducing the sensei. Unfortunately, the room was lined with them and this process took a very long time. Each sensei introduced themselves, made a brief comment, and ended with "yoroshiku onegaishimasu" (which essentially means that they're looking forward to working with us, you might say). After each instructor, everyone clapped. It was the most ceremonious experience I've had yet.

And then ... after the sensei introduced themselves, the students did the same. A cordless microphone was passed down from the front to the back of the student area. Many people spoke in Japanese and a number spoke in English as well. As 15 or maybe 20 minutes of this (including the clapping), it was my turn. I'd been preparing.

「ジョナサン・○○です。アメリカから来ました。今まで、一人で勉強しました。新しい学生はがんばりましょう!どうぞよろしくお願いします。」 (I'm Jonathan. I came from America. Until now, I've studied alone. New students, let's do our best! I look forward to working with you.)

It was really a pretty proud moment for me. What I said wasn't particularly advanced or interesting, but it was still the culmination of a considerable amount of effort on my part. But the real effort starts Monday.

Anyway, after this, someone who might have been Yoshio Hattori (服部義男さん) gave a rousing speech. It seemed rousing, in any case. I was able to pick out pieces here and there, though—eat a lot, drink a lot, and let's all try our best, and such—. Likeable guy.

After this, the Japanese-abled students were dismissed and the English-only folks remained behind. (I took this opportunity to move to the front row.) From here, Declan Murphy, the Director of Yamasa's International Admissions—and the one who returned my backpack to me—spoke. (His name is pronounced "DE-clən.") He had a lot to tell us. A lot. Fortunately, it was all in English, which is good considering the important things he discussed. He filled us in all of the administrative basics, what our schedules and workload would be like, how we need to obtain our Alien Registration cards (which the school will help us do), how to obtain a bank account (apparently, his bank "sucks"), and so on. There was a lot to digest, but most of it was on the papers we were given.

The two most important topics he talked about were trash-handling and noise control. Trash is very serious business, as there are 20 types of trash, all of which must be handled in a very exact manner. (I believe that Declan said that handling this incorrectly could lead to "a very painful death.") This ultimately boils down to six main categories of refuse. We were given colorful booklets, entitled "The Official Guide to Reducing Trash in the 21st Century," that purport to explain all of this. It's complicated. Really complicated, and a bit off-putting. Fortunately, because I live in the Villas, handling the trash is much eaiser than it would be if I lived in one of the other residences. I have to categorize it, but I don't have to put it out only on certain days (like once every other week). There are large blue bins that I have to put the bags in out front.

As I said, the other big topic is noise. This area is populated by elderly people, apparently, and Yamasa's Villa have been the subject of many complaints over the years, mainly about noise. You know how it is: you get some noisy gaijin (foreigners) around they start acting a fool and all. The residents, at one point, tried to get the Villas demolished, apparently. He shared a few horror stories too. (There was a guy who wanted to listen to a CD in his headphones but failed to actually plug the headphones in. He turned the volume waaaay up to where he couldn't even hear the banging at his door. Declan had to be called in to open the door. The moron with the headphones didn't even realize what had happened. "How do you not notice that?" I asked Declan. Of course, he didn't know. Come on.)

Fortunately for my neighbors, I'm a quiet guy, so I don't expect much of a problem with anyone. Still, the requirements are fairly strict: don't talk outside in the late evenings, or have running cars or even loudly flopping shoes. Declan encouraged us to practice our ninja skills. (Well, good thing I've got a Konoha forehead protector that I was loaned for the trip, eh? Sou dattebayo! (If you don't understand it, just ignore it.))

After all the lecturing, Declan took us on a short tour of the campus—through Aoi Hall (and "aoi," contrary to what I thought, does not mean "blue" in this instance, but is the name of the leaves of Ieyasu Tokugawa's crest); by the campus café (Kitsutsuki) and bar; by the radio station, FM Okazaki Community Radio; over to the Yamasa II building, where I'll be spending most of my school time. After checking whether we had any questions—there were a couple, such as "Why is the cost of produce so high?" (sorry, I forgot—we were dismissed. Before leaving, though, I entered the gakuseika—that is, the Student Services office. Declan recommended that I make a copy of my passport for Yamasa's offices. They did this for me. (I asked for it by holding out my passport and saying "kōpī onegaishimasu.")

After this, I walked back to Kitsutsuki ("Irasshaimase!") and had another gyuudon bowl. (Today, I asked the main lady I'd spoken with before how she was doing: "Ogenki desu ka?" Again, the meal was "oishikatta desu.") I then walked back home and IM'd some friends for a while and got my room in order. I've been running around so much since I arrived that my room is still a mess (and it's been totally worth it, I'd like to add).

So that's where I stand right now. So far, this trip has been more than worth it.

Talking to a classmate, getting a job (!!), and magazines

I met a fellow student today. He's an American by the name of Ed, a kindly older gentlemen. He's in a different program than I am. He's been here for a few months now and had a lot of interesting things to share with me. We talked for about an hour, I'm sure. He's begun studying kanji and shared a number of insights about it with me. (An an unrelated note, I found a website named Hanzi Smatter that's "dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture." Pretty amusing and, in my case, useful information.)

In other news, I think I have a job. I'll be working at an English conversation school (eikaiwa), teaching everyone from young kids to adults. I met with the president of the company this evening. He actually met me at Yamasa and gave me a ride to the local branch of his school. The salary isn't great but it's just about what I need, and it will probably go up soon as well, after training and all.

Right now, I'm still very wound up and nervous about the whole thing. I'm pretty much a nervous wreck right now. I always do this—I get totally wound up over something that turns out not to be such a big deal. But each time, it feels very much like a big deal, like this does. All of the questions are going through my head—the "what if this happens?" and "what if that happens?" types of feelings and thoughts. Plus, I think I'll be starting sooner than I expected, which isn't a big deal, but it just makes me all the more concerned.

I don't handle transitions like this very well. I hate starting new jobs. But I'm fortunate that things turned out like this.

At the moment, I'm drinking an Asahi Mitsuya Cider that Mikawa Ossan bought for me the other day. It was a drink that he too tried soon after his arrival in Japan several years back. It purports to be "refreshing & sparkling." Well, it's pretty good. I wasn't sure that I'd like something named "cider."

I stopped at a MiniStop today to buy a new phone card and saw some interesting magazine covers. One had a picture of a girl, over whom were the words "Wanna Be A Shiny Girl?" Uhhh-huh. There was a magazine named TV Bros. and also one that claimed to be a "Town Wanderung Magazine." Heh.

Ahh, I'm still all jittery! I hate this feeling!

It's 10:42 PM now and I'm feeling calmer now. I still want to sleep off more of it, though. Fortunately, I'm really sleepy.

Must be the jet lag

For the past few days, I've been getting tired pretty early (around 8 or 9 PM) and waking up at 6 AM. I guess that must be the jet lag, huh? At least I've been sleeping all night.

I woke up a little while ago and am listening to some Faye Wong music on my laptop in my headphones. I like her style.

4/07/2006

My first Japanese cooking experience

I cooked my first meal in Japan tonight. When I went shopping with Mikawa Ossan the other day, I picked up some rice and some Donburi rice toppings. (I've honestly forgotten what was it in.) But it was pretty good. Using a gas stove is pretty cool, as is using the rice cooker that came with my room.

初めて、今夜御飯とDonburiを料理した。おいしかった!料理するのが要る。

Mikawa Ossan was telling me how little comes with Japanese apartments—that is, pretty much absolutely nothing at well. Yamasa, in contrast, provided me with two desks with lamps, a bed, a bookshelf, a gas stove, a rice cooker, pots and pans, curtains, an Ethernet connection, and more. I got a great deal here!



Don't worry: I still intend to do a big introduction-to-my-apartment post. However, right now I'm really sleepy and I have to make a huge post about the past few days.

4/06/2006

Super Mario Bros. stamps, you say?

I'm on my way to bed, but ... I just read that Nintendo is releasing commemorative Super Mario Bros. stamps soon. I might get a few, if I can. Nice omiyage—that is, souvenirs.

スーパーマリオブラザーズのスタンプ?面白そう!いい土産だからほしいんだ。このゲームシリーズが好き。

Dontakosu chips (ドンタコスチップス)

I'll have to post about my day yesterday later, as I'm meeting Mikawa Ossan again this morning in a few minutes. However, I thought I'd share this interesting find.

We stopped by a few stores yesterday and bought some foodstuffs, and among these were these chips. I forgot how much they were, but it was around 100 yen. Their name is ドンタコス, which is pronounced "dontakosu." I don't think it means anything, but it might their way of saying "Don Tacos" or something. It's got "メキシカンチリ味," which means "Mexican chili favor." Olé!

I just opened the bag and have found them to be very good. They look and taste like Doritos. Mmmm-MM!

I hear from a trusted source that the other text on the bag says "10% added volume." Thank you!

Enabling Japanese text support

As you've seen, I'll be typing some Japanese characters in my posts. If you want to enable Japanese support in Windows XP, navigate to the Control Panel's Regional and Language Options, select the Languages tab, and enable "Install Files for East Asian languages." You might have to insert your Windows installation CD. I don't know about Macs or older versions of Windows. And if you're in Linux, you likely know how to do this already.

Alternatively, it's possible that the Internet browser Firefox supports Asian characters out of the box, as it were, as I think I've seen it display these characters without their being enabled on the computer in question.

Ultimately, though, if you don't care about seeing these characters, don't worry about it.

やっぱり、僕は日本語も書きたいです!日本語を学びたいから、日本語で書くのが要りますね?

4/05/2006

Yesterday and today have been great! Exploring and testing!

Addendums: (1) Added a Wikipedia link for Gyuudon. (2) Added an extra paragraph about the interview regarding verb conjugation. (3) Mikawa Ossan recognized me, in part, because of the picture of my eye that serves as my profile photo.

Yesterday and today have been utterly amazing days.

昨日



Yesterday I met with an Internet acquaintance that I'd met a while back in America, Mikawa Ossan. (That's the screen name I've known him as. Mikawa is the region were in, and "ossan" is a term referring to middle-aged men.) Mikawa Ossan lives in Kariya, which is a couple of towns over. He was kind enough to drive the 18 or so kilometers to Okazaki to meet me and take me on a tour of the city.

Unfortunately, we had problems meeting. We were supposed to meet at a MiniStop convenience store off of local highway 248. I had an enormous amount of trouble finding this place, though. I walked up and down 248 with the map that Yamasa gave me several times, but I couldn't find it. I looked for English and katakana renditions of the store's name, too.

So I asked strangers for directions. First, there were a couple of teenaged schoolgirls on bikes. As I walked along the sidewalk, I heard them behind me and, since I was walking in the middle of the sidewalk, I thought that I might be in their way (as I wasn't entirely sure where I should walk), so I looked back to see where they were and walked to the side. We all stopped at a street corner. I nodded and said "sumimasen" ("excuse me") and they returned the favor.

As we stood there, I began thinking that I should see what kind of directions I could get from these girls. I turned to them. "Sumimasen. Minisutoppu wa doko desu ka?" ("Excuse me. Where is MiniStop?") I found their initial reactions amusing, because they both, in turn, said "Minisutoppu" in a manner that indicated that they were thinking. They didn't know, though, and suggested that I speak with a nearby gas station attendant. (It occurs to me now, consciously, that Japan still has gas station attendants. Remember full service?)

I decided to walk a little more, though. I stopped at some vehicle maintenance shop and asked a young guy and slightly older lady where MiniStop was. It was past four o'clock, when I was supposed to meet with Mikawa Ossan, and I'd neglected to bring his phone number too, so I was fairly worried. The lady spoke the most and seemed to be telling me to walk down Highway 248 another two blocks. Fortunately for me, she drew some arrows on my map. I thanked them and began walking according to her directions, wondering if Mikawa Ossan was still there, if he'd gone by my apartments, or what—and if he'd be upset.

I turned off of 248 onto some other street. The MiniStop was supposed to be straight ahead. As I walked, a young foreign-looking guy walked toward me on the sidewalk. "Ah, another Yamasa student, probably," I thought. As we approached each other, I decided to ask him if the MiniStop was, indeed, up the street.

Before I could, though, he asked me if I was a Yamasa student and from Houston. Uh, yeah. And, yes, this young guy was Mikawa Ossan. Turns that the MiniStop we were to meet at has shut down and that the map that Yamasa gave me was out of date, see. (There's an updated map of the local area at Yamasa's website.) Mikawa Ossan had parked his car at the nearby Seiyu shopping complex to come looking for me. It was purely good timing that we found each other, too. Part of the reason that he recognized me was that he recognized my eye from my profile photo on this weblog. (Heh.) So we walked back to his car. Mikawa Ossan, an American who teaches English, has lived here for six years and knows what's going on. With his assistance, I was able to visit a number of great locations that I wouldn't have seen otherwise for a long time.

We went inside the Seiyu shopping center. Apparently, in Japanese stores like this, the grocery store will be on the first floor and other services will be upstairs. That how it was here: as soon as we went up the escalator from the grocery store, I was faced with a very IKEA-like area that I might end up buying small furniture from one day. Higher up, there was a 100-yen store in which I bought a few doodads (e.g., water pitchers, glasses, a bowl, paper towels, bath towels). Seiyu is apparently Wal-Mart's attempt to break into Japan, since it has heretofore been unable to. Seiyu's feel is much better than Wal-Mart. It's less dry.

Later, we went to Denny's. Yes, Denny's. This is a very different Denny's than the ones in America, I'll tell you that. For one, they don't serve breakfast food. Given that I've always pretty much believed that that was why Denny's existed, it's fairly bizarre. No, they serve meals more like Japanese style dinners and lunches, you might say. It's really something. When we walked in, the waitresses called out "Irasshaimase!" which is a general greeting used in stores. (You'll walk in and might hear two or three people say it. Then, other store employees you see later will say it too.)

Mikawa Ossan and I took a booth. At this point, things seemed a bit more familiar. But when we decided on what we wanted, Mikawa Ossan pressed an electronic chime that sat on our table. I think I actually might have said "What in the world—?" at that, which is kind of funny. But, yes, it summons the waitress. Japanese restaurants give you hot rolled-up towels for wiping your hands, which I do like. The meal was delicious. Partly because of my earlier trepidation at venturing outside, I hadn't eaten until then (around 7 PM), so the dinner was doubly good.

Later, we stopped by Eden, a big electronics store. (Mikawa Ossan and I share some good things in common, see.) Some of the appliances were astonishing. The place actually did feel like a very Japanese Best Buy.

Lastly, we stopped at the Aeon shopping center, the biggest one in the area. It's a mall, really. Three stories of stores. Starbucks was, of course, the first one by the entrance. This place was probably the least foreign-feeling to me. (We stopped in a camping store and were amused to hear a song playing in which the lead singer, a male, was singing in English about how some girl gave him HIV. Indeed, a prolonged "HIV" was featured prominently in the chorus. It was pretty funny. The song sounded pretty good, though.)

More important than all of that, though, was Mikawa Ossan's guidance and advice about living in Japan and learning Japanese. And, fortunately, I serve a purpose for him, too, as he doesn't know many foreigners.

The day was great. I saw a lot, experienced a lot, talked to a number of people, and just had a great time. I went to sleep happy.

今日



This morning, though, was my placement test at Yamasa. This was my first time visiting Yamasa, so I was pretty excited. I looked at my map, grabbed my umbrella (as it was raining), and started the walk there. I ended up following a bunch of student-looking folks that were going in the direction of Yamasa. I crossed Highway 248 and there it was, my school for the next two years (I hope).

When I entered the Yamasa II building, I was guided to a small classroom with a bunch of other people. Yamasa wasn't joking when they said that it's a Japanese environment because everyone spoke Japanese. It was hardcore stuff. I was guided to my desk and given a number (48). There were about two or three dozen students seated in there. The two instructors that were present talked a bit, then handed up the testing papers. So quickly?

The first part of the test was totally in kana, so I could read it, but my lack of vocabulary held me back. There at least 50 questions, but after not being able to answer one, I followed the example of a few others and turned it in blank. (No, this is not a bad thing.) I was then escorted to the room for the "special" people in which I was given hiragana and katakana charts to fill out. I actually couldn't think of a few of the katakana (ナ and レ) but, of course, remembered them once I turned in the paper.

After this, I was called in for a verbal interview. In Japanese.

I did well. First, the two ladies introduced themselves. One was Yamada-san, but I can't remember the other's—something like Kunazuki-san. There were a few times that they had to speak slower and simpler, and a few times when I didn't understand them (generally because of vocabulary limitations on my part), but overall, I believe it was a rousing success.

I explained that I studied Japanese on my own while in America using the Internet and books (including a dictionary), that I had arrived two days before, that I was learning because I enjoy learning Japanese, that I didn't know what I was going to do after Yamasa but that I wanted to stay for 2 years, that I was a student in America, that I didn't eat until 7 PM yesterday, and many more things. All in Japanese. Despite the roughness of some parts, it was my greatest Japanese-related success yet.

One part of the discussion that I enjoyed was when they tried to get me to conjugate a verb. I took a couple of tries to get me to understand what they wanted, but they finally did so by saying "taberu ... tabete. Nomu ..." and looking at me expectantly. Without going into the details, they just wanted me to convert the dictionary form of the verb meaning "drink," which is nomu, to its "-te form," as they'd done with taberu (meaning "to eat"). You see, there was a slight trick to it as the "-te form" of nomu doesn't contain "te" at all. It's irregular. So I replied with the correct answer: "Nonde." They seemed impressed. In general, they appeared to be surprised that I'd gotten as far as I had with only some self-study under my belt. I made a good impression. They showed me the textbook I'd be using, too—a version of Minna no Nihongo (meaning "Everyone's Japanese"). "Kantan na guraamaa," they said, apparently indicating that the book began with simple grammar.

After the interview, I was done and free for the rest of the day. It was only about 10 AM.

So I decided to explore the campus a bit. I walked over to Aoi Hall (where the International Office is) and looked around a little bit. I found a flyer for the campus cafe, Kitsutsuki (きつつき) which I'd walked by and looked into briefly. They had a nice-looking meal named gyuudon (牛丼, meaning "beef bowl") for 400 yen, so I decided to go ahead and walk in and order some. (I'll worry about cooking tonight.)

So I entered to a chorus of "Irasshaimase!" and took a seat at the counter. Turns out that gyuudon is 500 yen. Oh well. I ordered it and found it delicious. I explained that I was a new student at Yamasa and that I didn't yet speak Japanese—in Japanese, of course. They were very friendly with me and I was polite to them. When the food arrived, I exclaimed "Oishiisou," meaning that it looks delicious. And it was. I guess Kitsutsuki is my new Subway, eh?

At the end of the meal, I said "gochisousama deshita," which essentially means that the meal was excellent. "Oishikatta desu!" ("It was delicious.") I paid with my only 500 yen coin, we thanked each other (one of the ladies said "yoroshiku ne," which seems to imply that they want me to return, I think, which is fine by me), and I walked back home.

So far, today's been awesome.

Right now, I have to walk to a nearby billiards hall to meet Mikawa Ossan. There's no more school today or tomorrow, so we're going to do some more exploring. Sorry for any typos, but I'm in a rush; I'll proofread later. I'll be in touch! (I need to ask Mikawa Ossan were I can get my film developed, too.)

Jonasan deshita.

4/04/2006

A walk in the neighborhood

I just returned from a nice hour-long walk around the neighborhood. An online acquaintance that lives here sent a link of a map of the surrounding area. It's in Japanese, but you can clearly see that there is a small series of lakes to my immediate north, and a park right beyond that. So, armed with my 35mm camera, my small digital camera, and that map that Yamasa provided me, I set out toward that frightening world of Outside in Japan.

There weren't too many people around, but I did see some high school students (looking as if they were straight out of a Japanese drama) riding their bikes away from the nearby high school. Villa 3 is nestled in a residential neighborhood. Since I didn't see any meaningful street signs, I had to figure out where to go based on street layout. I saw some familiar birds, including sparrows and crows, but there were some unfamiliar species as well.

It's amazing how everyone's leaves their belongings outside and unsecured—everything from fellow Yamasa students' bicycles sitting in groups without locks, to the garages on houses not even having any doors. It's just very open.

I stopped by the lake and snapped some photographs, then proceeded to the park. (Random, needless tidbit: the Japanese word for park is "kouen" (光線).) There were some young boys—about 12—playing soccer. (No parents in sight.) Despite my expectations, they didn't gawk. Part of the reason for this is that they probably see many foreigners, given that Yamasa's housing accommodations are nearby, as is Yamasa itself.

I walked up a pathway to a sidewalk beside a major street. I thought I'd just sit for a while and watch the traffic, bicyclers, walkers, and such. I got a few glances from drivers-by. To decrease the awkwardness I experience when being stared at, I think I'll start thinking that they're looking because I'm a such a kakkoii otoko—"good-looking/cool guy." Heh. Nearby, there was a young couple talking and laughing.

Anyway, after sitting for a while, I decided to make my way back. Unfortunately, my original purpose for this trip was to find food, but I never saw the convenience store I sought and, in the end, forgot I was even hungry.

As I left the park, a trio of very young children of about four or five years old were entering. They looked at me inquisitively, so I smiled slightly and nodded my head (which is a form of casual bow). Then a couple of them—a boy and a girl—said konnichiwa to me. I replied the same to them. It was pretty cool. Those kids don't know it, but they gave me my first real casual hello. (Their mother followed a considerable amount behind but she didn't have anything to say.)

Then, walking back, I came across an older gentleman coming from the side of his house down toward the street. I bowed casually to him and we ended up say hello. Thing is, this guy came down and said something to me. In Japanese.

"Sumimasen. Wakarimasen," I told him. This means "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

He then said more. I couldn't make out what he was saying. I only caught a few words—hana (flower), sakura (cherry blossoms). He pointed toward the lakes too.

I looked apologetic. "Wakarimasen."

He still continued.

This happened a couple more times until he crossed the street and go to his truck. I waited until he looked over at me; then I bowed and put my hand up apologetically, since it seemed we were done. He smiled and bowed slightly, and we parted ways. It was something else. He just wouldn't stop talking. Maybe we'll actually be able to talk one day. (Fun reference: The rude to handle this would have been 「分からないともう言った!」 (Wakaranai to mou itta!), meaning "I already said I didn't understand!" And it's not a polite form at all. Knowing the grammar is good.)

A house right down the street from Villa 3So I made my way back. I'll add that I was pretty careful to walk on the left side of the road. When I left, I actually stalled for a minutes because I didn't know which side I should walk on. There was no sidewalk—only a painted bike lane. After watching a few folks go by, I followed their example and walked on the left.

Then I made my way back up to my room. I'm pretty tired right about now and might take a nap. However, I might be meeting an online acquaintance in a while. We'll go to a nice local landmark (possibly, depending on the time) and then to Denny's, where I get treated to dinner! (I'm told it's a senpai (comparative senior, in a sense) thing.) And I need to learn how to use my gas cooker thingy.

Safe arrival! Greetings ... from the fuuuuture!

I've made it safely! I'm writing this from Japan. From my apartment. And it's good.

I slept at my parents' house on my night in America, and we all woke up very early in the morning since my flight left at 9 AM. When we arrived at the airport, I first got my two very large suitcases weighed. One of them was 3 pounds overweight, so I ended up leaving the Japanese binder that I've been using in my studies until now behind. (It's not like I'll really need it, right?)

I spent my last remaining minutes with my parents (sniff) and then went through the security checkpoint, at which I removed my new sandals (thanks, Mom!) and took my laptop out of my computer case. I, however, did neglect to take my 35mm film out of my backpack. Fortunately, though, it was ISO 400 film. Had it been ISO 800, I was told, I'd be in big trouble. And considering that I have almost two dozen rolls on me (mostly black and white), I'd be less than thrilled if something were to happen to them. In all, nothing happened at the security checkpoint. I waved goodbye to my parents (sniff) and walked to my terminal.

My first flight was delayed by several minutes, but no harm was done by it. This flight was from Houston to Detroit, Michigan. I was worried that I had too much carry-on baggage—consisting of my laptop case, my camera bag, and a new luggage backpack with rollers and a handle. The flight was fairly unremarkable and lasted about two or two and a half hours, I think. The window seat provided a lot of nice cloud views, of course. And there's just nothing as peaceful as watching fields of clouds pass by beneath you. Oh, and there was a young couple that was escorted off the plane due to seating issues, but were subsequently put back on. Good for them. Oh, and due to some scheduling error, there was no lunch or liquor on the plane. (Oh noes!) The flight attendant over the intercom at the end of the flight sounded highly apologetic about it all.

Soon, I arrived at Detroit's airport. I have to say, Detroit's airport is much prettier than Houston's Bush Intercontinental. And it's clearly connected with Japan, as their signs have Japanese on them as well as English. They have a tram that looks just like a METRO Light Rail painted solid red. In fact, when I got off the plane, I took said tram to my terminal, A50, which was far enough away such that I didn't want to hoof it while carrying all of my carry-on bags. (I got off around A15, I think.)

Once I got to A50, I took a seat and, pulled out my phone, and called my parents while my cell phone was still usable. I sat near some middle-aged Japanese-looking women, thinking I might get the chance to ease into some Japanese conversation, but they turned out to be Hispanic, it seems. Outside the large window beside me, there was a 747-400 airplane connected to my terminal's walkway. That thing was big. I assumedt that to be the plane I'd be talking within a couple of hours.

After about 20 minutes of waiting and speaking to my mother, though, there was an intercom announcement that I didn't hear that led everyone around me at my terminal to stand up and walk away. "Er, hold on a second," I said into my phone. Turns out that my flight moved to a new terminal: A34. I walked down to A34 and took a seat while marveling how many hundreds of people were going to fit on the plane. Well, it is a 747, after all, right? There was a surprising number of Filipinos, but I discovered that this was because the plane was going to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, after stopping in Nagoya, my final destination. Ahh.

Another thirty minute delay later and I begin boarding the plane. When I walk on, there's a very pretty Japanese attendant at the door. She guides me to the right. The plane had two decks, but the upper one was reserved for business class people. (They apparently had some individual video screens and footrests. Probably a ballroom, too. Meanwhile, I sat in the cattle bay.) I took my window seat and settled in for the long flight. The guy next to me was Filipino and was heading to Manila, so there would be no Japanese conversation for me. Ah well.

I sat behind the left wing, staring out at the jet engines for a while. Then the plane began lurching down the runway. And thus began my final flight—the flight to Nihon itself. (Bum bum bummmmm. By the way, as I headed down the walkways that led to the planes, I couldn't help but hum the theme of the Empire from Star Wars. Heh.)

Since we were heading west, and the Sun heads toward the west, the Sun never set until the very end of the flight. Because of that, I had to close my window about three hours in so that "nighttime" could begin. They showed a couple of movies on the plane's television monitors and projection screens, neither of which I could see as well I as could have, due to my seating. They showed Nanny McPhee (meh) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There was a program about Michelle Kwan, too, that I caught about one quarter of the way through.

Other than that, they showed the plane's current position and progress. I was very surprised to see that the plane actually circled up through Canada; but the ice below was quite beautiful to see. (It was on this plane that I began taking pictures with my 35mm camera. I'd used my inexpensive digital camera on the first plane, but lost the pictures while at the Detroit airport. It was partly my fault for forgetting to transfer them to my laptop as I waited.) As for the meals, I've almost totally forgotten what they were. Dinner, I think, had beef; and breakfast had shrimp.

About halfway through the flight, my knees began hurting. They felt extremely uncomfortable and it drove me batty. I slept on and off, which helped some, of course. But that was easily the most annoying facet of that flight. Since I was in the dark for far more of the flight than I expected, I didn't get to do much reading. I read half of my last issue of Game Infomer magazine and read a Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman crossover book that I received as a gift to read on the plane. Before I left, I procured George Orwell's 1984 from friends, but was unable to actually read it in-flight. Or do anything else, for that matter. In fact, I was told that there would be power outlets on the plane, but there weren't (unless they were upstairs in the business class, which they probably were), so I couldn't use my computer to kill time or watch my own videos. It got a bit boring, but gave me time to think about things.

When breakfast was served, I reopened my window shade and looked down at Japan. I was physically looking at another country! (Auuuugh!) Everything was very tightly packed and dense, of course. But in the last 30 minutes of the flight, I saw something amazing and unexpected: Mt. Fuji (or as the Japanese call it, 富士山 ["fuji-san"]). It was utterly gigantic compared to everything else I'd seen, which made the surprise all the more pronounced. I took a number of photos that I'll have to get developed at some time in the not-too-distant future. The plane was in the perfect position for some amazing photos, too. The surrounding mountain range was glorious too. That made up for a lot of the inconvenience of the 13-hour trip over.

So down the plane goes. The Sun has already set in Japan, so as I get closer and closer to the ground, the darker and darker it becomes. (Which, unfortunately, was bad for taking photos.) Then this big, fat iron hunk of metal lands with the engineered grace of a slighly chubby ballerina. After waiting for a few minutes for the aisle to clear, I get all of my belongings and depart the plane. The pretty Japanese flight attendant thanks me at the door. Then, as I get off and step onto the walkway, a Japanese airport greeter bows to me. I bow back. Holy moley, I'm in Japan.

Auuuuuuugh!

So ... I walk into the main airport area and find a Japanese lady guiding people to where they need to go. There's a sign right next to her, though, so I follow that to Customs. At this point, I'm slightly concerned about the pick-up that Yamasa sent to retrieve me, since I arrived later than I originally planned to. My parents were able to contact Yamasa, though, and update my arrival time with them. (Thanks!) But I didn't know that at the time. I also told my parents that I'd try to call them before I left the airport, so I was wondering how that would pan out. Oh, and the airport was immaculate and bright. I loved it. Unfortunately, my hearing was very muffled, making the Japanese that I'd be hearing even more unintelligible. (That issue didn't resolve itself until this morning, by the way.)

As I approached the Customs area, I was directed by a male attendant to the foreigner line to the left. (Was the whip really necessary, though? Joking!) Fortunately, it was pretty much empty, but I saw that the lady in front of me had a form that didn't. I hoped that wouldn't be a problem, but I figured it wouldn't. I showed the attendant my passport and he directed me to a little station at which I could obtain and fill out one of these forms. The questions on it were simple ID and intentions questions. However, it asked for one thing that I didn't know: my address. A bilingual female attendant came by and helped me and I ended up just putting the name of my apartments. I returned to the line and was allowed up to the desk, after another attendant moved a line of Japanese nationals out of the way. I'd left the occupation area blank, but the man behind the counter indicated that I should write "student" there. So I did, of course.) Then I was allowed into the next area.

Baggage Claims was straightforward. I got a very nice luggage carrier, but since my suitcases were so large, only one fit on it. My suitcases were in fine condition except for one of my handles being broken. Fortunately, each suitcase has two handles—one on the top and one on the side. I placed my laptop bag on top of the suitcase on the carrier and clipped them together. Then I rolled to the one place where I expected the most problems: inspections.

I don't have anything illegal, of course, but I was hoping that the inconvenience wouldn't be too severe. Turns out, though, that the attendant just asked what was in the suitcases. (He began speaking Japanese and, after seeing my confused face, asked if I speak Japanese. No, not quite. From there, he spoken in broken English.) Almost entirely clothes with some school supplies and such. That was it. He just let me proceed. Good.

I walked through the automatic doors to the main lobby and found tons of Japanese people staring at me. They were waiting for others, see, and were just looking at the door. It was something. Some little kid ended up right in front of me as I walked. I smiled a bit and said "Sumimasen," meaning "Excuse me." A parent (I assume) came and shooed him out of my way. Good work, Jonathan.

Then I saw her, a young lady carrying a Yamasa folder just like the one they sent my approval information in. I smiled and approached her and told her my name. She greeted me, introduced herself as Stephanie, and escorted me to a group of foreign-looking males. They were, of course, other students. To be precise, two of them were new students (one of them was Julien from OkazakiJapan.com), one was an existing student (clearly an upperclassman), and there was another guy whose name I didn't catch. We all talked for a short while. Then the Nameless One asked if I wanted to exchange my U.S. money in Japanese yen. I did.

So I walked a few yards to the Currency Exchange window and filled out the form, which had English on it, thank goodness. I took out my cash and handed it to the lady behind the thick window. Soon, I had yen! Yen bills are taller than American money, so the bills stick out of my wallet about a quarter of an inch. The coins are not too dissimilar from American money, but one has a hole in it and is unmarked. I wonder what that one is.

(By the way, I hope I don't sound too out of it. I've not eaten yet and it's 11:12 AM here in Japan.)

So once I have my monies, I return to the group. I then ask and discover that the nameless is Declan Murphy, the director of Yamasa's International Office. The big man himself. (I've been wondering what he looked like.)

I was the last one to arrive, so we were ready to walk wherever we were walking to. I was told that I could call my parents from our destination. We walked a moderately short distance to a bus. We put our bags in the bus's storage compartment and hopped on. Declan Murphy and Stephanie stayed behind because they were expecting more people later, so we were left with the upperclassmen from Yamasa.

The bus ride was a big unusual, as riders are expected to be totally quiet and to turn their phones to "manners mode" (meaning silent, of course) and not even use their phones. And this was an hour-long bus ride. I didn't mind it, though. The scenery was beautiful. We rode on a tollway and, let me tell you, it was nice. It was perfectly smooth and looked attractive too. And, oh my, the bus was on the left side of the road! Japanese tollbooths have an "ETC" lane and I have no idea what that's about.

I saw a lot of things on that nighttime bus ride—hotels, buildings with English on them, a Sega store, a Toys 'R' Us, a マクドナルド (pronounced "makukonarudo," meaning McDonald's, of course), and just a lot of pretty city lights. The other cars on the road were tiny—and not an SUV in sight! I took some pictures here too.

The bus had a few stops to make before ours, which was the last one. We pulled into a large bus terminal in a city that resembled photos of Tokyo I'd seen. It was serious metropolitan. I took the opportunity, while the bus was stopped and almost empty, to ask the upperclassmen what city we were in. Okazaki. Wha—?! This was far more metropolitan than I expected, for some reason. But it's wasn't all that big. I'll get pictures at some point.

The bus resumed its trek and let us off on the side of the street at the bus stop. There, we met to friendly folks from Yamasa. They escorted us—and our bags in another minivan—to our accommodations. I was taken to mine first, the destination being Yamasa Villa 3. The two guys helped me with my bags up the stairs, unlocked my door, and gave me the key. My room! They gave me my lease agreement, too, but I wanted to read it before I signed it—plus, I was told that I'd have to buy a phone card to call my parents—so I decided ride with them to drop the other fellows off, as there was a convenience store near their place (Student Village, which I almost stayed in myself).

When we arrived, I waited for the others to get moved in, and I then asked for someone who speaks Japanese to assist me in buying the card. Good thing I did that, because finding the right cards took a bit of doing. I payed 1,000 yen for a phone card that will allow about 20 minutes of talk time. After that, I returned home and called my parents from the pay phone in the front of my apartments. (I sure had to dial a lot of numbers, too.) Unfortunately, I couldn't even reach anymore. That was disappointing, but I was calling considerably later than we'd expected.

So I returned to my room. It's a nice room. I'll write more about it later, though, as my stamina is leaving me quickly, and I have to write a bit more about events of the night. You see, as I began to relax, I realized that something was missing. My backpack! It wasn't here! I ran outside, thinking that maybe I'd left it in the parking lot. Nothing. I had a lot of things in that thing—my GameCube, many toiletries and hygiene products, film, and many important smaller items too. Losing that bag was one of the most careless things I could have done.

I panicked. What in the world could I do? Maybe I could call Declan Murphy and get him to check the bus if it was going back to the airport. Besides, it was 11 PM and there was no one else to call. I visited Declan Murphy's contact page and saw the imposing note about calling him on his cell phone:

If you have an urgent need to reach me, e.g., if you are one of my parents or a customer experiencing an urgent problem then please call my cell phone: 090-8868-8210. "Urgent" does not include asking me how to order a pizza in Japanese! "Urgent" does not include anything that isn't an immediate medical problem, personal safety issue, or other emergency. "Urgent" does not include asking questions about admissions - please direct any questions about courses, accommodation availability and visas etc to the Institute via email or telephone (during normal business hours).

# If calling from outside Japan, dial 81-90-8868-8210. 81 is for Japan, its the country code. The cellphone prefix becomes 90, you don't need the first 0.
# If calling from inside Japan, dial 090-8868-8210

(A special note for Europeans and North Americans "JAPAN = GMT+8" means that I'd really appreciate it if you didn't call in the middle of the night - and yes even a cyborg needs his sleep).


I felt that this qualified as urgent. I grabbed my new phone card and ran to the pay phone again. (By the way, this thing is advanced. And when you hang up, there's an animation of a Japanese woman bowing underneath the words 「ありがとうございました。」, meaning "Thank you very much.") Murphy-san asked what the problem was. He was curt, which made me feel a bit bad about bothering him, but I know that his schedule is insane, and it was probably even crazier yesterday. When I told him that it was my electronics bag, he directed me to visit Yamasa's Student Services department at exactly 8:30 AM and have them help me. I thanked up and hung up, feeling pretty bad. Would I get the bag back? Would it have to be shipped? How cost would it cost? Would everything be in it? Well, what to do but wait until morning. I didn't even know where Yamasa is yet.

So I decide to get settled in my room and not worry about it. My doorbell actually rang about 30 to 60 minutes after that call. I couldn't imagine who it was. It was Declan Murphy. With my bag. I'd left it in the minivan I'd ridden from the bus stop to my apartment. I thanked him profusely and brought it in, immensely, immensely relieved.

And thus I was home.

My Internet connection was working so I checked my e-mail and got to chat with some friends back in America. My room has a TV, so I checked out the programming briefly. Nothing much at 1 AM, and only a few channels—maybe five, all between channel numbers 1 and 12. I set up my bed using the providing bedding (called "futon," with emphasis on the last syllable) and, eventualy, went to sleep.

All in all, it was a good (and loooong) day.

Whew. Can I eat now?