Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hari- Potta-

Yes, Harry Potter is here in Japan, and it is just as big as anywhere else in the world. It is funny to also mention that many kids call me Harry Potter...which is odd... because I don't think I look like him at all...oh well, we are both white with dark hair I guess, haha. Harry Potter is pronounced like a British person would say it. The Japanese phonetics make it sound like Hari- Potta-. The cover art is also different. I picked one up to do a little "light reading". Haha.... it looks more like the Matrix to me!

Late night at the bookstore

After dinner, my okasan said she had to stop at the local book store to pick up an order. I went with her and got to see a lot. The word for bookstore in Japanese is hon-ya, literally book shop. The store was impressive. There were many books and tons of magazines. I should also note that this place would be a manga lover's paradise. Manga are Japanese comic books. I don't read them myself, but I do know that in America they are expensive at 10 - 15 dollars per graphic novel. In Japan though, I learned they are rather cheap at about 3-6 dollars per issue. Interesting. The first picture shows the packed isle of Manga graphic novels. There were many books in the store, but the main thing covering the shelves were magazines, zashi in Japanese. They were on all sorts of topics. I think this small store had as many magazines as a large Barnes and Noble! One thing I found interesting, (and I have read about this somewhere before) is that pornography and adult magazines are not hidden from plain view in Japan. Actually, they are openly displayed in a central location. Wild.... sorry... no pictures of that, hahah. Also magazines such as sports, outdoors, cars, and motorcycles have covers and inserts of "exciting" pages to attract readers, haha. Culture shock. OK...back to books...the books in Japan are tiny. Many books are slimmed down and come in separate volumes. The DaVinci code is sold in 3 different sections for 5 dollars apiece. I don't know why. The pics are of the Manga aisle, and a novel that was never released in English (just kidding).

More images of Saga

Saga is a very unique and beautiful place. It is amazing to see how the city dramatically changes on the bike trip to school alone. About 25 minutes into the 45-50 minute bike ride, the more rural-looking part of the city transforms into a bustling mainstreet commercial mecca! I say "rural-looking" because it really isn't rural. It is just that the buildings are all pretty much one story, the stores are smaller, and there are frequent corners of rice paddies. The first picture shows one of those rice paddies, but what is more unique are the mountains in the background! I love them, they are so beautiful. It is so foreign to me since Michigan is so flat in comparison. The commercial/industrial part of the city is awesome at night. So many bright lights. On a day when we return home late, like 7 o'clock, from school, we get to see the city lights at their best. It is quite a sight to see. I'll get pics soon! The second pic is of downtown Saga City, and the entrance to the school. This pic was taken right outside my classroom window! I love the geographic diversity of Saga.


Here are some more pics of the cafeteria. First the many juice vending machines, and then hanging out after school. Most students still eat lunch in their classrooms though.

The Cafeteria

Our school has a small cafeteria in it. It has many dishes in which students who don't have obento may purchase. The cafeteria itself isn't that exciting, it is how you purchase the food that is. I have not bought anything in the cafeteria because I always have a great obento packed for me, but I do observe other people. There are two vending machines with many buttons of food names. The kids put in money, pick their meal, and a ticket comes out. They take it up to the line and trade it for their meal. Neat. The meals include everything from rice balls, to udon noodle soups. It is rather inexpensive too, with most dishes being 180 - 250 yen. The snack bar is cool too. It has a bunch of breads, puddings, and yogurts, and it is really cheap. A pack of homemade breadsticks with sugar on top is only 20 yen, and the bag is a snack that feeds like 2-3 people! It is interesting to find that Japan has some extremely expensive things, but you can find the inexpensive/free stuff if you look hard enough. The cafeteria has many vending machines for juices too. It is a popular hang out after school. It may be small, but it is a fun place to talk with friends. I go there sometimes when Erika has her extra Advanced class period from 3:30 - 5:00 and there are no clubs for me to attend. The pics are of step 1) purchasing your meal, and step 2) getting your meal.

The cooking pics that didn't load up.

The cooking pics didn't load up the other day. Here are some of them. The class was very fun.

Tada! Its free!

Ok, the title of this post isn't "TADA!" like the magic tricks; it literally means free! Tada is the Japanese word for free stuff, and you can find it in many places. While riding our bikes to school, Erika and I pass many businessmen standing outside their buildings or on street corners handing out pamphlets and free goods to advertise their business. The most common things are tissue packets. They are like the little travel size kleenex ones, but with maybe only 7 tissues. I think it is a great idea. Hey, just about everyone likes free stuff. I also came across one group giving out Asian style paper fans! I was thrilled by that one. It was a cheapy, but probably would cost me at least a buck at any store! The goods are decorated with the company's logo or coupons with deals. I think it is clever advertising. I am starting a little collection. I have two tissue packs. One advertising a cell phone company, and one for something dealing with percents (insurance maybe? Japanese is hard, haha.) The fan I received was for an apartment complex. I will repost if I find any new things. Abracadabra... TADA... this post is done! [ok that was lame ]

Cool Spray : Like air conditioning in a Can!

Today we had gym again. I love it. But what is more important is what happens after gym. I have already told you about the unique changing methods at school (using the classroom as a locker room, haha). The new thing that I noticed were these aerosol cans that the kids use. The past few days I thought they were deoderant (which isn't really used in Japan, from what I hear) and dismissed it. Today I discovered it is something totally different. It is a cooling spray. It is intended to cool you and dry up the moisture immediately. Interesting. Omoshiroi. Now I know why they put so much on! The past few days I just thought they were overdoing the "deoderant"! One kid sprayed it on me and it felt quite good. Like an icy, dry mist. As a joke, kids take it and spray it down another's neck when he isn't expecting it! Haha. The reactions are great. The pic is of a particular brand of this cool spray.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tea: O-cha: Japan's beverage of choice

Tea is everywhere in Japan. I have been drinking it more than water. Tea in Japanese is O-cha. They have many different blends here, including the famous green tea. Tea is served hot or cold, and at all meals. Bottled tea is also huge. Everyone has it. It even beats out bottled water from what I've noticed with the general public. The pics are of a bottle of O-cha I normally have with my obento lunch at school, and the other is chilled tea we have at every meal. The large tea bags float in the pitcher. The Matsumoto family had always served this at their home too!

Algebra: Japanese Style

Pretty self explanatory: difficult. The math class I am in is currently studying parabolas, which are rather simple to solve, but when it is written in Japanese with Kanji (the Chinese characters) things start to get scary!

Some Images of Saga.

I am really enjoying Saga so far. It is a great mix of big city, and traditional Japanese shrines and culture. Every so often there is a little rural corner, too. I am getting to see the best of all worlds! The pics attached are of Saga City from the top floor of the school, and the other is a huge mass of bikers off to school. Bikes in Japanese are called jitensha. When I took this picture, my host mother said people will think I am in China when I show it to them! The bikers include students from all over the city, of all age levels.

Cooking - day 2

Today is Tuesday the 28th. I am just trying to get my journal back on track. Today in school we had English, (Japanese & Math I missed for Cooking.), Choir again, Gym, and Japanese History. I really like English because it gives me a unique interaction with the students. I learn the most Japanese during this period. Choir was interesting, because it was testing day. Everyone had to do a solo. I didn't have to volunteer, the kids did it for me, haha. It was very fun. We sang a short Italian song. Anyways, as I said, today I missed 2 periods for cooking. I was invited to the class again, but this time with a middle school class. Ryukoku high school also has a junior high wing. That is why the school is so big. Today we made takikomi gohan, which is a rice dish in which many vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, and chicken are all put into the rice cooker with rice and a sauce. It turned out to be very good... better than the donburi at least ;). We also made this soup which was fish based. It was very sour. I didn`t care for it. I am really enjoying the cuisine here in Japan, including the fish, but when they begin to get creative with fish broths, pastes, and eyes, I shy away. I always try to be polite, so I have been sampling everything. The class was more full than the other day. I made a conclusion that pre-teen Japanese girls, no matter where you go, are EXTREMELY giggly! The girls in my group giggled at every Japanese and English phrase I said. They asked me a lot of questions. They all wear their aprons and headbands in the class, and one girl had a Minnie Mouse headband. It had little floppy mouse ears on it! I told her it was cute `kawaii` and all of the girls giggled like mad. The one girl was so surprised and happy she began to cry! WOW... take everything I said about being like a celebrity in high school here, and double that for middle schoolers! It is amazing. The boys in the class liked arm wrestling. That was fun. Everyone was very nice and I had a great time. I am so happy I am attending school here in Japan. It is very fun and educational.

Cleaning the Classroom

I have already mentioned this before, but after school it is the students responsibility to clean the classroom. This means sweep, scrub, wipe, and dust everything. It is one of the biggest differences between American and Japanese schools.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kendo - "The way of the sword"

Today I got the chance to watch the Kendo club after school. There is actually a small gym in my high school just for this sport! It is also a class! Kendo is a martial art involving precise hits on the head and shoulders with a bamboo katana "sword". It is very neat to watch. I really like their uniforms and armor! The members get in lines with a partner and practice hits, dives, and running. It is really fast. I made a movie of it; it is kind of fuzzy, but you can get the feel of how intense this activity really is. Yes, they make those yells and screams on purpose. The boys make large grunts and yells, whereas the girls, they just scream like banshees. I am not being rude or exaggerating either. Watch and you will agree. Every hit, they scream, and it is not because they are scared. It is sheer power and discipline. I still don't know too much about this sport, but it seems like an awesome display of training and discipline! It is very fun to watch. The pics are of the members' orderly preparations. It is all a very tradtional process. The second shows the gym and the intense hitting. Enjoy the movie!

Straws of choice

This post may be a little lame, but I thought it was cool. Japanese juice boxes have a straw that is collapsable! So, America has bendy straws, and Japan has ones that collapse! Interesting!

Choir Class

Today at school we had all of our normal classes, but the "elective" (if you could call it that) of the day was choir. It was pretty much like American music classes. First we sang some classical Italian songs, and the class sounded very good (fyi, Italian is a little easier for Japanese people to pronounce over English due to similar vowels.) Next, we sang "The Sound of Music"! I don't know why, but it is part of their textbook. It is one famous musical I guess. After we sang that, we finished the class with watching parts of the movie "My Fair Lady". There were Japanese subtitles, but many of the students were amused by asking me if I understood the English. Haha. That pretty much ended the class. I really enjoyed it. On that note (haha), I leave you with this... "Za hiws aw wawibe wiz za sowndo o` moozic"...

Monday, June 26, 2006

More pics of Otousan

These are just more pics of my host father. The first pic is a bit blurry (sumimasen - sorry), but it is a good one of his goofy dancing! The second is my host father on the bus after the school walk. He is a fun guy.

Free Time

The time in between classes is technically free time, since you don't have to move to another class like in America. I have made a few observations. Girls like to sit and talk; whereas, boys whip out their cell phones, ketai in Japanese, and crowd around to play cell phone video games. It is cool. School today was fun. Math..grr, Gym, Persocom, Lunch, English, and Chemistry..2nd grr, haha. Math and Science are very difficult when the instructions are all writen in CHINESE CHARACTERS! I'm getting through it though. English is always fun. My teacher however, thinks I know more Japanese than I really do. There was a long passage in English, and she was having kids translate it into Japanese. The turn came around to me, and well, she wanted me to do it... haha... it was very muzukashi (difficult). I have been using that word a lot, haha, along with wakarimasen (I don't understand)! I guess English class is muzukashi for everyone. The other kids had the same troubles, but it was the opposite, figuring out what the heck they are reading. We are all learning together. The pics are of the boys crowded around a cell phone game, and the other is one of three bike shelters at the school! Everyone rides bikes! I don't think I have ever seen so many bikes parked in one place before!


Ok, this post is pretty self explanatory... Calpis water. The Japanese pronounce it KA Ru Pi Su. I have no idea where they got the name, it isn't traditional Japanese. It is now a joke in the house because I was able to explain to my family why Americans think it is funny. Cow Piss. Ok, I said it, haha. It really isn't THAT bad. It tastes like flat Sprite soda. And it is white... and still called water. Whatever.

The pics are of the jumbo size Calpis we had durring the sushi dinner. I had ocha (cold tea), but also one glass of ... Calpis. It's growing on me. The second pic is the funny "engrish" on the bottle. Engrish is the term used online when Japanese advertising attempts to use clever English, but fail. You find it a lot. Well, I guess I will leave you on this post with our HAPPY Calpis bottle, haha.

So was it worth it????

I forgot to post this... The results of the 20 dollar watermelon. My final verdict. It was definitely worth it. Its color was bright green, and bright red, it was extra crisp and juicy, and super sweet. It is the kind of watermelon you only find every once in a while, even out of all of the watermelon we eat in America. My otousan bragged about Japanese watermelon. He said he prefers his round, "not footballs like in America," haha. The next fruit selection may be that 9 dollar canteloupe, haha. The watermelon turned out to be the perfect dessert for the sushi feast. Oishii. Delicious.


Today we had computer class. In Japan they call this class Persocoms though. Personal Computers. Japanese people like to mash words together... degikame is digital camera, haha. The class was the coolest class (temperature wise) in the whole school. It was great to be in there after gym. It is interesting to note that their computers have no pageblockers on the internet, unlike the infamous Athens high school computers. You can freely check email, type blogs, yes even myspace works. It is cool. In fact, I am writing this post at school right now in the library. Erika has a test, so I am relaxing here. From what I have observed, there are no tests given during class. There are mini quizzes sometimes, but major subject tests for classes are all taken after school. Bummer. We were given some free time in computer class for a while and EVERY student immediately was on a computer game website playing fake versions of mario brothers and many other online games. I was amazed. The pics are of the classroom, and my friend Takuji who was playing a fake game of super mario brothers!


We had gym again today. This time I remembered my camera. The gym is big. We played volleyball again. It is so much fun. I have said it before, but it is really cool that everyone wants me to be on their team, and they get excited when our teams have a match against each other. I am looking forward to more days of gym. We have it 2-3 times per week, depending on the schedule.

Part of the volleyball team.

This is what the gym looks like!

My host father

OMG! I've done all this typing and just realized that I have included many pics, but none of my host father (otousan). I have been so wrapped up in everything, that I assumed you knew them (my host family) just like me! I'm sorry. This post will be about my host dad. He is so much fun to hang around with. His English is very limited, but somehow we seem to have the best conversations. His sense of humor is priceless. I can't explain it. He likes to sing, dance, act goofy. It is great. His jokes are really lame ( just like my own dad's, haha), but always deserve a laugh. Yesterday during dinner he was telling me something like "you know your mother used to be a samurai", and she would give him this disgusted look like she's heard it too many times before, smack his butt, and then laugh. I love it. He is extremely nice and caring, and likes to say "ziz mai house, rirax." I cooked somen noodles with him the other day for lunch. ( It was sunday, he is home on Sundays, and most of Saturdays). It was very fun. Other than the weekend, he works very long hours into the night. The only other time I get to talk with him is during breakfast. He is a lot of fun, and I'll make sure to get him in more pictures from now on. I will write about my okasan (mom) soon.

Otousan with his watches. He likes to collect them. He has two Rolexes!

My host father with me at the school walk.

The Kai House!

I'm sorry this took so long. I made a short video of a tour of the main part of the house. I hope this works.
The first part is the entrance, where you must remove shoes, and change into slippers.
The next part is the small convenience store attached, and if you look closely by the cash register, you can see Ojiisan working. Then there is the kitchen. Erika is doing homework in the tatami room. The tatami room is the main room of the house. It is the dining room, living room, and family room combined. Tatami is the woven flooring. It is very nice. You must remove your slippers and only wear socks in this room. We eat meals in there also, kneeling. Very traditional. Next is the washing room. The clothes washing machine is there, and in the back is the Ofuro. Ofuro is Japanese style bath. You shower on the outside very well with soap and all first, then you may enter the hot bath. No soap goes into the bath. The same bath is used for the whole family for the night. It is very traditional and relaxing. Next is Yurina playing in the other half of the tatami room. Then there is the bathroom. I will have to write a post about Ofuro and the bathroom later. Finally, there is my room. It used to be Erika's but she is generously letting me use it this summer, and is sleeping in Yurina's room. My room is cozy. Well that just about wraps up the house tour. I'm sorry the movie is dark and quick. I'll make a better one later.

This picture is of the "R Shop". It is Ojichan's (Grandfather's) convenience store that is attached to the front of the house. I'll get more pictures of the shop, as well as the inside and outside of the house very soon!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Party Time

Later that night some of the Kai's relatives came over. Mr. Kai's sister and her family came by for a nice dinner. They have two kids. One Yurina's age, a girl, and a boy 16, Takuji. He is actually in my class at school. The evening was very nice. I showed them all pictures of my family and friends in America, and had very nice conversations. My host dad is hillarious. He likes to call himself a comedian, haha. Even though he barely speaks English, he is a lot of fun. Dinner was a feast. We had large platters of sushi, some vegetables, and tonkatsu, (pork cutlet). It was delicious. I gave the visiting family a Michigan gift, and the evening turned out to be very, very nice. The sushi was great. Sunday turned out to be a very relaxing, delicious day. The first pic is of the delicious food, and the second is of otousan, ojichan, otousans sister and her husband.

The land of the 20 dollar watermelon!

After the electronics store we went to the grocery store. It was raining hard so Yurina and I sprinted. I didn't realize that the tiles were slick, and woooo, slipped right on my butt... very embarassing. Im fine. The cool thing about the store is that the entrance has thin plastic bags for your umbrella. EVERYONE has an umbrella in Japan! The store was neat. We bought some stuff for lunch, somen noodles, which are served cold with sauce for a delicious meal on a hot day. We passed the fruit section which ended up being the surprise of the day. There were these big beautiful watermelons on a shelf. They were perfectly green and perfectly sphericle... here's the catch... 20 bucks. Standard price. Nothing cheaper, no added extras, just a watermelon, "suika" in Japanese. I was floored. Cantaloupes were 9 dollars apiece. My otosan bought a watermellon!!!! omg! I'll tell you later if it was worth 20 bucks.
In the picture, the sign in the background marked 1980 is for the watermelon. The 198 is for the slice!

Yurie's birthday.

When I got back home Erika had a friend over, Yurie. They were studying for awhile, and then were going to celebrate Yurie's birthday (otanjobi), which is today. We gave her gifts, and Erika made a cake. It was very fun. We played some Jenga, and also sampled Jelly Belly beans. They LOVE them. The whole family does. The girls laugh at the black licorice flavor. Japanese people hate it. They joke around and call the black jelly beans "challenge" because it is like a dare. Otherwise, Jelly Bellies are a blast. The cake Erika made was delicious. It was matcha... green tea... lol... it is EVERYWHERE in Japan. It also had traditional Japanese cherries, sakuranbo, on it. It was very good. I hope Yurie had a nice time while she visited the Kai house for her birthday. It was very fun. The first pic is of our intense game of Jenga (Yurina is next to me), and the second is Yurie with her delicious birthday cake!