Friday, September 24, 2010

Warning: This post is excessively long.

Just having a little freak out about not being home for my favorite time of year.  I was browsing, looking for a new conditioner, and I found one that I want that has 'pumpkin seed' in the title.  Waaaaiiii.  I will miss fall, and Halloween, and Thanksgiving.  I will be back right in time for Christmas, but Christmas is followed by the lamest 2 months of the year.  Ugh ugh.  And I won't even be in Tokyo for New Year's or the sakura in the spring.

It's this terrible conundrum.  I can't imagine having to live in Pittsburgh again, but I want to be home with the things associated with home.  I guess if I just moved everyone and everything here with me the problem would be solved.  We could do Thanksgiving anyways.

OKIES.  So back onto more relevant things.  I've been avoiding posting because I'm so lazy.  I have a lot to say but not a desire to actually type them out.

Last post Lauren expressed an interest in food culture.  I went out and took some photos around town after that.  Keep in mind while looking at these that these were all snapped in 'rural' Japan.  Some were taken in a department store (all of them sell really delicious foods on the top and bottoms floors, it seems) and others in a mall.  So these aren't 5 star restaurants or anything, but the food is tasty (from what I've tried).

Both of these pictures are of plastic displays.  the food looks good, but I've never eaten here.   I actually really like cabbage like in the salads here (thinly shredded), so maybe I'll try it sometime.  I have no doubt that the real, nonplastic versions look just like this.  

I only took one of 'real' food - the others are of desserts >.<

The cookie things you see on top here are very popular, it seems.  They are called macaroons, but I don't relate 'macaroons' to anything like this.  shrug. 

All these desserts are real and edible.  There are counters with plastic displays that you make an order at and then pick up, but this counter both takes orders and has things prepared to box up there.  

When you buy things from counters, like cake slices or a bento, the shop keeper asks you how long your commute home is.  This always throws me off (I'll be ready next time though), because usually I'm digging for my wallet and am like, "Wait, what?"  because I am not anticipating the question.  Using your answer they will determine how to keep your food cold on the way home.  They give you little mini, disposable ice packets packed close to the food.

K so enough about food.  I went to Akihabara and Ikebukuro last weekend.  I have a lot to say about those places and what exactly you can find there, but I think it deserves its own post.

This is melon soda.  It's quite popular, from what I gather.  Although I had been meaning to try it for a while, I actually had been trying to order LEMON soda.  I guess I didn't annunciate properly.  My advice concerning melon soda: don't get it unless the idea of sipping carbonated honey dew extract appeals to you.  Way tooo strong, imo.
This Friday I went out to a club with some girlfriends.  I think my experience there is a good lead in to how foreigners are treated in Japan.  But again, I think that kind of requires a whole post of it's own.

The sun is trying to kill me.  And all my photos as well, it seems.  

This is a different kind of rail system.  It runs in a loop around the bay are suspended off the ground, chilling with the buildings and stuff.  Almost like a monorail, or the system in Chicago.  They are automated trains, so there are no conductors like on other lines.  You can sit in the very front, and there are a lot of windows surrounding all the cars.   
I guess with all these train photos I should talk about public transit in Japan.  To clarify, I am not an expert, don't take anything I say here seriously, this is just what I have noticed.  Personally.

I think public transit can be broken down into three distinct categories here:  bus, train, and subway.  Yeah sure there are other venues like cabs (which are actually really nice.  the seats all have seat covers that look like doilies and the drivers wear suits) and I assume ships since Japan is comprised of so many islands.  However I think that most people will be primarily using trains / subways or buses (cabs are pricey and I can't imagine people frequently travel between islands on a day to day basis).

    ... Are confusing.  If you ask me.  Just when I think I have the system down something throws me off.  Like the train system, different bus routes are owned by different (private) companies.  Although, again like the train system, Japan has done a good job of making it easy to take different buses by different companies while still maintaining some consistency.  You can either pay with a card (a preloaded card, similar to a metro card, if you know what I mean) or get a ticket when you get on the bus.  The ticket has a number on it and it corresponds with a different fare zone that is displayed on an LED screen at the front of the bus that auto adjusts as the route progresses.  It really is very simple and intuitive, I don't know how I manage to always mess it up.

     Buses take longer than trains because of (in my opinion) unnecessarily frequent stop lights and rude drivers.  But, they are convenient if you live "out in the middle of nowhere" like I do.  One thing I will advise though - they are not friendly to people who don't speak Japanese.  If you don't know the kanji of the place you are visiting it will be very difficult to locate it on a map / timetable.  If you can't understand what the announcer is saying on the bus, or can't read the signs, you will not know when to get off.  There is no English on the bus.  This may be different on routes that are more in central Tokyo - I have no idea.

   Mishaps I've Had on Buses (to save you from similar grief)

  • On time I didn't have enough one my Suica to cover the cost of the bus fare so I grabbed a ticket instead.  As I was leaving I put (what I thought) were two 100yen coins into the change thinger.  But secretly one was a 500yen coin.  They driver was like, "WTF man, you can't do that,"  and I could quite tangibly feel the irritation creeping up the isle from the passengers wanting to move on with their lives.  So the guy fumbled for a bit, even though I was like, "It's really okay, I dont' need the change, whatever."  After fumbling he produced some form that he made me sign and messed around with the change thinger.  Finally he put his own 1000yen bill into the machine and got change and gave me change from that.  He said, "If you need change back, put it in this slot instead."  So I left thinking NOW I KNOW.
  • Flash forward to the next time I don't have enough on my card to cover the costs.  I get the ticket, put my money in the slot that the previous guy told me will give change, grabbed my change and smugly walked off the bus thinking, "lols.  gaijin not making a scene here."  But then the bus driver started calling out to me like, "お客様。。。お客様!!!!”  Apparently that slot I put my change into just breaks your change down into smaller change so that you have enough to pay exactly, and then you put it into the real slot.  So I had essentially put a 500yen coin in, took all that money and left without paying a cent -___- .  I apologized and payed, but I feel like he thought I was doing it on purpose.  It was probably that smug-with-myself look on my face.  
  • I don't even want to talk about this.  But there was urine on the bus.  Urine that I didn't notice until it was too late.  The end of story D; 

     I prefer the trains.  As long as I get a seat I can just sleep on the way to and from school.  Trains come by very frequently (even the ones that come all the way out to Higashiyamatoshi).  All of stations are posted in kanji, hiragana, English, and also major stops are frequently in Korean as well.  So as opposed to the buses, foreigners are easily able to navigate the train systems.  Announcements on the train are also in English (provided that someone hasn't ditched the prerecordings in order to voice his own renditions).  

    There is great variety in the kinds of trains you see.  There are trains that travel in large loops around certain areas.  Trains that go longer distances from the suburbs to Tokyo, and there are bullet trains that go cross country to other parts of Japan.  For example, I take a train in the morning from Higashiyamatoshi to Takadanobaba in Shinjuku.  Once in Shinjuku I take a line that does a loop around Tokyo.  It stops in downtown Tokyo, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Shibuya, Akihabara, Ueno, and on and on and on.  It's a very large loop.  I take that to a station called Yoyogi (the same Yoyogi of Yoyogi Park, but the park is actually located near the Harajuku stop on the line) where I transfer to the subway, which I take to the neighborhood in which my school is located.  

You are right.  This is not, in fact, a transit related photo, but Shibuya.  Oh god.  I initially typed that as, "Sibuya" GAH.
     As you can see, there are so many options for traveling with trains.  There is rarely just one way to get where you are going within Tokyo.  Some things to consider are price of the route (it would be cheaper for me to take the loop I already take for longer and get off at a stop close to school, but it takes longer and the stop is a further walk.  not a good combo when I'm always late), length of time required, and walking times to get to and from your start and stop stations.  What's nice about working out fare price is that if you don't have a card or a commuters pass, but you don't know what price level of ticket you need to buy, you can just buy the cheapest and go to a price adjustment kiosk at your final destination.  

   Some drawbacks concerning trains
  • During none peak hours, if you are traveling into Tokyo from the 'burbs, you will likely have to take a local train at least part of the way the there.  They take so much longer and are hotter because the doors open much more often.  
  • On the other hand, if you travel during the wrong peak hours you will be squished next to those you are standing next to.  It's nice though because I personally don't mind being squished most of the time, but in America I would feel like a creeper if I stood up all close to someone.  Here I know no one cares, so it alleviates any feelings I might otherwise have.  
  • If you are white like me, no one will want to sit next to you.  I'm not exaggerating here.  Only desperate people will venture to sit next to you.  Most would rather stand than take the seat next to mine.  
  • Sometimes you are unlucky enough to have a train suicide on your line, in which case have a backup plan.  I have twice had to alter my plans because the trains weren't running due to jumpers (and I've only been here a month).  
By the bay.  Boats count as a form of tranportation

     ... Are not gross like they are in New York.  The seats are a nice cushion (none of this hard plastic shit), and I never see urine all over the stairs leading down to the subway.  After spending the whole night out I did see a lot of puke, but it was clearly being taken care of rather quickly.  And also it was a little endearing (is that gross?).  It was the day before a holiday and it was clear that half of Japan was out having a good time.  Okay, anyways, the subways are nice.  And are very similar to the trains.  They are just underground.  Obvi.  IF YOU CAN'T TELL I AM GETTING BORED OF TYPING.  AND AM RUNNING OUT OF PICTURES.  

This is me careening out of control.

Final thoughts:  I hope this didn't bore you.  I was kind of thinking I'd do more informative stuff like this more often because something Lauren said reminded me of something.  When I was researching before coming here I had a difficult time finding the kind of perspective I wanted in a blog.  I even wrote an essay for a scholarship that would have required keep a blog in which I said that I thought I could write an effective blog about my travels in Japan since I had so much trouble finding one I wanted to follow before coming.  Lols, now look at this mess.  Either way, since she seemed interested, that's that.  Sorry if it's boring :D  

On an unrelated note - I think my English is getting rusty D;  I'm always writing my essays in Japanese, and speaking in Japanese.  I made so many stupid errors, and I know I missed some here so please forgive me.  I think primarily in English so the mistakes I made are weird phonetic errors that demonstrate how out of practice I am with writing.  For example, I did a read through and had to correct myself because I wrote I'll instead of all.  That's so weird.  Can your written language skills really decrease from only hearing a language?  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

rainy harajuku

Today after classes me and Marchelle went into Harajuku (not really for funsies, more for things we needed).  I always hear people talking about how Harajuku is the 'center of adolescent culture in Japan.'  So I figured I would explore that a little.  First a little photo introduction to Harajuku.  

The above picture of Takeshita-dori.  On this street are all kinds of boutiques that sell off brand clothing for pretty inexpensive.  The clothing in the shops is adorable as well.

原宿駅 :  It looks pretty anticlimactic here, but I like taking pictures of the railways.
{{The Swimmer store in Harajuku.  I took this because I figured no one would believe me when I said that Swimmer stores are the most crowded, cutsey things ever.  When I first came to Japan I was excited about going in a Swimmer store, but now I kind of hate it because I get sick of trying to maneuver through all the stuff and people.  That doesn't seem to prevent me from buying at least one thing every time though.}}

Lining all of Takeshita-dori are crepe shops and stands.   
{{All the different flavors.  Well, some of them.  I'm not sure how familiar everyone is with Japan, but it is typical to see plastic display samples of various menu items.  This is especially true when restaurants have specials running on certain dishes.  They are all very realistic looking, in my opinion.  }}
{{I ate one.  Banana.}}  

I think in the US the perception of 'Harajuku culture' is shaped a lot by pop media.  Most notably is Gwen Stafani's depiction of 'Harajuku Girls' and her subsequent fashion line, 'Harajuku Lovers'.  I'm not sure if that kind of style is was I personally was anticipating when I came to Japan, but I know that a lot of people back home group Japan with that kind of style.  For those of you who aren't familiar with her Harajuku Lovers line, here is a purse to the left that is very characteristic of the line's style. 

Mostly the line is characterized by bright popping colors and infantile like caricatures. It's definitely something you would call 'cute'.  

I didn't see much of this in Harajuku, however.  The clothing that I found was mostly of the lacy, feminine with subtle hints of masculinity, variety.  It was definitely a more mature look than one finds in Gwen's line of clothing and accessories.  

In other ventures throughout Japan I have seen definite signs of the kind of 'cute' Gwen channels in her Harajuku Lovers line (i.e. pink refrigerators and fluffy marshmallow characters advertising lending firms).  But I don't really think it is 'Harajuku' fashion.  More just a cultural affinity towards cute things.  

As to the assertion that Harajuku is the center for 'adolescent culture', I can definitely see that as possible.  Typically when I am in Harajuku I see more kids in uniforms than I see fashionistas.    

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All of you will get sick of me blabbering because I have so much to say ;~;

Today I went shopping for new glasses, as the superglue that was holding mine together gave out yesterday.  I went to a chain mall in a neighboring city.  I find that if I shop in Tokyo, or in some of the stores around here, things are way too pricey for my budget.  Plus, I had been to this mall previously to buy cooler clothing and I noticed there were like 3 glasses stores in this one mall.

The new glasses.  No matter how I took the picture I looked silly.  So don't mind me. 

Anyways.  I really like shopping here because the experience is so much more pleasant.  The sales associates are very attentive and helpful, and they wrap your purchased items so carefully.  Also, going shopping helps me practice Japanese with people a little more formally than I do with my host family.

Sometimes though the shopping experience is so different that it makes me uncomfortable.  For example, often times the sales associate will take your bag for you and walk you to the store exit; they will then hand you the bag, bow and thank you.  I really appreciate this, it is very nice of them.  But since I am not used to such formalities, it makes me slightly uncomfortable to have someone else carrying my shopping bag for me and thanking me so formally.

Overall I prefer shopping in Japan more than I prefer shopping in the US though.  It's so much nicer to have the sales associates acknowledge your existence, even if its just a shouted 「いらっしゃいませ!」I don't know, that's probably why they do it.  When get comfortable they are more likely to make a sale (>.>)

Won this at an arcade at the mall.  It's adorable.  The machine had a whole bunch of miniature desserts.

Through shopping outings, and other random places I've ventured that haven't been tourisized, I've found that there are several kinds conversational-reactions that you get from the Japanese people you run into:
  1. The I-will-speak-to-you-in-English-whether-you-like-it-or-not-person:  This kind of person will adamantly speak to you in (very frequently broken) English, despite you responding in proficient Japanese.  I appreciate this, as I am sure they are trying to be accommodating, but sometimes  I can't really understand what they are trying to say in English.  Also, if I cave in and stop responding in Japanese and switch to English (because having a conversation in two languages seems strange) they usually have to request that I slow down.  At first I was surprised that very few Japanese people I met (outside of school, mind you) spoke English well.  I assumed that since they were required to take it all throughout school that they would have some functionality.  Since then I was told that the English program in Japanese schools is based on translating, and often the teachers don't and/or can't speak English.           
  2. The best kind of person:  My favorite reaction is from the nice person who will try to speak to me in English, and then switch to Japanese when they realize I understand it.  The guy at the glasses store was this kind of person.  He said something to me in English about the glasses I was looking at being something or other and then I launched into how I was looking for new glasses because I broke mine, but that I wasn't sure about the prescription.  He was really nice and later said, "日本語は上手で、びっくりしました!” [I was surprised your Japanese was so good]  And I was like, "Haha, it's really not good at all."                                      a  
  3. It is a cell phone charm >w<
  4. The person who doesn't even acknowledge that you are foreign:  This reaction is self explanatory, and also nice.  Although sometimes I think sales people do this to get a sale.  This one time a sales-woman said to me in Japanese, "Oh look at these headbands, they are on sale," and I just responded with, "Ah."  The single sylaball response had barely left my lips before she was rushing to say, 「日本語が上手ですねえ!」I just kind of gave her the shifty eye and said, "Heaven's no," because she was clearly just being nice (considering I hadn't even really said anything in Japanese yet).  

I know I said I would post more of Higashiyamatoshi, but it's really overcast today.  Which is good and bad I guess.  It's awesome because I woke up this morning actually cold.  COLD.  Oh it was amazing.  

Yes.  I bought these because they are adorable and cute and probably rather tasty. 

I know that this entry is really lacking in any Japanesy-type pictures.  But I wanted to post the fruits of my trip today.  

Monday, September 13, 2010


apartment complexes / a side road

I was placed in a homestay in Higashiyamatoshi.  It's about 45min by train from Shinjuku.  Everyone says that this is 'rural' Japan, but its just as busy a neighborhood as some areas of Pittsburgh.  The pictures that I took of Higashiyamatoshi I took with the intention of making it seem more rural, but it really is quite bustling.  It's just a ten minute bus ride to Tachikawa, and that is certainly not rural by any stretch.  

There is this little field with walking / bike baths running through it.  It's adorable.  

The fact that all the Japanese people here call this 'rural' really is a testament to how ... crowded Japan is.  The population is truly immense for the size of the land, and you can sometimes feel it while walking down the streets in Tokyo.  However what is interesting is that this large population has given birth to a subculture based upon keeping your existence as unbothersome as possible.  When you are figurative bumping elbows with your neighbors all the time, it's best to be as little of a disturbance as possible. 

This little segment where the grass overcomes the road is my favorite path. 

It's interesting, because everyone that has been to Japan, and even those who haven't, all profess that Japanese people are so polite and they are so respectful of one another.  Whether this is actually true or not I'm sure is debatable, but there is definitely a culture surrounding how not to disturb those around you.  However I don't think it's as self-sacrificing as some romanticists would like to believe, I think its just a result of the acknowledgement that everyone is better off if everyone follows that code.  It's selfish, and very effective.  

A lot of things here seem more effective than I to what I am accustomed.  Many things are so systematic.  The bike culture amazes me.  Today I rode for the first time long distances, and it was great.  I also got the bike fixed up from its sad state of disrepair for only ¥210!  I think the guy might have felt bad for me because I clearly only understood parts of his explanations of what was wrong with the bike, and I was clearly frazzled. (I had walked a mile with the bike to pump the tires, only to get on and on and find that the pedals didn't work the wheels)

Here the sucker is.  She's a cutie.