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?  


  1. man you weren't kidding that was looooong. but very cool.

  2. Oh, that wasn't excessively long... *writes books for her blog posts - without pictures, eek!* xP

    HOMG FOODS! <3 I am still floored by the overall level of detail present in their fake foods - they look so realistic, and suddenly I'm not so surprised by Re-ment's miniature stuff. And geeze, that's the food in department stores? It's kind of scary to contemplate what things might be like at a non-rural, "upscale" restaurant. The melon drink looks... quite intimidating. THAT COLOR. Thank you for feeding my all-things-food-related addiction! =)

    .. You've definitely convinced me not to use buses when/if I manage to end up in Japan; the grossness and complications of everything make me feel like I'd do much better with trains. (Although really, there's nothing that quite ruins a perfectly good day like a jumper.) x.x' How long /is/ your commute to school?

    FYI, you didn't bore me at all. It is, like you mentioned, SO HARD to find info from a perspective you can relate to that has the kind of day-to-day info on life in Japan, so even the things that seem like minute details are interesting.

    About your written language skills, I don't think they decrease, maybe they just do get a little rusty. I've known a couple people that studied abroad in Russia and had a weird week when they got back, transitioning back into using English constantly. It's not something you forget, just something that gets shoved aside when you're so immersed in something else. If it's any consolation, I didn't notice any glaring errors - and I'm a bit crazy when it comes to grammar.

    I'm sorry you're missing out on fall here. =( What's the climate supposed to be like down there for the next few months? I know you mentioned it'd get cooler.

  3. Um, and I'm sorry I write such long comments. x.x'ごめんなさい! (Conveniently, that's one of the few phrases I know AND can manage to write [yet].)

  4. Japan looks so amazing. I definitely want to check it out some day.