Sunday, August 29, 2010

What'd he say?

Touhoku-ben. A very interesting dialect. One of my Japanese Language professors told me that it's probably the most difficult hougen (dialect) in Japan. Having done some research, and talking to people here about it, it indeed is something unique. It's also pejoratively called "zuzu-ben" because many different sounds in standard Japanese are all pronounced "zu" in Touhoku-ben. In case you didn't know, Touhoku is the north eastern region of Japan (tou = east, hoku = north). Apparently, some of the different provinces here have slightly different hougen, so one might call the dialect here "Miyagi-ben," or "Shikama-ben," depending on how spread out the usage is of a particular hougen.

One afternoon (early evening) after work, I was hanging around after school, and upon seeing a stranger I said, "Konnichi wa," and he replied, "Oban desu." Oban desu? Did I mishear him? I heard "Oban desu" during the Obon festival, too; I thought they were saying "Obon desu." I went home and looked up "oban" on Jim Breen's WWWJDIC: Online Japanese Dictionary Service, and according to Jim Breen, "oban" means "old maid; frump; hag." So, was that guy calling me an old hag? Or was he saying, "Watch out for that old hag behind you!" to warn me that I might get attacked by a crazy old Japanese lady? No, of course not. He must have said something in a Miyagi/Touhoku dialect. Jim Breen's website is a pretty expansive resource filled with tons of words; but it must not have any hougen in it. So I thought about it for a bit..."Konban wa" is the usual saying for "good evening," which literally means "as for this evening." So I realized that his saying "oban desu" is something similar: the prefix "o" has the role of making the word polite or making it refer to "yours". So literally, he said "it is the night/evening."

At school the other day, someone was showing me how to get lunch ourselves, and he said "jubun." I knew what he meant..."jibun" means "oneself." And "jubun" means...well, nothing, in standard Japanese. But again, hougen rears its (not so ugly) head.

There are other interesting words or phrases or conjugations that I've come across as well. These will be the words of the day:

1) The conjugation 「ーあいん」 "-ain" which is equivalent to the 「てください」 "te kudasai" conjugations, which are requests. For example, 食べてください "tabete kudasai" becomes 食べらいん. Basically, the final "u" sound of any verbal is dropped, and replaced with "-ain." Note that it is a very irregular conjugation; usually, "ru" verbals like 食べる "taberu" or 寝る "neru" drop the final "ru" when conjugating. But in Touhoku-ben, you only drop the final "u". So, verbals like 飲む "nomu" or tsukuru 作る "tsukuru" become 飲まいん "nomain" and 作らいん "tsukurain," respectively.

2) んだよねぇ。 "ndayonee." Hahaha, yes, this dialect has words that start with ん "n," which in standard Japanese, is only ever in the MIDDLE or at the END of a word. Anyday, "ndayone" means something like そうですねぇ "sou desu nee," which itself is difficult to translate. Basically, an English equivalent could be "Yeah, it's like that, isn't it."

3) はらくっつい。 "Hara kuttsui." This means the same thing as おなかがいっぱい "onaka ga ippai," or "I'm full." I learned this last night, actually, when I went out with some friends to grab some "Tantanmen," which is a Chinese noodle dish. We were stuffed, so I said "ippai" and another guy responded with an energetic "hara kuttsui!" Good times. :-)

Fun side note--after dinner, we stopped by a convenient store ("combini") and grabbed some halo-halo, a Filipino dessert. It wasn't real halo-halo, but it came pretty close. I was happy to see some Filipino influence here, even if it was just that small thing. ^_^

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Party, Dance, Sing, Drive, Teach!

Ohisashiburi desu ne! It's been a while! So much time has passed since my last post that I'm kind of ashamed of myself. Okay, well, not really, but I do feel bad that so much has happened without me updating you. Ideally, I wish I could have posted every day or every other day, but since that didn't happen, I'll do my best to fill you all in!

The last major thing that happened with the Miyagi JET community was a welcome party. A welcome party in Japan entails lots of beer, drinking food (think appetizers or tapas), and lots of socializing. It was great fun! I got to meet up with friends I had met at orientation again, as well as make new friends nearby. Before the party, there was also a little walking tour around a strip-mall area near Sendai Station. There, I saw a Subway, McDonald's, and a Mister Donut. And even a giant Pikachu. Now, some people seem to think that Mister Donut is a Japanese company. This is not true. It just happens to be very active in Japan, the Philippines, and other Asian countries. Now, technically, the Mister Donut in Japan is managed by a Japanese company, but that just means they have the right to franchise it from the American base company.


Anyway, following the epic kanpai's and festivities, the parties continued at karaoke bars. We had to split up into smaller groups because no bar would have a room to fit 60 of us. Plus, that gave people the opportunity to sing more songs. The first song I sang was a Japanese song by the Korean Group Tohoshinki 「東方神起」 (as they are known in Japan) or Dong Bang Shin Gi in Korea. They are also known as DBSK, TVXQ, or WWJD. If anyone has heard of the group, they could guess what song I sang: どうして君を好きになってしまったんだろう。 That's, "Dou shite kimi wo suki ni natte shimattan darou?" as in, "Why did I have to end up falling completely in love with you?" Yes, ridiculous title. And also ridiculous music video; only because it completely accentuates the drama that is Korean Soap Opera. I also managed to find some fun American songs, like "Say it Ain't So" by Weezer, "Dream On" by Aerosmith, and "The Real Slim Shady" by Eminem (Haha).


After karaoke, we bounced into a night club! Now, clubs in Pennsylvania close at 2 AM. Pretty lame. Except Zen, which is awesome enough to be open 'til 3 or 3:30 AM. Rockin'. Anyway, this club in Japan is open until 5 AM! And this particular club is foreigner-friendly. The first guy we met who works there spoke *perfect English*. People in our group were surprised, and wondered how. I speculated that he lived in the US for a while. He revealed that he lived in Canada for 10 years. Close.


Anyway, it was fun gettin' my grove on and bustin' out those moves I learned in college. I was apparently interesting enough to catch the attention of a few Japanese women there, who of course thought I was Japanese. I was hoping that my dancing with the American crowd would help show that I, too, am American, but I guess not! In any case, I was tired by 2 AM, but I hung around until 3:15 to keep my friends company.

Once we left the club, the last task we had to complete was to find a place to stay. Unfortunately the Rakuten Eagles baseball game was that same day, so all of the hotels in Sendai were booked. This includes hostels, ryokans (Japanese Inns), and probably capsules as well. I was worried that even my last resort wouldn't work: spend the night at an internet cafe. Luckily, the first internet cafe I checked still had space! It was perhaps my most uncomfortable night of sleep I've had in a very, very long time. Perhaps ever! And I was completely sober by then, too! Anyway, I rented a booth for 6 hours, slept for 5, and woke up around 9:15 to catch the 10 AM bus back to my place. I was back in my room by 11:30. What an adventure.

All this week, I have been successfully driving around the area! My first attempt at the wheel was last Thursday. My friend Shoe took me to a driving practice area. Though, for a driving practice, it's a pretty terrible location; it's right next to a river! With no guard rails! Such is driving in Japan. There are no guard rails to keep people from driving into the 3 feet deep gutters or off a 5 foot cliff into a local stream. But anyway, all is well, and I managed to not screw up yet. I've even managed to back up into my parking spot! Next thing I gotta figure out is how to fill up my gas tank.


I've also been at the Junior High this week. The opening ceremony was today! I had to give a brief two-minute speech. My speech was composed of 9 lines of English with a line Japanese after each English line to translate what I said. I composed the whole thing myself, and I had one of the JTE's (Japanese Teacher of English) take a look at it for me. And in the process, I learned a new phrase! It is today's word of the day. :-)

At the Junior High, I have been helping out one particular student who is participating in an English speech contest. She has to memorize a 3-minute speech and present it to an audience. She had already memorized it by the time I met her, so I was working mainly on her pronunciation. Most Japanese people have a problem differentiating certain sounds from one another: l vs r, s vs th, v vs b. So I came up with some lines for my student to practice, including some well known tongue twisters:

Does she see those things that sing the thrilling songs?
She sells seashells by the seashore.
Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers.
Let's roar like lions that are roaming the wilderness.
Ralph left the rowdy crowd in the clouds by rolling on the floor.

I hope those sentences weren't too mean. She's actually been doing well! In the meanwhile, when I'm not training her, I am working on my introductory presentation for my English class. This includes pictures I found from the net, as well as pictures of my college campus that my girlfriend managed to take for me. Thanks, sweetie!

I have also been cooking a bit! I successfully cooked my first two Japanese meals! The first was Curry Udon, and the second was Unagi with rice and vegetables cooked in my own combination of sauces (oyster sauce, soy sauce, and canola oil).


Word of the day: 全力 「ぜんりょく」 "zenryoku", or "all of one's power." This is useful in the phrase, 「全力を尽くします」 "zenryoku wo tsukushimasu," which essentially means, "do something to the best of one's ability." Literally, it means to "exhaust (or devote) all of one's strength." I used it for the following line: "I will try my best to teach you English." 「英語を教えることに全力を尽くします。」

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pictures

I've created a Flickr account! And it was really annoying trying to figure out how to actually SHARE the photos I took.

Anyway, I created a Flickr Group, with its own web address for all of you to look at the fun pictures I uploaded! The URL is http://www.flickr.com/groups/harorudoinjapan/

This is a PRIVATE GROUP. This means you'll have to request permission to access it. I'm not entirely sure what it entails, but I assume you have to create an account. This is to maintain privacy of my photos of course. Personally, I think it was a lot easier to do this on photobucket. So if it becomes too annoying for people, then I'll switch over there.

But yeah, if you want permission, please send me an e-mail or message at any of the addresses/social sites that you may have, or send it to this generic one I made when I was thirteen and don't really use it for anything: GokuHB@yahoo.com. In your e-mail/message, please include the e-mail address to which you would like the invitation to be sent. Or if you already have a Flickr, please give me the e-mail address of your Flickr account (not just the user name, 'cause I had problems with it all day).

Word of the day: 写真 「しゃしん」 "shashin," or "photograph."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cell phones in Japan, Part 2

This is Part 2, the continuation of Japanese cell phone discussion/monologue from earlier. Also keep in mind that I posted a blog earlier today, as well, about the end of the Obon celebrations.

I have a cell phone! Yay! Now I can text people and make emergency phone calls!

Okay, so, after a whole lot of thinking; more thinking than I really wanted to do with cell phones, I decided to get an iPhone. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, "jumping on the bandwagon." Whatever. But actually, no, I'm not quite jumping on the bandwagon. My opinion of Apple is still the same: I don't approve of some of their business practices, and Apple as a whole I don't really like. But just because I don't like the company doesn't mean that I automatically have to hate all of their products; no, that's just cynicism. And that's also unfair. That said, I think Apple's hardware is fantastic; and their software works very well for their hardware. But once you start throwing Apple software on Windows PCs or non-Apple software on Apple hardware, the results are often less than desirable. Oh yeah, and iTunes sucks. :-P

But anyway, back to the iPhone. I actually was highly considering going with the HTC Desire, also offered by SoftBank. Unfortunately, the wait is super long, and I also don't get the sweet discount on the Packet Plan. The phone itself is also a lot more expensive than the iPhone (either 16GB or 32GB). So, given that the SoftBank store I went to just got an order of 32GB phones, I chose this one because I'll be able to get it sooner! It's only about $5 more a month than the 16GB, so it sounds like a good deal to me. And I can unlock the phone and use it in the US, too (Bwa ha ha! Screw you AT&T!).

Because I won't get my iPhone for another few weeks, I decided to get a Pre-Paid plan and cheapee phone from SoftBank, as well. The phone was normally about 7000 yen, but I got it discounted to just 2000-something yen. Nice! The Pre-Paid plan is actually really good for those planning on being in Japan but only needing to text people and not make phone calls. Basically, the way the plan works is that you can buy a 3000 yen or 5000 yen card, which is about $34 and $57, respectively. With this card, you can make phone calls at the super expensive rate of 9 yen/6 seconds. That's a dollar a minute! It's a terrible price, but you just need to save it for emergencies. For only 300 yen, you can also buy unlimited texting for 30 days (called e-mail in Japan) to any provider: SoftBank, AU, Docomo, even to PC e-mail! Pretty sweet. And really super inexpensive. Apparently, if you also have more money on your card by the end of 30 days, it automatically renews. I'm not sure if it continually renews every month, though. So if you're interested in a full year's worth of Pre-Paid, you'd have to ask the store directly. More info here:

http://mb.softbank.jp/en/prepaid_service/
http://mb.softbank.jp/en/prepaid_service/unlimited_mail.html
http://mb.softbank.jp/en/prepaid_service/prepaid_plan.html

So why an iPhone? The screen is gorgeous. The pixel resolution is 326 ppi (pixels per inch). What does this mean? The pixel resolution is SHARPER THAN A MAGAZINE (300 dpi). Apple advertised that the resolution is so good that the human eye can't distinguish individual pixels, hence the naming of the display to "Retina display." Of course this is just the usual PRing that any company would do, but that doesn't change the fact that this is an amazing piece of hardware. The 640 x 960 resolution is like having two standard definition televisions (like the one in my apartment) stacked on top of one another! This phone has twice the resolution of my TV!

Also, the apps are amazing as well; nearly anything I would need an app for is available. And that's the kicker. I need to get some sort of electronic kanji dictionary. I will buy a real denshi jisho at some point, and I will also buy the Nintendo DS version (Kanji sono mama). But I won't always be carrying around a denshi jisho or a DS. So it would be extremely convenient to have it on my phone, because I would always be walking around with it. So the iPhone 4 kind of solves that problem as well. Additionally, because it's so easy to jailbreak and unlock the phone now, I can easily take it to the States!

Now, I really don't like iTunes. And I never liked QuickTime. Which is why I use QuickTime Alternative or QuickTime Lite anytime I need to play .mov files. And luckily, I've been using Winamp for over a decade now, and it has support for iPod/iPhone management! But there are also other iTunes alternatives. I will probably still need iTunes to download updates to my phone though. :-/ There are apparently ways to update the phone without it, but I haven't had enough time or experience with iPods/iPhones to have enough confidence to really mess with a device that I just bought.

If there are any questions that anyone has, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll try to address it in my own comment or in a later post! You can also e-mail it to me if you don't want it published/publicized.

Second word of the day: アプリケーション "apurikeeshon", or "application." You know, like for phones. :-P

Obon's End


Well, today is the last day of Obon! Also known as Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), or literally, five mountain sending off (funeral) fire. In Kyoto, they light a giant 大 in the side of a mountain. That's pretty amazing, and I would love to see it for myself! Actually, there are a few more kanji on there as well. Just go to www.google.com and you'll see what I mean. Or check out the wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gozan_no_Okuribi

Yesterday, I spent the entire day doing laundry and cleaning up my apartment. Actually not quite done yet, as I'm trying to figure out what to do about all of the paper that I've gotten from the two orientations. So much stuff to read through! I've gotten through a lot of it, but I believe the majority of it is really just for reference. But yeah, doing laundry in Japan is quite different in the US. I'll proceed to describe various other differences here that I've found amuzing or interesting (or even troublesome).

My apartment does NOT have a dryer. This means that once I'm done washing my clothes, I immediately put my clothes on hangers and put them somewhere to dry. My predecessor put a bar in one of the bedrooms for just that purpose. She usually used this bar during the winter and used a bar outside on the back patio to hang stuff when it wasn't cold out. But I found that hanging them inside was more convenient, because my shirt closet is in that same room. Also, the washer took quite a bit of time to figure out how to use. I had to look up the kanji that I didn't know and then make a vague interpretation of what the washer actually did with that particular setting. For example, one of the words was about flooding, so I figured that it had to do with re-filling the tank. There was also "drying," but the washer doesn't *actually* dry anything.

Another interesting thing is the trash system. In the US, we only have trash or recycling; and only recycling requires separation of stuff. But hoooooo, in Japan, even trash needs to be separated. When I was at a government institution last week for Miyagi orientation, there were four distinct trash bins for different stuff. Trash can be...er...MUST be separated into burnable trash and non-burnable trash. In other words, paper & organic waste versus plastic waste. But then you have lots of plastic bottles for drinks, known as PET bottles in Japan. To discard a PET bottle, you must first remove the cap and the plastic label and put those into the plastic/non-burnable trash. Then you may put the PET bottle into its designated container. Things like glass and aluminum have their own things as well, but in a public place, I think there are places for any sort of bottle-shaped trash. If you think about it, it's not really all that different from the recycling system that we have in the US. But the difference is that typically, the recycling and sorting happens at home, whereas here in Japan, it's public. I definitely think that it's for the better. I've also heard that if you don't separate the trash out properly, it gets returned to your doorstep!


Driving. Everything about driving here just seems *backwards*! The steering wheel is on the right, which Americans normally refer to as "passenger side." You must drive on the left side of the road and stay in the left lane. I believe passing on highways occurs on the right lane. The lane switch also means that left turns are now easy, whereas right turns are now more difficult. But see, I already knew about all that, so I wasn't surprised or shocked or anything. What seems the most "backwards" here is parking: everyone backs into their spot in a parking lot!!! This blows my mind, because in the US, nearly everyone goes head first into their parking spot, so all the cars face each other. But in Japan, all of the cars face away from each other! I haven't seen anyone load a ton of groceries in their cars like this yet. I'm sure to be amused when it happens.

Hmm, that's another thing. I've seen people buy lots of stuff; but the mentality of having abundant amounts of things is just different here in Japan. In the US, we like having a lot of a lot of stuff (yes, I meant to use "a lot of" twice). We go to places like Sam's Club or Costco or Walmart and stock up on things we use often, like toilet paper, paper towels, drinks, food, what have you. But in Japan...it's just not like that. I mean, people DO do that, but oftentimes, people are more inclined to buy smaller amounts of things because that's all that they need. I will share a story that I heard at Tokyo Orientation about this:

A JET participant (whom I'll refer to as "the JET") went shopping with a Japanese friend at the grocery store. For a long time now, the JET had been shopping at that store. There was a 1L (liter) beverage being sold for 80 yen. And every day, it was that price. There was also a .5L size being sold for 60 yen. But when the JET and her friend had gone shopping, the 1L drink was on sale for 50 yen, less than the price of the smaller one! The friend wanted to buy this drink, so she picked up the smaller .5L bottle and was about to go pay for it. This blew the JET's mind. "Why are you getting the smaller one??? You can get the larger one for a cheaper price!!!" "Because I only want this size." (I might have told the story a bit incorrectly; the two sizes might have both been 50 yen when it was on sale. But the point I'm trying to make is the same.)

Miyagi Orientation was last Wednesday to Friday; it might be a while before I see fellow JETs again. Orientation was fun; but the facility felt like a dormitory. Males and Females were separated by floor. And there were public restrooms rather than each room having its own bathroom. And there was also a public shower room (with private showers) but also a public bath. With public stools. And public sitting area. After two full days of getting to know people, a few of the guys fought their insecurities and went into the bath. And let me tell you, that was quite hot. But I hear that real onsen's have much, much hotter water. It felt good though. But I couldn't sit there for too long, because I was starting to get light-headed. Still a neat experience. I look forward to going to a real onsen one day; my supervisor said that he'll take me to one. Apparently our area is known for its many onsens. There's even one in town!

Word of the day: ごみ箱 「ごみばこ」 "gomibako" or "garbage can." Gomi, or trash, is also often written in the katakana form: ゴミ

Friday, August 13, 2010

Obon

Friday the Thirteenth, 8/13/2010 9:43 PM

I don’t know if it’s the beer talking, but the Obon festival was actually pretty fun! Obon is a festival that celebrates one’s deceased ancestors in Japan. It is from August 13 until August 16. The dates might differ every year, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s always over a weekend from Friday to Monday? Anyway, today, my supervisor invited me to come to the Buddhist Temple in town an hour after work to meet him and join him in the event. I am very grateful that he had offered me that opportunity.

When I got to the temple, my supervisor (whom I will now refer to as Supes) and his wife were already on the grounds. When I got there, I greeted them with a bow and a “konnichi wa.” The first thing I noticed were the hanging paper lamps along the path that lead to the temple from the street. The second thing I noticed was the smell of burning incense. Supes was holding a bundle, still yet to be lit. He and his wife led be to the torii gate, where there stood an area to light the incense. Families were talking and walking by one another, even under the gate. One of Supes’wife’s friends greeted her and then asked if I was their son (haha). Their son and daughter are actually around my age, so it was an honest mistake. Supes and his wife led me behind the temple where their family’s grave was, and they proceeded to show me the proper procedure for praying and leaving the incense on the grave. They even let me leave some incense and pay my respects! I was grateful. And as odd as it sounds, I really wanted to take a picture of the temple; the graves were masterly handcrafted, and the temple itself is a beautiful building. But of course, to maintain respectfulness, I refrained from even asking.


After the short ceremony, their son showed up, and I was able to go through introductions in both English in Japanese. We walked under the torii gate again, but this time, a huge crowd of people were lined up in six lines. Everyone was lining up to walk up to the head monk and pay more respects to the temple. Again, I was given the privilege to participate in this endeavor. When it was my turn, I bowed with my hands together, grabbed some of the…burnable stuff (I don’t really know what it’s called; maybe it’s powdered incense?)…and I held it up to my head, put it in the fire, and bowed the same way again. Then, we went straight to the line for free food.

Actually, the food wasn’t quite free, as they were asked to give 3000 Yen (about $35) for food and drinks earlier. Supes and his wife had it strategically planned: he had me follow him to grab three beers (their son had just left, so he wasn’t going to dine with us), and his wife went off to the food line. When we sat down, there was already a bowl of noodles and some amazingly sweet corn on the cob waiting for me. I believe the beer was Asahi brand, as that is what the cup was. And I don’t know if it’s because of all the Asahi I had at orientation, but this beer was actually pretty good! And of course, with Japanese custom, they gave me a full glass before I even finished my first (usually they fill up your glass before it gets dry, but at this event, we could only grab cups of beer rather than pour it ourselves; afterall, it was draught). There was another bowl of food; this time, it was a bowl of seafood soup, which contained a mixed fish patty, various vegetables, seaweed, and a hardboiled egg. And I also had the pleasure of meeting a few of my fifth grade students, who were sitting next to us! Their English was surprisingly good; I was pleased.


Dinner was surprisingly enjoyable. It consisted mostly of Supes, his wife, and I chitchatting over beers, but it was still a good time. There was also a bonfire of hay that was lit in a central area between tents, near where everyone was lined up. Upon Supes’ urging, I took a few pictures of it, and even recorded some video during dinner. When we were done eating, they told me to grab the last cup of beer and take it home, along with the last bowl of noodles. I was concerned, because it is illegal to walk around in the US holding an open alcoholic beverage. Not a problem here, though! So, I did as they asked; we parted ways, and I walked back to my neighborhood in the dark, holding a cup of beer and a bowl (more like an uncovered plastic Tupperware container) of noodles.

video

So there you have it! Obon!

Word of the day: お寺 「おてら」 “otera,” which means “temple.” The word is actually just 寺 「てら」 “tera,” but the 「お」 “o” is added for respect. The same is done with works like “sake” and “shoyu,” which are sure to be words of the day later. :-)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cell phones in Japan, Part 1

I FINALLY GOT MY GAIKOKUJIN TOUROKUSHO! That means I can buy a phone! :-D

Here is a post about phones. I have included an except from an e-mail that I sent to my lovely girlfriend. I do not have the time right now to really get into detail. But here's a basic gist of things.

Refer to these links for more details:
http://mb.softbank.jp/en/
http://www.au.kddi.com/english
http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/ (I don't really mention Docomo, as I am not really interested in their plans. Their phones are amazing, though.)

This is Part 1, and I will definitely make a Part 2 later.

E-mail:

Okay, so the phone thing. Get ready, this is going to be a little complicated. I will post this stuff on my blog as well, but the detail may be a little different.

So you know there are three major cell phone companies in Japan (Willcom is actually another one, a 4th one, but I haven't looked into them at all). And when you get a phone, you get two ways to get in touch with people: a phone number, and an e-mail address. The phone number can be used with making phone calls. The e-mail address is used for sending e-mails. Okay, that makes sense; but what is strange is what the e-mails *really* are.

There are two types of messaging; SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). SMS is what we use in the US and refer to as "texting". As soon as you try to send anything besides text, like a picture or music, it becomes an MMS file.

In Japan, SMS is rarely used, and is actually not compatible across providers. So everyone in Japan uses "e-mail", which is actually a form of MMS. The difference is that in the US, you use the cell phone number for everything, from phone calls to SMS to MMS. But in Japan, you have to use an e-mail address for MMS. To use SMS, it appears that you can use either a phone number (if you're with SoftBank) or an e-mail address.

You are going to get a simple, free, Japanese phone, right? In which case, you will use the phone number you get for only phone calls. And you will use the e-mail address you get (which you can decide the name of) to make text/e-mail messages.

If I get an iPhone, you can send messages to my whatevernameIpick@softbank.ne.jp or name@i.softbank.jp addresses. I believe the first one is SMS and the second one is MMS.

When you buy a phone, you will have many kinds of plans available. I will try to explain the plans from SoftBank that I recommend.

White Plan, ¥980: In the white plan, you can make a phonecall to SoftBank phones for free, between 1 AM and 9 PM. But at night, from 9 PM to 1 AM, there is a ¥21 for every 30 seconds you call someone. This is UBER expensive. $.45/minute is ridiculous. And if you call other brands like AU or Docomo, at any time of the day, it costs that same price. I would also mention video calls, but it's expensive and we won't really be doing it, so I'll skip that.

If you like making phone calls after 9 PM, then you can go with Double White, which is twice as expensive per month, but twice as cheap per minute.

S! Basic Pack, ¥315: The S! Basic Pack is the MMS E-mail service that SoftBank provides.

And if you have the money, Unlimited Packet Discount, ¥1,029-¥4,410: The charge is dependent on the amount of packets (internet/mail) you use. If you do not have this plan, then you will be charged for each e-mail you send to a non-SoftBank customer. Kinda sucks. But with the S! Basic Pack, you can send e-mails for free to SoftBank customers. So You will need some sort of Unlimited Packet Discount plan if you intend to be sending lots of mail to non-SoftBank friends.

Lastly, there is a Basic Option Package, ¥498: While not necessary, it has fun little things like Lost Phone Search if you lose your phone, or Secure Remote Lock, which can also lock your phone. There is also an addressbook backup, more voice mail, and Call Waiting (yeah, normally there is no call waiting in Japan). But no one really calls anyway, haha.

Total: ¥1,295, without being able to e-mail people for free or having call waiting. This price includes a very basic stuff; mainly just being able to call SoftBank during the day and early evening, and being able to mail using MMS.

Let's look at AU now. AU has an excellent mail plan.

Plan E Simple, ¥780 or ¥1,560: You have to apply for the Everybody Discount to get the cheaper price. But that's a very nice price. In this Plan E Simple, there are no Free Calls, but you can call anyone for ¥21 per 30 seconds. It's like the White Plan from SoftBank, but actually not as good. The only reason you would choose Plan E Simple is because you HAVE to pick a plan, and it is the cheapest.

Mail/EZ Web, ¥315: EZ Win E-mail is FREE to send and receive e-mails. But they mentioned C-mail, which costs ¥3.15/mail. Not really sure what c-mail is.

GUN-GUN Mail (ガンガンメール) and GUN-GUN Talk (ガンガントーク), http://www.au.kddi.com/english/ryokin_waribiki/ryokin/gangan_mail/index.html Gun-gun mail, which we would normally romanize as Gan-gan, is the combination of the two above plans. BUT! It's awesome because you can add three AU phone numbers that you "call often". You can call these three numbers at any time of the day, 24 hours, for only ¥390/month! And C-Mail is also free to anyone (whatever that is)! Haha

Total: 1,485, which includes the Everybody Discount. This is the ガンガン Mail and Talk plans, with Plan E Simple. It's nice 'cause you can e-mail anyone you want from any phone company. And you can also call those three numbers at any time of the day.

/endEmail

So there you have it, folks. Two courses of action that I'm trying to decide upon. The current situation is that I have a temporary number and e-mail for a prepaid plan. I got this for the sake of waiting for an iPhone ('cause for some reason it takes FOREVER to get an iPhone). But after looking at AU's awesome GUN-GUN plan, I'm highly considering it.

Til next time!

Word of the day: 携帯電話 「けいたいでんわ」 "keitai denwa", or "cell phone".

Monday, August 9, 2010

Celebration


Sunday, 8/8/2010 10:46 PM

I just took a bath. And by that, I mean that I took a shower as I normally would, but instead of drying up and stepping out of the shower, I hopped into the tub adjacent to the shower area. And I just sat there, pruning, and enjoying the water. Not really sure what a bath is about, besides relaxing, but the bath tubs in Japan are tiny. Say, about 3x3x3 feet cubed. That said, it’s kind of hard to relax in there the way you could the ones in the U.S. But it’s not impossible. And it still felt good; especially after such a hot day! Everyday it’s been ridiculously hot here. But I found it interesting, because usually, when I spend a lot of time under the sun, a sensitive part on my elbows gets burned (I know, right?). But today, I just got *really tanned* and thankfully not burned. But since I was wearing the necklace my girlfriend gave me, I now have a healthy necklace tan to match my watch tan and bracelet tan. Rock on.

So this weekend was filled with a lot of celebrations, hence the title of this post. On Friday night, I went out with two co-workers and another friend of theirs. We’re all about the same age, so it was pretty fun! There was no need to stay reserved and overtly polite like I would for my mentors here. We went to a family restaurant; no alcohol there, but instead, they have all-you-can-drink soda, tea, and soup. Yes, all-you-can-drink soup. From a dispenser that is not unlike a cappuccino machine. It was kind of strange…but quite tasty! And even more peculiar were the burgers there: in Japan, there are two (at least?) types of burgers: there’s the ハムバーガー “hamubaagaa,” which is just like a normal American hamburger you could order at McDonald’s or wherever. Then, there’s the ハムバーグ “hamubaagu,” which is Romanized as “hamburg,” like the city. And the hamburg is JUST the burger patty on a plate, without a bun. In fact, it was served with rice (there is actually a choice to order bread instead of rice, but it is not a hamburger bun). And the hamburg I ordered had cheese inside! And it had the option of being served with two different types of sauces: a tomato sauce, or a French-style dark sauce whose name escapes me. Anyway, great meal, and a wonderful time getting to know new friends.

Hamburg, on left, served with shrimp:

On Saturday was the Tanabata Matsuri, which took place in Sendai. That festival is a celebration that involves long, colorful lamp-like decorations made of paper. We JET ALTs in Miyagi used that festival as a reason to meet up; unfortunately, the two others I met up with had missed the first group of people (composed of two), and others who seemingly went by themselves or with their supervisor. Though, considering that none of us has a cell phone and only one or two have internet access at their apartments, that’s a pretty decent turnout for lack of communication.

Anyway, having met up with two others, we walked around and checked out the stores nearby the Sendai Station. I found a variety of interesting stores, including a place that rents out DVDs, CDs, and manga. I also went to a thin, but tall (10-11 floors) shopping mall, filled with women’s clothes. I had to go to the basement floor to really find any clothing for men. And damn, they were right: since I’m a Medium in the U.S., I’m a Large in Japan. And even the Large looks like it’ll barely fit; people here are so skinny! (But not everyone, obviously.) But yeah, so many guys are skinny as a twig. And some women are surprisingly tall. But I digress.

We also found a Starbucks! Caramel Frappuccino still tastes good here! If anything, I think it might actually be better here…hmm. And finally, I went shopping at a Japanese Hyaku-en store (Dollar Store)! I bought some gift bags/boxes for my omiyage, and I also got new house sandals. Afterwards, we went to an electronics store that had a huge phone section; one of the JETs I was with managed to get her phone that day. She ended up picking AU, probably because she heard they were the ones willing to allow a foreigner to start services with them without having the Alien Registration Card on their person (but required the passport, and a verbal confirmation that the card was ordered or being processed). I’ll make another post later, after I investigate more about Japanese phones this week.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay in Sendai much longer because the return bus was leaving at 5 PM. This means that I had to miss the celebrations, which were mostly at night. But at least I got to explore the area and get a feel for how the bus system works. Now I gotta figure out how the Shinkansen works. :-)

Here's that toilet I mentioned in last week's post:



Continued at 1:56 PM, Monday 8/9/2010

Later that evening, I called up a co-worker (the guy who took me to the hamburg place), and he took me to an internet café. This store is just chockfull of fun. Besides renting a computer in a private booth, you can rent out a game room, where you can sit and play games. You can also rent manga, or go to the arcade which has all the games on free credits. There are also a bunch of billiards/pool tables, darts, free ice cream/drinks. All for just about $5/hr or $10/4hr.

On Sunday was the Kappa Matsuri. Kappa is a sea sprite, or sea monster. Literally, its name is spelled “river child”, or 河童. Kappa is the mascot of this town (and you see him everywhere, even in neighboring towns!), so naturally there is a festival to celebrate him. The festival was really interesting; there were a bunch of tents setup in front of the Town Hall, where various foods were served like foot long hot dog franks, tako yaki (octopus meatballs), delicious slices of beef, and snow cones, perfect for this hot weather. There was also a stage, with various performances like dancing, singing, taiko drums, and even dancing by toddlers. There was even a couple from the Caribbean who came and did a drumming performance. The opening act was a singer from Tokyo who sang a few songs he wrote. I liked his music enough to buy a CD; I introduced myself as having come from America, so he autographed the CD with “I’m glad to see you!”


After the performances, there was a big Kappa Dance that involved nearly the entire town parading through the street doing simple choreography in sync. And of course I danced with them! As if I even had a choice! Afterwards, I was introduced to my neighborhood; as the Kappa Dance was performed with each neighborhood split up. After the festival was over, a kid who had just graduated high school came up to me and started talking. One of the first things he asked was if I had a girlfriend. I was warned at the Tokyo Orientation that people tend to be very nosy here, and they will ask all sorts of questions, which could be as intimate as asking about physical measurements. Having forgotten the advice to say “himitsu” or “secret,” I simply said, “yes, I have a girlfriend.” To which he replied with more questions; I quickly changed the subject by turning the question around on him and proceeding to talk about Japan life. The conversation quickly subsided, and everyone went home.

After a hard day's work, what better to drink than this?


After getting home, I was tinkering around with the washing machine, trying to translate the various labels and buttons on it so that I don’t end up destroying my clothes or my apartment. A few minutes into that, my doorbell rings. Lo and behold, it’s the president of my community! He was inviting me to come out to one of the centrally located buildings, where people were gathering. When I got there, I was quickly shown a place on the tatami mat to sit, with food and drink offered upon my sitting. I had sat down next to the older lady who had shown me how to do the Kappa dance. Now, I know how pushy people can get when they’re offering things to eat and drink; but this lady took it to the next level! Having kindly accepted the food, I ate some and drank some, and before I even drank 1/4 of my glass, she quickly filled it up. And again. And again. Even after I said I was okay! And she also grabbed a second plate for me to put more food on, without checking if I wanted to eat it. Hahaha, good times. I felt bad because I had gotten quite full very quickly, so I couldn’t quite finish everything. She then packed up a bunch of the food for me to take home. And gave me orange Fanta, which they’ve referred to as “Juice” ever since I’ve arrived here.

I took some pictures of the festivities this weekend, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to upload them in a while because I still don’t have internet access at home. It was suggested to me to create a Flickr account for such a purpose.

Word of the day: 祭り 「まつり」 “matsuri,” or “festival.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Living in Japan


Only in Japan, do you get a traffic sign with a picture of a samurai.

8/5/2010 9:52 PM

I have lived in my new apartment for a full day already. Of course, a great deal of that day was spent at work. I’ve perhaps spent twice as much time at work than sleeping. But being that it’s still the beginning of my term, I haven’t really done too much in terms of “work.” And of course, it is still summer vacation for the kids, so there are no lesson plans to be made. But there has been a lot of paperwork, and quite a bit more to go.

The paperwork I still have yet to take care of is my contract. Quite a troublesome thing, especially considering how important a document it is. I also have to open up a Japanese bank account (or two). I was advised to open one to accept direct deposits, and to open another to make it easy to do other services like wire transfers and perhaps remote purchases. Not sure why I can’t just do everything with one account, unless the banks are just that limited.

Unfortunately, I am still jetlagged. I was told (by many, actually) that I may be jetlagged for even up to a week and a half. Ugh. It’s weird, too, because besides affecting my wakefulness and energy levels, it also affects my appetite. As Shoe said today (the guy who is nigh native-fluent in English), “When I was jetlagged, I was tired, but not sleepy. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to eat anything.” Well said, Shoe. [Note: it is pronounced like you think it is; like the English word for the things you wear on your feet.]

Shoe took me around town. Well, technically, around multiple towns, and even a city. We’ve been looking around for various electronics stores, from which I’ll purchase a cell phone and plan. And perhaps a Nintendo DSi (though, I am leaning more towards getting one at a used dealer, as Japanese used merchandise is pristine compared to the American counterparts). I will probably wait ‘til after my first paycheck, though, before I invest in a DSi and the game/program called Kanji sono mama, which I will use as a tool to help me learn and practice kanji.

I met with an NTT representative today to discuss my internet access. He had informed me that there was some problem with my situation, so he couldn’t give me my internet access today. Part of the problem was that he wanted to give me a choice to choose what provider/plan I want to go with, and I’m guessing that there was also a problem with “transferring” a current service, so I was forced to apply for a brand new connection. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if I didn’t have to wait for so long to get access. He said “about one week,” which would push it back to next Wednesday or Thursday. But I have orientation in Sendai from Wednesday to Friday, so that isn’t going to happen. Hopefully, I’ll have it by the Saturday after that.

No point fretting about things out of my control! And I appreciate that he was trying to be helpful by giving me a choice. And hopefully, I’ll have my Alien Registration Card by that time as well, so that I can apply for a cell phone/plan. I’m really, really leaning towards SoftBank, as I’ve mentioned earlier. But I can’t help but feel like I’m interested in that particular phone for extremely shallow reasons. That said, the iPhone4 has really amazing functionality, and there are actually a decent number of Japanese people who have one (which means that it seems to be doing well to be able to compete against such devices with 8.1 megapixel cameras and beautiful screens that can turn sideways (but keeping the keypad vertical). The phone I’m interested in has those features, in addition to Wi-Fi capabilities and a design popular for Japanese phones (long, thin flip-phone).

I brought my laptop into work today in order to attempt to connect it to the internet. But I couldn’t figure out how to connect it, no matter what I did! I changed LAN Settings and whatnot to no avail. So I had to use the crappy Windows 2000 computer at my desk, which barely runs. But at least I can still check my e-mails, facebook crap, and update my blog. But only at work. Which also means that I won’t get to do any real immediate responses or use Skype. Oh well…just wait for 10 days. :-)

Continued at 10:57 AM, 8/6/2010, on a BOE Computer.

The Sendai Orientation is coming up really quickly! Once again, I’ll be donning epic business clothes, suit and tie, for three days straight. But in this wicked weather; it sounds so awful! I’m really hoping that the place we’re going to is well air-conditioned. I wonder what kinds of things will go on during this orientation?

I haven’t been given any specific work to do yet, as my classes won’t start for another few weeks, and there is nothing I need to take care of specifically, except for the following: Write an intro paragraph about myself to the community in English (which they will translate into Japanese later) to be published in a local magazine. I asked if I could write it in Japanese, and they said it was okay (after they said “sugoi” [awesome/cool/amazing]).

I must say, there have been very interesting differences about certain daily-life situations and daily-use items. I haven’t had a problem adjusting to them, thankfully; and it’s not so much difficult as it is different. For one thing, the keyboard I’m typing on right now is a Japanese keyboard. The layout is different, of course. It’s still qwerty, but all the punctuation is relocated! And the spacebar has been reduced to the width of two and a half keys to make room for three additional keys on the bottom that deal with kana and kanji. All of the keys have both letters (alphabet) and hiragana, but I haven’t figured out how to use them just yet. So far, I’ve just been typing kana phonetically, which works. But yeah, it’s really weird having to type an apostrophe by pressing Shift+7. It’s a good thing that period and comma are still the same. But colon and semicolon are on different keys, and the double quotation marks are Shift+2. And + is Shift+semicolon. Crazy, right???

Another hilarious/awesome difference is the toilet in my apartment. It’s not one of the typical toilets that you hear about, like the ones in hotels that shoot water at your butt. No, instead, its extra faucet is actually BEHIND the toilet, right on top of the reservoir of water that is used to flush the toilet. What’s it for you may ask? To wash your hands! It’s pretty damn clever if I say so myself. The plumbing around the toilet is routed so that the clean water that normally fills the tank (which later fills the bowl) is first made available to be used to wash your hands. Then, the water gets drained INTO the tank, so that it could be used for the next flush. You’re never touching dirty water, and you get to recycle the water that you just washed your hands with by using it to flush the toilet! Amazing.

So there is no central heating or cooling in Japan. This means stationary air conditioners and kerosene heaters are very popular. And no central water heating unit either, so you have to use individual water heaters for each faucet. This is actually a pretty good setup, as it saves energy and money not having to heat water when you don’t need it. It’s just interesting having to set up your shower by lighting a fire. :-)

Also, the trash system here is really interesting. It seems that there are two types of trash: combustible and noncombustible. And this is different from recycling as well, I believe. When the trash guys take the combustible stuff, they take it away and burn it. Not really sure about the process, like what happens to the remains or even the energy gained from burning it. But knowing Japan, I’m sure they do something with it. Though, it’s interesting to have a country that is so obsessed with efficiency and getting the most out of everything, yet whose citizens leave the car on when they run into a store to grab something (or in my case, introduce me to all of the teachers in an elementary school).

The typical Japanese office setup is like this: imagine a small classroom with a big desk in the middle, with room to fit 4 people with computers and printers in the middle. Then, put another desk facing the big desk. At this smaller desk sits the guy in charge of that section. This is the typical setup, and I’ll be damned if I see a different setup in Japan. Thus far, every single group of employees I was introduced to had their desks arranged in a similar fashion; no cubicles here! This setup, I feel like, almost forces intimacy between employees. Not only that; it also forces productivity. The lack of privacy tends to make us less inclined to goof off (at least for me! haha).

It’s fun pointing out the differences between cultures. But it’s when the differences start to bother me when there’s a problem; that indicates a decline into “Stage 2” of culture shock. Hopefully, if and when this happens, it doesn’t last long!

Word of the day:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Arrival

8/4/2010 7:32 PM

I have arrived in Miyagi Prefecture! As I sit here typing this blog post inside my apartment, I can hear the air conditioner working its hardest to keep the place cool, I can see the various news around Japan on the television, and I can smell the sweet aroma of the delicious food that my supervisor's wife was kind enough to prepare for me. Beside my tray of food is a letter from my girlfriend that arrived even before I did. (Isn’t she so sweet!??!? I love her! ^_^)

As I look around the room, I get a true sense of seclusion. As I look outside the windows, I get a true sense of the countryside. As I look around the neighborhood, I get a true sense of community. As I traverse through the country, I get a true sense of Japan. Yes, I finally feel like I'm here.

When I was at the JET Orientation in Tokyo, which took place in Keio Plaza Hotel in the Shinjuku district, I never quite felt like I was actually in Japan. It was more like I was walking around on a huge movie set, where all of the actors were speaking Japanese, but all of the extras were speaking English (or maybe vice versa). But something about it felt surreal, like I wasn't really here yet. When I was walking around Shinjuku by myself two nights ago, I did get the feeling of finally being in Japan, but it was a brief excursion in an unknown area at night with bright lights and loud signs, not unlike cities in the U.S.

But then I just went back to the hotel, and it was like stepping back into the U.S. Nearly everyone around me spoke English again, and Japanese was used only by those who had studied it or used it for an extensive amount of time. But I'm in the countryside now. I cannot step back. I cannot escape the challenges laid out before me. In fact, as I write this blog post right now, I do not have internet access. I hope to post this within the next day or two (hence my inclusion of a date and time at the beginning of the post). [Edit: Unfortunately, it turns out that I won't have internet access until about the middle of the month; so like, 10 days-ish. Doh.]

The challenges I speak of revolve all around communication; the very reason I'm here in Japan. Communication is both my duty and my goal. It is my responsibility as a teacher and my desire as a student of language. My purpose is to teach communication of English to my students, and the purpose of my living in Japan is to learn communication of Japanese. My challenges will follow me wherever I go; when I'm at work, when I'm at a store, when I'm on the phone, when I'm tending to my bills, and even when I'm just at home, not even watching television.

Today, I am grateful that one of the teachers who had lived in the U.S. for a few years was gracious enough to come with my advisor to meet me today and act as an interpreter. I did my best to use Japanese as much as I could, but too many times, my supervisor used words that I had never learned. And situations came up where I wanted to describe something, but I either did not have the vocabulary, or a complete understanding of the sentence structure to use it with confidence. In time, I will be able to understand him and also convey my thoughts with ease; I just hope and pray that that day comes very, very soon.

This morning, I had to say goodbye to JET participants I had met earlier this week. The goodbyes were not quite "sad," so much as they were simply filled with a tone of doubt; a feeling of uncertainty for what may lie before us. Most of the JETs are being placed in similar areas as me: out in the countryside, where English is barely used; and when it is, it is broken and almost incomprehensible. But some JETs I had met are actually going to be located in cities, with other JETs within a short driving distance. It seems as though the JETs placed out in the countryside have studied some Japanese, while those that hadn't were placed in the cities. Indeed, this makes sense, but I wonder about how people who cannot read Japanese will do when they have to travel about from school to school, or from town to town when they want to travel. It baffles me somewhat, that someone would have the guts to jump into a foreign country with a less-than-shallow grasp of the language. But for that I commend them. To any of those friends reading this: がんばれ!

Those of us going to Miyagi Prefecture were lead by the JET CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) from the hotel to the subway, which we rode to the shinkansen (bullet train) station. Carrying my two heavy messenger bags, I walked with the rest of my group (also carrying heavy items) through the station. We purchased a few snacks and drinks (I got Coka-Cola, coffee milk called Doutor Café au lait, some OJ, and a sandwich). The shinkansen ride was very quick and very smooth; the most comfortable way to travel such a far distance. The ride from Tokyo to Sendai City only took two hours, and costs only around $100. Definitely the way to travel, if I need to go south quickly. But my concerns are 1) How should I get to the Sendai Shinkansen Station and where would I park and 2) How do I navigate around the Stations themselves?

The reason I pose #2 is because the stations are seemingly more complicated than other stations in other countries I've been to. But that might be just because I was trying to read only the Japanese. Then again, there was barely any English on the signs. In any case, when we got to the Miyagi Board of Education office, we were quickly led to a room where we met the representatives of our prefecture. The meeting was simply composed of a few short introductory speeches; it wasn't even long enough for me to finish my drink of water. After the meeting, we swiftly grabbed our bags and went off with our supervisors. We didn't even have time to say goodbye to anyone. :-(

I was taken to a tonkatsu (fried pork) restaurant in Sendai. I ordered katsudon, which I occasionally order in the U.S. And hooooo boy was it delicious. After the food, we drove to the town where I'll be living and working. We went to the Board of Education, where I was introduced to everyone in the building (literally) and where I filled out various paperwork. The age range of the employees seemed to be extremely large, but it seems as though I am the youngest person there (though I could be wrong). A few of the office workers look like they might be in their early-mid 20's, but you never know, as us Asians tend to look younger than our actual age.
After the BOE, I was taken to my new apartment. At first, I got the same impression as when I moved into my very first apartment in Pittsburgh: wow, it seems small. But right now, as I sit and look around, it really doesn't seem that small. In fact, it seems quite large, especially for a Japanese apartment. I am lucky enough to have two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom/washroom. I think the apartment seemed small at first because the doors were closed, and the door ways are shorter than those in the U.S. And certain things around the apartment are smaller than the usual American size, like the fridge, desk, couches, TV, kitchen area; mostly everything around me, really. But it's suitable for just one or two people.
After looking around the apartment and trying to figure out the shower, I was taken to a local K-Mart/Wal-Mart-style supermarket called AEON. I didn't really need to buy much; just food, drinks, and paper towels/tissue. I'm grateful that my supervisor and the other teacher were willing to take me there, especially because it was after the normal work day had already ended.

When we returned, I was greeted by certain people from the BOE again, as well as the president of my neighborhood (I didn't know such a thing existed!); unfortunately, I was already told to change into casual clothes before we went shopping, so when I met him, I wasn't quite dressed properly. It didn't seem like such a big deal though, 'cause the guy was donning a white tank top, khaki shorts, and smoking a cigarette.

After we had brought in everything and everyone had left, I sat down and started to read the letter than my girlfriend had sent me. As I was reading it, someone had rang the doorbell; it was my supervisor again, but this time he brought his wife (I think it was his wife; he never really said), who was carrying a tray of warm food she had prepared herself. I'm not sure if it's because they felt bad for what I would have had to eat that night (some pre-made bento boxes from AEON), or because my supervisor noticed that I didn't have a microwave (I was wondering where it was, too), or simply out of generosity or Japanese custom. Whatever the reason, I was happy to accept the food.

My first day in the countryside has been long and arduous. From the metropolis of Tokyo to a quaint little village. It's a monstrous change in life-style; especially this first day, where I cannot even drive just yet, because the luggage that contains my IDP has yet to arrive from Tokyo. (I was told it would arrive tomorrow, so it's not a surprise. It's just a little hassle to walk to work; but thankfully it's not far, and I can take pictures along the way if I leave early enough.) But I look forward to the challenges that face me, because when it's over, I'll have grown up quite a bit, with a wealth of new experiences.

So yeah, I made it! I have finally arrived in the real Japan.

Word of the day: 田舎 「いなか」 "inaka," or, "countryside." Literally, "rice paddy" and "hut" or "house."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Second day of orientation

Well, more seminars today. A lot of things were just repetitions from things earlier in the day or from yesterday. Which is actually good, because those are important things. Some of the topics we covered today included driving, lesson planning, communicating with our co-workers and community, our activities in Japan, safety, food, drug laws, learning Japanese...lots of topics.

not my pictureAlso, I don't recall if I had mentioned it last night, but on my way back to the hotel from the Shinjuku arcades, I finally used a vending machine and bought some Kirin Milk Tea. Delicious. [Note: This is not my own picture.]

Tonight, we had to ship any last bit of luggage to our designated prefectures to reduce the amount of luggage we actually have to carry with us. I've managed to take it down to just two messenger bags; let's just hope I didn't ship anything that I will need with me immediately on my person!

So yeah, clearly not too much happened today. The most exciting thing is perhaps going back out to Shinjuku with fellow JET ALTs who departed from Washington, D.C. with me. I had beef udon. And maaaaaaaaaaan was it good! The noodles were seemingly hand-made, as they were imperfectly rolled. And it made it oh so good.

Alright, I gotta pack up my last bit of stuff and get to bed. Good night, Japan! Good morning, USA!

Word of the day: 自動販売機 「じどうはんばいき」 "jidouhanbaiki," or vending machine. Literally, it means "automatic selling machine."

Monday, August 2, 2010

First day of orientation

So I've completed my first day of JET Orientation. Fun time! Except I was exhausted ALL DAY. It wasn't until I took a 10 minute nap at around 9 PM that I got a second wind and decided to go out. I went out because a fellow JET ALT said to a friend I just met, "When's the next time you're going to be in Tokyo?" With those words in mind, I dressed up and headed out. I tried to see if he was still in his room, but he had already left (probably while I was sleeping). I simply set out to look around the neighborhood a bit, and I saw plenty of bright neon lights everywhere and tons of things to buy. One of the electronics stores I went to had an eyesore of signs plastered all over the walls. It was like the store was yelling at me to purchase something. Things that piqued my interest in that store were phones and denshi jisho (you know, electronic dictionaries). Didn't buy anything of course. In fact, I didn't spend any money...

...until I got to the arcade. :-D I saw a Sega arcade which I almost thought was a pachinko parlor (because earlier I saw a pachinko parlor which I thought was an arcade). When I walked in and looked around, I was surprised at how small it was; but I believe there were multiple floors. I'm not sure exactly because I chose to stay on the ground floor; maybe I'll check out the rest tomorrow. In any case, I played Initial D Stage 5. If anyone else has played this series, they'll know that in each iteration, there is a new physics engine, and this one definitely had a new one. I couldn't get the turns or drifting right at all. Oh well, I still won.

Then, I walked around more, saw some more fun stores, and another arcade. And this one was where I spent quite a while in; maybe almost an hour. I lost track of time because I was too busy schooling other gaikokujin (foreigners) in Street Fighter IV. Got 5 wins and no losses! Then proceeded to beat the game. All on one credit. Win. :-D Tekken 6 was there, too. And I would have played it if someone else was; and if I had more time.

The orientation itself was very interesting and valuable. Apparently *everyone* in the JET Programme (and by extension, anyone who moves to Japan to stay for an extended period of time) will experience Culture Shock. I can agree with this statement, because Culture Shock (a.k.a. Cultural Fatigue) is something that happens on a personal level, and it's something that is very difficult to describe but easy to understand if one has experienced it. The speaker explained that Culture Shock (which I'll abbreviate as CS from now on in this post) is something that occurs in four stages very gradually. Which is why it makes more sense to call it Fatigue than Shock. It's something that builds up and wears you down. The four stages are basically 1) Excitation/Happiness/Euphoria 2) Sadness/Anger/Depression 3) Recovery 4) Assimilation. I won't go into detail about what each one means, but it's basically a roller coaster, where #'s 1 and 3 are high, 2 is low, and 4 is back to normal again. Some people get stuck in Stage 2, and that is the problem with CS; the person suffering from it has to go through Stage 3, or else will suffer during the entire duration of his or her stay in Japan.

The other seminars I heard dealt with teaching at multiple schools, cooking/eating out, and adult conversation classes, which I will apparently be doing. I also continued networking, mingling, and meeting more people! Overall a very exhausting, but equally fun day.

Word of the day: 時差ぼけ 「じさぼけ」 "jisaboke," or "jet-lag." The first character, as I've mentioned before, means "time," while the second character means "difference."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I'M IN JAPAN

やっと日本に来ましたよ~~~~!!!
見て見て!日本語しか話せません!

Just kidding! But yeah, I'm finally here in Tokyo! I'm staying at this huge hotel in Shinjuku. And a couple friends and I went to eat at a restaurant. Pretty awesome. REAL SUSHI. IN JAPAN. The sushi was huge. And inexpensive. Awesome. And we ate in a mini tatami room. Well not really; it was just like a normal table/booth, but the seats were tatami mats, and it was in something like a secluded room. I also had Asahi Beer on draft. And the other food (fried chicken, fried octopus) was also delicious. Yum.

Anyway, not much to update with, except that I barely slept on the flight, so I'm really beat. And I watched three movies: Iron Man 2 (again), Post Grad, and Date Night. All fantastic movies. Post Grad in particular was nice because I could relate to the protagonist experiencing post-graduation frustrations.

Gotta get sleep! Big day tomorrow!

Word of the day: 寿司 「すし」 "sushi." 'Nuff said.