Friday, March 23, 2012
White Day, March 14th

March 14th was White Day. It's Japanese holiday that corresponds with St. Valentine's Day on Feb. 14th. It takes place one month after St. Valentine's Day and it's for when boys (and friends) give to the girls who gave them things on St. Valentine's Day. I asked about White Day at my part-time job and asked them to tell me about it. Apparently White Day is a relatively new holiday that is all about commercialization. But the reason why it was called White Day was because the boys gave the girls marshmallows. Marshmallows were white thus making the day become White Day.

I think it's a cute idea, and it's a very Japanese culture. The Japanese have a thing about if you do a favor or give them something they have to return the favor. So I'm not surprised that there is a holiday that matches with St. Valentine's in returning the favor of receiving gifts. But I didn't not count myself out of this holiday, I received two chocolate's from two of my friends on St. Valentine's so I bought white chocolate for them.

One of my friend's who I gave chocolate too though gave a pleasant surprise! I received a small flower tree for White Day. And another friend gave me strawberry chocolate.

I also met up with Ayako for lunch. Ayako was an exchange student from Kansai University to NAU last year and was another reason why I decided to go to Kansai University. She has been busy all semester with interviews and job hunting so we haven't been able to meet up until now. I was so happy to meet up with her, and catch up.

We ended up eating at a ramen shop before going across the street to take some purikura. Ayako agreed to my need of purikura and explained to me she hadn't done it since high school. They came out very cute, I wish I could show how they turned out on here. After purikura we went to the underground shopping strip in Hep5 to get Basket Robbins. They had an amazing ice cream out that I couldn't resist, it was just this strawberry shortcake with strawberries all over it. The ice cream I got was strawberry milk and strawberry shortcake. It was so delicious!
Ayako had to depart after ice cream, but she said she will work hard on getting a job so that we can hang out more this semester. I'm excited especially since the next time we meet up we'll go to Sweets Paradise.
Monday, March 19, 2012
March 13th, Omizu Torii Matsuri, Nara.
On March 13th, I went to Nara to witness the Omizu Torii Matsuri, also known as Shunie. It is held at Nigatsudo Hall, a sub complex to the Todaiji Temple where a statue of a Great Buddha sits. This festival runs from March 1st to March 14th and this festival has annually held for over 1250 years making it the oldest recurring Buddhist event in Japan. But the event doesn't start until seven o'clock in the evening and Nara is a place that is a long ways away.

Kristen and Chami have never been to Nara and wanted to see the festival as well so we left Suita around eleven in the morning and made our way to Nara. I can't express how much I enjoy going to Nara, even though I see relatively the same things every time I go because I'm taking people who never been, but this time I was able to see some different parts of Nara. It's just that Nara always seems so refreshing despite it being a very popular tourist spot. But today surprisingly was a day that many schools seemed to be having a field trip to Nara. We saw tons of middle school students and elementary school students. But when we saw the elementary school students they were heading back to the station. A huge group of them saw us, and waved at us excitedly basically all of them greeting us with hello. They were absolutely adorable with the bright colored jackets and hats.

Both Kristen and Chami seem to really enjoy walking around Nara, and equally loved the ramen shop I took them to for dinner. This type of ramen has a lot thicker broth compared to many ramen shops. Kristen called it "Thanksgiving Ramen" since in her opinion tasted much like Thanksgiving.

After dinner we headed to where we needed to be, Nigatsudo Hall. We arrived at a good time I believe. There was quite a lot of people there but there was still enough room to move. We stood around for about an hour, watching the daylight slowly disappear.
 Nigatsudo Hall, Todaiji Temple, Nara.
Once the night arrived and right at seven o'clock the matsuri started. These monks, one by one, carry roughly ten foot long wooden torches up the stairs to the balcony of the temple. But the tips, which have a huge amount of sage or something similar, are lit on fire as they carry the torch up. When the first one got to the top of the balcony he held it out at the corner over the balcony allowing the fire to burn while the next monk brought up the next torch. What was burning didn't stay in fire form long, just making the plant grow fiery red. When the monk behind was almost to were the first monk was, the first monk shouted "はい!" (Hai. Translated literally as Yes) and brought the torch down but placed it along the balcony railing and started running making the flames on the torch grew. It was a beautiful sight, the flames spiraled a bit making it look like a shooting star moving across the balcony to the other corner at the end. The monk would hold it out over the corner like he was doing originally at the first corner while the monk behind him set up. This repeated, and at the end the monks carried it off behind the temple.

Honestly, I've never seen something so beautiful. There's nothing you can compare to what I had seen that night. There were just glowing embers everywhere, floating down from their torch like flower petals falling off the flower. And watching the monks run the torch across the balcony was such a thrill to see how the flames danced up into swirls.
Carrying the torch up the stairs.
The fire being ran across the balcony. (Stolen from Kristen)

At a corner of the balcony (Stolen from Kristen)
The matsuri ended after about forty minutes. Smelling strongly of sage all three of us headed to the station to head up.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
I haven't done a good job at keeping up to date.

Like my heading says, I haven't been keeping a good job on updating my blog when so much has happened. Currently I am on break so I'm hoping I can update everything I can within this month.

My break started back in January. The exchange students classes finished up on the 20th while the regular Kansai students has a week of finals after the 20th then they were free for their break until April when school starts again. Why such a long break? Because this is technically their "summer break." 1st semester for the Japanese starts in spring with the new season which leaves fall as their second semester. I joined at second semester thus the long break before the new year begins.

I had taken a trip to South Korea to meet up with my best friend Nicole who is currently studying abroad in Korea (obviously). I stayed a week in South Korea before flying back to Japan but instead of returning to Osaka I flew to Tokyo and stayed up there for a week. These will be in another post that will be prepared tomorrow or over the new few days.

I also started my part-time job in Japan on Feb. 18th! I was able to get a job at an English Cafe that my friend Rosie worked at before she had to return to Australia. I took her spot in a sense. I work there once every week since the Cafe is open only three days of the week, but I won't post to much about what happens in my job since I all ready am required to write a blog entry after each shift. The blog for the cafe is here -> [English Cafe ] I'll also post this on the side bar for people to see.

So much has happened since I started working such as getting a free new kimono from a  customer and other such. The kimono didn't have an obi (or the belt that holds the kimono together) so I actually went searching for one a two days ago and I found one that was perfect and cheap. But when I bought I wasn't sure if it would match the kimono I got since it had been awhile and I didn't bring the kimono with me to see if it matched or not. When we returned, I went to the dormitory quickly to grab my kimono and hurried to my friends' apartment where Nikki could dress me to see if it matched. Not many people know how to dress others in kimono so I'm very fortunate to have a friend who does.

The finished outcome.

February 29th (Leap Day)
On the 29th Kristen, Chami and I went to Takatsuki to go to Tower Records. Tower Records is a well known music store in Japan and today was the day U-Kiss, a Korean pop group, released their first Japanese album, A Shared Dream, along with their new Japanese single, Forbidden Love. I wanted to buy the album since I am a big fan (They're actually touring around Japan right now but everywhere in my area is sold out in tickets, all well) and it's always a nice trip to go to Takatsuki.

There's a lot of shopping places in Takatsuki but they aren't fancy shops like at Hep5 in Umeda, or to expensive like in Shinsaibashi (sometimes). I think it's a nice casual area. After buying my CD I glanced out the window area and noticed a group of trees in the slight distance. After living in Japan for 5 months I've learned if you see a huddle of trees means there's a part or a shrine near by. I asked Chami and Kristen if they wanted to go and see what was over there. They agreed since we had nothing better to do, and wandered through the streets towards the patch of trees. We could see it down the street and half way down the street there was a large stone torii (a gate) above the street with the sidewalk running along them from the outside of the gate. When we were passing Chami made a comment, "Aren't we suppose to go through the torii not around it?" We all paused, backtracked, got onto the street so we could pass underneath it and went back to the sidewalk. A woman from a shop window saw us backtrack and go through the torii gates and smiled at us when we went through.

At the end of the street there were stairs and a sign to say what shrine this was which ended up being called Jouguu Tenmangu.
After passing through another torii and climbing all the stairs (and the hill that came with it) we arrived to the main level. The shrine was relatively empty except for a person here or there and the stray cats that made this shrine their home.
We went to the nearest "well" area. There's a specific area where there is running water and you are suppose to pick up a utensil to gather the water. You're suppose to cleanse yourself before entering the shrine area, my friend Miyabi taught me how properly "cleanse" yourself. You dump a little water on your left hand first, then your right, and back on your left hand you pour some more on your hand but you drink the bit your poured. If you have any left over water you pour it on the stone, back into the main water area. I can't recall what the name is but every shrine has one and styled a different way.
When then went to the main shrine area and did a prayer. I threw in a 50 yen coin since I didn't have 5 yen coin on me, and I wasn't exactly sure how to proceed. Since this shrine you ring a bell and I haven't done a shrine that has had it. Basically I did what I normally did at a shrine but at the end I rang the bell before bowing. I'm sure the kami won't mind since I'm still paying respects even if it's a little wrong. The area was nice though, there was a tree with a sacred rope wrapped around it, a small bamboo forest near, and just a bunch of large trees in the area.
Kristen took a photo while I prayed. I haven't noticed.
For me, I enjoy going to Shinto Shrines. I like paying respects to the local kami and seeing the amount of nature that the shrines always seem to have. The atmosphere always has such a calming effect that it's hard not to enjoy being at the shrines. For me anyways, not everyone enjoys the shrines the way I do. But I do suggest if your ever in Japan to look for the smaller shrines too and not just the famous ones.

Today though I had such an interesting experience. Kristen and I went to Umeda just to do something and eat at the best ramen shop ever for lunch. We wandered around the department store Yorobashi for a bit, I ended up buying tome candles from a store that reminds me of home. It's a very "hippie" store my friends would call it. Tie dye clothes that are very loose and flowing, items relating to spirituality, buddhists, there were some Mexican items that related to the day of the dead, precious stones and jewelry; that kind of store.

For lunch we went to the ramen shop that we always go to. I always forget the name but it has the best ramen ever. I've learned here in Japan that when I go back to the states top ramen will never be enough for me anymore. But at this shop I always get the 白丸らめん (shiromaru ramen). It's my favorite one and I can even beginning to describe how good it tastes.

After that we went into Hep5 which is basically a mall. I ended up wandering to the underground shopping strip underneath the Hep5 building and came across a store called Maua. It's another "hippie" store if you may call it but this store was more of a clothing store than the other one and they had beautiful pieces from made in Indonesia, Thailand, India, and etc. A staff member noticed me and greeted me.

I don't think I ever pointed out but in Japan staff members always welcome anyone who enters the store with a smile. And they all thank you for coming to the store when you leave. It leaves a more positive feeling to customers, and depending on the stores. Staff members kind of follow you around to help you out, tell you about some of the clothing, jewelry or anything along the lines. They help customers figure out how to put some outfits together and always give their opinion when you ask for it. I personally think it's much better service here than in the states but that doesn't mean that there are down falls. I don't really like it when the staff members follow me which ended up happening at the store.

They don't out right follow you and look over your shoulder, but they always stay in distance ready to assist. Kristen wasn't with me at the time, she ran to the rest room as I wandered around the store for a bit. The staff member made a few comments before she eventually asked me if I could speak Japanese. I stumbled over my words to tell her that I could speak only a little. She smiled and suddenly started  speaking in English asking where I was from. I was surprised to be honest because in all reality not a lot of people can speak English here in Japan. But I told her where I was from and that I was studying at Kansai University. She left me alone to wander a bit more, only briefly telling me where some of the clothes were from.

When I was trying to go on the other side there was a another staff member talking to an elderly lady and the staff member that was chatting with me earlier standing where I needed to get through and I allowed the elderly lady to pass through me. She greeted me with "こんいちは" which I instantly replied back politely and bowed slightly in respect. The staff member told them I got speak a little Japanese, and like a normal Japanese response was "Your Japanese is very good." when I know in reality it isn't. But I've also learned that they praise you because they also expect you to be modest and play down their praise. It's just part of Japanese culture I've noticed. So I played down her praised saying I wasn't very skilled yet.

The lady smiled and started rapidly taking to me in Japanese. I could roughly follow, she asked me what I liked food wise and I answered with nabe. Nabe was the first thing that came to mind and is one of my favorite Japanese food since curry rice and ramen aren't exactly Japanese related. She asked me about sushi and I couldn't help but make a face in response. I responded saying that I didn't like fish in general not just sushi. The staff members laughed with the lady and lady started speaking rapidly that I couldn't keep up. Before the conversation ended she asked if I had gone to Kyoto which I have and she wished my good luck at studying Japanese at Kansai which I graciously said thank you too, bowing many times. I know for sure that when I was talking with her I could feel my face go red at being so flustered. But I feel proud to that I was able to understand some of it.

Kristen was making her way to the store and I decided to try on I dress I came across which I thought was beautiful and rather cheap for an imported item and being hand-made compared to other prices of seen. The staff helped me into the fitting room and told Kristen that I was trying on a dress while I was putting it on. Well I stepped out and the two staff members gave me approval. The elderly lady made a comment of very pretty, even a customer who wasn't really involved commented on it. I'm positive I was bright red but it felt good. I really liked how the dress looked and getting approve from so many people was just rather thrilling. Needless to say I bought the dress, but I've never experienced something like that in a store before.

I'm definitely coming back to the store next time.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Christmas and New Years

The holidays are finally over and it's nearly time for me to go back to school after winter break. Winter break here though is different, we have about a week and a half off of school before going back to do our finals.

This was my first Christmas without any family around. It was a strange feeling but nothing sad or anything along the lines. I misses everyone but I knew that everyone was together safe and sound which made me feel better about not being there. Christmas in Japan is not as big as it is in the States. In the states Christmas is about getting together with family and enjoying each others company. Here in Japan it's more of a holiday for couples and younger children. To be honest I kept forgetting that it was Christmas on Christmas Day. It just shows how much there really isn't a large Christmas spirit here in Japan like it is in America.

Christmas Eve I spent the night over at some friends' apartment; Sam, Nikki and Kristen. In the morning we opened presents and skyped with our families wishing them a Merry Christmas. Later in the evening a group of us went to go eat Shabu Shabu. Shabu Shabu is basically where you can eat as much as you want for a specific set of time, and there's a huge bot full of boiling water. You order a plate or raw, thinly slice meat (chicken, beef, or pork) and you dip a piece of the meat into the water and the water cooks the meat right up. You are able to put vegetables into the pot to cook them and eat with the meat, and there are sauces you can dip everything into. At this specific Shabu Shabu restaurant there was also unlimited amount of deserts which was only six different flavors of ice cream but it was all unlimited. I haven't eaten that much in a while!

New Years on the other hand is a huge thing here in Japan. Way bigger here than in the states. It's definitely a situation where tradition is mixed within modern day life here in Japan especially hatsumoude (初詣).

For New Years there was a big group of us that were planning on going to Kobe to celebrate the new year together. I've never been to Kobe before so Ellie (who is from the same university in the States) and I went out to Kobe five hours earlier than everyone else to spent time around the area looking around and seeing the sites. Especially Chinatown. Yes, they have a Chinatown in Japan too. By the time we had reached the Chinatown area all the lanterns that lined the street were lit and in the center of the community was a little place set up with a dragon in the middle to celebrate the new year because this year is the Year of the Dragon. Though it's not exactly the year of the dragon yet since the Chinese New Year calender is slightly different. The Chinese New Year this year is on Jan. 23rd.
On the 23rd there will be a three day celebration for the Chinese New Year that Ellie and I will most likely go and attend on the first day. But around this area there were stone statues of all the animals in the Chinese Zodiac which was really neat. Ellie and I spent some time walking around, eating food from the set up stands around the streets and trying to keep semi warm. By this time we decided to go to Kobe Motomachi, a shopping strip that we saw on the way to Chinatown.
 We were looking around the first shop when I got a text message from Yuho who set up the whole thing saying that everyone was meeting up in Umeda instead. I'll be honest that I was a bit irritated that they sudden changed plans on us while we were all ready in Kobe. Not that I regret going to Kobe, but I'm the type of person who likes to stick to the plan when one is made. Around this time though Maxime and Tomoe had actually found us in Kobe Motomachi on their way back to the station. Apparently they had the same idea as us and arrived about an hour after we did. All four of us headed back to the station after picking up some more stand food.

The plan in Umeda was to go to the countdown party in the Umeda Sky Building which overlooks all of Umeda. It is the building to go see while in Umeda, something like Tokyo Tower in Tokyo. Our group of four met up with the rest of the exchange students with some Kansai students mixed in, and we all headed our way to the Sky Building. I've never been to the Sky Building so I was excited and tried my best to ignore the cold. I was all ready still frozen from Kobe since Kobe is a harbor down and the fierce sea winds can be felt.

We arrive and all went up in groups since there really isn't a way to fit all forty of us up an elevator. Up on the top floor there were New Year's decorations all around, especially a huge piece of traditional Japanese decoration for the new year (the picture above). It's to bring in good energy for the new year. There were various entertainers playing inside and outside. Outside you could climb up a few more staircases and stand on the top of the building where they had decorated it with black lights, letting the ground sparkle with the material stuck on the tile but everyone was light up too. The view though up on the roof was beautiful.

There was a group preforming called the Kobe Boys. There was a little stage below some of the railing where we could watch them preform. They didn't stay outside too long because it was very cold and not good for their voices.

Eventually some of the students wanted to leave and go find a bar to go drink at while half of us stayed behind and found a nice spot on the floor to play some card games until it was time for the countdown. We had about an hour left when we sat down so it wouldn't be much of a wait.  But when it got closer to time all of us headed back up to the roof to over look Umeda and waited for the countdown. The countdown wasn't fantastic blast of lights, but joyous cheer for a good new year from everyone surrounding you, everyone starts saying "あけましておめでとう" (akemashite omedetou). But from where we were standing we could see the fireworks from Japan's Universal Studios.

The process of leaving the Sky Building was a slow one. Everyone had move in a line to get down and there were tons of people there, I'm sure it was a good 500 people or more. My ticket number was in the 700s but that doesn't mean that there were all ready 700 people from me. But even though it was New Years my night was far from over. A smaller group of friends; Yuho, Miho, Max, Tomoe, Oliver, and I were going to take the train to Kyoto and spend the rest of the night there to watch the sunrise.

The trains normally don't run all night, in fact usually the last train is around midnight (depending where you are too, it can be 10 pm in some places) but because it is New Years the trains were running all night. The train to Kyoto is roughly an hour even on the express trains. It was nice though to sit for a while. I sat next to Miho and we munched on some snacks that we had. 

At Kyoto there were some taiko players playing by the station which we sat and watched them for a bit. It was just two men dressed in some traditional clothing playing the drums. I love hearing the taiko drums, they're so powerful and you can feel the vibrations in the air from the drums when they are beaten on. I always highly recommend seeing these drums if you ever have the chance. Around this time it was about 2:30 am, where we all took cover in a starbucks to warm up and have something to drink. By this time I'm exhausted and frozen from the cold. My feet hurt not from walking but from being so cold; it was really nice to get off them. The whole street that we were walking on to the starbucks was blocked off. Mass amounts of people were walking to the shrine at the end of the street, which we ended up going after our forty minute rest at Starbucks (I think it was that long, I did fall asleep a little bit).

I was told that the Yasaka Shrine is famous for women to go to and pray for beauty. I can't exactly recall why it's this shrine, I'm wondering if it has to do with the kami that is enshrine there, but I heard that many geisha and maiko go there to pray for success and beauty. But the shrine itself is famous and hundreds of people go here during the hatsumode period. When we arrived at the shrine it was around three o'clock in the morning, there wasn't a huge mass of people anymore. There were still a lot of people but it thinned out to a decent size.

We went to an alter were you throw coins in which is located at the front of the shrine itself. The best coin to throw in is a 5 yen coin which is said that how it is said sounds similar to bringing good luck or something along the lines. I luckily had a 5 yen coin and I tossed it into the holding. I clapped my hand two times before praying for good health for everyone, and wonderful year to come. After I was finished I bowed before stepping away. There are various ways of "praying" in front of a shrine but Miho taught me that one for the night. 

Another part of hatsumode is getting an おみくじ (omikuji) which is basically a fortune for the New Year. Each omikuji has a level of "good" ranging from best of luck to worse luck, and roughly there are 12 levels. The fortune's are roughly 100 yen to 200 yen to buy. I followed Miho to the nearest stand that was selling them. I gave the omiko (a shrine priestess) my money and I was allowed to pick up a strip of paper from a box of fortunes. Everything was written in Japanese but I had my friends translate it to me once they finished looking over their own. I was a lucky one this year, I got something called 大吉 (daikichi) which is the highest level of the ranking. It literally means "Great Blessing" and they are rare to come by since there are 1/12 chance that you will get it. Yuho and Miho helped translate for me the various good things that are suppose to come my way and from the sound of it I could basically rule the world since the kami are on my side.

Everyone relatively got good fortunes except Oliver and Tomoe. But there is a way to counteract the bad luck. What people do is they take their fortunes and wrap it around a specific area for them or on trees. It's suppose to try and get rid of the bad luck from happening. Tomoe and Oliver went and tied their fortunes somewhere while the rest of us sat by a heater to warm up. Next up was to go to the next shrine where we were to go see the sunrise. Fushimi Inari Taisha.

We left Yasaka Shrine a bit on the late side and at Fushimi Inari Taisha we hurried up the mountain. There was no way that we were going to make it up at the top of the mountain with the amount of time we had. So we ran as fast as we could up the mountain and the levels of steps. I was actually sweating and getting tired really fast. We made it up maybe to the third level before we had to stop. The sun was starting to come but then there was a sudden realization. We were on the wrong side of the mountain, there was no way we could see the sunrise. We were bummed but at the same time, it was a cloudy day and we wouldn't have seen the sun anyway, so it was a good fortune for us not to go all the way to the top and be disappointed.

I didn't get back to my dorm until around 10:30 am and I slept for most of the day. I passed out right when I got home, I was so exhausted but it was worth all of it.
The first morning together. 
(Miho and Oliver had all ready gone back down the mountain)
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Way Behind

I fell way behind with my entries, I`m missing at least two months worth of things that happened but I have decided that it would take to much time to wait to update two months worth of events and experiences than update now. So I will continue updates from present time and have the two months missing update later. Of course they will be dated so that everyone can see when it happened.

Tuesday was an end of the year celebration for Kansai exchange students. The special event held was a taiko drum performance. In the beginning there were two players playing the drums with a guy playing a flute off to the side. Then the main performer came  on stage wearing an onii (demon) mask standing in front of a large taiko drum. When he began to play on the drum, I could feel everything in the room shake to the virbration of the sound the taiko made. It was so incrediably loud but it wasn`t to the point where my ears began bleeding because it was so loud. The sound was just very powerful, I could hardly keep my eyes open when he struck the taiko drum.

At the end of the song he took off the mask, and bowed before hurrying off stage. Next two women came out, one going to a string instrument called the koto and the other held a three-string banjo looking instrument called a shamisen. The music was really soothing compared to the strong, pounding sound of the taiko drums.

A few more songs were played, mostly alternating between the two string instruments and the drums. But near the very end the performers pulled about fourteen people to the stage to try and play some of the taiko drums. After teaching them the basic two patterns of playing they played a song with everyone, two of the performers played two shamisen while conducting everyone. Everyone did great playing one song together, and it was so fun to watch people perform together and trying something like playing the taiko drums.

Afterwards, we went down to the second floor of the Rinpukan (the main cafeteria and hang out area). There was so much food and drinks down there. There was even alcohol. It`s funny to see alcohol willingly given out to the students if there was no problem where as back in the states I highly doubt we would see alcohol as one of the drinks that the teachers provided for the students to drink. It was a good time though, lots of mingling and eating.

Ellie, Kristen, Sam, and I went to the arcade after the party to do the UFO catcher. The night before I was in the arcade with a group of people to say good bye to Drew, and I had won six little tiger toys. The Japanese UFO catcher machines are much more challenging because there are only two claws compared to in America there  are three. So that night I decided to win Ellie, Kristen and Sam more of the little tigers. Which I did after several tries. Almost gave up on getting the third one... But I had gotten it on the last try!

Tonight though there is a going away party for Grant, Ben, Ryan, Melissa, and Shelby. There`s going to be so many people there in John and Olly`s tiny apartment I wonder if we will all fit. But I`ll be helping John cook chicken curry for everyone which I`m really excited. I cooked chicken curry before in the states but I`m alittle curious as to what John has gathered for ingrediants because I`m sure we both have different cooking styles.

But we`ll see I guess!
Monday, October 24, 2011
Catch Up

I realized I haven't done much updates about what I have been doing. Keeping a blog isn't as easy as I thought it was going to be with everything I've been doing. With everything I've been doing I spend all day moving and by the time I return home I just don't want to write anything. So this post is just catching up.

September 27th[Tuesday] was my birthday, my 21st birthday. I couldn't help but think, "Who would have thought that I would spend my 21st birthday in Japan as an exchange student." All I cared about when I was in high school was just graduating and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, let alone think what I would want to do for my 21st. Even though the drinking age here in Japan is 20, and I'm all ready legal, my 21st birthday is the best birthday I've ever had.

The American girls in Ryokuchi Koen planned me a surprise party; but they had gotten me surprised twice. On my actual birthday they had surprised me with a fruit tart-like cake. It was right after dinner down stairs, everyone had left and I was helping Amanda fill up her backpack full of water bottles (she goes them pretty fast). I'm pretty sure we filled up eleven water bottles before heading up. But before I went all the way up the stairs Fujiwara-san wished me happy birthday both in English and Japanese which put a smile on my face. Fujiwara is definitely a father figure to all us girls in Ryokuchi Koen, he looks out for all of us.

When I got up stairs and turned the corner I was greeted with everyone singing happy birthday. I wasn't expecting such a surprise, apparently Julie had planned the whole thing. But I was so grateful that they had pulled this off for me especially since we've all only known each other less than a month. This just shows that time doesn't always mean anything. The cake was small covered with various fruits on top; strawberries, blueberries, peach slice, pear slice, apple slice, kiwis and some fruit we had no idea what it was. Inside there were strawberries too! And the classic Japanese Happy Birthday writing is on a piece of chocolate placed on the top of the cake.

Julie then told me that she was going to spend all day with my Saturday for my birthday weekend, and then Sunday all the girls of Ryokuchi Koen would take me out somewhere. Something to look forward to for the weekend since my original plan of going to Tokyo would not happen.

The week passed by like normal and Saturday arrived. Julie and I didn't leave anywhere until afternoon. We've been teaching our friend Fuka cursive writing since she needs to read and write it for her part time job, thus we met up with her for lunch and spent the whole afternoon together. Eventually we met up with Mai for dinner at Mos Burger before departing. Julie had told me that what she had planned was in the evening, but we had time so we walked back up to the dormitory before we left for this destination. As we walked up the hill Julie had announced that everyone was going to Umeda again from a text she had gotten, and began complaining that everyone goes there to often and it's always to do the exact same thing. I didn't think anything of it at the time...

After freshening up Julie began to led me to where we were going which turned out to be the bowling ally that is close to campus and is basically on the main road. Excited I hurried to the elevator with Julie to go to the top floor of the building. Well, I had the surprise of my life when everyone was there waiting at the elevator when the doors opened. It was such a surprise, I turned five shades of red instantly earning many comments about it. I even got presents! The girls in Ryokuchi Koen pitched in and bought me a soccer ball while Mai and Fuka had bought me a little blanket you use when studying (or in general, but mostly when studying), a mug with cats on it, and a pen holder.

The night went by quickly with two games of bowling, me winning the first game on the lane I was in, and the Julie won the second game. But out of the two lanes that we were using Nick had us all beat with over 140 points. But the night didn't end with bowling, it was the arcade. The main purpose though was to go to the purikura machine, one of Japan's famous icons in pop culture.

With my birthday wrapped up, the next few days were just filled with going to school and enjoying life in Japan. From playing soccer with some Chinese exchange students who we met last Monday to just sitting outside on campus all day. Especially the later. Relaxing on the main lawn is what I have done basically all week after classes. People come out and play sports or practice. One club though that stands out is the double dutch team. Yes, double dutch team. I've seen them various times and watching them practice is absolutely amazing; the things they do just makes me stare in awe.

Julie has recently joined the team though with the efforts of Natsuki who started to talk to the team for Julie since she was to anxious to do it by herself. The few that were still there were extremely friendly and wanted Julie to try jumping a few times. It was honestly intimidating, I haven't jumped rope like this since I was an elementary school students. But the two guys teased Julie to try and make her relax along with the two girls there. Eventually one of the girls though came over and pulled me out to try. It's so difficult if you don't get the timing just right. (>_<) At least I was better than John who had tried a few times, haha.
Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yesterday was the first day of school and it wasn't exactly as bad as I was expecting it to be although Tuesdays are going to be my busy days.

The day start out as normal, hitting the alarm clock off at seven in the morning to get ready to go down and get breakfast. I never take a shower in the morning anymore since I don't have a hair dryer and my hair will not dry in time for school with all the humidity. Breakfast is only from 7-8:20 in the morning which isn't a lot of time. By the time I get ready it's roughly 7:45 am and Julie is usually ready to go down by this time as well.

Once breakfast is done Julie and I went up stairs to finish whatever we need to do, hair, make-up, gathering all the things we need for school. Julie, Ellie (who joined us at the main door to the dormitory), and I left for school calling out "Ittekimasu" as we left.

*A quick note for those who don't know, when you leave home you call out Ittekimasu which literally means "I'll go and come back" and is usually met with Itterasshai which means "Please go and come back." Something similar is used when one comes back home. You call out Tadaima "I'm home" and you are greeted with Okaeri nasai "Welcome home."

Thankfully I checked the weather and grabbed my umbrella because it was raining when we stepped outside. The walk was about 15 minutes but the main street that leads up to the school and we have became accustom to was filled with people. All you could see was different colors from the umbrellas and they were all the college students with a few business men and women mixed in the crowd. At the time I think I might have been in shock with how many people there were when we weaved into the crowd. And honestly it probably about the same amount of people that go to NAU but I'm not use to everyone being in a small space at once. The stares probably didn't help the situation.

There were a few men stationed throughout the street warning when there were cars coming through the street or anything else that we would need to move away from.

For Tuesdays I have three classes; JPN 2b (JPN Literacy), Naginata, and JPN Language & Society.
 JPN 2b is hard. The class focuses on writing and reading Japanese but the teacher doesn't speak very much English which is in a sense a good thing because we are forced to speak Japanese. But the downside is this is a writing class which involves grammer, kanji, and other things that need to be explained how and why it's worked in the way it does. The teacher, Kawashima-sensei, is really nice but I don't think she really knows how to teach Japanese to foreign students.

Naginata was amazing. I'm going to make a more story-like post next time on my thoughts on Naginata on the first day.

And finally is JPN Language & Society. The teacher is Kite-sensei who is also my adviser during the stay here at Kansai University. After this class I'm happy that she is my adviser because she is super nice, and her class seems so interesting. The class focuses on a more linguistic which is great because my interest in linguistics has grown since my anthropology class last semester.

But today (the 21st) class was cancelled because of the typhoon in the area. I had only one class today so it was no big deal but we weren't suppose to leave the dorm unless we had to. The typhoon wasn't directly above us, we just felt the effects like lots and lots of rain. Around the afternoon thankfully the rain let up and the dorm manager allowed us to hurry to the seven eleven store to grab some food for lunch since they don't serve lunch at the dormitory.

Nothing much happened today just rain, rain and rain.