Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moriguchi City Station

Today, I went with a friend out to Moriguchi City Station, near Osaka. It's on the Keihan Main Line. We had plenty of free time today, and the rest of the week is kind of packed, so today was probably the best day for this.


The trip started around 2:30, when class ended for the day. Well, my friend's class, anyway. We took the subway and the Kintetsu line to Tanbabashi, and transferred to the Keihan Main Line there. Limited express train to Hirakata City, and a "sub-express" train to Moriguchi.


On that note... there are too many types of trains on the Keihan Line. There are nine different types! Rapid limited express (that one requires a special ticket, I think), limited express, rapid express, commuter rapid express,  normal express, midnight express, sub-express, commuter sub-express, semi-express, and local trains. This is ridiculous.


But, the trains are awesome, so it's okay. I mean, seriously. I paid 360 yen each way, and the higher-level trains (like the limited express that we rode to Moriguchi, or the rapid express that we took back to Tanbabashi) are really nice. They're basically similar to the Amtrak trains back home. Except riding on one of those will run you 80 bucks at least. (From Boston to Baltimore, and that's for the overnight train.)


Anyway, we mostly just took pictures when we got there. I have spent too much money as it is, and neither of us really knew anything about the area around the station. Besides, we had free time, but most of it was spent taking the trains. This is closer to Osaka than Kyoto after all.


So... why do I care about some random station on the Keihan Main Line, closer to Osaka than Kyoto? So much so that I spent nearly two hours today going there and back, pretty much entirely for the sake of taking a few pictures?


Can't really put it into words, actually. Perhaps one of those pictures is the best explanation.


For those people who still don't understand... perhaps that's for the best. For those who do... isn't it awesome?


(And for those who want a hint... look at the tags.)


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Osaka Castle

First, I really should apologize. It's been a week since I've been to Osaka Castle, and I haven't posted anything about it at all.


Here's some more awesome pictures to make up for it.


So anyway, this last week has been a week of days off. The 20th was Respect for the Aged Day, so Monday was an off day, and then the autumn equinox was on Thursday the 23rd, which means we get the day off. Considering all the free time that I had last weekend, then, it seemed an excellent time to go check out Osaka.


And yes, I know that that castle in the picture isn't "real". It was destroyed several times, actually, and the castle that exists today was rebuilt in modern times. Likewise, the interior is a modern museum, and bears absolutely no resemblance to a Japanese castle.


But you know what? It doesn't matter. Because that castle looks really damn awesome.


I mean, come on! It's a freaking castle! Why can't the U.S. have any building that looks that cool?


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kitano Tenmangu

On the 25th of every month, a large flea market is held at Kitano Tenmangu, a large shrine in northern Kyoto. Being that today was Saturday, I had absolutely no reason not to go. I mean, I could just be a shut-in anime fanatic that leaves their room for food, maybe, but that would just be stupid.


I took my usual route into the city, Okubo to Imadegawa by train, and got on a city bus at Imadegawa over to Kitano Tenmangu. The bus was packed. I mean, I'm used to crowds after riding the subway every morning, but this was ridiculous. Let's just say I wasn't the only one going to the shrine.


Pretty much right after getting off the bus, I took this picture, of the torii gate next to the road. Sadly, you can't see the taiyaki stall that I made a beeline for right after taking the picture. All the food was out front; all of the stalls visible in the picture were selling food of some kind. And I love taiyaki, so of course I had to get a snack! (uguu~)


And right after I bought my taiyaki, I ran into a friend purely by accident. I hadn't really contacted anyone else, so I wasn't planning to meet anyone, but it wasn't at all surprising to learn that I wasn't the only one there. There were a lot of places to buy kimonos, and a ton of food places too. I didn't really see much I had to have... I do want a kimono, but I'd rather have help from my host parents for that. I did buy a small fold-out fan, which is probably not necessary now that it's starting to get cooler.


Oh, and I kind of got lunch... the taiyaki wasn't the only food I bought. A little while later, I picked up a pork bun and ate that. It wasn't great (auuu~), but I felt like I should at least try it. Anyone care to guess why I felt like trying the pork bun?


The shrine itself was also packed almost beyond belief, which I imagine is part of the point of having this market. I thought about buying a protective charm and praying at the main shrine building, but I'd rather do those kinds of things when there aren't long lines involved.


Besides, I took some cool pictures. Are those naginatas?


Well, anyway. I had fun. The flea market was really interesting, but I would kind of like to come back and see the shrine when it's not filled with people. So I bet this isn't the last time I'll be going to Kitano Tenmangu.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One day's adventure, with a commuter pass

I've already mentioned that my homestay is not exactly close to Doshisha University. And it would be nice to live closer to Doshisha. But it does have one perk: my commuter's pass. Okay, yeah, I had to buy it. And at first glance, it costs a fortune: nearly 13 thousand yen for a month-long pass. That little card, though, is perhaps the most useful thing in my wallet, bar none.


Why? Because I can use it to go nearly anywhere in Kyoto. That little card will let me in and out of any station on the subway's Karasuma Line south of Imadegawa, and any station on the Kintetsu line between Takeda and Kutsukawa. That means I can go to Kyoto Station or Shijo (yay shopping!) for free, essentially. "Free" isn't quite right, I suppose. Like I said, 13 thousand yen. But it'll save me money in the end.


For example, today... I was particularly indecisive today, and ended up taking the subway a lot. First, the trip I have to take every day: Okubo to Imadegawa in the morning. I'm pretty sure that's about 500 yen. After classes were over today, I went down to Teramachi and the Nishiki market, so Imadegawa to Karasuma Oike... 220 yen, I think?


When I was done there, I wanted to go to the post office, and I knew that there was a post office outside Kyoto Station. I mailed a gift to my twin brother today. But on that first trip to the post office, I forgot my address, so I had to go back to Doshisha to get Internet access. Shijo to Kyoto Station: probably about 250 yen; Kyoto Station to Imadegawa: again, 250 yen or so.


Once I had looked up my address, I went back to the post office to send my brother's stuff out. That was kind of awkward, actually, because I had to ask the employee about getting an envelope... and because I used the word for "box", he thought I wanted an actual cardboard box rather than the little cushioned envelope. Oh well, I learned a new word today! Imadegawa to Kyoto Station: again, 250.


After my post office adventure, it was about 3 in the afternoon, and the plan was to meet my host mom for dinner at 6:30. It was too early to go back home, so I went back to Doshisha to hang out and play Pokemon Black. Kyoto Station to Imadegawa: really, do I need to repeat myself?


Finally, it was 5 in the evening and people were starting to leave Doshisha. I decided that, even though it was early, that I should be heading back anyway. So I got on the train for Shin-Tanabe, which I can ride all the way from Imadegawa to Okubo. But, since I was early, I decided to waste time and go one more stop, to Kutsukawa. When the weather's nice, I can walk from Kutsukawa to my home. The bus is cheap, but nothing's cheaper than "free". Imadegawa to Kutsukawa: 500 yen or so, I think.


... But, I was meeting my host mom at a restaurant closer to Okubo Station. So after staring at the map outside Kutsukawa for about a minute, I got back on the train, one stop, from Kutsukawa to Okubo. Probably a waste, but hey, I have a commuter's pass, right? Kutsukawa to Okubo: ... I don't actually know, so I'll tag it as 130. It's probably more than that.


So the total cost for my adventures today: 2350 yen. One. Day. That little card really is convenient, isn't it?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Place to Return To

... Life in Japan is very different from life in the U.S. Yeah, I know, it's obvious.


Admittedly, being out in Japan isn't the only difference. I have to commute to school now, for one thing. At Brandeis, I lived in the dorms, so my "place to return to" was never more than ten minutes away on foot. Now that place is a 45-minute train ride away. I can't just go back home whenever I want. As a result, I don't go home until there's nothing more I want to do in the city.


And the word "early" has taken on an entirely different meaning here. During high school, "early" meant being home by around 3. Here... yeah, today I got home at 6:50 in the evening, and tried to apologize for being late. But no, I was slightly early. Dinner isn't on the table until 7ish, normally.


And speaking of dinner: now that my lifestyle has changed, I've changed too. Back in the U.S., I tended to not eat much at mealtimes, and make up for it with snacks during the afternoon. But it's kind of rude not to finish your meal, and it would be too embarrassing to admit how many foods I've actually eaten before.


Or to put it differently: when you don't have a choice, you tend to eat rather than not eat. Regardless of what you do or do not like. So even though I've never even seen half of these foods before, much less eaten them, I eat all of the food I'm given.


And I've learned a few things in the process. I like cucumber, apparently. I do not particularly like tofu, although I'll eat it. (It's hard to eat with chopsticks, though.) Curry can go either way; my host mom's curry was not all that spicy, and thus eatable, while the curry that I got out in Osaka was too spicy.


Oh yeah, and those meals at which I'm eating a greater variety of food? I've been eating a lot more food too. If my host parents keep insisting on giving me these gigantic meals, I will be fat by the time I go back to the U.S. I am not kidding.


My host parents are really interesting people. My host mother is an English teacher, so she can explain things in English if I'm not understanding something. I almost never use English myself, of course... the point of me being here in Japan is for me to learn Japanese, right? But even in Japanese, she's generally very easy to understand. As is typical for Japan, she's the one that knows everyone's plans and keeps everyone organized.


My host father is much harder to understand... he uses the Kansai dialect, which I've only just started to learn. He seems to have a love for cultural kinds of things... if I recall correctly, he has an interest in history. On top of that, I know for a fact that he draws/paints pictures (I've seen them) and can play some musical instruments too (I've heard him play).


It's kind of a pity that that's it... no children or younger adults in the household. It would have been nice if there was someone at home that I could talk to anime about... But it's fine. I got a good host family. And you know... everyone has to have a place to return to. I'm glad that the one I've got for my time in Japan is a good one.


Saturday, September 18, 2010


Karaoke is perhaps the most enjoyable form of entertainment known to man. That's what I think, anyway.


Last night, there was a KCJS welcome party at Kyoto University, more often just called "Kyodai" (Kyoto Daigaku). That was pretty interesting; we got to hang out and meet Kyodai students, make new friends, etc. But after that, we went to do karaoke.


That was awesome. I've now done karaoke twice here in Japan, and every time I go, I end up having a great time. I mean, I like singing, and I like anime theme songs. And the karaoke places in Japan have pretty much any song you could think of, which means I can sing anything I want.


Last night... I sang a few different songs. Nana Mizuki, as always... she is my favorite J-pop artist after all. If I remember correctly, I sang three of hers: Eternal Blaze, the opening to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Don't be long, an insert song from the Nanoha 1st movie, and Young Alive!, from her most recent album.

昨日の晩、色々な曲を歌った。さすが、水樹奈々。一番好きな歌手だね。思い出は確かなら、三つ...ETERNAL BLAZE、魔法少女リリカルなのはA'sのOP。そして、Don't be long、なのは1st MOVIEの挿入歌。さいごに、Young Alive!、八つめのCDの曲だ。

Then there were the well-known songs. I make it a point to sing Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis and Hare Hare Yukai whenever I get the chance. Everyone knows those songs. Or at least, they should. The Kyodai students sang the Dragonball Z theme song, too, so I wasn't the only one going for anime songs.


But I sang less well-known ones too. There was a song called True Blue, the ending theme to Sky Girls, and LEVEL5 ~judgelight~, the second opening to To Aru Kagaku no Railgun. And then there was an older one: the opening theme to the original Space Battleship Yamato anime.

でも、僕はあまり人気がない曲も歌った。True Blueと言う曲はスカイガールズのEDとLEVEL5~judgelight~、とある科学の超電磁砲のOPを歌った。そしてもっと古い曲、宇宙戦艦ヤマトのOPを歌った。

In between the songs I sang and the ones everyone else sang, we started at eight in the evening and didn't finish until one in the morning. Nothing like doing karaoke for five hours straight.


In sum: whenever anyone wants to do karaoke, as long as it's okay, I will quite gladly come along.


Monday, September 13, 2010


I've been here a week already, and yet I haven't talked about some really basic things. You know, classes, host family, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Joyo... Now is as good a time as any to start fixing that, and I'll start with my classes. I would go for Doshisha first, but I want to take better pictures before I get around to that.


Anyway, here at KCJS, everyone has Japanese class in the morning. I can't speak for how it compares to other universities, but it's certainly harder than Brandeis's Japanese classes were. (I hear that Columbia's Japanese classes are even harder...) There are five classes, A class through E class; E is theoretically a fifth-year level. I'm in B class.


The class meets for about two hours every day. In true Brandeis style, it starts at 9:10 and runs until 10:00, at which point we get a break. Most of the time that break is just ten minutes, and we start up again at 10:10, but occasionally we have the time from 10:00 to 11:00 off and we have class again from 11:10 to 12:00. What can I say, I didn't create the schedule.


So far, in B class, we've been learning new grammar and doing reading practice. Unfamiliar kanji are everywhere in the reading practice, but it doesn't look like there's going to be any active kanji teaching. We can learn them on our own though, if we're so inclined. Our teacher is an interesting guy; he's fairly young and certainly likes having fun. Although sometimes, the E class teacher comes in and takes over; she's also a great teacher, although much more strict.


After Japanese class is over, we have time off for lunch. Then in the afternoon, there are several classes taught in English covering Japanese culture and history. Every student picks two of them to take. I chose a class on Japanese religions and a class on the history of the city of Kyoto.


The Japanese Religions class looks interesting. I mean, there's not much to say, it's a class on a specific part of Japanese culture that I wouldn't be able to take at Brandeis. Right now we're covering Shinto, and we'll get into Buddhism later. Oh, and we get to take field trips. We're in Kyoto, surrounded by temples and shrines, we practically have to go out and see them in person. The history of Kyoto class is also going to be kind of interesting. I can't really explain it all that well, actually. Certainly, I'll know a lot more about the city I'm studying abroad in by the time it's over.


I mean, I'd be happy just to be in Kyoto, and not have to worry about homework (like the reading practice I should be doing right now...) But since I have to have classes, I'm glad that I get to take good ones.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Cell phone

Before I came to Japan, I thought it would be kinda cool to turn 20 in Japan itself. Sure, right now there are some things I can't do, but I didn't think there would be any problems or anything like that. So much for that. I mean, I can wait two months to drink... but I kind of need a cell phone now.


Needless to say, I'm glad I went with a friend who was, in fact, 20. Otherwise this latest shopping trip would have been nothing but an annoyance. And I kinda hope that there aren't any further issues, because I would hate to have to explain to the police why my friend's name is on the receipt. Technically, he bought two phones and then gave one to me, I suppose.


So anyway, here it is!


It's a SoftBank phone, an 831P. It's a prepaid phone, so I have to be careful about how much and when I use it. Well, text messaging is only 300 yen for a month, so that won't be much of a problem. It can connect to the Internet as well, but that's a little more expensive. And calls are 90 yen a minute.


I finally have a working cell phone again. Life is good.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Joyo City Office and other errands

While I'm in Japan, I have to have a registration card documenting my status as a foreigner. So today, after classes, I went with my host family to the Joyo city office to turn in the necessary forms.


In keeping with government practice, I had to write the exact same thing several times. Is it really so hard to just write important information once? Oh, and one would think that since this was absolutely necessary, that they would be relatively quick about handling it. Nope. I get to wait a full month before it's ready. I can go pick it up on the 6th of October. It would seem that the Joyo city office is a little slow, hmm?


As annoying as the city office was, we did go to what was effectively a mall after that. That was fun. We had ice cream, and then I got to go shopping again! I had less free time for this one, though. Either way, I did go to the bookstore, and picked up a copy of a magazine called Nyantype there. Considering that the chapters of Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, the newest Nanoha manga, are being released in that magazine, I don't see how I could avoid buying it. Even if it is kinda hard to read.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Teramachi, Shinkyōgoku

Who wants to go shopping?


Classes were over quickly for me, today. I was done by lunch. But I don't yet have a key to the house, and my host father wouldn't be home until around 4. I had to do something, right? So instead of taking the subway all the way back to Okubo Station, I only went as far as Karasuma Oike. I proceeded to walk down Oike to Teramachi street.


Teramachi is... interesting. It's called a street, and marked as such on maps. But in reality, it's a shopping mall. It and its neighbor, Shinkyōgoku, are home to dozens upon dozens of shops, some that are well known (Kinokuniya, anyone?) but many more that aren't.


I had three main objectives. The first, to find Nanoha StrikerS DVDs. The second, to find the Nanoha Force manga. The third, to track down a game store and buy a dōjin game called Touhou Sky Fight.


The first was only a partial success. I mean, I've already seen the entire series, so it was low priority to begin with, and I did find some of the DVDs. But they didn't have the first DVD, and I didn't feel like getting any of the other ones. The fact that they were nearly 6000 yen didn't help.


The second was possibly the easiest. Kinokuniya is a bookstore after all.


The third was also a success, although it took nearly an hour of searching through Teramachi and Shinkyōgoku to find a decent game store. After the ridiculous price tag on the DVDs, it was nice to get two Touhou games for less money than it would take to buy one game in the U.S.


So yeah, I went shopping today. And I had way too much fun in the process.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

My room

I said I'd take some pictures... well, I did.


Yeah, they're bad. This is what happens when you only have a cell phone camera with crappy lighting. But anyway, that's the one corner of my room...


And this is the opposite corner. The room is on the second floor of the house, and has tatami mats for a carpet; six in all. Thankfully, it has an air conditioner... the weather can best be described as "too damn hot" right about now.


This was in the first photo... it's kind of a combination desk/dresser kind of thing. Right now it's closed, so the "desk" part of that isn't really obvious.


Once you open the top part up, though, it's much clearer.


That's my room. There's not a whole lot of stuff, but it's not like I need a lot... besides, I'm sure that I'll end up buying more stuff later. I'm in Japan after all.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Beginning

It's still hard to believe that I'm really in Kyoto. (Well, technically, Joyo... I'll explain in a sec.) Let's see, what's happened so far...


Trains here in Japan are really awesome. I mean, I already knew that, but it's one thing to know that, and entirely another to actually ride them. I took the Haruka train from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto after I arrived. They actually cleaned the train before we could get on, at the airport station. And I've ridden on Kyoto's Karasuma line, which is a subway line that's really useful for getting to Doshisha.


And now, I've been out to Joyo, south of Kyoto. Well, that's where my host family lives. So now I've been out on the Kintetsu Kyoto line, to Okubo Station. I'm sitting in my room as I write this. Later tonight, once I've unpacked, I'll take a few pictures.


But that's today. I haven't said anything about yesterday. Yesterday was... interesting. We took a placement test in the morning. That was, I think, the single hardest test I've ever taken. I did passably well on the kanji questions, I suppose, but the reading ones were nearly impossible. I don't yet know the results, but I doubt I did all that well, at least on the written portion of the test.


There was also an interview portion of the test. That was actually, somehow, fun. Well, since I said that I liked magical girl anime, I ended up explaining Sailor Moon. I've said so many times that the words I learn from anime aren't ever going to be used, but when you have to explain anime...


The evening was also great fun. Why? I went out with some of my friends to a karaoke place. I've been wanting to do karaoke for a long time now. And it was amazingly fun. I repeatedly sung anime songs, like Hare Hare Yukai and Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis. I also sang some Nana Mizuki songs, and topped it all off with Caramelldansen. (And I did the dance to that last one.) I can't properly express how much fun I had.


So yeah... this is the start of one hell of an adventure.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to Kyoto

I've finally arrived. I'm in Kyoto.


It's been a long trip. I'm really tired, actually. Sleep would be good right about now.