Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Host family, Shibuya and School

So there is a lot to cover from the last 5 days, but as I'm super tired from the last two days, I'm going to shorten things a bit. Sorry!

First up, Host Family. On Sunday the 27th I moved to my host family's house. For the next two months I will be living here. No pictures of the family yet, sorry guys, or really of the house, other than my room which you can see below.

Comment if you're a Whovian. :)

My host family is really nice and my room is definitely awesome. It's actually pretty big. Outside the sliding doors is a shutter. You know, like the big metal kinds that stores use at night when they close up or that they use at the truck delivery spot. Yeah, that kind. At night I have to close it and open it when I wake up. The only problem I have with this is that it makes my room REALLY dark. I'm talking I slept in until around 10 am and it was still dark as midnight in my room. In normal situations, this would be awesome, but as I have to wake up at 7 am, it's kind of worrisome. Also, the meals here are awesome. I'm glad to have someone else cooking. Trying to find ingredients for food I know how to make is rather difficult.

So, move in on Sunday and on Tuesday I was scheduled to go to the Ghibli Museum. Alas, the Ghibli Museum is closed on Tuesdays! So instead Kimika and I decided to meet up in Shibuya!

A little police station in Shibuya.
My friend suggested we meet by Hachiko. If you haven't figured it out by the two times I've gotten lost already, I can be slightly directionally challenged, especially since I don't have GPS on my phone. So when she suggested I take X Line and meet at Hachiko I was super confused when I tried to look at a map. Eventually we ended up meeting at the exit to my line (Keio Inokashira at the moment) and we walked outside, crossed the street and pretty much ran into the Hachiko Statue.

  Later in the day I also met another friend at the Hachiko Family mosaic wall.

If you're at all interested in the story behind Hachiko there is a movie called Hachi: A Dog's Tale (Don't worry, it's by Hollywood!) you can watch. Or you can check out the long and short of the story here on Wikipedia.

One of our first stops of the day was a Game Center. I know, I know. You're probably thing that game centers are a thing of yesteryear, before the age of personal computers and home gaming consoles. But trust me, in Japan they still exist. At the game center in Shibuya I went to the first floor is half full of those one shot to try to win the prize type games. The second half is full of  purikura machines. The simple explanation is it's one of those machines you get in take pictures, they print and you take home. Japan's however are super awesome and super cheap (around 400円 or $4.50 at the time of writing this). Here's how it works.

 First you go open the curtain and step in. In front of you is this and behind you is a green screen. This room is pretty large. You could probably fit ten or so people in it easily, but whether they would fit in the picture I don't know.

After entering and dropping your money in you get really short periods of time, I'm talking less than 20 seconds to choose your backgrounds/frames and then you pose for the first four photos. There are also settings you can choose for doing the whole big eye/anime eye type thing. Advice from someone who messed it up twice. Wait until after the flash to move. The flash means it's taken the picture. Not any sound you might here. Then you get to choose a couple more things and take a couple more pictures.

Afterwards you exit the room and step behind another curtain off to the side. I love this because I've always hated those videos on the outside of the machine that showed your pictures. They make me feel stupid, so I don't like using them. But this one is behind a curtain so only you and your friends get to see. Anyways. On the above screen you can choose your photos and decorate them. Seriously, the options for decorating seem endless. You get about 4-5 minutes for this after a super quick (again another like 20 seconds or less thing) to choose some things. Use your 4-5 minutes wisely. Oh, and yes, apparently you can edit more than one photo. However, I didn't realize it at the time.

 After you're done at this station guess where you go? No, not behind another curtain, but you do go around to the side where (at least on this machine) you choose two photos to send to a cell phone and then print the rest. We got to play a game of memory while we waited. Once it's done the machine pops out your photos (we got a special free prize of q-tips and a band-aid with ours) and then you go on your way.

Oh, and no need to worry about the man behind the curtain. Apparently (at least at this location) men cannot enter the machines. At least not alone. They have to be accompanied by a girl because apparently there was a problem with guys doing "weird things" in the machines.

Yeah, forgot to mention. That I went to Shibuya. Yeah, I know, what the heck am I talking about!?! I already told you that. But you don't get it. I went to Shibuya. With the famous cross walk. In Japanese it's called something like スクランブル交差点 (sukuranburu kousaten) or scramble crossing. Appropriate. Here is the obligatory photograph.

Let's see... what next. This is turning out not to be short at all. Oh right, the rest of the game center. The second and third floor seemed to be gambling type things, but I didn't stop. The fourth floor however had a lot of music machines. At which I played this one game which I can only describe as DDR for your hands. Kimika took a video of me and I took one of her. I think she's the boss so I'm uploading that one. Apparently blogger doesn't like the video. Sorry guys. Here's a picture.

So much fun. I want to play this every day.

After that I went to an Izakaya with Jessica and Kimika. The only way I can think to describe an izakaya is it's like a bar. But you get your own room, you order from a tablet like device and there is various "food" you can order. I say "food" because it's more like finger food and our pizza crust was a tortilla. A little.... odd to me. Anyways, this particular izakaya gave us a weird vibe at first because no one else seemed to be there. Also, the walls were really old and actually peeling in places. I was pretty sure the Yakuza were going to jump us at any moment, but we made it out of there in one piece!

Let's see how much more this blog will let me post. It keeps trying to stop me, so let's fight back!

Me at the Disney Store!!!!

 I know! The Disney Store! Totally a thing in Shibuya! It's like a little piece of Disney Land magically transported to Shibuya. Of course, being Disney everything was expensive. To their credit the third floor had a huge 50% off section.

My favorite Princess!
Also, Yoyogi Park. Yeah. I totally went there.

Rawr!!! Random page refresh!!! Why!?! Now I have to write this next part all over!!!! :(

Today I went to 日本女子大学 (Nihon Joshi Daigaku) for the first time. It was orientation so I didn't take any pictures save one, after all, I was being orientated. ;p Side note here, well two of them, Japan Women's University is often referred to as "Ponjo". Second side note, the dorm food at JWU totally rocks. I'll take real cooked Japanese food in my dormitory any day, thanks kindly.

You can see the Sky Tree from the upper levels of Japan Women's University.
After being orientated we went to SMBC and opened our bank accounts. Opening a bank account in Japan is actually really difficult. I'm told that usually you have to be in Japan for 6 months before you can open account. On top of that you have to be a registered resident of your district and pay for this piece of paper. Not exactly sure what the paper says, but it's basically something along the lines of yeah, this person lives here and is a resident. You have to go register at THAT office within 14 days of finding a residence. Also, if you plan on being in Japan for a year or longer it is mandatory that you apply for the Japanese national health insurance.

He-hem. Back to bank accounts. So, if you haven't been here six months you're out of luck, unless you're with a school (or company, etc.) that has made arrangements with a bank prior to you trying to make an account. Anyways, let's say you're a student and you go into to make your account. You'll need your Resident card that was issued at immigration, your passport, school ID and the piece of paper I told you about (ours were blue). Oh and unless you're REALLY good at speaking and understanding Japanese you'll probably want a friend to come along and help you out. The initial account creation process is pretty simple. They have you fill out a form (which they don't give you until you're at the window, which slows things up a bit), take pictures of things and you create a pin.

Be warned though. You need to do everything pretty much exactly the right way or they make you do it over. So try and make sure you understand what they want the first time. For example they asked me to write my name like on my Residence Card. Thinking they meant just in romanji I wrote out my name. However, since I wrote it first middle last and not last first middle like on all the official documents they threw it out and made me start from the beginning again (which included writing a lot of kanji a second time around). Oh, and the clerk will make you write out EVERYTHING yourself. No quick, here let me jot that down quickly for you. Kanji and all, you have to write your address, etc. So be prepared or bring a pre-prepared cheat sheet you can copy your kanji from.

Original image here.
During this process you create a pin for your card, as is normal. I opted for a Debit Card or Cash Card so that in a pinch if I find a store that accepts debit cards I'm not stranded. As is normal with banks, they mail it out and it will take about a week to arrive. Oh and one more thing. They ask if you have a stamp. Apparently Japanese people have like a name stamp or something they carry around to sign things with so no one can claim to be them. If you don't have this be prepared for a "please wait" followed by the clerk having a conversation with several other employees if you are unlucky. What this branch ended up having us do was sign in cursive, no big, and add a second four number "pin" that we have to use whenever we sign at the bank to prove our identity. So yeah.

So paper work is done, everything signed, deposit made, all is good and clear right? Well, not yet. At this point they send you back to the waiting room. And there you wait. And wait. You wonder if they will ever call you. Near the end of our wait they were actually locking up the bank, pulling the shutters, etc and we were starting to panic a little. But finally after I'd say around a good hour they called our names and gave us a passbook which is a little book you can use at ATM's when you make a deposit to record your balance. They had one thing they made me fix on my paperwork (I'm surprised they didn't make me do it again) and then we were on our way. All in all setting up our account took about 2 hours give or take a few minutes.

After that it was back to Shibuya with my fellow exchange students where one of them opened a phone account and we had sushi and one of us ate a GIANT apple. Seriously. Apples in Japan are enormous. Oh, another quick note, meeting at the Hachiko Statue in the evening is a bad idea. It's so crowded you can't find anyone!!! I suggest the Hachiko Family Mosaic Wall which is just on the other side of the court yard and is much less crowded by people standing around waiting so it's easier to spot who you are meeting.

No name as promised. But you know who you are. ;p

Then it was back toward home. Well, sort of. Chelsea hadn't gone home alone yet and was really worried about being able to make it back on her own. So I went along with her, helped her figur out which trains she could take (local, express, etc.) and which didn't stop at her station. When our train arrived it was late. One month two late trains. I'm really doing well here it seems. >.> Anyways, after we boarded and got sandwiched in the train changed from one that stopped at her station to one that didn't. At the next station we quickly got off and waited for the correct train and got here there safe and sound!

So.. yeah... that took a while to write. Time for some sleep. I have some more I want to write about, but it's going to wait. So look forward to my one month update soon!!!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Inokashira Koen

I'm a bit behind on the updates guys. Sorry about that. So I'm going to skip back a few days, and tomorrow try to post another update!

So, on the 25th I went to Kichijoji with Kimika. I was expecting a shop or two, not a lot. However when  I arrived it literally looked like an outdoor mall. The streets were overflowing with shops and it was actually pretty awesome. On the other side of the station there were yet more shops, but in a more shops on the side of the road manner.

I'm not going to lie. One of the main reasons for this trip was to find somewhere that sold my brand of contact solution. We succeeded. By that I mean we found two shops that sell Clear Care in Japan. However, the first shop wanted about $38 for two bottles (No thank you) and the second wanted about $18 for a single bottle (again, no way). Throughout our searching I kept noticing another brand that was made by the same company, looked pretty identical and, according to Kimika, has the same ingredients called Ao Sept. Being pretty much identical but for almost half the price (around $10) I decided to opt for it. I've got one more night before I switch over, so hopefully things will be fine.

After walking around Kichijoji for a while and buying some spectacularly cute (and cheap 315円 each) hair accessories we headed for the less main stream area. Before I move on, I just want to say hair ties and scrunchies and the like are ridiculously expensive in Japan. I'm talking most of the scrunchies I've seen are about 600円 and a single hair tie runs around 100円, or a little over a dollar. So 315円 is pretty cheap. So after meandering through the shops in the non-mainstream part of Kichijoji, which looked a lot like some of the hippy shops back home in Eugene, we headed toward Inokashira Park.

First view in Inokashira Park.

So, there are going to be a lot of pictures to go along with this one. This park is pretty big. In the center of it is a really long pond and swimming alongside the ducks in the pond are giant koi fish. What can I say, I'm obsessed with koi. They're massive! So here is a size comparison of one swimming next to a duck so you can see just how massive these fish are.

This koi could eat a person. Seriously.

Of course, just as I'm thinking that if someone was hungry enough these koi would make a good meal (jokingly of course!) I see this sign.

There goes dinner. Haha. So half the pond on the right side of the foot bridge is inaccessible and there are pretty large water fountains dotted throughout it.

Half of half of the pond. I'm an Oregonian. This is most definitely a pond.

On the other hand. Can you guess? Oh do guess, do guess! Did you guess? Paddle boats!!! Car-boat shaped ones, swan ones and regular row boats were waiting in the docks on the other side. So we decided to check it out. I had never ridden in one of these boats and it looked so fun! We were afraid that it would be too expensive, but we went to look anyways.

Car-boat paddle boats.
To our relief and delight, the car-boats (and regular boats) were only 600円 for thirty minutes. Which sounds short, but once you get in one of these things your legs are dead five minutes in. The swan boats were an additional 100円 though. My recommendation, if you come anywhere near Inokashira Park and you have a half hour to spare, give it a try! It's fantastically fun! Just look out for the ducks, they like to swim right out in front of your boat! There are also the massive koi swimming on this side of the pond and they'll swim right alongside and under your boat!

Let's go!!

Being thirsty we stopped off at a water fountain afterwards. I was baffled by this thing, there was not a lever or a button to be found. So, tucking my pride I asked Kimika how it worked. Turns out there is a twist knob where the water comes out. You twist it, the water shoots up and then you reverse to turn it off. Simple enough, except my hand ended up soaked!

Japanese water fountain at Inokashira Park.

So at this point you're probably wondering if Japanese culture has come into the picture at any point during this trip. Needless to say I'm in Japan, so of course it has! However, on this trip we also went to a temple (I'm pretty sure this one was a temple!) in the park!

According to Kimika people go to temples to pray! But before you can pray you have to wash your hands at this little station where you dip the dipper in, pour some water on one hand, then the other and replace the dipper.

Place to wash your hands at the temple.

After that is done you take out some money (we used 5円 coins) and you walk over to this big hanging rope with a box behind it. Long story short you toss the coin into the box. After that we swung the rope to ring the gong thing at the top three times. This is going to sound like I wasn't paying attention, but I can't remember exactly what we did next. Next we did some bowing and clapping followed by making our request/prayer or our お願い (onegai).

All in all, I feel like I finally did something Japanese other than wear slippers in the house and eat Japanese food as corny as that sounds. More to come tomorrow! My host family and I'm off to the Ghibli Museum tomorrow! So look forward to more soon!

Sign in Inokashira Park leading the way to the Ghibli Museum.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Akihabara and Sukiyaki

Yesterday I went to Akihabara with Kimika. From the closest train station it is about a little more than an hour away. I just want to start out by saying that as a high school student I was a devoted anime nerd. As such, I often heard and read about Akihabara as the ultimate nerd destination. I'm not going to lie here. After having been to Akihabara I find that statement to be 100% accurate. After exiting from the train station here were a couple of my first sights.

Gundam Cafe
AKB48 Cafe

I'm going to stop for a minute to talk about AKB48. AKB48 is group of Japanese girl singers. The number of members in the group has changed over the years, but according to Wikipedia (so don't quote me in case I'm wrong!) there are currently 91 members of this group. It seems to be a huge phenomenon in Japan though. I can't tell you how many stores I walked into that had an entire section if not an entire floor devoted entirely to this group. So it's a pretty big deal. Also, the queue you see for the AKB48 cafe here is really small. When we first arrived the queue had probably well over a hundred people in it.

 So walking around in Akihabara the buildings were covered in posters and advertisements for games, anime, etc. It was pretty much the nerdiest experience of my life and I loved every second of it. All the stores seem to be very brightly colored and as you walk past many of the stores the displays often included a TV that was showing one group or another and were always singing.

A phenomenon that I think is pretty unique to the area is maid cafes. Lining the streets you can see women dressed as maids handing out flyers for the cafe they work for. Unfortunately I was unable to go to one of these cafes and I did not take a picture of any of the girls. You've probably already guessed as much by now, but if you go to one of these maid cafes all the waitresses are wearing maid outfits!

A maid bento box.

 Wandering around, Kimika and I tried on some masks we found in the Japanese section of one store.

We tired out pretty quickly, so we stopped off at one of the many cafes in the area. This one was a French cafe called Vie De France. We ate some yummy snacks before heading off again.

All my cards are on the TV here. One of my goals in coming to Akihabara was to buy some blu-rays. I'd thought finding a shop that sold used blu-rays would be easy, but it seems that not many people are giving up their discs. So we were searching for a while. In the end I was able to find a couple of my favorite movies for dirt cheap, around 800 yen, in comparison to the price you can find them. Which a new blu-ray tends to run between 3,000 and 4,000 yen.

After Akihabara we headed to Kimika's mother's for dinner! Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures, but for dinner we had sukiyaki. A key feature of this meal was the fact that we took the cooked ingredients from the pan in the middle of the table and dipped it into raw egg before eating it. It was no easy task to take that first bite as I literally sat at the table, hands clapped to face in horror as they tried to coax me into eating it. But that's why I'm here, right? To try new things? So I sew my better judgement aside and tried it only to find that it was actually good! Here's a picture courtesy of the Google bot.

Picture from
Now is also a good time to make a note. I stopped at the train station to pick up some flowers for her mom, I didn't want to arrive empty handed, only to hear the flower sellers yelling something about some flowers being marked down or something like that. So I decided to get the purple ones in a pot because I'm a firm believer that live flowers are better than cut ones. Well, after paying my 500 yen, the guy takes and ties that plastic bag that 4 large potted flowers are in and hands it to me. Ooops. My bad. But hey, Kimika's mom has a garden now.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Off

Today I decided to go out, go for a walk and apparently spend some money. I ended up walking down to Book Off. From what I gather it seems to be a place for buying and selling books, CDs, DVDs, games, etc. The blu-ray selection at this place was tiny though, I was a bit sad.

Anyways, so I managed to find the children's section first so I bought some books for my youngest sister back home.

Let me just start by saying this store's book collection is pretty impressive. The entire second floor is devoted to books and downstairs there is a pretty darn big selection covering about half the store. I'd say at least a third of all the books in the store though, were manga. And most of them only 105 Yen!

There are days I would have cried and spent every penny I owned in this place on manga had I been able to read Japanese. While I still enjoy a good story, I'm not crazy. I found one that looked interesting enough and for about the price of one volume back home picked up a good start to the set that should last me a while with my current reading level.

Hana ni nare!

I also spent a while perusing the CD's, but was so overwhelmed that I had a hard time locating any of the artists I like. I did manage to stumble across the anime section and ran across a couple of CD's that cost an arm and a leg back home, but were only 250 yen each in the sale section. Which, while on the topic, the store seemed to have sale areas mostly for CD's that ran 500 yen, 250 yen and 105 yen. Most of the manga I saw fell into the 105 yen area, but there seemed to be plenty of full priced manga present as well.

After dropping my bag off at the apartment I went out on a walk. I'm going to admit it now. I did get a little lost. But here's a picture of the railroad crossing that I did remember to take!! :) Also, more pictures from my walk!
Actually, these are mine....

Entrance to someone's house.
Random arch

I smelled these before I ever saw them! So cute! So fragrant!

Little shop next to someone's house.

A little shrine tucked between buildings.
Another little shrine.