Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sorry about that

So, if you didn't get a ton of ooey gooey emo-ey vibes off my one month update, you probably didn't read it. But for those of you who did, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry. (Waits to see who to give kudos to.)

When I wrote my one month update I was going through what is known as home sickness. To top it off, my period of language fatigue was also setting in right around the same time. I don't think home sickness needs to be explained, but pretty much it's from that moment that you realize you don't like or care about what's going on around you. It could be the worlds most epic event and you wouldn't care because all you want is to go home to what you know and eat real food, you know, like Mac and Cheese. <<< That comment. That one right there. I had my head ripped off about that one with a long spew of "So you're saying Japanese food isn't real food? Well what about Japanese...." you get the point. I learned very quickly not to say that to certain people. Especially when they haven't hit home sick yet.

Second up is language fatigue. This is something no one really talks about when they tell you about what going abroad is like. It is, however, something that host families are warned about. As a proud home stay family for several students now, I had thought I would know the signs for this kind of thing. I'm sad to say it hit me upside the head like a ton of bricks. Basically what happened for me, and it differs from person to person on when and how it happens, is I found myself reverting to English a lot and shutting myself excessively in my room. At meal times I stayed as silent as possible and I used English whenever possible.

A lot of the reason for this is I found myself, not all at once, but gradually hitting this wall where I felt like I couldn't hit anything. The words were coming out of their mouths, but I just felt like I couldn't process them. Speaking too was pretty hard. All my vocab and grammar had flown the coop. So it's hard. There's no set in stone way to know when it will hit, but chances are that everyone studying abroad will eventually hit this wall. The only way to get past it I know is to wait it out. Then one day, today for me actually, Japanese just felt, well, fun and well, almost natural again. So I think I'm rounding that hump, but I'm going to take it slow and not rush into things in case I freeze up again.

So, as a special, I'm-sorry-I-was-totally-acting-emo post I'll add an updated one and two month update sometime around the beginning of March.

And speaking of March, that means spring break is almost here! While technically spring break started around the beginning of February, mine doesn't begin until March 9th due to my language intensive program. That's right. You read that correctly. Japanese students get a two month long spring break. I say all the students should riot back home upon hearing this news and demand a longer spring break. 7 days just doesn't cut it.

Moving on.

So Chelsea and I sat down and worked out most of our plan for the week we'll be traveling during spring break. While I'd love to go see everything, my budget is not, contrary to popular belief, unlimited. Here on scholarships, remember? Anyways, we'll be staying at a hotel in Osaka for 6 nights and we're looking around for a good 旅館 (ryo-kan) to stay in for our 7th night. We'll mostly be duo traveling, but Briana will be joining us the final night for the 旅館 experience. The plan is mostly to go sight seeing in, not Osaka, but Kyoto. We're told, and backed up somewhat by the internet, that Osaka is cheaper than Kyoto. So we snagged, for about $296 for 6 nights a hotel room in Kyoto. That evens out to around $148 each or about $25 a night.

Definitely planning on heading to Ise shrine, which will be a day trip and and of itself due to it's distance and we're also planning on going to Mt. Hiei. We're also planning on taking a class and doing kimono shopping in Kyoto as well as doing the rounds on some of the temples. Golden Pavilion? Heck yeah? That place with all the red tori gates that was in Memoirs of a Geisha whose name I'll forget but will tell you later? Yeah. One hundred and thirty percent definitely going.

All that's left is to figure out our transportation. We've heard the night bus, (which come on, that sounds like a horror movie all by itself doesn't it?) is the cheapest option and the shinkansen (bullet train) and airplane look to be around ¥13,000 (Roughly, very roughly $130) and ¥10,000 (~$100) respectively. Whereas we hear the night bus runs about ¥4,000-5,000.

Not the most creative trip, definitely on the beaten path, but I get to go see the places I've always wanted to see.

I'll be returning to Tokyo by the 24th for the Tokyo International Anime Fair and after that, depending on how broke and or indebted I am I may do some more traveling near Tokyo.

Then I move into the dorms on March 31st where my first ever curfew will be put in place. 10:45 pm. Yeah. Not looking forward to that.

So anyways, that's my itinerary for spring break. Before that however I have more school and a final exam. Also, tomorrow I will finally be going to the Ghibli Museum *knock on wood* and (Strike that. I guess I didn't knock hard enough. Either that or someone wished really, really hard again that I couldn't go tomorrow.) on Friday I will be taking a class trip to Kamakura!

I finally get to follow the sign tomorrow!! Strike that. I didn't knock on wood hard enough.

Also, I wanted to apologize for the lack of posting lately. As I said I've been homesick, language fatigued and also my camera broke on me! One valentines day none the less. Smack dab in the middle of homesickness. It was terrible timing. However, I was able to wrangle up a new camera and things are starting to look warm and fuzzy again! You probably won't see me every day, but I definitely want to start posting at least once a week again. So pester me and leave comments! It will help me work to post faster!! To make up for the lack of pictures above, here are some bonus pictures from the last week or so.

Oh, and have I mentioned yet, I'm becoming addicted to purikura. I'd really love to do a purikura a day project for the rest of my stay, but I don't think funds will allow for that. So I'm going to do them as often as I can and post my album when I get home.

Purikura by myself
Also, I have a heated carpet and a mini table under my bed. My life just became both convenient and amazing.

Karaoke room

Love the bathroom at Shibuya Station next to the Keio Line trains. It's so pretty.

I'm pretty sure the grudge lives here.

One Piece store. Because Chelsea wanted to go.

Resident Evil fricking cafe. I'm going there. Next month. You can count on it.

Valentines day at Outback Steakhouse! A little piece of home in Shibuya.

Meiji Shrine with the other 留学生 (ryuu-gaku-sei) - exchange students

Saturday night after Valentines day, playing catch up. Once Upon a Time followed the Walking Dead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The thing about money

No matter where you are in the world at some point or another money becomes an issue. Not that I'm having financial problems at this point. Thanks to everyone's donations and the scholarships I am receiving things are great in that department! The problem when it comes to money is currently the exchange rate. When I changed my money a month and half ago the going rate was about 88円 to $1. However, most of the time when I go out and about my brain translates 100円 to $1. This isn't so bad right, only about $0.14 more than a dollar. No biggy. However, it turns out that this adds up very quickly and by the time you think you've only spent a hundred dollars you've actually spent about $113.64 at this exchange rate. If you're touring and spending money quickly by the time you think you've spent  five hundred dollars it has added up to approximately $568.19.

The other problem with looking at price tags with more zeros than you are used to is that a) not only does your brain break it down into more understandable numbers (i.e. a hundred yen quickly translates to a dollar) but also that b) is even if it isn't actually cheap you sometimes don't actually understand that fact.

Take it from me, I'm just starting to realize this just over a month in. that $0.14 adds up faster than you realize. So, my suggestion. Keep a calculator on hand. Now don't shun me yet and open up that cell phone of yours. I'm almost willing to bet money that there is a calculator in there. Is your phone (unlikely) in kanji (like mine)? Look for this kanji under tools or ツール; 電卓 read den-ta-ku. Make sure you remember the exchange rate when you changed your money to get the most accurate estimate of how much you have spent since arriving and before you buy calculate how much you are actually paying.

I'm going to go through the next section of this slowly. As of today (February 12th, 2013) the exchange rate is 94円 to $1. So I'm going to show you how much this equates to if you changed your money at the same time as me and how much it equates to at today's going rate. That way you can see how much it would be as of today and how much I am paying thanks to the exchange rate I had.

To calculate this at your current exchange rate take the total amount (let's assume 100円 because it's easy) and divide it by the 円/$1 exchange rate. Example, if the rate was 98円/$1 you would divide 100 by 98 to find your equivalent of $1.02.

 So let's proceed. First up, 1 円

While I'm fairly certain it's really worth less than this, and I've heard it can float on water it's so cheaply made, the 1 yen coin is valued at $0.01 at both of the above listed rates.

Next up is the 5 yen coin. Valued at $0.05 at either rate.

The 10 yen coin is valued at $0.11 at the 94円/$1 and 88円・$1 exchange rates. These are the coins I am least fond of, as my wallet seems to be endlessly filled with them, but they are quite convenient and can be used a vending machines. You can't say that for 1 and 5 yen coins.

Next up is my favorite, the 100円 coin. It's so pretty! What can I say! 94円/$1 rate is $1.06 and at the 88円/$1 rate it is $1.14. Caught you off guard there, didn't I?

The 500円 coin is another one which I see far too few of. I hear tale of people who collect these coins as a saving method. Whatever works for you I suppose. 94円/$1 is $5.32 and 88円/$1 is $5.68.


On to the bills.  The 1000 yen bill weighs in at $10.64 (94円/$1) and $11.36 (88円/$1).

The 5,000円 bill weighs in at $53.19 $10.64 (94円/$1) and $56.81 (88円/$1).

Last, but most certainly not least is the 10,000円 bill at $106.38 (94円/$1) and $113.64 (88円/$1).

Does the difference still seem small? Try it at a larger number. I paid for my host family fee today which comes to a grand total of 100,000円 which comes out to $1,063 (94円・$1) and $1,136 (94円・$1). That's a $73 difference.

So, my point in all of this. Be careful with you money. It isn't always as cheap as it seems!! Don't let your brain fool you! So I hope you find this helpful if you're traveling to Japan! Don't forget to count those pennies! They add up!! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living in Japan - Disillusionment

Up until now you've seen a lot of me doing this.

And this.

And a little bit of this.

I've now been in Japan for just a smidge over a month. And while yes, I am very, very excited to be in Japan, there are also elements about being in Japan that I have yet to disclose. So prepare for my one month update and prepare for a little bit of disillusionment.

First off.

Coming to Japan is NOT like walking into an anime or manga. No crazy random fountain nose bleeds. No mecca suits walking around. Heck, I don't even think I've seen a cosplayer since I've been here. Well, there was that one girl in the pikachu costume, but she was dressed up because her job required it.

Now, some of you are going to argue with me. I'm not going to deny that there are some cosplayers who probably walk around the streets. Just because I haven't seen them, doesn't mean they don't exist. But I wouldn't expect to come to Japan and find groups like this. It just hasn't happened for me yet. Though I'll keep a lookout around the end of March, that's when the Tokyo International Anime Fair is happening.

Walking around on any normal day a crowd will look more like this.

Though you may find a more varied group if you go somewhere like Harajuku/Yoyogi Park on Sunday. I hear that those are pretty great. So that's point number one. Don't come to Japan expecting to see cosplayers everywhere! Sure, there are some places they exist, but you're far more likely to run across a lolita on a daily basis than a cosplayer.

Which brings me to point number two.

Ask nicely. They may just say yes!
Please, please, please, dear god, please.  Do NOT just take pictures of people without asking! It's rude now matter where in the world you are! Now, a picture like above, a group of people who so happen to be in a larger area you want a picture of, yeah, whatever, no big deal. However, if you're going to start taking pictures of individual people, perhaps that maid advertising a cafe in Akihabara, just don't. How would you feel if someone started taking random pictures of you without asking permission? I'm not sure of the specific laws in Japan, but usually shooting in public places is permitted, due to some legal mumbo-jumbo. However, it is still very rude. Especially if you see someone dressed up and they are obviously working. ESPECIALLY in those cases please, please, please ask first. Sometimes people will say no, but just as often they will probably say yes. So do you part, don't shoot first ask questions later. No one wants to be that weird, creepy tourist.

We asked, they said yes! No problem!
Next up... I am in Japan! Yes! I am quite excited, but there are also other things I didn't expect to find. Places such as Walmart, Subway and Dominos exist in Japan. My first couple of weeks I would get very excited to find "something from home", but walking in you will almost always find that it is different. If it is a restaurant usually the menu is slightly different or they will have different offerings. So while it has the overall feel of what you remember, just remember that it is also a very DIFFERENT place from what you recall.

Going to start jumping around here. Sorry.

People will be nice to you. That doesn't, however, mean that you can be a rude foreigner. Try to blend in, don't talk too loud and use Japanese as much as possible. Even if your Japanese is very broken people appreciate the attempt and usually will help you the best they can.

When eating, especially if it is a meal with a host family it is polite to take a little bit of everything. If you don't know if you like something take just a little bit so that you're not leaving a bunch of leftovers on the plate. It is also considered rude, at least in my household, to leave only the stuff you don't like on the plate. Usually if you explain that you haven't eaten something before and try only a little bit they'll be okay when you don't like it. After all, you can't like EVERYTHING, right? Also, if you have dietary restrictions, such as being lactose intolerant, make sure you disclose at the very beginning.

I have found that Japanese people in general don't understand lactose intolerance/sensitivity. So if you can't have it at all make sure you tell your host family if you stay with one that you simply cannot eat it. Not even a little bit. They will work to accommodate you. Since I'm only lactose sensitive, and thus still can have dairy as long as I take my lactaid it was a hairy first week until my host family understood. Now, even if there is just a tiny dash of milk in the diary my host family tells me so that I can take my medicine.

What else did I want to tell you......

Oh yes, the normality factor. I'll admit, while I knew Japan wasn't all anime and Godzilla before I arrived it was one thing to try to imagine Japanese daily life and another to really experience it. Everything feels so monotonously normal. Yes, the laundry gets hung outside to dry, but there is still laundry to do. Maybe there is raw fish or sushi with dinner, but no one makes any to-do about it because it isn't unusual. Those first few days the biggest shock was just the normality of everything about the situation. Once you're standing here you realize just how SIMILAR it really is. The language and customs may be different, but there are some things you can expect everywhere.

So, those are my random jumbled up thoughts. My disillusionments.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Day in Yokohama

Hey everyone, sorry for the delay, I came down sick just after my last update and I'm just now getting up and about again. So here is the long and short of what I need to catch up on. It's a long weekend this week so I'll try to get more caught up later.

So last week I went out to Yokohama with my friend, her tutor and her host mom.First things first, we went to China Town. Yep. I said it. China Town, in Japan.

The entrance to China Town in Yokohama.

Now, for the record, I have never, ever looked at a Jellyfish and said "My, you look delicious." And I never will. As for duck, the jury is still out. What can I say about China Town? If you've been to one, you've been to them all. The biggest point of interest was a large temple. It was pretty awesome and while it felt like another tourist trap I was able to walk in and out of it with my wallet not a yen lighter.

After China Town we headed over to the bay and made our way to the ship Hikawamaru which is also a museum about it's history. The entry fee was extremely cheap, around 200円, so if you like boats or are just in Yokohama on a trip and are wondering what to see. I recommend stopping by here.

The Hikawamaru in Yokohama.

Inside you get to see what the cabins looked like back in it's hey day and learn about various parts of the ship. Here's a deluxe cabin aboard the Hikawamaru, which is a high class than first class.

Where we went next, or rather, were going to, but didn't want to pay 700円 for entrance, is the Cup of Noodles Museum, appropriately named "!!! CUPNOODLES MUSEUM". This is directly across the street from the giant ferris wheel and is about a 20 minute walk from the Hikawamaru. Or at least that's according to the Google bot. It felt like about 40 minutes to me, but I'm not used to walking and was already tired.

This was soon followed by a 980円 pot of tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Apparently my friend's host mom loves  this place and took us there and treated us. The place was really ritzy, but still, I couldn't get over the fact that my tea was $10.

Remember the ferris wheel I mentioned previously? Here it is all lit up! Somewhere nearby to the expensive tea was a giant building which I can't fairly call a department store because it was too cheap (and housed the Pokemon Center (Yes, I remembered to heal my Pokemon!)) and I can't accurately describe as a mall. If I had to pick one I'd call this multistory building a mall. Anyways, the ferris wheel outside is pretty! I want to ride it sometime!  Or a ferris wheel in general.

The following day I ended up coming down sick. Thus the delay in posting. Not my most detailed work ever. Sorry guys, hope it's still interesting!

Oh and here's some Janglish for you. 

Today after class Chelsea, Brianna and I went to Shibuya. Not unusual, we all transfer there every day and thus it's a good spot to stop off and hang out. But today we decided to go down the side streets and basically off the main roads and found a pretty little bit of road.

Then we went to purikura! Here's a shot of our work in progress.

Also, care package arrived today! Nevaeh drew me a picture. Officially on my wall and made my day more super awesome than it already was (you know, after class, but that's a post I'll do another time). Also, the Velveeta that arrived in the box is going to be my delicious lunch sometime soon!!