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:: My Urban Eyes ::

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:: Sunday, March 26, 2006 ::

That Makes Sense



I was thinking... if I just repost here the emails I end up writing my mom anyway, I'll get more posting and telling done. :P So the voice is a little different than usual, and it's slightly edited, but here's what happened on my trip to Niigata ^_^

-

My trip was great. A *lot* of time on the train, though. Waaaay a lot of time. My bony butt really started to hurt after a while, no matter how I changed the way I was sitting. And on my way back from Tokyo I couldn't really sleep, since I didn't want to miss my connecting trains. All and all stuff was fun though. ^_^

My first day I trained up to Tokyo, and arrived there around seven pm. I had dinner and walked around Shinjuku, one of the hip neighborhoods of the city. From there I caught an overnight train up to Niigata. A stroke of luck, actually--when I reserved my ticket for the train the non-smoking section was full, so I was put in a smoking car. Sounds awful, but get this--since the non smoking car was full, everyone had to try and sleep in their own cramped seat. The smoking car was only 25% full, so I got to stretch out between two seats. I came out smelling like a bowling alley, but I was able to sleep.

I arrived in Niigata at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am. It was still pitch black out! I walked around the station, figuring it out, and stowed my luggage in the best located coin lockers I could find. I then went to the waiting room to doze for a bit, since it wasn't even seven am yet. Once it became light out I walked a little around the city. It kinda reminded me of Albany--the air had the sense of snow in it (even though there was none on the ground), and things looked unnaturally dead. -_^ (Truth be told, it was a national holiday that day.)

After a cup of tea I went to the tourist information office, asking what they reccomended, since it was raining out. They suggested an awesome little tea house, where I was served a traditional cup of tea ceremony tea. It's not like normal tea--it's made from a powder, and everyone says it's very bitter. I love the stuff, though. You're always given a sweet candy to follow the tea up, to help counter the taste.

I ended up missing a bus to my next destination, so I decided to walk, even if it was raining. I found some neat places on the way--a covered shopping arcade, an amazing shrine, a neato shopping center. I then decided to walk to the aquarium... and the rain got worse. I ended up finding the ocean by accident, which was very pretty, but the rain was awful by that time, and the ocean breeze just made it worse. By the time I got to the acquarium I was dripping from the knees down. Had a nice lunch of ramen soup there (the way they make it here is nothing like a cup of noodles), and saw all the fishies. After that I took the sightseeing bus back to the station to get my luggage, then headed to the hotel. By this time it had stopped raining. :P

I loooooooved my hotel. I got placed into a "ladies only" section, which got me a couple of perks, including the cutest little tea set, a foot bath machine thingie, and a little too much pink for my taste. But the bed was super comfortable, and even had a feather spread. There was also a routenburo, or outdoor hot spring bath, I got to enjoy. Very very nice indeed.

The last check out was 11 am, so I took advantage of that. ^_^ Once again dumped my things into a coin locker at the station, but not before buying all the omiyage, or presents, that I'm socially obliged to. That's why Japanese tourists buy so many things--they are expected to bring back gifts for pretty much everyone they know. My list isn't that big, but it does include my speaking partner, a couple of Japanese friends, and a gift to share with everyone in my dorm. So, all of that went into the locker.

Back to the tourist information place. Turns out there's a neat modern art museum. I went there... only to find out that it was closed for the day. >_< Waited 45 minutes to catch the next bus back, decide to go on a river cruise. ...only that wasn't running either. So instead I found another art museum, which was really neat. By the time I left it was evening, so I grabbed some dinner in a small hole in the wall restaurant. I loved being able to read the Japanese only menu. ^_^ I love the fact that I'm getting conversational in the language--it's opening up so many doors.

My train back was at 11:30 pm, so I killed the time in a couple of kissaten, or coffeehouses. One cup of overpriced brew buys you as much time to sit as you like--no hastles, no guilt. You can listen to the music, read the bunch of magazines they have there, talk with friends, or just soak up the atmosphere. The first place didn't have tea on the menu, so I ordered a weak coffee, then thinned it down with cream and sugar. Sure helped me drink it slowly. -_^ They were only open until nine, though, so I went to another place after that.

On the train back I asked for the smoking car on purpose. ^_^ Once again fairly empty, but more smoking this time around. Still slept okay considering, though.

Then hopped out at Tokyo. Went to get a ticket for the night train back to Kyoto... but it was full. No seats whatsoever. Well, I could have stayed on it for an hour, to be dropped off at a no-name town at one am with nowhere to go. So while I was planning a full day in Tokyo, I had to leave by 11 am to make sure I got back to Hirakata in time to catch the last bus back to the dorms. So I spent my morning in Ueno Park, since that is open at 7 am. Ueno is famous for it's cherry blossoms, and has a ton of museums and things (though of course they were closed at that hour). :P After that I headed to Ebisu for breakfast, took a peek at a beer museum there, and made a quick round of a photography museum. I wish I had hours to spend there! The exhibits were amazing. And the lady at the front desk spoke to me in fluent Japanese at speed, which I was very grateful for. There are lots of white business people in Ebisu, and she probably has to deal with people who don't know Japanese at all. As I went around people were talking down to me, assuming I can't speak Japanese very well if at all. The dignity of being spoken to at speed, without watering down the langauge, was appreciated.

Oh, by the way, that's one of the things that bugs me about Japan. Since everyone here looks the same, they know I'm different from the get go. It's very easy to assume that a white person is just a tourist, that they don't know the language. Whenever I go into Kyoto especially, people answer questions I ask in Japanese with English.

Me: "Hitori desu." [One ticket, please.]
Them: "Five hundred."
Me: "Aa, go-hyaku en desu ka?" [Oh, five hundred yen?]

I feel really sorry for those ex-pats who are truly fluent--it's something you can't shake off, same as you can't shake away your white skin. In America anyone you meet is possiblibly American, so this problem doesn't exist. It annoys me.

Anywho, after Ebisu I made it back to the train and started heading home. Due to some awesome connections it took less time than I thought, and I got back to the dorms around 10.

-

Ta-da! My trip in a nutshell. I owe you guys so many pictures... the guilt! But I'm working on it. ^_^

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:: Kazen 3:25 AM [+] ::
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:: Saturday, March 18, 2006 ::

Craziness Ensues



Wow, have I been out of touch. Here's the ultra-short version of the catch up:

Japanese level five is hard. Really hard. I'm doing alright, but studying is taking up a lot more of my life than it used to. Gomen, ne.

Ceramics is the most amazing amount of fun. I've told you how much Sensei rocks, right? He still rocks. ^_^ I am learning soooo much, and making some pretty things to boot. Recent accomplishment include plates and fruit bowls. And I managed to find a glazing combo I love. I'm so gonna miss this class when I leave. -_-

My afternoon class is called Making the News in Japan and it's fun because a) we get to discuss/debate about Japanese news b) there's very little homework c) it's easy, giving me more time to study language.

The biggest news is that I've moved out from my host family, and now I'm in the dorms. It's also the hardest news to truncate, so I'm not even going to try.

(Note: I've been debating if I should post this whole thing here. But I figure, I've been telling all of these stories to all of these friends, and even though it's not a happy thing, it did happen. And before I even start, let me say that I am fine, and that all is now fine.)

Let me say first that this is a different host family from the first semester. I loved the Terada's from last semester, but they get a new host student every semester, regardless. So, this semester I was placed with the... let's call them the x's. Awesome match--they're mad close to school (less than ten minutes on my bike, and that's going up the hill), the mom is a doll, I have two host sisters (ages 24 and 27), and we go tons of different places. In the last couple of months we've been to a ryokan (Japanese style inn) that had hot spring baths, all different kinds of restaurants, and plans to go to Kyoto and other places as well.

So, why did I leave? Well, on Monday night, at around 10 o'clock my host sister and I were called downstairs by my host father. "Nee-san... Kaa-ra..." When I open my door I can see straight down the stairs to the front door, and my host mom was lying there on the ground, as if she had fallen. Turns out my host father had beaten her. A lot of yelling ensued after that (which I wasn't a part of), and my host sister calmed my host father down. Turns out that because my host mom didn't offer me rice at dinner my host dad got mad. And he was drunk, so it was a 'good and mad', and he hit her. (For the record, she did in fact offer me rice, and I said, "No thanks".) So once I got back up to my room I called my university (it was 9 am in Albany) and talked with the study abroad department. They started the paperwork going, and they also put me on the line with a counselor to talk with, which was much appreciated. In the morning I leave after everyone else has gone to work, so I went to school and talked over everything with them. That night they accompanied me to the house, talked with my host family (in amazingly polite Japanese reserved for situations such as this), and helped me move out and into the dorms.

I'm fine, I'm safe, I can't stress that enough--I don't want you guys to worry. I have a lot of friends here, and all of them have been amazingly supportive. People have been offering me food and ears and tea and fun since I first arrived--if any of you guys are reading this, I want you to know that I really appreciate it. My teachers also know what's going on, which is good. And now that I'm in the dorms, maybe I can get a little more studying done... or maybe not. -_^

Turns out that the Japanese view of domestic violence is very different from the America's. My friend was telling me about a movie she saw concerning the subject. In the movie, a wife goes to the police, saying that her husband just hit her and she needs help. The police respond with, "Oh, that's an issue between husband and wife, and we can't get involved in that sort of thing". Society pushes women out of the workforce when they have children, and many never return. This makes women dependent on their husbands, making divorce harder if not impossible in some cases. The whole situation stinks... the relative lack of gender equality in this society is one reason I can't see myself moving here permanently.

Okay, long winded and full of bad news, but that's my round up. Now that I'm in the dorms I have more computer access... hopefully that will equal more posts for you guys. ^_^

Oh! Next week is spring break, and I'm going to be traveling to Niigata, which is a ways North of Tokyo. I'm using a train ticket that, while super cheap, only allows me to use the slowest trains, so I get to do a bunch of sightseeing on the way. There's a planned day and a half in Tokyo, wheeee! I'm really looking forward to it, and hopefully I'll have a lot of pics to post for you guys.

And no, I haven't forgotten about the rest of my pictures from when Mark came, don't worry. :P

Alright, that's enough from me. Catch you again soon. ^_^

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:: Kazen 8:22 AM [+] ::
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Yaaay! a Post! Booo... the subject. I'm glad you handled it the way you did, though. See, you have a good head on your shoulders, we don't need to worry (too much!) about you. Keep studying!
-e
 
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