Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rainy Day Blues

And so the Rainy Season starts in Japan with the year's first Typhoon and Rain, Lots of Rain. Rain when I wake up, rain when I go to school, rain at lunch, when I study, when I sleep. The never-ending rain. Days of rain. Weeks of rain. Okay damnit enough bloody Rain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Goodbye Arnie

On Monday, June 13 at 3:10 pm Hilda Gerrish passed away. She was a wonderful woman and like a Grandmother to me and will be greatly missed. Goodbye Arnie, I love you.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The top of the last visible shine building (#4). Whether this is were the mirror is or not I'm not sure. Posted by Hello

Shrines 2 and 3 from the side of the shrine complex Posted by Hello

The Inner shrine is actually a complex of 4 or 5 buildings. The first shrine is veiwable by the public, the second shrine is veiwable by those who pay a very large fee, usually large companies, to be blessed. The shrines beyond that are off limits to anyone but the High Priests and the Emporer. The reson for this is that in one of those shrines is the Bronze Mirror one of Japan's Three Sacred Treasures. This is the second shrine from right outside the complex. Posted by Hello

Ise, being one of the most sacred places in Japan, has some of the oldest trees left in Japan due to Japan's rapid destruction of it's forests in the early part of the century. The trees here are amazing, I have never seen trees so large that three people can just touch hands around the tree. Posted by Hello

The inner shrine of Ise was first built in the 3rd century and the outer shrine in the 5th century. These shrines are rebuilt every 20 years. The grounds of Ise are gravel paths, stone brigdes, wooden torii, and nature. Posted by Hello

The outermost torii of Ise Shrine. Ise is different from most of the other major shines in Japan in its simplicity. There is no bright red torii, no elaboratly painted shrines. It doesn't need those things to attract people. Ise is Ise and that is enough Posted by Hello

Before entering the Ise Shrine complex I got a chance to take a picture of a Buddhist monk out begging. According to what I have read all Buddhist monks must spend time begging in order to learn humility. Posted by Hello

These are ema. People who visit a shrine often buy these, write their wishes on the back, and hang them at the shrine. Each shrine has it's own picture on the back of the ema, these were obviously from Futamigaura. Posted by Hello

A peek inside the shrine at Futamigaura. Posted by Hello

The Wedded Rocks of Futamigaura Posted by Hello

Before visiting the Shrine we went of see the Wedded rocks of Futamigaura. These two sacred rocks represent husband and wife and are bound together with a shimenawa (sacred) rope.  Posted by Hello

Well Hello Everybody!!! Posted by Hello
I know, I know, it's been forever since the blog's been updated, I'm sorry! Busy Busy Busy, but I will be updating it now with things from Febuary onward!!

First up is the trip I took to Ise on Feburary 27, 2005. Ise is the religous center of Shintoism with the shrines there dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami and Toyouke no Omikami, the goddess of the harvest, as well as others.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Odaijini: An Exciting Adventure to the Japanese Doctor's Office

For the past few days I have been fighting off a spring cold, complete with sniffles, sneezes, and, as usual, my ears filling with fluid. While valiantly fighting the cold and the annual ear infection that always accompanies such colds, with the myriad of drugs I, semi-legally, carted into Japan, the decongestant ran out. Knowing that, while my mother would be more than willing to send me more decongestant, my ear was at the point where it would become infected by tomorrow if I didn't do something about it today.

So, prodded forward by the many painful memories of past ear infections, I asked my Sensei where I should go to by decongestant. Well actually, since the words "ear infection" and "decongestant" and "ears filling up with fluid" are not listed in my dictionary, a shocking oversight in my opinion, I first had to make him understand what was wrong. Using known words like mizu-water, mimi-ear, and itai-ouch, along with new words like teieki-body fluids, and jibiyou-infection, I managed to make him understand. His response, like the responses of most Japanese people, was immediate, you should go to the doctor. Now, as a westerner living in Japan, I have heard vague horror stories about Japanese doctors, and everyone knows a friend of a friend who had a cousin who went to the doctor in Japan and was never seen again. Besides I knew that I just had to take the decongestant for a few more days, get lots of rest, and then would feel better. But this is Japan, and apparently self-medicating is not something the Japanese do. So after some polite arguments on my part, and equally polite counter-arguments by my Sensei and the people at the students office, I was given the address of a Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor, and sent on my way.

So I took myself home, muttering to myself all the way. But, I was caught, if I didn't do something today I was going to end up with an ear infection, and I really hate ear infections. So I took a deep breath and called my friend Steph who lives in my apartment building, to ask her to be my moral support and reader of the all important Kanji. To my great Joy and Happiness she agreed and is promoted to Angel Status.

Off we went to the doctor's office, which looks remarkably like American doctors offices with a waiting room filled with couches, sick people, over energetic children, and a soap opera showing on TV. The questionnaire even asked the same questions, although they were in Japanese, and I was extremely thankful that Steph came along to help with the Kanjis. The first sign that I wasn't in Kansas anymore was the nurses who wore pink nurse dresses that looked like they came from the 1950s with cute little nurse hats, you know the ones that don't stay on a person's head unless they use hair pins. So I answered the questions, filled out the forms and waited.

After a while the nurse called my name, and I got up thinking, okay now to see the doctor, but no, they lead me to a secondary waiting room where people almost ready to see the doctor wait. Steph amused herself with playing her gameboy, while I amused myself by trying to listen in on the conversations of people around me. In the first waiting room an older man, who had gotten there before us was sitting there, and another man, who obviously was a friend came in. He walked up to the man sitting next to us and joked "So are you going to die?" and the man sitting next to us said "Well you never know." In the second waiting room, two older ladies sat there discussing which parts of their bodies the were there for the doctor to see. It was kinda interesting in a "look I can understand what they are saying" kind of way.

When not eavesdropping on the conversations of people around me I was examining the parts of the doctor's office that I could see. The strangest thing was this device that blew medicated air, through a tube, up a persons nose, or down their throat. It was a very popular device as a large number of people seemed to come in just to use the device.

After the normal long wait, we finally got to see the doctor, and I got my first shock. Unlike in America the doctor's exam does not happen behind closed doors, but rather right in the open where, if the people using the nose device were to look diagonally behind them they could see everything going on. Then their was The Doctor, who as opposed to the nurses looked like he came out of the 1850s with his white coat and round silver eye thing that you see doctors wearing on their heads in historical movies. Not a comforting sight by any means. In attendance on The Doctor stood three, yes three, nurses, whose only job seemed to be to assist The Doctor with his examinations. So I sat down in a chair, that unlike the normal exam chairs, looked more like one of those chairs that they electrocute criminals in. The Doctor was sitting at his desk near by, and without looking up from his desk asked me "what's wrong?" I was not really paying attention and was waiting for him to look up. After a short, uncomfortable silence he looked up, shot a sharp glance towards me, then towards the nurse standing next to me, then down to his papers. The nurse immediately turned to me and repeated the question "what's wrong?" Shocked, and slightly intimidated, I responded in my broken Japanese "mimi ni mizu ga tamatteitte sucoshi itai desu" or "my ear is filled with fluid and hurts a little." The Doctor then grunted, yes actually grunted, and motioned to nurse #1 who got my chair turned 90 degrees, while nurses #2 and #3 scurried around preparing things.

When the preparations were done The Doctor looked up and slid is chair over to the exam chair. He then moved his scary metal eye thing in front of his eye, stuffed a cold metal tube in my ear, and looked in my ear, motioned to the nurse to turn my chair 180 degrees, looking in my other ear, motioned to the nurse to turn me back around and then look in the first ear again. He then said something fast and technical which I didn't get at all and then, when my confusion was obvious he said something slightly less technical and I got that my ear was red. I nodded, yes the ear was probably red because of the imminent ear infection. He then proceeded to look in my ear and use a Japanese ear cleaning utensil, which looks like a q-tip except with out the cotton on the end. It hurt, and I flinched. Nurse #1 then politely said "it will hurt but please bear it." The Doctor then took, what I later learned from my friend looked like a large needle, and as far as I can tell, poked a hole in my ear to release the fluid. It really hurt, but I managed not flinch so as not to be scolded by the nurse again.

While I was still recovering to the sudden pain in my ear The Doctor quickly moved to my nose, shoving a metal funnel like thing up it and looked at it through his scary eye thing. He then came at me with a scary pipe cleaner look alike utensil as I began to back away. He shot an exasperated look at nurse #1 who yet again said "it will hurt but please bear it" and stuck the thing up my nose to take a sample. He then sprayed fluid up my nose and down my throat, and slid back to his desk. "Does your ear feel better?" He asked.

I again sat there in silence looking at The Doctor. This time I wasn't confused, I was trying to find something polite to say to The Doctor. This is Japan after all... The response in my head was "of course it doesn't feel better you dumbass, you stuck a needle up it! It hurts!!! What do you think your doing sticking needles in me without asking!? And damnit look at me when you talk to me!!!!!!!!" However, my response was "not really." In Japanese that was rude enough to get The Doctor to look at me with a slightly shocked and very exasperated look. The Japanese never outrightly contradict doctors, but as observed I am not Japanese, and his scary look was less intimidating then the weird metal eye thing he was wearing. So after some more technical Japanese that I didn't understand at all, he sent me with nurse #3 over to the first machine in the office that I recognized, which was weirdly comforting. So after some happily non-painful tests, I was sent back to the waiting room for a short time before being summoned before The Doctor once more.

The Doctor informed me that he thought the fluid filled ear feeling was cause by a little bit of wax and implied that the problem was very small and time-wasting. He then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to have some medicine to get rid of my (very small) runny nose. I, now ceasing to be shocked by his manner, told him I thought it wasn't that serious and I wasn't really bothered by it. He then replied, in language that you would use with a very small child, that wouldn't it be better to fix the problem. I, hanging on to my foreigner in Japan politeness by very thin greasy threads, made small non-committal noises and stood up to end the examination, paid the small fee not covered by my insurance, and left.

It's a few hours later now and my ear still hurts, but the fluid has drained some. But in truth even if I do get an ear infection I'm not sure that you could drag me back to the doctor for anything. As my neighbor said, seeing a Japanese doctor makes you think it would be worth the cost of a flight home to go to your own doctor that see a Japanese doctor.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Gods of Thunder and Lighting

Just a quick and pointless note...

We had an amazing Thunder and Lighting Storm tonight, I mean A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The first flash of Lighting shone through my curtains and the Thunder rumbled so long and loud that I looked outside to see if we weren't being attacked by aliens or something. Even after living through some strong Thunder and Lighting storms in Virginia I've never seen (or heard)something this amazing!!!! Worthy of being my first Thunderstorm in Japan!

Monday, February 14, 2005

The last stop on the trip took us skiing. Yes, I went skiing in the same range of mountains that the 1999 Olympics took place in! It was very beautiful. Posted by Hello

No one knows how many died in the tunnels, as all evidence was destroyed when Japan surrendered. Accounts say from 300-1000 people died digging these tunnels, and of those only four names are known. Now these tunnels are a small tourist attraction, not well pubicized by the prefecture, and hard to get to. However, they have been taken as a project by the local high school to keep them up and to remember what happened. Posted by Hello

During WWII Japan invaded almost all of Asia, and ruled with an iron fist, equivallent in many ways to Hitler's rule over Europe. They were brutal to their fellow Asians, raping the land and people for all they were worth. Their terrible rule is still remembered today throughout Asia, and is the primary cause for continued uneasy relations between Japan and Asia. One of the smaller, but no less terrible examples are these tunnels. They were not dug by Japanese workers but rather by Koreans forced to move to Japan and work as forced labors in these tunnels. Without the necessary equipment or resources, and on a very short time schedule, as Japan was facing defeat after defeat in the Pacific, they were forced to dig these tunnels. Many died from explosions and cave-ins, as well as malnutrion, suicide, or execution.  Posted by Hello

The next place on the trip was Matsuhiro, the home of the underground WWII Imperial headquarters. Matsuhiro is a valley surrounded by very steep mountains with no landmarks easily seen from the air. This made it a perfect site for the construction of the emergency headquarters for the Imperial family, the Army headquarters, Japan Brocasting Station, the military communtications headquarters, among others. The tunnels themselves are interconnected with mulitiple entrances throughout the valley. They were never finished due to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's surrender. Posted by Hello

Among the females their is no strong hierarchy but each female is constantly aware of her family including children, nephews, and nieces. In a fight she will intervene on the behalf of her family unless one of the boss males are involved. Posted by Hello

Love the Onsen! Posted by Hello

The snow monkey group that we visited included approximately 200 individuals. The group itself has a complex hierarchy, especially among the males. The monkey sitting on the rock is the #2 boss monkey. We didn't get to see the #1 boss monkey as he has been staying deeper in the mountains. Posted by Hello

The monkeys spend the sping, summer, and autumn deep in the park, coming down the mountain in the winter to find food and spend time in the natural hot spings. Posted by Hello

The second stop on the trip was to visit the Japanese Macaque and Jigokudani National Park. It was the best part of the trip. At the National Park the monkeys are used to humans so we could get very close to them. While we were there the monkeys would run by less then a foot away.  Posted by Hello

Matsumoto Castle is one of the four castles in Japan designated as a national treasure. Built in mid-1500 the castle today looks much like it did in 1630 when the last addition was finished. The castle is truly a defensive structure, not meant for living. As such it contains no true living quarters, except for the samuri and the lord who defended it.  Posted by Hello

The Mountains, The Monkeys, and Me

Hello Everyone!

It is time for another travel Blog! Aren't you excited? Of course you are!

Last weekend found Alyssa travelling deep into the Japanese Alps to Nagano Prefecture, the site of the 1999 Winter Olympics and winter home to the famous Japanese Snow Monkeys! I also visited Matsumoto Castle, one of Japans four most important castles, and the Imperial WWII emergency underground headquarters, which were not finished before Japan surrendered.

So without further ado, lets bring on the pictures!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Strange Sights of Japan #1

So today after class I had to go to Nagoya to do some errands. I hopped on the train and was minding my own business, staring out of the window when I saw the strangest thing. In a medium size vegetable garden facing the train tracks someone had put out scarecrows. However, these scarecrows were...not quiet normal. They were manniquin heads, speared on metal poles, unevenly spaced throughout the garden. It looked surreal, as if they were decapitated heads, put up as warnings against an enemy. From the distance, it was hard to tell that they were manniquins. It was all to easy to imagine them real, heads of enemies that had been caught, placed in the feild to feed the crows, not scare them away. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Mizu ga Amamori Shita: Part 2

There is a saying in Japanese that translates as, "water is ever-flowing." For some reason, the Japanese gods saw the need to prove this statement, in my kitchen, without leaving room for doubt. May I say that they have done a good job...

After a few days of non-water dripping blissfulness I woke up this morning to find the wallpaper in my kitchen peeling off the wall to form a bowl, in which steadily dripping water was accumulating. Oh Joy, Oh Rapture, and why the He*l does this stuff have to happen to me? So I yet again clean up my kitchen floor, take a shower, and bike to school...late...without breakfast. Needless to say I was a bit...well let's just call it grumpy.

This, of course, necessitated the learning of more Japanese words. Did you know that wall is Kabba? and wallpaper is Kabbagami? Well, now you do and so do I. Wasn't that fun. So, after another trip to the wonderful Student Office, where they now all know my by name, and apparently could tell by the look on my face what had happened. After I explained it in detail they all seemed to think it was very funny. I am sooo not laughing.

So after another long day of studying...did I mention I have a test tomorrow? I headed home for more studying, and what did I find? A plumber trying to fix this mysterious leak. Which had, over the course of the day, apparently increased to waterfall proportions, and almost completely detached the wallpaper from the wall and soaked my floor, my clean dishes, and my dry food shelf. Isn't this fun? The plumber had, of course, invaded my kitchen and bathroom, which are both now not as clean I left them, he*l I wouldn't even call them clean. However, now this leak is supposed to be fixed, or so he said. No, I don't know what caused it but when I find out I'll let everybody know.

So the plumber then left, and I sat down with my studying and a therapeutic handful of my mom's cookies and who should knock on the door but the wallpaper people. This necessitated the Moving of my shelves, my microwave, my laundry machine, my Christmas tree, and my kitchen table, followed by the removal of half a wall of wallpaper. The nice wallpaper man then tells me that the wall is too wet and that they will have to come back on Saturday to re-wallpaper my kitchen. Saturday morning. My sleep-in day. If this week gets any worse I will go out my front door and scream bloody murder while pounding on the railing. Actually, that sounds like a good idea...gotta go.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A favorite comic from the Japanese Times! Posted by Hello

An American Girl in Asia: Being a Gaijin in Japan.

Gaijin is an interesting word in the Japanese Language. It is a shortened form of the word Gaikokujin, or foreign person. Used by foreigners living in Japan, myself included, it generally means, foreign person trying to make it through Japanese life without making to big of a fool out of herself. However, used by a Japanese person, it is generally an insult.

Foreigners are not always the most welcome of creatures in Japan. Oh, if you’re a short-term tourist, traveling through the tourist Mecca’s of Kyoto or Tokyo your money is more then welcome. Alternately, if you’re a short-term student, on a cultural exchange, willing to help your host sisters with their English lessons, you are a welcome, and interesting diversion. But, once a foreigner starts to settle herself down for an extensive stay the welcome mats seem to disappear into thin air.

Outside the aforementioned tourist Mecca’s a Gaijin is a rare beast in Japan. It’s quite common for me to travel outside Okazaki, look around and calmly acknowledge to myself that I am the only non-Asian looking person in sight. This rarity of other obvious Gaijin means that I am and oddity and therefore must be stared at, really hard, by everyone, while the little kids hide behind their mothers. I have actually taken to carrying a mirror around with me; just to make sure that it’s my Gaijin-ness they are staring at and not a piece of seaweed stuck in my teeth. So far, so good.

While one gets accustomed, eventually, to being stared at constantly, and to the constant questions about ones ability to use chopsticks, and the shock when the Japanese person I am talking to realizes that they can actually understand my Japanese, always being the persona non gratis gets tiring after a while. I walk into the bank and all the tellers look around desperately for the one English-speaking teller, even though I never speak to them in English. I walk in to a hotel, or restaurant, or store and am automatically greeted in English, not Japanese. And when I start speaking in Japanese I am answered with inevitable shock of the person I’m talking too. *sigh*

While all these things are annoying, they are the price of living in Japan, and one learns to deal with them. The hardest thing to deal with here is the constant loneliness that a foreigner feels while living in Japan. The constant isolation, all the little reminders that you don’t belong, you are not, and never will be Japanese. While living in Okazaki I have made friends from Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, and China, but not one, real, Japanese friend. While part of this is because I don't have much day-to-day contact with Japanese outside of my teachers and the store clerks, the Japanese, for the most part just aren't interested. This is not a solitary observation, many Gaijin feel this way.

An article published on January 4, 2005 by the Japan Times ( talks about racism in Japan. The article titled "Racism is Bad Business" discusses how Japan's racism is turning international business away from Japan. It is quite common to see Japanese Only signs in bars and restaurants, especially in Hokkaido, the article writes. This exclusiveness of non-Japanese tends to give visiting officials a very negative view of Japan. While I’ve never been to a restaurant or bar that refused to serve me, it is quite common for people handing out flyers to not offer me one, or for security personnel to follow my friends and I around a store as we shop. It’s these little things that make a foreigner feel unwelcome in Japan.

I love Japan and the Japanese people. It is a beautiful country, with a unique and wonderful people. I am happy to have the chance to live and study here. However, every rose has thorns, and racism is one of Japan’s thorns. I can only hope that time, and a slowly growing population of immigrants and foreign businesses will be able to blunt Japan’s dislike of Gaijin.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Mizu ga Amamori Shita

Well, last week I got to learn some new vocabulary, which I am sure that I will never forget. This is not a good thing, in fact I am absolutly sure that I could have lived my life happily (especially last week) without knowing this vocabulary. *sigh*

So there I am, early last week, minding my own business, readin...erm, I mean studing away when suddenly I hear the sound of water. "Alyssa, you idiot, (baka, in Japanese) you forgot to turn the faucet off" I thought to myself as I opened the sliding door between the bedroom and the kichen. It became immediatly apparent that it was not the faucet leaking, but the ceiling, which was not leaking at all but pouring water down the walls, off the light bulb in front of the door, and running out the front door like my own little version of the Nile. Shock quickly gave way to panic. I have wood floors and wallpapered walls, neither of which do I want harmed in any way. So I grabbed every pot I owned to put under the worst of the drips, towelled up the floor and moved my now soaking wet sneakers out of the way. Just as I got the mess under control, and was about to go up and see what the heck my upstairs neighbor was doing, and tell them what I thought about it, the water slowed to a trickle...and stopped. I stood there glaring at my celing for a while to make sure it was stopped, left the pots where they were (just in case it started up again), made sure the floors and walls were as dry as I could get them, and went to finish my boo...ahem studying.

The next morning it quickly became apparent that the water had, in fact, damaged the walls and I was going to have to say something to the Student Office, whom to which I can only speak Japanese. Oh Joy, Oh Rapture. Since I had not as of yet learned how to say "the ceiling is leaking" in Japanese, that meant a good half an hour putting together an at least understandable, if not grammatically correct, explanation. Oh more Joy, Oh more Rapture.

In the end, I found out that the ceiling is leaking, in Japanese is "Tenjyo ni mizu ga amamori shita." I also found out that the reason the ceiling was leaking was because my upstairs neighbor is a man...who tried to fix his broken himself...without knowing what to do...and ended up causing his sink to explode water all over his room...

For this man, who shall remain anonymous I have one word...


Monday, January 10, 2005

An American Girl in Asia: Introduction

So, it’s been over three months since I moved to Japan, and it’s taken me three months to get myself truly moved in…*sigh* As my second semester here starts it’s time for me to put my nose to the grindstone and bloody well write some blogs! I am very sure that you are all bored to death with the little picture captions…I’m Sorry! So to celebrate *urm* a new semester I will be writing those promised blogs on my observations about Japan. So, without further ado…bring on the blogs!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The last place we visited on our trip was Otaru, a small town just north of Sapporo. The town looks very early 1900s Europe or America because it was built in the 1900s by Europeans and Americans who came over to help the Japanese modernize. Much of the town is a very interesting mix of Western and Japanese architecture. Posted by Hello

Another much loved food in Japan is Octopus. In the foreground you can see some octopus tentacles that are longer than my arms...Octopus Anyone? Posted by Hello