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 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/) 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 sink...by 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

Crab is not cheap in Japan. The crabs displayed here cost approximately $178, $330, and $350 respectively. Posted by Hello

Crab is a delicacy in Japan. Here is one the the freshly caught crab that came in this morning. The crab was weighed and packed to be sent out, alive to a person or resturant.  Posted by Hello

On the fourth and last day we got up early to visit the fish market in Sapporo. We got to see some of the catch come in and be packed. It was very cool. Posted by Hello

Kitsune-Snow Fox Posted by Hello

Trying to Hibernate Posted by Hello

Clean is Important Posted by Hello

Snowy Tiger Posted by Hello

Peguins were not the only interesting animal at the zoo. There were lions and tigers and bears oh my. The polar bears were very cool. This one looks a little disgruntled over having it's picture taken, though. Posted by Hello

Second stop of the day was the Asahiyama Zoo. Here is the daily Peguin Parade. In Japan peguins are considered very cute and the parade was very popular.  Posted by Hello

Day three was eventful to say the least. We woke up to snow in the morning and half way through the day the bus broke down...Everything worked out though and the snow was truly beautiful. This was the first stop of the day, a waterfall completely frozen through. Posted by Hello

As we headed for the onsen we were staying at the second day we drove by this lake which was already completely frozen over. Beautiful. Posted by Hello

After Lake Kussharo we headed north for lunch and a chance to visit the sea. Lunch was crab, absolutly delicious, and after lunch we took a walk on the beach, picking up shells for my collection. Life was good. Posted by Hello

After Lake Masshu we visited Lake Kussharo, only about 30 minutes away. Lake Kussharo is famous in Hokkaido because it is supposed to hold the dinosoar-like Kussharo (like the loch ness monster). I can't say if Kussharo lives in the lake or not but there are many swans who live at the lake's edge growing fat off the bread tourists can feed them for 100 yen (approximatly 1 dollar). Posted by Hello

While Lake Masshu was extremely beautiful it was also extremely cold. Like -22 Celsius cold. Brrrrr... Posted by Hello

Lake Masshu Posted by Hello

Lake Masshu Posted by Hello

In my opinion the most beautiful place we visited during this trip was Lake Masshu. Located in Eastern Hokkaido and veiwable only on one of the surrounding mountains, it was like a dream. Posted by Hello

One of the most anticipated and amazing sites of this trip was the chance to see the japanese cranes. Although my picture isn't very good...Our tour guide told us that we were very lucky because we got to see two of them in flight. They were beautiful. Posted by Hello

Speaking of hot springs...in this picture, taken on day two, you can see evidence of one of the many natural hot springs that are common in Japan. Even though the temperature here stays below freezing these hot springs stay nice and toasty! Posted by Hello

One of the true joys of this trip was for two of the three nights we stayed at onsen, japanese hot springs. There is nothing so satisfying as soaking it a hot spring after a loong day of touring Japan. In this onsen/hotel we stayed in a very traditional room with tatami mats and futons on the floor and yukata. In this picture I am modeling the hotel's yukata. Actually the Japanese aren't used to seeing foreginers wearing yukata I guess...they kept staring at me the hole time.  Posted by Hello