Monday, April 30, 2012

That was Pretty Awesome: Bunraku

So let me start with I'm writing this to stay awake as I wait for Riyo for lunch. I am very mad at my one lecture class right now because he basically made the entire final project due today, so I had to spend all day doing that yesterday. This week is supposed to be a magical thing called Golden Week, which is a string of national holidays that make a mini-vacation (with school on Tues and Wed in the middle), but nooo, I had to waste a day doing these shenanigans.


Also, I forgot to mention, on the climb up the ridiculous mountain (yes I am sore haha), one of the students started to sing camp songs. Why yes, yes we did. I sang mentally because I was more focused on the whole breathing thing.

Anyway, Sunday my theatre class went to the National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka to see some awesome puppet theatre. This particular kind of puppet theatre is very intricate; each puppet is controlled by 3 people. It takes 10 years to learn each puppet role, so the puppet masters have been practicing for 30 something years at least. Pretty awesome.

Also awesome: apparently they don't have to rehearse; if the puppet master knows what he is doing, then he can use signals to tell his 2 other puppeteers what to do. Dude.

The music is a shamisen accompanied with a narrator, who sings everything and speaks for everyone. Sometimes there is more than one, but typically there is one narrator and one shamisen player. They sit on a turntable which rotates after a scene to switch pairs. This is because the narration is too strenuous for one pair to do the entire thing. Yeah.

So what made this particularly awesome is because someone knew a guy who knew a guy, we got to meet with a puppet master before the performance and get to learn about and hold the puppets! They were preeettty intricate I must say. And heavy.

I really marvel that they let us do this. People came in late, cell phones went off, and they still let a bunch of gaijin run around and play with the puppets. They were very nice.

The performance itself was long (4 hours) but it wasn't sleepworthy. There was a small part in the middle where it was like Jeez, something happen already but then something did and it was awesome.

We also were given a backstage tour afterwards! Ohyes. It was funny, because our teacher said that they were very strict about taking pictures and stuff, so I figured I wouldn't get any pictures of the actual theater right? On the contrary, not only did I get puppet pictures, I got pictures of the theater and backstage in the theater. Win.

So other than being an all-day affair, I had a great time.  I do have pictures, but I am at school right now, so I will definitely post them in my next entry, which is the itinerary for Nagasaki! Yay!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Not Sohei but Ryuugakusei: Climbing Mt. Hiei

Alright let me explain that first. Sohei are the warrior monks that lived on Mt. Hiei in the period we are studying in class, and ryuugakusei means study abroad students. So, its not warrior monks coming up the mountain, but a huge group of foreigners! Oh no!

Let me rewind a bit to Friday real quick. I warn you, these pictures are not that riveting. I was meeting Davie and Allison for dinner at Ninja Cafe that evening, and I had classes until 1, so since I was going to go to Kyoto I figured I needed to see something else, but that wasn't enough time to see a temple or shrine. So! I wanted to go check out the area around the old Imperial Palace in Kyoto, which I could get closer to than the one in Tokyo because there aren't people living in it, haha. 

Still, you cannot get in without a far reserved tour, so I have many pictures of gates. Whee. So it's a park and I had time, so I walked forever and then sat and read my book.

(Need I mention on the way to the Imperial Palace, I went the wrong way in the subway station even though the path was freakin color coded ;p)

Sidebar! So, as I have told you, I am looking to buy a manga in Japanese here that they no longer translate to English. Happy day, not only did I get the end of the series at the second-hand manga store, I found out there are two other series (they're short, even better)  So I am now on a quest to find them all! I need 3 more. I stopped at two other second-hand bookstores in/on the way to Kyoto and miraculously found their section on my own. Win.

Unfortunately, Ninja Cafe was not what I thought it was going to be. The food was....meh, which I guess is typical at a Japanese buffet. There was a restaurant side, but we, not knowing better, went to the other one. Oh well. There was also a ninja maze, where you walked around with flashlights searching for kanji, and ninjas kept popping out at you. I felt bad because they told us not to shine the flashlights in the ninja's eyes, and when they would jump out I would immediately do so. -.-

So let's talk about today. We climbed a mountain.

Let me mention in my mad dash to the train station (which I made the train seconds before the door closed, victory) I hit one of those Things with my bike. Remember the Things? Random poles in the sidewalk designed to beam bikers? Well I didn't plow into one, but I hit it with the side of me; I can see the bruise forming on my knee already. Yay.

Anyway. Mount Inari was 233 meters. Mount Hiei is 848 meters. Excuse me as I get tired just thinking about it. Fortunately, the weather was awesome. Awesome! Mid 70s, not a cloud in the sky! (Why yes, I got sunburn haha) It was comical watching some 40 odd gaijin hike in a line up this steep mountain. Quite steep. The first stretch I was doing fine, then after the first break I just could not do it. Well I did, but I felt like my body was going to dissolve. Just when you'd think the path would level out, oh wait here's 3 more steep cliffs to drag yourself up! And in a group you can only go so slow. But I kept up! Woot woot!

So when we got to the top (and met the people who took the cable car instead) we had to walk MORE to get to where we were eating lunch. I couldn't keep up this time, even though there was no rocks and stuff to climb over, I was just tired. No matter, awesome lunch on a sunny day in mountain land was waiting for me. And I was never last either. I think that's pretty good for not exercising regularly since I left (well....I mean trading karate for walking and biking).

Then we got to Enryakuji, the temple of the warrior monks! Yay! It was a huge complex, filled with many pretty buildings and temples and bells and lecture halls and goodness! There was so much stuff; there were three different stamp places! (Kinda mad though, I was listening to the teacher and didn't realize one was there, so I only got two -.-) My pictures have some little comments on the various buildings and jazz. I'm glad I go these places with teachers or I would never see half of the stuff we do!

On the way down the other side of the mountain (there were only 20 of us this time, haha) we walked by the temple where there are practicing marathon monks. These monks have a very extreme pilgrimage, where by the end of it they walk a distance equal to the circumference of the Earth! Moreso, if they don't/can't do it, they get to kill themselves. Goodness. They also go 9 days for their aesthetic practices without food or water or sleep. Wow.

At this point, our teacher told us people get injured more often going down a mountain, so be careful. Going down the stairs, someone sprained (ish) their ankle and had to turn around to the cable car. I agree with the down part being more dangerous. Less exhausting, but more life-threatening in a steep fake rocky step like manner. Fun.

But it was really awesome though. Pictures! Although the bike ride back from the station nearly killed me.

Tomorrow? Bunraku! Don't know what that is? You'll just have to see ;)


P.S. Here's some funny stuff I heard people say on the way (the title was something said by my teacher):

::friend A to friend B who is suffering from climbing the crazy mountain::
A: Think of this, you're becoming a mountain Buddha!
B: I'd rather be a living Buddha

"Beware of the monkeys! They could be possessed by the warriors, and could be wielding katana!" ((Blessedly, we saw no monkeys))

::teacher tells us there's a stand that sells sausages and beer at the top of the mountain::
Student: Sausages and beer? At the top of the mountain is Germany, yay!

::And finally::
"So is everyone excited to ride the water slide down the other side of the mountain?"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

But Wait! There's More! Sakura at the Japan Mint

So I thought the Hanami-ing was done, the sakura is falling off and the trees are turning green, and then Riyo texts me that Monday we should go to the Japan Mint for a special Hanami.


How could I say no? Apparently, the Japan Mint (which is closed all the time) is open for a special Hanami time, with special various kinds of sakura that were definitely not the same as all the other sakura pictures. And Monday was the last day for it. So it was really cool! AND I got to see (the outside of) the Japan Mint, which is where they make all the money! AND there was festival food.

Nothing but love for the festival food.

So it was a very nice day (just like today bwaha) to see sakura and eat yumminess. Although it was weird; apparently, every year they plant a new sakura plant...but the one with the sign saying 'This year's sakura' had a man with a megaphone next to it saying that wasn't it? It was weird; later down the path we saw the real this year's sakura....then why make the other sign? It probably says more, I don't know. Haha.

SO that was fun. Unlike today, which had a test of evil, and for my project I had to check books about the Allied Occupation out of the Japanese library. Fun.


Oh yeah pictures!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Whip My Hair Back & Forth: Kabuki & The Kyoto Tower

I have an unholy amount of work to do this week, so why not post a blog entry instead! I'm such a good student :) (I seriously worked on homework stuffs today though, so I'll do more after this lol)

So Saturday my class and I gaijin-smashed our way to Minami-za, the Kabuki Theater in Kyoto. I was a bit wary, considering the show we were seeing was based on a Noh play. Fortunately, this play was not 5 hours long, and was a nice 2. I like 2. The first half wasn't even a show; it was a sort of "Kabuki for Beginners" thing. From what I took of it, they showed us how the stage worked and the trapdoors and the costumes and things. However, he said a bunch of things in Japanese that I'm sure were really interesting, and I wish I understood them. However, I am used to this. The people who were sitting behind me however, were not happy. Silly gaijin.

(PS, seating in a Kabuki theater? Not assigned; they open the doors and you fight people. It was like Black Friday; we got some decent ones on the ground floor, but they were by no means the best)
The actual kabuki show we saw was a million times better than the Noh one. Sweet goodness was it better. It was about this story where a lion pushes his son off a cliff to test his skill, and the baby lion sees his dad is worried and climbs back up. It was based off a Noh play so there was no cool stage work, just a pine tree in the background. Boo. But the music was awesome, 5 shamisens playing in unison. I don’t want to compare a shamisen solo to a cooler banjo, but that’s seriously what it reminded me off.  Anyway, after a random (still funny) banter between to Buddhist monks about how to ward off the lions, the father and son actors come back on stage dressed in awesome lion costumes, complete with epic manes….which they proceed to whip around crazily. I would pass out from dizziness I tell you. This video doesn’t do it justice, but seriously, crazy hair whipping.

Oh here’s pictures from the day, I couldn’t take any of the performance and it was hard to be sneaky haha.

Afterwards we found a teeeeeeeeny food place to eat delicious gyoza and …crab? Omu rice? Not sure (Omu Rice: Omelet filled with omelet things and rice, very delicious and filling). Then, I set out to go to Kyoto Tower, because hell, I was already in Kyoto, why not? I would go hit up some temples, but they were all closed by then. So I asked someone which bus to take (it’s the station, it can’t be that difficult) and headed towards Kyoto Station! (PS, on the way to the station, I ran into my other lecture teacher, not the one who took us on this field trip…crazy!)

….I had no idea how huge Kyoto Station was. Seriously. HUGE. Jesus. After closing my open jaw, I turned around and headed for the big tower-looking object (I love how easy it is to find those, haha) It was on top of a building, so it took a minute for me to get in and to the top, but it was very nice to see all the temples mixed in with the modern-day Kyoto. (I also spied a giant Buddha in the distance…need to check that place out)

Time to go home! I forgot to write down which trains to take! Oops. But no worries, I took the Shinkansen out of here before; I just take that route backwards, right? Easy! SURE, except I had to find said route in the HUGE TRAIN STATION. I was pointed in the correct directions, and I followed signs, but I could not find it for the life of me. Finally, I said screw the English and followed the kanji. Glad I did; it turns out in the hallway they changed the translation, I don’t know why. THEN I found the correct train. No fair people.

So this week has a lot of school work in it. Yay. But I did some of it! Check it out:

I made this for class!


Friday, April 20, 2012

Better Than the Mines of Moria: Exploring the Misty Mountain at Fushimi Inari

Tell me that title isn't awesome. Heckyes.

So anyway, to celebrate le Friday, my friend Jessica and I decided to go down the trainline to Fushimi Inari, which if you have seen Memoirs of a Geisha is the shrine with the thousands of huge bright orange torii gates. Very awesome. It is also on a mountain, Mount Inari, and we decided to climb to the top. Luckily it was a rainy day, so there was a nice breeze and no sun, or we would have never made it.

Fushimi Inari is really pretty, and the gates are huge. You pass under many maaaany torii as you walk up the mountain. It's really just climbing a bunch of stairs the whole way, but they were really steep stairs. It was funny, in the beginning there are two paths of torii, and we were like, let's take this one! But there were people coming down that one, so we turned around and took the other one. It didn't matter which one we took, they came out at the same place :p

(Also on the way back, we saw people taking wedding pictures there and definitely turned around)

So we killed ourselves walking up this mountain. About halfway there, there was a nice place to get some good pictures of the city below, but we decided to continue! We could do it! Pictures!

.....So many stairs....

So we FINALLY get to the top, and what are we greeted with? Fantastical view? Noooo, we are greeted with one of the many little shrines that dot the paths, and this:

You know what this says? This is the 233 meter above sea level mountain summit. GREAT

Woo. Then we made the steep, slippery journey down the hill. 

I'd do it again :)


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Foreigner Speaks Japanese: Namba & Iwashimizu Hachimangu

Alright we are going to catch up before this busy weekend in one fell swoop. First of all, an update! I have now installed the third bike bell on my bike (grr) and this one has a compass. Excellent. Also! We have booked buses and planes! and hostels for Golden Week: a brief jaunt to Nagasaki! I also have a few class field trips then too. (Golden Week=a huge cluster of national holidays that form a vacation...with two school days in the middle -.-)

So! Monday my speaking partner Riyo has no class, and I only have class until 1, so we decided to give Namba a once over. Namba is the southern part of Osaka, featuring popular shopping and nightlife places such as Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori. It also has a small Akihabara-like area called Den Den Town. We also wanted to go to a observation tower known as Tsutenkaku, home of the Biliken, the God of Happiness (apparently it was originally an American charm, haha).  Lots to do!

So we arrive in Namba and head to the famous picture spots: a giant freakin crab (see pictures) and the Glico running man, which is a running dude advertisement that people pose running in front of, which we also did. There was also this famous Waldo-looking dude to take pictures in front of, but there was a karaoke place near it and really loud advertising people were there, and Riyo managed to get a picture of us with him, but it was difficult. We also got some lunch before heading to Den Den Town, because I don't have enough One Piece stuff (in my defense, what I bought I was already intending to buy somewhere else, AND it was on sale. Win.) I did buy a magic trick though; a One Piece cards magic trick. Awesome, I just have to translate the instructions!

We then saw a Mister Donut and stopped of course. They started making cute teddy bear donuts; it was delicious :)

Next, we headed to Shinsekai to go to Tsutenkaku! It was a bit funky, because the one floor was obviously under construction, but the observation area was pretty. There were these cute dioramas on the way up too, but the descriptions were in Japanese. Of course they had a crazy gift shop, and we took a picture as we wished on the Biliken. At this point, the photographer asked Riyo what country I was from. I answered America. Everyone was surprised, and he said he studied abroad there (he spoke too fast, Riyo told me that's what he said haha). Gaijin surprise #1.

I didn't mention earlier we noticed this awesome looking ferris wheel on Don Quixote, which is a store you can buy literally anything at. We decided to head there next; meanwhile its getting dark and the buildings are starting to light up! Yay! But not the Glico man yet, boo. So we go to Don Quixote, and we buy tickets, but when we walk in we can't find how to get to the ferris wheel. Then I look at the tickets we bought, which were definitely for a boat tour, not a ferris wheel. Riyo returns them to the guy who thankfully gives us our money back, and he says the ferris wheel has been closed for 5 years. Fail. It looked really cool too.

Meanwhile, Glico still has not lit up, and night life is beginning. There are people standing around asking if you are looking for a bar, and they make suggestions. Happily, we were looking for a bar (for dinner) and this nice lady led us to one with a discount coupon. Win.

While she was walking us there, I was taking a picture while we were walking (I have developed such ability, whether the pictures are good or not all the time however remains to be seen) and she asked if I wanted to take a picture. When I answered 'I walk and take pictures' in Japanese, she made this face o.o Gaijin surprise #2.

The bar food, however, was so good, but like the other bars I've been to, expensive. Still, there was fried cheese mochi, and it was delicious. AND the waiter was also surprised with my Japanese ability, asking Riyo where I was from; Gaijin surprise #3.

When we left the restaurant everything was lit up! Yay! And the Host guys were out, oh boy. Simply put, Hosts are guys who serve and entertain you at a bar for a price. To put it nicely. So there were about 50 well dressed guys with crazy hair milling about; my speaking partner was freaking out. I laughed. Even they aren't dangerous in a country whose major problem is bike theft.

So that was a fun evening :)

Next on the list, yesterday after class I went to Iwashimizu Hachimangu, a shrine nearby my station for warriors (how could I not, right? lol) I get to the station, and stare at the map a while until I figure out the direction to walk, and it turns out I have to take a cable car...sweet!

....And my camera dies. Grrr. So I work off of some older batteries, which miraculously make it through the shrine for pictures and things. It was a beaaaaaauuuuutiful day, and there was a nice path to walk up before I got there, and it was really nice. They had ceremonial (untipped!) arrows you could get, but it was expensive and I'm going on an airplane. Haha.


Busy weekend! Now that time's running out, I can't travel enough!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Real Hanami: Hirakata & Osaka Castle

I'm falling behind, nooo! So we discussed Friday, Saturday my speaking partner Riyo's International Friendship Club was having a Hanami by the river near the station! It was very fun, I made friends with a few new Japanese freshman I hope I have more time to talk with (all of a sudden there's no time to do anything). There were also a few people who came up and were like HI! Be my facebook friend! ::takes a picture:: But it happens. I'd hope to be their friend too, but hey. Haha.

So there weren't that many gaijin there, which surprised me, but yay for speaking Japanese! Unfortunately, it wasn't a jyouzu kind of day (sadly haven't been having those lately) and insult to injury, they split us into little intro groups, and the other gaijin in my group was practically fluent. Greeeeeeeeeeat.

After that, we played a game where you were given a paper with things like 'is over 20' or 'has a drivers license' on it, and you had to go ask people, and if they met such requirement, they signed the little box.

...This paper was full of crazy handwritten kanji. Greeeeeat. So managed to get through that one, it was pretty entertaining. Afterwards there were many snackages and I fumbled through some Japanese conversations with more friends! Yay! I wish I could hang out with these people more than once. -.-

Then, because I didn't bring my bike, I walked back from the station on such a fine day. As I was thinking about how much I sucked at Japanese today, a little kid probably 8 stopped me on the street, and asked me what time it was. Of course, it couldn't be something easy like 7, or 5:30 or something, it had to be 5:42. I of course rounded it to 5:45, but I've always had a problem with numbers. Always. So for the life of me I couldn't think of 45. It took me forever, and I felt bad so I even showed him my watch, but I have an analog watch, so it's like I showed him an abacus or something. I eventually got it, but it didn't make me feel any better. Faaail.

PS here are pictures from the last entry, and here is a video my teacher made about the following field trip:

On Sunday, my "History & Ideology of the Japanese Warrior" class went to Osaka Castle! What better way to see a castle than with my history teacher! It was very interesting! Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures inside the castle, but I made sure to stay close to my teacher so whenever he said something I could hear it, haha.

In the basement of the castle, you can also try on a samurai costume for 300 yen. I decided to save that particular jewel for when Mom, Julie, and I go...bwahaha

It was also a beautiful day, and there were still sakura! Yay! My awesome teacher and his wife bought us a veritable feast of various hanami foods, and we had a picnic! It was a very nice day. Also, while we were hanami-ing, there was this big group of Japanese teenagers trying to jump rope together. It was comical; some of our group joined them once too!

And here are some pictures from said Hanamis!

One more entry, but there's a test to study for...-.-


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Drenched in Philosophy: Stupid Kyoto Buses are Stupid

So, continuing with the sakura shenanigans, I immediately bike down to the station after class and hop on a train to Kyoto. Mission: Kiyomizudera (popular temple with sakura) and The Path of Philosophy, a sakura-laden path that leads up to Ginkakuji, which since I was setting out at 1, I knew I would not have time to see. Sakura priority!

I was determined to get a decent bus map. I found one online, but this is not as helpful because there are many buses that only go to certain stops. I also discovered the added difficulty of figuring out which side of the road to get on the bus! Fun. So first mission: bus map. I head to the tourist center I passed before and happily it was open. I also got a day bus pass from there; 2 missions accidentally accomplished. Excellent.

On the way to the tourist thing, I saw the bus that had 'Kiyomizudera' helpfully written on it. Now that I had my map, I just needed to figure out the closest bus stop that I could get on said bus. I sort of found it accidentally, (also ran into a nice man who was asking for money for tsunami victims, he was so glad I spoke Japanese haha), and got to Kiyomizudera! Yay! Unfortunately it started to drizzle on the way up the ridiculous hill to get to the temple. I was too stubborn to buy an umbrella, and I really don't want to. The dorm I live in has community umbrellas, and there's a really nifty lime green one I am partial to. So, no umbrella.

Of course on the way up to said popular temple, there are many many shops. ....You can only resist going in for so long. Besides, I got a lot of stuff for other people! Yay! Once I actually made it to the temple, it was very pretty. People everywhere though, but this is to be expected. Kiyomizudera is actually one of the temples where there is stuff to do; first of all, there is a separate shrine in the very beginning. Said shrine has 2 rocks about 18 meters from each other, and you are supposed to close your eyes and go to the other to have success at finding love (if people guide you, it means that people will help you find love). I, being alone and not wishing to fall and die, skipped this. There was also these 3 streams falling for you to drink from. Each one has a different significance; longevity, love, and, school success. However, if you drink from more than one, you're thought to be greedy. Since I'm planning to drag Mom and Julie there, I didn't do it this time. And it was crowded. :)

Next on the list was the Path of Philosophy near Ginkakuji. Looking at all of my various maps, it appeared that the path was on the way up to Ginkakuji. Which is true. So, I wanted to get on a bus that stopped a few stops before Ginkakuji so I could walk up the path right? Right. So I rode the bus back down to Gion (seems to be my center of operations) and walk over to Sanjo, the adjacent bridge I realized was so close when I went there last time accidentally. Near said bridge is supposedly a bus stop that gets the 5 bus, which goes towards Ginkakuji. By some miracle, I find said station and even get on the bus going in the correct direction.

Seems to good to be true right? Oh, it is. I get off a few stations according to plan, right? Sure, good plan. It starts to rain a bit more. Alright, that's fine, the path is close right? Nope! I walked clear down the street (passing 3 bus stops I should have stayed on the bus for) before I got there, in the rain. Turns out the path is right in front of Ginkakuji.....right in front of it, 500 meters away. I should have ridden the bus clear to Ginkakuji.

At this point, I was tired from walking, pretty drenched, and completely surrounded by sakura. It was pretty awesome. I did not care I was soaked; I had given up on trying to stay dry. I'm sure the Japanese people, all umbrella-ed, thought I was crazy. I took about a million pictures. It was beautiful, even in the rain. And when I return to go to Ginkakuji, it will all just be green. (For a while I couldn't figure out what happened after the sakura fell off...dead trees? haha)

So that was awesome. Next, I needed to get on the subway to meet with my friend for dinner. I knew that I could pick up the subway in Sanjo, but the bus I needed to take only went to a stop before I end up finding the subway a little weirdly, but at this point I did not care at all.

Once I met up with my friend who goes to school in Kyoto, I dried off while we ate dinner near her train station, Nijo station (they probably also thought we were dumb, English menus and all haha). There was also an arcade nearby, and she had not had the pleasure of doing purikura yet, soo we did that, which was awesome. We also did it again, just for fun. We then ran around the arcade a bit, and played the taiko game and an American shooting game, which was funny.

When we were leaving, we also found a Roman stand up poster to take a picture with, which said (in Latin) 'all baths lead to Rome.' ...All right. :)

I was too stubborn to take the subway back to the train station. I paid for the day bus pass; I was going to use it! So, by the time I figured out which bus would get me close to Gion, it had been a half hour and the buses just were not coming. So I got on the next one, which got me relatively close. However, at the stop before that one, every single person got off the bus. And if I've learned anything, it's when everyone gets off the transportation (eg train), get off the transportation.

So I ended up walking down more than half of Shijo to get to the train station. To save about 4 bucks.

Definitely worth it.

When the internet starts being proper, I'll post pictures in the next entry!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sakura and Sake at Sakuranomiya

So today was also a B-E-A-Utiful day, and also one of my longest class days. (It's not long really, it just doesn't start until noon, so it goes until 4:30). So all during the day I was thinking I swear if the weather gets crappy, I'll be mad, but it didn't, yay!

Things that were awesome in school today:

1) Mister Donut came to the Conbini on campus. (Conbini=convenience store) Because I only have a 15 minute break from 1 to 115, when there are a million Japanese students eating lunch, its impossible for me to get any food, but so help me I was getting the Mister Donut. And I did and it was beautiful.

(Disclaimer: I talk about Mister Donut a lot. I really don't go there all the time, I swear)

2) In my theatre class, a guest Japanese teacher came and taught us (in Japanese, translated, so it was good practice too!) about the shamisen. She also played a song. It was very cool!

AND it was still nice out. Off to Sakuranomiya, a train stop 2 away from Osaka that I passed last week en route to Umeda, which is solely named for the ridiculous amount of sakura trees planet along the river. (Note to self: bike ride to the station is even more dangerous when there are 250 Japanese students on the sidewalk) It was very pretty; they were all really close together and arched over the pathway and things.

Of all the days not to bring my book. (My tablet was too heavy today, but I wish I would have brought it) However, those savvy Japanese vendors had stands of deliciousness, so I got more karaage (I didn't feel the strength for takoyaki today) and I got real sake. Reeeeal sake, accidentally a big jar I am not allowed to bring home.

All riiiiiight, drinking a jar of sake in under 10 minutes with an empty stomach is not the best idea, but it was good :p It tasted like an extremely weak, flavorless shot. I am told they sell flavored sake too.

Don't worry, I wasn't anywhere near drunk or anything :)

Sakuranomiya is one of my favorite sakura areas so far; tomorrow there will be a return to Kyoto! Unfortunately, I don't get out of class until 1, so I'll probably only have time for one temple. But! I am determined to figure out the buses, so there will be adventures!



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More Pink Stuff: Yamada Ike Kouen

So if Monday's Kyoto business was any indication, I was getting a bit sick of the sakura at this point. But hey, its only here for a week; might as well go out and see it right? And it was supposed to rain Wednesday, so that could be my day of not travelling in this week of prettiness (it is definitely raining).

I wasn't going anywhere crazy; I just biked in the direction of the Nara Station to the park I passed by on the way (when I was biking to Nara, some Hanami people pulled their van up onto the sidewalk and I had to like, veer into the road, they didn't seem to care....grrr). When I biked past, I didn't see anywhere to park your bike, and when I got there yesterday....I still didn't see any place to park your bike. I saw a paid lot for cars, a teeny lot for mopedthings, no bikes. Grrr. So I knowingly parked my bike in the moped place and walked up to the park.

Lo and behold, people are biking up and down the parts they say not to bike on. Figures. But if I'd do that, I'd get in trouble, so because I wasn't staying long I just left my bike where it was. (I did find the place the bikes were supposed to go eventually). My sole purpose of going there was for pictures, so here are some.

It was a very nice, quiet, happy-looking park. There were a lot of big paths to walk on (where people were, and taking pictures too, haha). It reminded me of the park by my house (actual house, at home).

Then I went home, haha. There's a busy weekend full of more sakura, so today is a nice day of take a nap and go nowhere :)


A Whole Lot of Pink: Easter, Hirakata Station, & Yasaka Shrine

So we left off on Sunday, which was Easter, which is not celebrated here. Incidentally, it happened to be my friend Dave's birthday (he is going to school with another friend at Kyoto; because they are following the Japanese school year, they just arrived a week or so ago). I added a few pictures to the end of this album. We went to dinner at a place near the train station they live by, and it was a very nice restaurant where you order a bunch of food and share everything. Somehow we got lucky, and our server was awesome and spoke fluent English. It was a very good time! (There was also ice cream tempura: fried ice cream. !!!!!!)

Next, we went out to karaoke! Yay! Singing karaoke is quite fun. I was ticked on the way home though; I got to Hirakata Station 5 minutes after the last bus. 5 freaking minutes, and I had to walk a half hour home. The one day I decide not to ride my bike in celebration of Easter laziness. -.- Well I guess I saved even more money, haha.

So Monday was a B-E-A-Utiful day, and although I was a bit travel weary (this being the 4th day of going out and seeing the world in a row), I couldn't just sit in my room! More sakura! Back to Kyoto I went to go to Yasaka Shrine, which is near Murayama Park, where there is very famous sakura.

On the way, I stopped and took some pictures of Hirakata Station and the sakura surrounding the bridge; also very pretty. But I haven't really taken any pictures of my home station to show you, so here you go.

I also parked my bike in a different place (my housemates park there, but I could never find it), and not only was it 200 yen cheaper (!!!) it had another Mister Donut there. Oh man.

So the goal of going to Kyoto today was to take pictures of Murayama Park at night, because they light up the famous tree, so I decided to get acquainted with Kyoto a bit in that spare time. Kyoto does not have a lot of trains and subways; they use buses. Which is all well and good; but you have to figure out which stop has the stop for the bus number you need. There's supposedly an English map at the tour place, but it was closed when I walked by. Either way, it can be done. Just needs a bit of planning.

My first mission was to find Shinkyogoku again; I knew Ninja Cafe was in there, and I wanted to see it for myself so I knew that I knew how to get to it to eat there in the future. I found it no problem, but then somehow I got lost? I don't know, I ended up at the next station down the line. I was ticked. However! In trying to return to Gion Shijo (station I arrived with), I had to cross through a whole mess of sakura along a little river. (Sucks, I know ;p)

So once I was reacquainted with where I was, I headed for Yasaka Shrine and the park! Yay! Once I fought through the masses of people, I found the Shrine! ....It seemed that's where all the masses were going!

Turns out, there was a festival! Go figure, right? I'm an idiot. Oh well! Surprise festival, yay! It started to rain a bit, which sucked, but it stopped. And there was festival food. Yes. Expensive, but so delicious! I had the best karaage (basically Japanese fried chicken bites) I have ever eaten with mayonnaise (also different, and better) powder, which was different. I also had a green tea crepe (so delicious) and amanzake, which is a sweetish 99% non-alcoholic sake. It was good at first; but it had rice bits so after a while it was a bit funky tasting. I haven't had real sake yet, so I can't compare.

I loitered around a bit because it was almost dark, so I have some almost dark pictures of the famous tree. At this point, I was quite tired, so I fought my way through the crowd of people home. But the adventures are not yet finished!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

3 Weddings and a Purple Potato: Return to Nara

So Saturday. There's cherry blossoms (sakura) to be seen! I decide what a better time than return to Nara, where there are bound to be sakura aplenty. Nara is a pretty expensive jaunt, so my friend told me of a secret train station a bike ride away that is cheaper to travel from. Of course I get lost (in the frustrating way) on the way there, but eventually we get there and manage to park the bike (I'm sure the bike attendants thought I was an idiot, but this is okay).

So we get on a train! To change to another train! But we're not sure if this is the correct train! So I wait in confusion, for no reason. (This happens on the way home too, grrrr.) Future reference: When in doubt, get on the train.

So I miraculously get to Nara for the glorious price of 480 yen (I told my RA, who lives in Nara, this price and she was shocked, haha) and promptly go in the wrong direction, haha. OH I forgot to mention something important in the last entry. One Piece is everywhere right? Even in the random Sky Building. The one puzzle I wanted they didn't have, and I found it in Nara of all places :)

So anyway, we head over to Kofukuji Temple to gather some awesome stamps, but I don't stay here very's the same, and I want to see the new shrines and temples. I head towards Kasuga Taisha, the grand shrine I did not see the last time. After walking down a long path that led to a long hill, I made it! Yay! And while I was there, there was a wedding! An actual wedding, in progress....without about 15 people videoing behind it. You can't just rent out a shrine like you can a hall. Weddings just kind of happen with everything else. So I felt awkward creeping like the rest of the people, so I continued to explore the shrine grounds.

When I was heading down the hill, I found another shrine! Wakamiya Shrine is a teeny shrine behind the grand one, it was very pretty. I'm pretty sure there was some significance for lovers there, but I couldn't read any of it.

After coming back down the hill, I was closest to Todaiji, the huge temple with the Buddha, so I headed through the park to go there. The sakura was juuuuust starting to come out, so it wasn't super pretty, but its still pretty! There were people hanami-ing, so it counts.


Hanami: When groups of friends and family get together, sit on a blue tarp, picnic and drink sake while having general merriment.

What I've Been Doing: Running around taking pictures. :p Don't worry; I'm going with Riyo and her club on Saturday for real Hanami.

Anyway! I saw another bride taking pictures in the park too. Then, I fought my way over to Todaiji, home of the giant Buddha, which was ridiculously crowded this time. Luckily I had been there before. So at this point I was a bit tired, and hungry. So I stop and buy this purple potato, a sweet thing that was very delicious.

There are deer everywhere. I had to be alert or I would lose my potato. I looked away for a second to get a drink from the vending machine....stupid deer. It didn't bite it, but I'm pretty sure it put its mouth on it, the stupid thing. I wasn't going to give it the satisfaction of eating my potato, so I carried it with me until I could find a trash can. (So you could basically end all of the sentences from now until the train station with 'while holding a purple potato', haha)

So now I'm heading towards the train station, when I spy what looks like a shrine across the street bursting with sakura. I am intrigued to say the least. So I cross the street and lo and behold (there's another bride taking pictures, haha) there are people and sakura everywhere! It was a happy accidental discovery. The stamp for my book was double the price here for some reason I obviously didn't understand, but it will be a happy memory.

Then I make the epic hike down the hill to the station, the epic train rides home, and make it to the bike people who think I'm special. I ALMOST made it out without incident. They locked my kickstand, you see, and I never knew you could lock the thing. I also did not know the vocabulary for kickstand, and stuck. Boo. But they were ridiculously nice and helpful, so it was fine.

Then I started to bike home in the wrong direction. Perfect end of the day. (Don't worry, I noticed immediately haha)

Pictures! (I'll put Easter in there tomorrow)


There's No Garden in the Floating Garden: Exploring (Lost in) Umeda

So a lot happened at once, and I didn't have time to blog in between here comes a lot of blog posts! Yay! Let's rewind to last Friday. Wait. Let's rewind even further to when I was biking home from the movies, because I forgot to mention something. When I was biking on the hazardous hill by school, I (and all the other bikers mind you) got stopped by the equivalent of a drunk driver police checkpoint....for bicycles, because there is so little crime in Japan, this is what they do. Its not for drunkenness, its for bike registration checks. And of course, because it was nighttime, I had my headphones in both ears when I was coming home (when I bike to the station during the day I usually put in one ear, because it really is dangerous), so the guy told me it was dangerous and things and I say sorry etc.

At this point, he compliments me on my skill with Japanese. Seriously, you need no skill for them to say that, I said I'm sorry when I bumped into someone in Tokyo, and he replied with you're skilled in Japanese. Really. So anyway, he asked me if I was a student and sent me on my way. I'm glad I remembered to turn my bike light on, haha.

So anyway, back to last Friday. Pictures. I also took some pictures on the way to Umeda Station (which is the huge station that is the center of Osaka) because I haven't done that yet. I also haven't really explored Osaka completely yet, so I decided to start with the station once I got there....hence the pictures.

The irony of these pictures is that once I get to the top of the station and take pictures of the fun buildings, I took a picture of the building I was trying to get to without realizing it. Oh joys of hindsight...

So I leave from the correct exit of the huge station to head towards Umeda Sky Building, home of the Floating Garden Observatory, which sounds pretty cool right? So I read the map, and follow the people towards what was the correct direction....until I saw a big pile of construction and got very confused. This caused a colossal detour in the wrong direction. When I got to the Loft (big store) I knew I was in the complete wrong part of the district. So I go in the store (I wanted to buy something from there anyways...a stapler that doesn't need staples) and when I left I asked the lady at the direction desk where I was. She pulled out the map showing how far off I was, and I headed back to the station to go the proper direction.

Let me explain my definition of lost. I have never actually been lost as in completely, I have no idea where I am lost. I always know where I am; I am just not where I want to be. It's a very frustrating lost. So once in Hankyu stations (did I mention there are 3 huge station dept store complexes in the center of Osaka?) I found a really detailed map. Yay! Why these are in short supply, I don't know. Nara and Tokyo have them everywhere. I check the map, and to get to the building I need to go in an underground tunnel. Underneath the construction. So I was going the right way before! Ugh.

So I finally get to the freaking building, and then I have confusion as to how to get to the top floor, because when there's an observatory on an office building / store place, there's usually a special elevator. It took me a bit to see the obvious sign (in English too) pointing in the correct direction, but I finally get there, and go up this awesome escalator to the top of the observatory (it was at this point I started to realize the Floating Garden Observatory has no garden......why it has that name I don't know). The top floor was outdoors, so it was very nice to take pictures without having to dodge the window.

Afterwards, I went to the basement to see the Showa period (old Japan) themed restaurant section. It was really cool looking, but unfortunately I was there a bit too early for dinner, so I decided to explore the other two stations, Hankyu and Hanshin, to familiarize myself with them, while finding somewhere to pick up some food. I ended up going to the equivalent of a fast-food in Japan, where you literally order, eat, and leave so someone else can sit, so on the way home I stopped at Mister Donut so I could relax a bit. Quite a Friday I must say.



Monday, April 2, 2012

Movies, Magic, and a Mountain of Ice Cream: This Weekend

I'm grouping all of this weekend into one, because nothing major happened, but still cool shenanigans. On Saturday, Riyo and I went to the movies! (I happily had a ticket in my American wallet from Beauty and the Beast to give her, she was excited) Unfortunately, all of the movies that are out here are movies that were out when I left, so I have either seen them or didn't want to see them. So I let Riyo decide which movie; so, we went to see Sherlock Holmes :)

English movies here can be shown in English with subtitles, or dubbed, depending on the showtime and the theater. We opted for the subtitles, thank goodness she doesn't like dubbed films that much either.

This was the movie theater; as far as I've seen, all of the theaters are in malls. i'm sure there might be a stand alone one somewhere. Warner brothers is a name like Cinemark here.

Walking to the theater

When we went to purchase tickets, I had forgotten that they were assigned seats, so it surprised me. Sherlock came out last month, so it was not crowded. It was also expensive, about 18 American dollars for a normal non-3D show. Yay. Popcorn was butter and salt like usual (we snuck in a candy called Pocky and pop of course, that happens here too), except the sizes were smaller. The largest was about an American medium, and it was called the American Size (I laughed a lot). 

They also have caramel popcorn in Japan! Unfortunately, it was just as expensive as the large popcorn and it was ridiculously small:

Teeny popcorn, did I mention it came in a bag?

So we got the expensive popcorn, because we had just eaten lunch at the mall food court ("Chinese" food, although I recognized none of it as Chinese, but it was delicious. Food courts here are just as good as normal restaurants) so I wasn't too hungry for a big ol' bag of popcorn. I still finished it before the movie started.

We had to wait a long time to go into the theater; it wasn't seating until 10 minutes before the show began, which I thought was odd.

Japanese movies had the same amount of commercials, but only a few previews. The previews we saw were wonderful though. The first was for the live action film of Rurouni Kenshin, an old popular Japanese manga that I love. It doesn't come out here until August though, so I won't get to see it at home for a while. Then we saw a preview for Dark Knight Rises, which is surprisingly close to the American release date. I think it was only a week later. Just like Harry Potter, it is probably because it is an already popular franchise ( ::shakes fist at Hunger Games::)

The movie was just as good as I remember it; it was interesting to watch the Japanese subtitles try to convert English humor into Japanese. People did not laugh as much, and a startling number weren't leaving until after the credits, although I don't think there was anything after Sherlock Holmes. True to form in Japan, there were no trash cans to throw away stuff. You had to put all your garbage in the little bag and give it to the guy by the ONE trash can when you left. There definitely weren't as many people with snacks as there would be in America.

Then we went back to the mall and got Mister Donut (heehee) and Baskin Robbins, which was on sale because there are 31 flavors and it was the 31st!

This brings me to yesterday. Yesterday in Beer Park (that's not the name, but so many international students drink there and be stupid that's what they call it) there was a school-sponsored international festival for the residents of the city we live and and the students of the school. I was a volunteer, so I woke up at 9 in the morning to tie some balloons to trees and things before coming back home and going to bed from 11 to 1, when I was supposed to start  my "shift." I was sort of in the middle of the "show" volunteers and the "booth" volunteers, because I was performing magic tricks. However, doing card tricks from a stage is terrible because no one can see the cards except the volunteer. Hence, I wasn't reeeeally a show volunteer. But I still reported to the volunteer coordinator for the shows? I don't know, I got a cool volunteer t shirt. And lunch. The coordinator told me to stay around the stage in case she needed help with something, which she wouldn't because there wasn't really anything to do.

So I stood around there for a while, before I walked over to the face painting area where my friend painted the kanji for 'fun' on my face:

That purple thing says fun :)

I then decided that standing useless around the stage was stupid and set off to do some magic for some unsuspecting students and Japanese people. However, I have never even done street magic at home before, so I was nervous. The other magician was also in an actual show, so he wasn't very interested in running around magicking, so I was on my own. And nervous. I had a few tricks in mind, the ones that are easy for me to remember and perform without a lot of practice.

I saw the RA of the dorm that I live in, and walked over to him and told him of my predicament. He walked over with me to some nice old Japanese ladies, where I performed magic for all of them. One of them spoke some English, too, so I only had to perform the trick half in Japanese. (I knew all of my magic tricks in Japanese ;p) It went very well, and they were very surprised. 

This gave me encouragement to continue. I then began walking up to groups of Japanese people and foreigners alike, asking "Tejina wo mitai desu ka?" Would you like to see a magic trick? The answer was always an overwhelming yes; they all had great reactions too! It was really fun. I did magic for friends, strangers, and even a few of my teachers. I also inadvertently did magic for one of my RA's family, it was funny. I got to do the same tricks over and over too, which was nice. I only messed up a little bit once, for my friends, so it was okay. It was also cold, so my hands were shaking a bit :p

Overall, it was awesome. After we took down the festival and cleaned up everything with super organization, I had a great need to go to the grocery store. After I had gotten my purse and was starting to walk there, the RA asked me if I was going to the ice cream party. ...Apparently there was a secret ice cream party for the volunteers who actually stayed and cleaned up like they were supposed to. So I figured I could make a quick stop for some ice cream before heading to the grocery store, which closed in 3 hours. 

I have never seen so much ice cream in one place before. Before they took 12 of the gallons of ice cream to the other Seminar House for the show performers (I did not go over there, haha, the other party was also in my dorm building) there were thirty gallons of ice cream in one room. There HAD to be some left over, although I left early to go to the grocery store. I still ate a goodness load of ice cream. So much ice cream, goodness me. 

Well this week is the midterm week for my English courses: a final presentation proposal, a midterm, and a paper. FUN. 


EDIT: I forgot to say, this really nice old woman was walking around passing out bookmarks she made as thank you presents! It was very nice of her, it says thank you on the back in Japanese. However, I'm an idiot, and didn't look at it closely before I asked what it said. Fail.