41kg Pumpkin

My main journal is now over at Newmiller@Blogspot.com. Please check it out!

Missing TGS...
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya


Saturday! Slept in, or at least tried to. My host siblings were making so much noise when it was early that I clamored through my pack and dug out my earplugs.

We went to the supermarket next door for lunch/shopping. There was this apple danish in the bakery that had an entire half of an apple inside, instead of slices. It was delicious.

Picked up a couple more Anpanman gashapon, too. This time I actually got Anpanman, yay. Our fridge is now adorned with four of these magnet/figure things.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Had another sports day this morning. This time it was at Seia and Eria's kindergarten/preschool. I spent the latter part of the event over by the playground, teaching hacky-sack to a bunch of elementary-school-age kids.

We went out to lunch at the indian restaurant again.

Over dinner, we played that one game where you say a word that starts with the last letter of the last word. After, my host mother pulled out a ~forty-year-old scrabble set and we gave that a try. It didn't work too well, mostly because it was difficult to anagram with three energetic kids prancing through everything. Maybe we'll try again later.

Oh yeah, I've had a headache since around noon. Probably just dehydration, at least I hope that's all. Not looking forward to being sick again.

Monkey Magic
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was a holiday. My host family and I went out for lunch... we went to this sushi place, but there was a half-hour wait, so we crossed the street and went to another restaurant.

We went to this supermarket/variety store place. There was a pet section, with puppies and kitties. There was one fluffy little kitten who would whack at your finger if you put it up against the glass, it was pretty cute. I wondered how no one had bought him yet, until I figured out that he cost over fifteen hundred bucks. Meow.

No Black Paper
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Office. Yay.

Emma drew a halloween-themed memory game, it's pretty neat. I printed it out, made some backings, and laminated them. It looks pretty good. A couple of the pictures are kinda scary... it's just as well, I probably won't be using all twelve pairs for younger kids. 

Got a Labo Party tomorrow morning! Hope it goes well.

Hara 原
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

The Labo Party turned out to be a playgroup, pretty laid back. There was a 3y/o, a 2y/o, a 1y/o, a baby, and three mothers. Had a great time, the matching game went over well. We had a small lunch there, too. The tutor, Shibata tutor, is apparently an avid baker, and she made some bagels for us. They were certainly up to par from what I could tell, although my palette might not be quite calibrated.

Bleah, late.

Minato Kuyakusho 港区役所
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I had a Labo Party this morning, my host mother's younger party. There were around six kids (≤3歳) and as many moms.

At lunch, Nakatani-sensei called my scheduler and asked if I could just not bother going in to the Labo Center, so I could stick around for her afternoon party as well. He said ok, so I did. It was the same party as last week, except a few more kids came this time. The matching game was a huge hit, which was just as well as they had already seen my album.

I really need to start getting to bed earlier.

41kg Pumpkin
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my host brother Seia's birthday, he turned five. On the way back from the Labo Center I stopped at an HMV and picked up a copy of Happy Feet and a Tom and Jerry DVD (it was on sale). I was looking for a copy of Ratatouille (actually titled "Remi's Delicious Restaurant" here), but it was pushing 40 bucks. 50 for blu-ray. No wonder broadcast TV is so popular here.

When I got back home, he was actually asleep on the couch. When he woke up, I presented (har) him with the gifts. I was braced for some kind of "I don't want it, wrong penguin movie" 5y/o melodrama, but he loved them. What took me off guard was that my host sister (the older one) broke down when she didn't get anything. She didn't speak to me for like half an hour. Her own birthday is in less than a week, on the 23rd.

We went out to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, the same franchise from Portland and Sacramento. It survived the transition to Japan better than Denny's did; although there was a "Japanese style spaghetti" section on the menu, they had the same mizithra cheese special I ate two years ago in Sacramento. We got to eat inside a train car, and the staff even did the (very American) sing-to-the-birthday-boy thing.

After we got home at around 10ish, Seia convinced his mom to let him stay up and watch the Tom & Jerry DVD, four ~10 minute eps. After that finished, he managed to finagle in the penguin movie too.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I woke up today to a rabble of Labo kids and a few parents, kind've a surprise. We went to the Nissan University's festival day, pretty neat.

There were different tables where students were selling cheap yakisoba, okonomiyaki, etc. Upstairs, they had a little course set up with some remote control cars. They had a stage with some bands playing, and a comedy troupe. They were using stencils in and airbrushes in the body shop to give temporary tattoos.

I met one of the students there, a Russian fellow by the name of Eddik (or however it's supposed to be spelled, I'm not familiar with Russian names). He spoke fluent English and Japanese, and he was the same age as me. It's inspiring to meet someone so accomplished, but at the same time kinda humbling.

After the college event, we wandered around the park for a while and stopped by the supermarket on the way home.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I got a chance to introduce my host family to my Dad's family back in California. It went as well as one might have expected, putting eager kids in front of a camera. At least they didn't put a transformer through my laptop screen.

Didn't really do much else interesting today... mostly just coughing and watching kids.

The Botten of あたため
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Aurora was nice enough to let me sleep in again, today. Grr.

Mostly phutzed around with Ren'py during the day. In the evening, I built a big cargo ship out of legos, and a car and shipping container to put on it. My host dad works for a shipping company, see. When he got home, I asked him how mine compared to the real ones. He said it looked pretty neat, but his company's ships carry 4000 cars at a time. My ship could carry maybe two cars at the scale I built them. Even using 2x1 blocks for "cars," my ship's capacity was still an order of magnitude short.

Oh yeah, and building a container at an 8x8.5x20 ratio is hard when you don't have any plates.

On a side note, 100 posts! I bet some of them are even worth reading.

Fushimi 伏見
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited the Kato-Hiromi Party. It was only one subway stop away, so I decided to hoof it and enjoy the nice day. Beforehand, I went down to Loft to track down something resembling a halloween costume. I was thinking cowboy hat or pirate bandana, but the only cowboy hat they had was made of plastic, and the pirate hat (it was pre-shaped) didn't fit me. I settled on a little plush pumpkin (kabocha) that clips on top of my head, with vines and leaves. It's light, small, and durable enough to ride in my backpack, and it's sufficiently orange. I am a pumpkin for Halloween.

The party itself was pretty big, 25 kids, half of them with mothers. Unfortunately, with a party that size it's difficult to get to know all the kids. With smaller parties, there's usually a period of shyness, but it passes pretty fast as the kids get to know you. With a party this size, unless you're exceptionally charismatic, some of the younger kids manage to stay shy through the whole thing. Oh well, I did my best.

On the way back, I stopped by the Labo Center to pick up a couple "Labo" T-shirts from my scheduler. I haven't tried them on yet, but I'll be surprised if they're big enough for me.

Minami Kagiya 南加木屋
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I woke up this morning feeling pretty yucky, coughing and leaking nattou. I was wary of popping the strange pills my host mother had, so she cooked up some sort of ginger tea concoction. That helped for a while, at least.

By the time I came into the office, my host mom had apparently called and given them a heads-up as to my condition. Throughout the morning, office people came up to me to say that they'd heard I was sick, and to ask how I was doing. Awfully thoughtful of them. After lunch, my coordinator arrived and, along with a lady who just happened to have a brand new sealed bottle of cold medicine, all but shoved three pills down my neck. I found that I am not good at taking pills. He gave me three more pills and told me to take them after dinner.

I visited the Hashimoto Party today. After a less-than-intuitive transfer to the JR system through Kanayama station, I arrived in a quaint little town somewhere to the southeast. The tutor actually had two consecutive parties, first being the younger party. I read (and half-translated) a picture book ("What is Halloween?"), juggled a lot, played the memory game, and got to stand behind a door to hand out candy to trick-or-treating Labo kids. We did a few songbirds too, of course. Had a great time! Oh yeah, and I did all this in front of a shutter-happy reporter for the local newspaper.

The second group was even better, mostly high-school/college kids who knew enough english to converse. We had sort of a pot-luck dinner, mostly rice balls of various sorts. Played some hacky sack, that's always fun. We did a theme activity, a story about Frederick the poetic field mouse. I got cast as Frederick. After the activity, we had a discussion about colors (a subject featured in the activity) and differences in perception. Some interesting differences: In Japan, one describes unripe fruit as blue, not green (that holds true to describe youth or newbness, e.g. greenhorn). The sun is not yellow, it ranges from red to orange throughout the sky. I explained a part of the story that didn't survive translation (a gotcha rhyme), they were really into that.

The party ended at eight, but through various train schedule misunderstandings (none of which were on my part!) I didn't get on a train until almost nine. Yay late.

On a side note, I think this entry could use maybe one more set of parenthesis. (There, perfect!)

Akaike 赤池
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my host sister Leona's birthday, she turned 7. I got her Ice Age 2 and Robots, she seems happy with them. They went out to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, but unfortunately I had a Labo Party at the same time. I didn't need to go into the office today because the party yesterday went so late (if a party goes past eight, interns don't need to come in for the first half of the day) and because I had a party in the afternoon.

The party was way out in Akaike, pretty close to Hara. I arrived at the station half an hour ahead of time, so I got to sit out front and enjoy the atmosphere for a while. The weather today was really nice, cool and overcast with a crisp breeze, raining just lightly enough to not need an umbrella.

The party itself went really well. The tutor, Shimamura, was a nice old lady who sorta hung around in the background and let the Labo kids run things. The kids ranged from 6 (a few even younger I think) to 24, and there were a couple dozen of them. This party was a lot less shy than the ones I've been to before, they were really active, running all over the place. I had a great time; juggling, hacky-sack, and a few new games I tried out all went over pretty well.

Coming back on the subway, I found out firsthand that trains stop going directly from Kamimaezu to Nagoyako somewhere around eight. You need to transfer at Kanayama if you want to go home later in the evening. I'm rather proud of myself for figuring this out on the fly, albeit with some assistance from a bored sounding station attendant (he probably has people asking him the same question I did all the time).

Modular Robots
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Nothing all that special happened today. It was a half day at the office because the party went late last night, so it was nice to get the extra sleep. Although it wasn't really that much extra sleep, yay two-year-olds. At least my cough is going away faster than it did last time.

On the way home, I stopped by an AU store to try and pay for my cell phone. They had apparently sent the bill to my old host family, and although I think they forwarded it, I still haven't gotten it. The AU store had no problem taking the money, though. It was pretty expensive, I wonder if they charged me for two months in one go. No one spoke english there, so I tried not to make it more complicated than it had to be. I got it set up so that they would automatically bill through the bank instead of mailing to past host families. Still would like to see what drove up the bill, the only thing I've really been using the phone for is email, and there's a cap on that.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today my host dad took me down to the golf place, along with Leona and Seia. We didn't go into the big driving range area, instead we went to a beat-up little green nearby. This was my first time hitting a golf ball with something other than a putter. We had an hour there, out of all that chipping I managed to get one ball technically in. Technically because the flag was lopsided and propped the ball with the edge of the hole so it didn't actually fall in, but I was assured that counted.

I didn't spend the whole time chipping, though. The kids found some plants with some nasty burr things, and decided it would be fun to whack everyone with branches. Throughout all my adventures in the US, I've never seen anything as evil as these things. They're small flakes, covered in some kind of abrasive superglue. Even one is hard to remove; if you can get ahold of it, the adhesive is strong enough to put up quite a fight. But there isn't just one, I had patches of hundreds on all the areas they had hit me with. You couldn't just brush them off, it was crazy. My fingers were bleeding before I had finished removing the ones I could find, the glue was strong enough to take bits of skin with it. Seia had such a great time with them that his dad was outside picking him clean for half an hour after we got home.

Went out to sushi tonight, I don't even want to think about how much it cost. Thanks, Nakatani family. After dinner, we went to a grocery store. I found a nifty 3D plastic jigsaw puzzle, an apple. When we got home I put it together while we watched the Chunichi Dragons (the local baseball team) get smooshed by the Yomiuri Giants (from Tokyo). A cleanup hitter named Ramirez hit a 3-run homer, and after he high-fived all his teammates, he did a spontaneous choreographed dance with an orange rabbit in a skirt. Japan can make even baseball interesting.

Dear Diary
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I must have blinked. I've been here for a month already. Damn it, I knew this would happen.

Twinkle Twinkle
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was a Monday, which means yet another study day. Other than working on my project, I cleaned up my room, it looks almost as nice as when I got here now.

One of my host mom's friends visited, and I got to do the album routine again. We ordered pizza, that was nice. Neither my tongue or my heat is going to get used to this mayo pizza anytime soon. I swear, I'd die if I ate as much of this as I normally eat when it comes to pizza.

Nakakomono 中菰野
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I visited a Labo Party way off in the boonies today (up in the Mie prefecture). I gotta say, Japanese boonies are pretty cool. There were pretty mountains and fields all around, even though it was only an hour and a half from Sakae. The station had an island platform, meaning I had to step down and actually cross tracks to get out, and there was a dude taking tickets instead of an automatic wicket.

The party itself was an open party, there were only five or so Labo kids, but there were a couple dozen visiting kids. Nishikawa tutor was really focused on making the party work, we stayed on a strict schedule. Us and the Labo kids got there 45 minutes early, and decked out the room with a big pile of paper pumpkins, streamers, and other decorations. I did pretty well with the shy ~5-year-olds (most of the kids weren't even used to Labo Parties, much less interns), they warmed up to me before it was over.  I sorta wish I had a poster-board edition of the album, with this many people (their mothers were all there too) it becomes more like a class lecture than a group of friends.

We didn't know the train times, and as luck would have it a train came up just as we parked. Nishikawa tutor called to the station attendant, and he actually held the train for a few extra seconds for me to hop on, that's never happened to me in the city.

Oh yeah, before I left, while I went out for lunch at the Labo center, an odd thing happened. I took the stairs, which meant going through a business fashion shop on the fourth floor. As I walked in, an old lady, whom I'd never seen before, approached me, saying something to me in really fast Japanese. Before I knew what was happening, she reached behind my collar and tucked in my tag. Then she smiled, turned around, and walked off, leaving me bewildered and slightly neater.

OCD spasms like that aren't exactly common back in California, but I wouldn't be all that surprised if it happened there. In Japan, though, it's unprecedented to the point that the only explanation is that the lady did know me somehow. She must have been a Labo tutor who'd seen me at my desk in the Labo Center, I'm not exactly the conspicuous type. Yeah, that's probably it, seeing as how most Labo tutors are old ladies. (The rest are ladies that no one, in conscious self preservation, would ever call "old.")

Gamagori 蒲郡
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

My first big screw-up was today! I guess I'm initiated now.

So I get to the Labo center, and find a note on my desk about my party today. The tutor's father died yesterday, so another tutor arranged to pick me up at the station. Poor lady. Of all the days I could choose for me to be at my best, today would be it. I double-check the directions given to me by the tutor, cross-check the route on the computer, and leave a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

I get to Kanayama just fine, I had gone this way last week as well. All I needed to do at Kanayama is find the train that goes to Gamagori. According to the fare map, getting there cost about two hundred yen more than I expected (11** instead of 9**). Right then and there I should have figured something was amiss. It was the only Gamagori there was, so I figured I didn't have a choice. Bus fares back in the US rise by another dime every year, so it wasn't that strange to me. I bought the ticket and went down to the platform.

There were trains all over the place, Rapid Expresses, Limited Expresses, Special Expresses, you name it. After hopelessly trying to figure out what was going on from the posted timetables and maps (all in Kanji, and even so I couldn't find 蒲郡 anywhere), I asked a helpful-looking station attendant what train I needed to be on for Gamagori. He nodded and said "oh, you want the one after the next one on that side of the platform." Before I could thank him and go, he went on to say that I needed to transfer at Kirayoshida. Transfer? The computer didn't say anything about that. Seeing my confusion, he went over to a little lockbox, pulled out an English map of the line, and gave it to me, indicating where the transfer was. It seemed pretty straightforward, and according to the map it was the only way to get there.

The train pulled up, Rapid Express to Kirayoshida. I figured it doesn't get much faster than "Rapid," and this was the train he told me to take, so I got on before the doors shut. On the way, I had some time to look at the map a little closer. It didn't look familiar, and there were a lot more stations between Kanayama and Gamagori than I had expected. The computer said it should only take 35 minutes between those stations, and the more I thought about it, the less I was convinced that sort of time could scale to this many stations. It was an express train, so it skipped most of the stations, but it still wasn't adding up to me, especially with the transfer.

As I was looking at the map of this line, I noticed that "this line" was not the line I remembered seeing on the computer. I had taken the Meitetsu line, and I was pretty sure that was wrong. I futzed around with my work cell phone, trying to get it to dial my scheduler, Ono. I swear, this thing is harder to figure out in English than my personal one in Japanese. I managed to get it to make the call, and we pulled into the transfer station. As I transferred to the next train, Ono figured out how late I was going to be, then called the tutor to work things out.

I was on a relic of a train. Two cars, and they asked people to walk to the front to give their tickets to the driver before leaving. It was a single-track line, so we had to wait at one station for another train to pass the other way. Ono called back, instructing me to take a taxi to the party. I wasn't going to be very late, just a little late; thank goodness I left as early as I did.

The taxi driver was an interesting character. I actually managed to carry on something resembling a conversation with him, that was awesome. It's a fantastic feeling, breaking through these kinds of barriers learning a new language. He asked if I was Brazilian (it was dark out by now). As we got to the Chuubushimi Center, the light came on as I opened the door, and I saw that his hair was a shock of blue. Neat dude.

The Labo Party itself went great, aside from my slight tardiness. I hardly walked in before we started dancing, no introduction or anything. There were three Labo tutors and about three parties' worth of kids. The matching game worked out nicely, we took exactly as many turns as there were kids, so everyone got a shot.

After the main party, there was a smaller junior high party with about ten people. Things went peachy, introductions questions album etcetera, until I pulled out the hacky sack. They loved that thing. They sucked at it, but that didn't really matter. Had a great time, it was over too fast, like always.

One of the tutors gave me a lift to the station, and came in with me to make sure I got on the right train. She loaded me down with food, which was great because it was late and I hadn't eaten. I ate on the platform waiting for the train, there was hardly anyone else there. The train ride back was fast and luxurious, real seats and everything. It pained me to know that I could (should!) have been riding in style earlier instead of spending an hour and a half on that ancient choo choo, although the scenic route probably would have been fun if it weren't for the appointment.

Guess I learned my lesson. Also, my scheduler rocks.

Kōzōji 高蔵寺
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited the Yaragisawa Party in Kozoji. I made extra sure the trains would work out and everything, and left extra early. At Chikusa, I caught a Rapid train going direct, without any more stops in between. What the schedules didn't say, however, was that this particular Rapid cost extra. This wasn't mentioned until after I was on the train, so I had to pay the conductor lady an extra ¥310. Oh well.

The party itself went great, made friends had a good time had to say goodbye et al, same routine.

I met a dude on the way back, he came up to me at the station. He seemed like one of those nice Japanese guys who strike up random conversation with foreigners to practice their English, except that he really didn't talk that much. He just sorta hung around and made sure I got on the right train, which happened to be the same one he was riding. He got off a couple stops later and waved goodbye. I waved back.

In unrelated news, I think my iPod is finally running its course. The battery is at (guesstimate) ~40% efficiency, and the hard drive does funky things when the battery is too low. It decided to screw up a sync at the index level, so it had to re-sync the entire thing. This is kinda important, I spend so much time on trains. Oh well, hope for the best.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Happy Halloween! I bought a package of fun-size Butterfingers from the import store for the office. They liked them, it was mentioned that there aren't really any Japanese candies that taste like them. Peanuts and chocolate just haven't taken off here, I guess. I haven't seen anything resembling Reeses here either, now that I think about it.

I stopped in Kamimaezu to check out the Osu shopping area on the way home, but things were closing down by then. Walked around, but I didn't really find anything. When I got home we played Legos and watched Ocean's Eleven on TV.

Man, I don't feel so good.

Baseless Ball
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today my host mom had a big Halloween Labo Party. We went down to a nursing home and performed some songbirds for some grandpas and grandmas. They seemed to enjoy it, especially the part where they got to hand out candy to trick-or-treating little kids.

It never comes up other than in my own head, but one of the interesting things about this country is the fact that circumstances were very different about 65 years ago. WWII is nothing to me but a few grainy photographs and some important lessons of things not to repeat, but a significant amount of people still remember it first-hand. All the time it happens, I'll see a more venerable gentleman or lady on the subway, and imagine: what would I think of me if I were them?

You see it all the time in America, people saying Asians all look the same. It's not something to be surprised at; our perceptiveness is tuned to the kinds of people we grow up and live with. This goes the other way, too. I've had people tell me that westerners all look the same, without any hint of prejudice. I do my best to stand out, but there aren't a whole lot of other foreigners for me to stand out against.

I wonder, then, what kind of stereotypes am I falling into? This is entirely moot, because people here are very good at not expressing their thoughts (out of politeness, the whole "wa" culture etc.). Still, that makes me all the more curious. 

Angular Ponies

My main journal is now over at Newmiller@Blogspot.com. Please check it out!

Finding "Nimo"
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I pretty much hung out with the Nakatani kids all day in the house. Watched a movie (Nemo in Japanese!), built legos and a marble structure, juggled, etc. That and did a bit of internet catching up, I actually have a connection here.

Bleah, don't feel like writing much atm. First day at the Nagoya Labo Center tomorrow, looking forward to it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I rode in on the subway to the Labo Center in Sakae. It's a waaay shorter commute than the one I had in Tokyo, glad about that.

I met my coordinator and the rest of the office, it was a rather formal introduction. My coordinator is a pretty cool dude, can't be a whole lot older than I am. After the introductions, he gave us some money and instructions to get a commuter pass, and gave me the rest of the day off.

Ms. Nakatani took me to the Atsuta Jingu, the second-biggest shrine in Japan. She bought me a health charm, a little zodiac dragon. I'm not sure if I'm really a bunny or a dragon; I grew up thinking that 1988=dragon, but some sites on the intarwebs tell me my birthday was before the Chinese new year. This not being China, both my host mom and the shrine maiden selling the charms agreed I was a dragon, at least by their terms. I'm still not convinced, but maybe I can compromise and at least be that bunny-dragon thing from monty python.

We ate lunch at a sorta western-style restaurant near the shrine. They had some gashapon machines up at the front, I bought a pokemon one while waiting for the food. I got lucky, pikachu.

It's been getting cooler and raining a lot. I hear word of another typhoon maybe coming, wonder if it'll be as devastatingly pleasant as the last one.

We were discussing my picky eating habits at dinner. My host mother has really taken to it, and has been trying this vegetarian thing out herself for the last few days (she's apparently into dieting). This is much to the chagrin of my host dad, who has been caught up as an innocent bystander in the whole thing (in Japanese households, the mom decides what's on the menu). Coming to terms with the idea that I haven't eaten any meat since I was four years old, my host dad asked, with a completely straight face, what I had eaten to get so big. As my host mother (who is a little bit more in-touch with western culture) facepalmed, he went on to ask my weight. I managed to tell him without cracking up too hard. I could see her face getting red as he got up from the table and went to fetch a reference book to translate the pound figure I had given into meaningful terms. After a little head math, he proudly announced his resulting figure to the dinner table, then did a double take and said, looking me over, "is that all?" Poor Ms. Nakatani... we got a good laugh out of it, at least.

It's not like Dilbert here
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my first day to go to Labo Center alone, and wouldn't you know it, the route we took yesterday was blocked off by construction. I got around ok, but pushed the clock a little more than I would have liked.

Ono, my scheduler, was out on a business trip today. The other coworkers helped me out a bit, but for the most part I simply went through my desk. There are tons of folders and papers, documenting interns at least as long ago as 1997. Pretty interesting to go through, there is a lot of history behind this desk.

I bought a nice box of anko-mochi sweets at the shrine yesterday, and I brought it in and gave it to the office. From what I understand, employees do this kind of thing a lot in Japanese offices.

One of sempais (I'm working on everyone's names, not quite there yet. I think her nickname is Ponko? Ponda? I know it's not Ponyo.) showed me a good place to get food for lunch, a sort of conglomeration of bakeries and take-out shops across the street. At an onigiri shop, she asked which one I was going to get. Not knowing any better, I answered, and she bought it for me before I realized what was happening. I tried to pay her back (I even had exact change already in my hand), but she wasn't having any of that. I'm still getting used to this whole gift culture, it does catch me off guard sometimes. The only problem with participating in such a culture is that you need to give back appropriately or the system breaks down. If you do it wrong, you run the risk of appearing moochy, cheap, rich, or sending a message completely different than what you meant. Anyways, the rice ball was delicious.

On the way out I stopped in the bookstore at the bottom of the building. I bought the second volume of that kanji mnemonic handbook, and almost bought a Tintin book for my host sister (they had a bunch of them in hardcover, even the color Congo one, the old Soviet one, and Alph-Art, which hasn't been released afaik in the US). She's about to turn seven, which is I think the birthday I got my first Tintin book. I just haven't seen her reading a lot, so I wonder if she'd actually give it a shot. I'll probably get it for her anyways.

Something Fishy
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Cripes, is it October already? Maybe I oughta think twice about this living in Japan idea, life is short enough as it is. This is gonna be a fast year. I mean, a fast 10 months and change. Yikes.

Ono-san (my scheduler) was gone today as well. I did some studying, stuffed some envelopes, and researched Halloween games. At lunch, I went out with Ponde and... and... I'm pretty sure his name started with a G... anyways we had udon. My "plain" udon came with a neat pile of bonito flakes on top, but it wasn't a problem that couldn't be mitigated by spoon.

I met some college members (there apparently aren't any "college mates" here, as would be normal in Labo). They were nice, but they were kinda preoccupied with some project, so I only got to talk to one of them for any length of time. Didn't quite get their names, oh well.

On the way out I wandered around Sakae for a bit, looking for a games shop. I found one without too much trouble, a nice one at that. I got the Ace Combat game I've been wanting, and they had the cheap used copy of Ouendan 2 Denis had asked for.

My host mother took it to heart when I told her that just because I was a vegetarian, I didn't mind if they had meat on the table. Tonight each of the kids and their dad got a whole cooked fish, head and everything. It wouldn't have been so bad if Eria hadn't chucked his on the floor (twice) and Seia wasn't playing a puppet show with the entrails.

Office days really aren't too exciting.
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Oda-san came back today, but he and pretty much the whole office were in a staff meeting all day. They brought bentos in, so I got a free lunch. Nom. I spent the day studying kanji and setting up my culture project on my work PC.

Oh yeah, and Nintendo announced their new DSi today. I wonder if I should get one, my old lite is getting kinda worn out. I wonder if I'll get the chance, seeing as how much the demand will probably be...

Stupid King
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Ono-san took me out to lunch today, a little soba restaurant hidden in Sakae's underground shop maze. After lunch, he took me a few blocks out to a spaceage-looking seven floor mall place. He directed me to the top floor, said there were "games and movies" up there. After navigating up a set of escalators reminiscent of Hogwarts, I found the top floor occupied by a Sofmap.

Sofmap is pretty sweet. It's one of the best game stores in Akihabara regarding both selection and price (despite being so huge), so I was pretty excited to find one so close to here. I didn't have much of the lunch hour left for browsing, but I did grab a few figures and a guide for my Haruhi game. Woot.

At 5:30, as I was leaving, I stumbled upon a group of Labo college students preparing for a meeting. I jumped in and started talking, made some friends and showed my album. They said they meet every two weeks, so I ought to see them a few more times at least.

Pizza for dinner, nom. The nori and cheese one was certainly something I hadn't tried before.

Not Food
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Weekend, yay! It's kinda late so this'll be brief.

Mailed in my ballot! I had to pay like three bucks for it though. Maybe I should have pointed out the "postage paid" thing on the envelope...

Went out to lunch to this nice little Indian restaurant down the street, I understand that the Nakatani family comes here regularly. It was pretty good, even though all we ate was some curry and a bunch of nan. The waiter was an interesting guy, a second generation Indian who knew four languages. He can't have been much older than me. He was really patient with us, three loud kids climbing around everywhere, we sorta abused the unlimited nan deal, on top of it all were using a coupon... the sort of meal you'd tip like 50% on in America. Guess he made sort of an impression, although him being the first non-Japanese person I've met in a week might have had something to do with that.

We went off to a Toysrus. I bought a big pile of Legos for the Nakatani kids, their poor little bucket was getting stretched pretty thin between the four of us. Also found some Magic cards that Denis had asked for, and a moderately hard shell for my PSP.

Stopped by another shop on the way back, I bought them an Ice Age DVD. We watched it when we got back, everyone liked it a lot. Seia demanded that we watch it again after dinner, and my host dad said that now he understands why some people become vegetarian.

At least the theme is catchy
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Dreary and rainy today. There was a community sports day at the local junior high school, which went on until about lunchtime when they decided to give in to the rain. It was fun until then at least, I met some neighbors, including a guy from Korea who had come here and started a family. Simple Japanese was all we had in common as far as language (he knew a more than I do at least), but you can say a lot even just through that.

Played with kids and hung out inside where it was dry for the rest of the day. Built lotsa Legos with more Ice Age playing in the background. Having flashbacks to 'Cre'bles. I have been dubbed a Lego "tensai" ("genius") after making a plaque sorta thing saying "なかたに," my host family's name. I ought to put myself on the fast-track to be a master builder at Legoland, maybe I could get the job with a plaque saying "Kristiansen."

We had Takoyaki for dinner, my host mom made me some containing conyaku instead. Yum.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was a study day for my cultural study project. Ono told me not to bother coming in to the Labo Center and do it at home, so I spent a good four or five hours on it. Man, I hope this thing will be as cool as I envision it.

Playing Legos, I noticed the nameplate I made yesterday was gone. It seems that my host dad liked it enough to bring it into work with him. So, among the other things I put together, I made a Lego rendition of 中谷, the name in kanji. Not sure if he's seen it yet.

Angular Ponies
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I managed to forget my wallet this morning. About halfway to the station (which is only a block away) I realized this, and had to turn back and get it. Still made it to the office on time ok.

I had an intern introduction thingy that had to be done by noon. I had already finished most of it, so I spent the morning getting the pictures right. I couldn't find a picture of the Hyperion redwood online, so I ended up using one of a different tree. Oh well.

I went to this import grocery store to find some food. Some of the items on the shelves would have been familiar if it weren't for the price tags. I'll have to buy some of that food one of these days and bring it home and make dinner. Sometime when my funds are a little freer, maybe.

I've been having to hit the coffee/tea a little harder recently, I need more sleep. In completely unrelated news, I beat the Ace Combat game (the one I bought last week) last night, it's lotsa fun.

Vie de France?
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Another office day. Stuffing envelopes and studying kanji. Tomorrow should shake things up a little bit, I've got a Labo Party in the afternoon. My scheduler has me starting off easy, though, it's my host mother's labo party.

On the way home I went to the Loft store in search of some shorter posts for my album. No luck in that regard, but I did get to scour the Sofmap on the top floor again. I found a Yakitate!! Japan DS game, it was really cheap. After bringing it home, I figured out why; it's sort of a cross between Monopoly and Mario Party. Not exactly the cheap Cooking Mama one might have expected. 

I got a couple of Anpanman gashapon for Leona and Seia. Neither of them were main characters, but the kids liked them anyways.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Labo party was fun. We spent the entire allotted hour doing songbirds and a theme activity, and the next half hour juggling. For future reference, I will not attempt to teach at a party unless I'm equipped with a bucket of balloon balls or something. This was the same party I walked in on when I arrived here almost two weeks ago, so they'd already seen my album.

I'm beginning to see how these things might wear someone out when done in high quantities.

Kurokawa 黒川
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my first real actual go-somewhere-on-my-own Labo Party! It went really well, none of the kids hated me. Hey, I consider that a success for my first time.

We were planning on doing a theme activity, but everyone was having so much fun playing duck duck goose and hacky sack that Okita-sensei I guess forgot about it. All that preparation, oh well. Had fun anyways!

Apparently I was the first intern Okita Tutor has had for almost ten years. She was really nice... I don't wanna say carefree, but that high-strung feeling I get from most tutors I've met wasn't there. Her daughter went on an exchange to Wisconsin last year, and she and her son are going to Washington State next year.

It's kinda hard to say goodbye at the end of these parties... you make a whole bunch of friends, and then you're never going to see them again. I suppose I'll need to get used to that.

There was a Book-Off right near the station, so before I left I stopped by. They had two games I had been looking for, and they were pretty cheap too. One was that Aha! game I'd been showing the demo of on my PSP to everyone back home, the one where you have to identify the change in the photo. The other was Minna no Golf 2, sorta like Mario golf without the Mario. My host dad plays golf (he gets up at 5 every morning to practice at the driving range down the street, and he's been in two company tournaments since I've arrived), so I've been trying to get back into that. Maybe I'll get up at 5 with him one of these days and see if I can learn how to not miss a golf ball.


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Ishida House, Matsudo

I remembered that we were going to the Edo-Tokyo museum today, and to meet in Shinjuku station instead of the Mitsui Building. The museum was awesome, but we only had about two hours, so we missed a few floors.

We tried to set up our bank accounts during lunch, but they needed our gaigokujin cards, the one I can't pick up until next week.

Emma recommended that I try the HMV in Takashimiya Times Square for the single I was looking for. As I walked in, the rfid detectors beeped at me. A few people looked up, but no one said anything. I walked back through it, and it didn't go off again. I found the J-pop section, the band, and finally the single. It was thirteen bucks. For one song? Screw that. The detector beeped again as I left, but no one seemed to notice. That or they weren't up for approaching a big, annoyed-looking gaijin.

When I got home, I got online and checked iTunes. Not there, of course. I switched to the Japanese iTunes, but they didn't even have the artist, much less the song. I gave up and did it the easy way. The song isn't really as good as I remember, anyways. I guess jet engines do sort of cloud one's audible judgement.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Something happened on the Joban train line this morning. I got to the station, and while it was the most crowded I'd ever seen it, everyone was very quiet and somber save for a few crying children. There weren't any trains, and every few minutes the stationmaster gave an announcement over the intercom. He was saying some things regarding other stations, and he kept saying "terrible." After a while, a train came, and it was so packed that not everyone could get on it, which is saying a lot when you consider how much people can get on a Tokyo commuter train. This was an hour or so after rush hour, too. I managed to get on the second train that came, although it too was ridiculously full.

I arrived at our meeting place in Shinjuku Station about 15 minutes late, but I wasn't the last one there. Emma (who also uses the Joban line) was on the train until 45 after. She said that whatever happened probably happened at her station (Kameari), judging by all the cop cars she saw.

Today was our "introduction to the train system," although in practice it was more like a race. We split into two groups and took opposite directions around a five line loop. Coral, Simon, and I lost by a couple minutes.

On the way back home I got an email from Tomoko, saying there wasn't gonna be anyone in the house until 7:30 because they were at a Labo party. It being 5:30, I got out at Ikebukuro and explored a bit. I like to think of Ikebukuro as the "expensive" district, maybe in a vegas sort of way. There are tons of panchinko parlors, gaming arcades (mostly consisting of those crane games), movie theaters, restaurants, and entertainment shops (music, movies, games, electronics, etc.). There are some dollar store type places too, although I wouldn't exactly consider their stocks "bargains." I guess you could consider the place a good date spot, assuming your date doesn't mind the seizure-inducing electric signage all over the place.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we went to the Jindaiji Temple, in Chufu. Nice place, we had lunch there too.

I went to withdraw some money from my bank account today, the one back in the US. Apparently the markets pulled some kinda Titanic last weekend, and dollar dropped by like 20% against the yen. I wish I'd made this withdrawal last week, but I should consider myself lucky that I didn't have more savings than I do in dollars. I hope everyone gets through this thing ok.

In the evening I met up with Yokoo Kouki (my old host dad) and went to his company's Seiji Touho (?) museum, the one with Van Gogh, Monet, and Gaugin. It was supposed to be a trip with all the interns, but everyone else had better things to do. The current exhibit was Giotto and some other Italian Renaissance stuff.

The typhoon is supposed to hit tomorrow. That should be fun.

Ishida House, Matsudo

The typhoon was a joke by the time it arrived, it hardly even rained. Oh well, I guess I'd rather it was too weak than too strong.

This morning I played soccer with Naota and some of the neighborhood kids.

Other than that, not a lot happened today. I spent some time fussing around with my ballot, geez there is alot of stuff on it. I wonder if it's always like this in California.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Yuto's school sports day was today. It was supposed to be yesterday, but they postponed in because of the typhoon. I think they might have been better off leaving it as it was; it started raining intermittently an hour or so into the event, and it got worse and worse as the day progressed. The kids didn't seem to be deterred by a little wetness, though.

A Japanese sports day is pretty impressive. There are different "classes" (in this case three of them) competing in various events for points (sort of like the houses in Harry Potter). It's really more of a performance than a tournament, though. The kids had clearly been practicing for this for weeks, half the events were rehearsed dances, and there were plenty of ouendan doing performances between events. It's a pretty big deal for all the families too, everyone comes. Naota left at five in the morning to go reserve us a little patch of ground to watch from, and there were already more than thirty people there. Tomoko's parents and her brother and sister (as they were introduced to me, I think one of them she meant to say in-law) and their kids all came. One of her nephews was a cute little guy maybe a year old. He all but jumped into my arms from his dad's, didn't seem to mind one bit that I wasn't Japanese.

At about 2:00 Ms. Yokoo picked me up to go to her Labo BBQ at a park. It was fun, but we were huddled under the structure from the rain for a good portion of it. Got to eat soumen, an interesting sort of party noodle. What they do is set up a long trough (traditionally it's made from bamboo split down the middle, but we had a plastic one), and run water down it. Anyone hungry stands near the trough with a cup of soy sauce and a pair of chopsticks at the ready. Someone at the top then sends down soumen noodles (wheat noodles sort of like angel hair), tomatoes, and other goodies down the trough, and everyone goes to town with their chopsticks. There's a colander at the end to recycle missed food. It's pretty fun, and kinda competitive until everyone in front of you gets full.

The rain was sort of ambient for most of the time. After the food was done, Ms. Yokoo asked me to show my album to everyone. As this was the first time I had an audience containing younger kids, I was anxious to see how it would work. However, Zeus wasn't having any of that; the minute everyone quieted down and I started on my first page, there was a crack of thunder and the rain came down so hard that it was difficult to talk, much less hear anyone. We went through the album anyways, pretty pictures etc., but I got through it as fast as I could as it was clear that people were wanting to go home. Still, everyone stuck around to make sure everything got put away.

Fun day, but I'll still be drying off into next week.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Tomorrow is a national holiday, but our day off got moved ahead to today. I first went to Matsudo to get my gaigokujin card, that went ok, no nasty surprises. It's nice and shiny and holographic and all that jazz, and it'll pretty much serve as my identification card for the next year.

After that, I headed off to spend the rest of the day at Akihabara. I had a few things in mind to get, none of which I ended up finding. I walked through dozens of stores over the span of about 7 hours, and did find a some cool stuff. The Haruhi and Naruto PSP games, a few really cheap PS1 games, and some gashapon figures.

Early day tomorrow, at least the trains shouldn't be too full.

Nom Nom Nom
Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we went up to Saitama to this traditional Japanese house/resort/restaurant and made udon. We all had our own stations and everything, it was like an udon class or something. After we made it, we got to eat it in this really nice traditional tatami room with a garden outside and everything. We even got to take some home with us.

Afterwards, we headed to Shibuya. Got to see the statue of Hachiko the dog, that was cool. Crossed the busiest intersection in the world, good heavens it was huge, lots of people. Went shopping at 109, although I pretty much just tagged along. Fashion, I think I've seen enough of that for one lifetime.

Late Train
Ishida House, Matsudo

This morning we set up our bank accounts. We don't have our ATM cards yet, but we do have these nifty little balance books. You can put them in the machine at the post office and it'll let you access your account, and it'll print the transaction in the appropriate line for you. It took me all of five minutes to jam the machine, but everything worked out ok. Eventually.

In the afternoon we went up to Amanuma-sensei's house in Saitama for a tea ceremony. It was a lot less formal than the one I did two years ago, and more enjoyable because she didn't make us sit on our legs. I got to actually try my hand at making the tea this time, also. Amanuma-sensei's husband is a record company exec, so she has a really nice house and garden. She was very eager to show it all to us, it was pretty nice.

I would've fumbled just as badly even if it was English...
Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we wrote letters to ourselves, the idea being that in a year we'll open the envelopes and laugh at our naivete. My letter was fairly concise, mostly "now you're even older" stuff and asking for lotto numbers. Coral's went on for pages, I wonder what she was saying. Emma pulled out some art pens and we decorated the envelopes, too.

We had a test and speech instead of class today. I got 33 out of 41, which isn't so bad considering I didn't study for the test at all. If I can do that well on the JLPT4 in december (of which this test is supposed to be the same level) I'll pass by a good margin. I spectacularly fumbled my speech, tripping up on a word I learned two minutes before I gave it. That, and my speech was kinda dry to start with. Guess I'm not cut out to be a Japanese politician after all.

Today was likely the last time the six of us interns would be hanging out together, as the two Aussies are leaving in January. We went to the Italian place on the ground floor of the building, but only for forty-five minutes or so. Most of us had to return home to pack (we ship our suitcases tomorrow morning), including me.

That was Fast
Ishida House, Matsudo

This is my last night with the Ishida family, they've been fantastic hosts. Tomorrow I get on the Shinkansen and zoom off to Nagoya.

Today the four of us new interns went to Kawamura-sensei's Labo parties, somewhere in western Tokyo. The first was a kindergarten party, it was a "demonstration" party with mostly non-Labo members. It went pretty well. Japanese kindergartens are awesome btw, or at least this one was.

The second party was a normal elementary school level party. It went alright for the most part, but there was a two-year-old there who decided she didn't really like me, I think it was because I took my hat off.

In any case, I'm really tired. Goodnight.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I left Matsudo, Ms. Yokoo accompanied me to Tokyo Station. We visited a bookstore for about an hour, then had lunch at a little Italian pasta shop. She saw me onto the train and I introduced her to Katie... they seemed to hit it off pretty well, but the train wasn't gonna wait for us so we had to say goodbye. I've had to say goodbye a lot in the past couple days, goodbyes suck.

This was the first time I've ridden a Shinkansen, I was on the Nozomi line. As we went through Tokyo it just sort puttered along at normal train speed, but after we stopped at Shinyokohama and picked Coral up the train sped up a bit. It was awesome. The most apt way of describing it is to imagine being in an airplane that stays near the ground. Most of the route is pretty urban, so you're seeing houses go by at hundreds of kilometers per hour, right outside the window. It was a really surreal feeling, one that I'd had hundreds of times in my dreams, but this was the first time I felt it while fully conscious. And I was only on the medium-speed Shinkansen, I wonder what the fastest one is like.

Unfortunately that kind of speed meant that my trip was over pretty fast. My new host mother, Ms. Nakatani, was waiting for me as I stepped off the train.

When I arrived at the Nakatani home (a sizable 8th floor apartment just a block away from the train station), I was greeted by approximately eight kids, all very eager to get to know me. I'm not exactly how many there were as they were moving too fast to count, but from what I understand three of them are my host siblings, the rest being members of Ms. Nakatani's Labo party.

They ranged in age from about two to six, and had a ton of energy. They started by dumping out a big bucket of Legos. I built a six-sided color spiral cylinder out of 4x2 bricks, they liked that. I taught my 6y/o host sister, Leona, how to build the structure, she was really into it.

The mothers were all there too. I presented my album, that went over well. From what I understand, Ms. Nakatani lived in the SF Bay Area for a couple years before she lived here.

We had negi-okonomiyaki for dinner, watched 101 dalmatians, did some other stuff, but I'm really tired. I've got an elevated bed here, can't wait to test it out.

¿Windmills? ¡Charge!

My main journal is now over at Newmiller@Blogspot.com. Please check it out!

Ishida House, Matsudo

It's a weekend! I got to sleep in today, although I really shouldn't have. After I got up and ate, I commandeered the family's internet for a few hours. I set up the journal website so that it doesn't look quite so naked anymore, and added in the journal I kept two years ago. I even got a chance to video chat with mom, Clay and Bill to introduce them to the Ishida family.

After that, Yuto, Naoto and I went outside to play hacky-sack. Despite Mayuko and a few friends doing their best to get their heads knocked off (by randomly running, biking even, through the circle), we had fun. Once Naota understood the goal, he didn't want to go inside until we pulled off another double hack. We stayed out there for at least an hour.

While we were playing, at about 5:00 I heard a loudspeaker play some music through the neighborhood. I asked what it was, and Naota explained that it meant that children's playtime was over. They've got a communal playtime, I was wondering why there were so many other kids running around.

We had dinner, tempura, and afterwards Yokoo-sensei (my old host mother) came over and we all walked to Kita-Kogane for the festival. I took lots of pictures with my fancy phone, but most of them are kinda dark without any flash. I even took a few movies. Once I figure out how to get them onto my computer, I'll upload them.

After we got back home, somehow classical music came up in conversation. I couldn't remember what the piece I was thinking of was, so I pulled out my Nodame Cantabile game and showed them (it was Carmen Fantasy, by Sarasate). All of them like classical music to some degree, and the kids were especially interested in the game. Great fun.

One of the most striking things I remember about being in Japan is the rate at which you learn the language. Having been here a week, I can affirm that the head rush is even more ludicrous than I remember. I'm just hearing so much, all the time, that it's impossible not to understand some of it. The weird thing is that I'm understanding more and more of it. The more I know, the faster I learn, so the data flow is growing exponentially. I've had to remind myself that something I was listening to was in Japanese, because I understood it so fluidly. I'm actually constructing sentences in real time, even though I hardly spoke Japanese at all the last time I was here. I find myself participating in conversations instead of just observing them. This is awesome. The task of learning an entirely new language is seeming far less daunting than it did a week ago.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Got an early start, at least compared to yesterday. Today was the day I was supposed to go on a bus tour with the other interns, but somehow through several levels of miscommunication my schedule got changed. Instead, my host family took me around to see some of the sights ourselves.

First we went to <oh crap I don't remember the name atm oh well I'll look it up later>, a nice area on the waterfront. We had a wonderful view of the Rainbow Bridge (a big suspension bridge that looks sort of like the Bay Bridge in SF). There was a boat dock, a sightseeing/ferry service up the river to Asakusa. In the waiting room they had sort of a jet engine with mist nozzles, blasting across the room. Really, it would be futile to try and describe its presence with just words, but I got some pictures of it at least.

We caught a boat and took a nice leisurely cruise. There a lot of bridges across that river, we must have gone under a dozen of them in less than half an hour. 

Asakusa was a lot more crowded than I remember it being two years ago, although that's probably just because today is a weekend. We did the whole song and dance, walking under the giant lantern, through the bazaar, and to the humungous temple. Off to the side, we found some people doing a show with trained monkeys. Then we had udon for lunch and headed home (I'd forgotten how good that stuff is cold).

We stopped at Kita-Kogane and picked up a cake for Mayuko. It's her fifth birthday tomorrow, but we're celebrating today. We had croquettes and a "sushi cake" for dinner, a cake that Mayu's mom made out of rice, eggs and vegetables. We sung happy birthday (accompanied by piano!) and Tomoko did a wonderful mock "interview" for the camcorder. I think Mayu had a good time, although everyone was pretty tired by the end of the day.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I woke up with a lovely sore throat today. I've been feeling a little iffy for a few days, but I hadn't yet mentioned it to anyone for fear of being dragged off to the hospital. I'm gonna try to get some extra sleep to help get better, so this might be brief.

We did an album workshop with Kate and Simon today. They liked my album so far, especially Snowy the tiger.

It's Mayu's birthday, so on the way home I stopped at Akihabara and picked up a copy of Nintendogs for her. She's been in love with mine since I showed it to her last week, so maybe this will be something tangible she can remember me by. I got home late, so she hasn't had a chance to play it yet, but she likes the box at least.

The bath water was green again today. I stuck with a shower.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we did a "Language Acquisition Workshop" with Lance today. I went out with Coral, Kate, and Simon after class to a little tea shop and hung out for a while.

I've been feeling kinda crappy for a while now, because I think I'm a little bit sick, and some other stuff. My nose stopped running, but I've still got a bit of a cough. Gonna keep trying to sleep it off.

Ishida House, Matsudo

This morning we got to do calligraphy. I'm not sure what was wrong with me, but I was royally sucking at it. Two years ago I did fine, but today I just wasn't able to get it down. I went through almost two dozen tries before I tossed in the towel. Maybe it was the brush I used? Blech.

After class Harioka-sensei helped edit my album comments, so now I've just got to format and print it. I stopped by the bookstore on the way home and picked up a kanji mnemonic handbook.

Poor Mayuko has been trying to play her dog game for a few days now, but the stupid dog won't remember its name. She goes through the naming process, entering the name and everything, and then the dog just plays around for five minutes. Then the dog forgets the name, and she has to go through it all over again. The game won't let her do anything else until the dog gets its name down, it's really frustrating. I don't remember having this problem with my dog game at all.

I'm still sick, although I've been slamming echinacea and cough drops for days. No headaches, just an occasional hack and cough. My host mother is starting to worry about it, and so will I if I don't feel better soon. I've heard tales of Lee (a previous intern) being sick for much of his time in Japan, and another girl even having to return home because it was so bad. I'm probably blowing this way out of proportion because of such worries, but this never happened to me two years ago.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Not better yet. At least it doesn't seem to be getting any worse.

Today we did an orientation for Labo Camp, which I'll be attending in December. You know you're gonna have a good time when your schedule gives you a generous estimate of 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night.

There was apparently a big earthquake up in Hokkaido this morning, a 7.0 from what I hear. I didn't feel anything, but I did get some mail from people wanting to know that I was alright. It's nice to know that someone is looking out for me.

I got some stuff in the mail! The mail-ballot for the general election, glad that worked. A jacket and pants that grandma sent me, they're really nice. The jacket is really lightweight but at the same time really warm, exactly what I need.

After class, I went up to Zaidan and printed off my album. Then I rushed home to go to Yokoo's Labo party. I got to see a bunch of people I remember from two years ago, it was pretty fun. I showed my work-in-progress album by spreading the pages all over the floor, that went over well. We did a couple songbirds and some theme activities. I did my best, but it was my first time for all of them.

After that, I went to Yokoo's house for dinner. Got to hang out with Hirokazu for a while.

I think today was supposed to be the first experiments at the LHC in CERN. I wonder how they went? I do so wish I had net.

Rainy day.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Cripes it's late. More typing tomorrow.


In the morning we did a songbird workshop with Kate and Simon. Two solid hours of songbirds, that was something of a workout.

During class, we composed five week-long "tours" of North America. We wrote the out in Japanese, and presented them to some very patient teachers at the Nihongo Institute.

After class, all of us interns went out to East Shinjuku. We got some puri-kuri (those weird sparkly photo booths, at least that's what I think they're called), played some arcade games, and went out to dinner. They all went off to Roppongi to pull an all-nighter clubbing, but I figured that wouldn't be the best thing for me to do to stop being sick. It still took me until after midnight to get home, I think I got the last train.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I slept in, didn't really do much today. I cleaned up my room a bit, although there wasn't much to clean. Played hacky-sack with Yuto for a while. Still coughing.

After dinner, I went over my album with my host family again. Come to think of it, I haven't really introduced them yet.

My host father is Ishida Naoto, a pretty cool dude. He works really long days, leaving at about 7:30 in the morning and not getting home until 9:00 or 10:00, so I don't see a whole lot of him during the week. I think he works as a salesman, though I'm not sure of what.

My host mother, Ishida Tomoko, is a pretty nice lady. Aside from all that mom stuff, she's a pianist (she teaches both her kids every day) and she likes Nodame Cantabile. Both parents are very polite and thoughtful, and they both know just enough English to (usually) meet me halfway in communication.

Yuto, my host brother, is eight years old. He's generally pretty quiet, but maybe that's only in comparison to his sister. He likes hacky-sacking, Tintin, piano, and Labo.

My five-year-old (her birthday was last week) host sister is Mayuko, although we usually just call her Mayu. I guess she prefers that; on the first day, I called her, and she responded with "Mayuko who?" She talks a lot, sometimes to no one in particular. It's nice, because she doesn't really care whether I understand what she says, she'll just keep talking to me. Usually, though, I do understand most of what she says because she doesn't use a lot of difficult words.  It's interesting to think that one can learn as much Japanese though a persistent kindergartner as you can through some professional teachers.

Naoto's Parent's House, Tsukuba, Ibaraki-ken

Today (well, tonight really) is a holiday in Japan, called Otsukimi (お月見, nice easy kanji). Something about a giant rabbit making mochi on the moon, and a moon princess visiting earth.

After lunch we all hopped in the car for a road trip. On the way out of Matsudo, we stopped at the UniQlo and visited Yukiko. She was surprised to see me, and we didn't hang around for very long, as she seemed sorta busy. Still, it was nice to see her again.

Driving north from Chiba-ken to Ibaraki-ken was a bit different from the Tokyo cityscape I've been experiencing the last few weeks. Lots of green trees, there was even a portion of highway that reminded me a little of the Sacramento causeway bridge.

Naota's parents live in a relatively quiet little corner of Tsukuba, with a nice big yard/driveway. Today is his mom's birthday, and a lot of the family came over to visit. His uncle is a soba-maker, and he taught Yuto and I how to make soba. Lotsa fun, glad I didn't screw up. Aside from making soba, he was eager to exercise his English skills and taught me about moon-rabbits (among other things).

Naota's parents gave me some nice presents, including a set of those really nice hand-towels. Thank you!

Ishida House, Matsudo

After breakfast we watched some TV. It was a broadcast of a play/musical, starring mostly kids that looked less than 12 years old. They were pretty good, it would be nice to be that talented.

We went to a huge park near a lake, the second biggest body of water in Japan. There was a roller-slide that looked almost a hundred meters long, a huge play structure shaped like a zeppelin (apparently a zeppelin stopped by here about 70 years ago), a nature center, a water system powered by a windmill, and lots of grass. We did a lot of hacky-sack and other stuff, really tired ourselves out.

The car ride home took a bit longer, we didn't use the expressway and there was plenty of traffic. I learned the word for "traffic," conderu. It sounds quite similar to the Japanese pronunciation of my name.

Ishida House, Matsudo

The weather was nice today. It was raining this morning, so I had to use an umbrella to get to the station. Apparently there's a typhoon down south making trouble, this is probably remnants of that. Everything cleared up back to normal by the time evening came around, though.

On the way home I walked over to this building in east shinjuku with a used music shop on the seventh floor. I was looking for this Puffy song that's been stuck in my head since I heard it on the airplane, but they only had it on an album for $15 bucks. That seemed a little tall for one song, so I tried Bic Camera. They didn't have the single either, so I gave up and went home.

In shinjuku station the neatest thing happened. Let me preface by noting that Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world. The only thing more striking than how big it is is the fact that all that space is crammed full of people walking one way or another, twenty-four seven. I don't know the actual numbers (no internet...), but it wouldn't surprise me if close to a million people walk through it every day.

As I approached the gates, I extracted my train pass and my DS from my backpack. Ebbing with the flow of people, I made my way to my train. I thought to myself, "Oh shoot, I meant to buy a new stylus for my DS back at the store, my old one is getting a bit worn out. Oh well." Just as I reached the stairs to the platform, I glanced down and noticed that I had been clutching my DS in such a fashion that oriented the stylus slot downward, and there was no stylus to speak of. I stopped abruptly, and after getting my back to a wall so I wouldn't disrupt the foot traffic too much, I looked around. Back the way I had come, I could hardly see the floor through all the people, much less a little white bit of plastic on it. I craned my neck a bit, but it was painfully clear that I would never see my stylus again. Even if I had dropped it only twenty seconds earlier, it probably would have been stomped or kicked into an oblivion by now.

Resigned, I moped slowly up the stairs, as dozens of annoyed Japanese commuters swarmed past me. It was only an old bit of plastic, but my game system felt naked without it. I assured myself that I could just buy a new one tomorrow, and that it wasn't really a big deal. Nevertheless, I was really thinking I needed some cheering up right about then. No sooner had I thought that when I saw something glisten on the stair I had just climbed. I looked over, trying to define the small black object on the black step. Had I been a few feet to the right, I would have stepped on it. Forgetting about annoying commuters, I hesitantly approached the object; it looked sort of like a small pen. My mind had at that point been preoccupied with a certain similarly sized object, so I understood that what I thought I saw was probably too good to be true. I blinked, and reached down and picked up what I confirmed was an honest-to-goodness DS lite stylus. I looked around for anyone else who might be looking for something, but there wasn't a soul who didn't seem to have a desperately important appointment to get to.

I examined the prize as I started climbing the rest of the stairs, marveling at my bizarre fortune. It couldn't have been on that step for too long, because it still seemed to be in pretty good shape. It had clearly been trodden on a few times, but a few wipes and the scuffs all but disappeared. I slipped it into my DS, and it clicked snugly as if it had come in the same box. The color was different from my old one, a dark navy instead of white, but I was ready for a change of pace in that respect anyways. As I got to the platform, my train pulled up. Before I boarded, I gave a moment to whoever lost they're stylus for me, and hoped that they would find mine, wherever it may be. It was all I could do to resist giving a whoop and fist pump as I stepped aboard.

Life can be pretty nifty sometimes. That is the most happiness I ever imagined that two cents of plastic could provide me.

Detective Work

My main journal is now over at Newmiller@Blogspot.com. Please check it out!

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today was my first full day at Labo. I left early so as not to be late, so I got to hang around the Labo offices for a good 45 minutes. The four of us new interns met with Ariel to go over the program guidelines, thirteen pages of technicalities and common sense ("no stealing"). It took from 10:00 all the way to 1:00, but at least it's over with. Labo owns my soul for the next 12 months.

We had lunch together out on the courtyard. Coral has a college degree in Japanese, so she's in the nihongo institute classes, which start at 1:30. Emma, Katie and I are doing lessons with a teacher in our own beginner's class, it doesn't start until 2:00.

Our "class" is pretty much starting from the beginning, mostly for Katie's benefit. I spent most of the class trying to convince the teacher (Harioka-sensei, one of my teachers from two years ago) that I already know hiragana, and helping/distracting Emma and Katie. I did learn a few new words, (みかん=orange, ふね=boat, among others), and had a good time (Harioka-sensei is a fun teacher), but I hope I get to move on to kanji soon.

During a break, I went out to the hall to buy a drink. There was a man messing with the vending machine, trying to get a stuck drink out the dispenser. He asked me if I could give it a shot, so I got it out for him. He thanked me and asked for my name, so I introduced myself. He replied with his own introduction; he was the director of Labo, definitely someone I would want to have a good impression of me.

After class, Coral had something to take care of with Ariel, and the rest of the interns went to Nishi-shinjuku station. I stopped at i-Land and picked up a notebook and a nice pencil, then went to Bic Camera to try to buy a phone. I spent two hours with an AU-KDDI lady trying to figure everything out. At first it seemed like there wouldn't be any way to get a one-year plan, all the contracts were at least two years. However, they had a one-day deal where if you bought a certain phone, signed up for the contract, and were under 22 years old, they would give you 10000 cash back on the spot. Since the contract cancellation fee is 9975 yen, they figured everything worked out. The only catch is that the phone in the deal doesn't have an english option, so I'm going to be experiencing the Japanese Phone in all its original glory.

The forms (oh, always with the forms) were all in Japanese, but the lady walked me through it. There was some kind of rule dictating that I needed to be the one making the pen marks, so I had to put down my host family's address. I had the address, but it was in Japanese. The thing about Japanese proper nouns is that they are in Kanji. Creative kanji, sometimes so much so that literate Japanese adults can't read them. The thing about Japanese addresses is that they are long. So I had to copy down this dozen character address, each character being about a dozen strokes, from a twelve-point font printout. At first I stopped dead, thinking I would need to stop and come back with someone who knew what they were doing. After taking a longer look at the address, I found that I actually could identify the stroke order, and did a legible job of transferring the address to the form. They didn't actually have the phone in stock, so I'll have to come back tomorrow to pick it up.

It was dark by the time I got out of the store, so I figured I needed to call my host family to let them know where I was. I had a telephone card, but I couldn't find a telephone in the station. I ended up asking some policemen, and they showed me to a hidden bank of camouflaged phones, four feet tall, in a dank corner under some stairs.

Got kinda smooshed in trains today. I'll have to get used to that.

After I got home, the opportunity presented itself to use the net for a little while, so I launched my journal. Hope that goes well.

Ishida House, Matsudo

This is gonna be a short entry, it's really late and I'm really tired. My Suica card threw kind've a fit at Shinjuku, but the staff fixed it in a matter of seconds.

We did a "Japanese Culture Workshop" with Ariel today. We went over some basic Japanese values, customs, etc. The idea is that even though we don't have the cultural experience to fit in, we can at least have some context as to why we don't fit in.

As for class, it went ok. We went over to the nihongo institute to "interview" some innocent staff. I learned that if it goes in an office tool, it's called しん. Pencil lead, staples, even ink cartridges. Fun stuff.

On the way home, Emma, Katie, and I stopped at the Bic Camera. They bought some adaptors to remove their ground plugs, and I picked up a cell phone. It's green, and does everything you can imagine save for having english menus. There are a lot of options and menus to get through on a phone that has everything. The manual is bigger than some schoolbooks I've had, full of kanji. There are two pages of english that explain that to make a call I need to punch in the numbers and hit the button.

Ishida House, Matsudo

This morning we were to meet in Shinjuku station, and I arrived forty minutes early. I wandered around the station, looking at shops while I waited. I found a nifty little place selling umeboshi-onigiri, so I bought one and stuffed it in my backpack. I was looking for an umbrella, but most of the shops were food oriented, and the ones that did have umbrellas had the long sort that doesn't fit in my backpack.

After we all met, we went on a walking tour of Shinjuku. We saw Yodobashi Camera, a few restaurants, and the only Krispy Kreme in Japan. It's apparently a popular attraction, because they had a permanent line set up like an amusement park ride. When Ariel saw that it was only ten minutes long, she said she couldn't pass it up and sent us off to a bookstore with Kate and Simon. After she caught up with us, we went around Takashimiya times square and eastern shinjuku, and back to Labo through i-Land.

We had lunch with a bunch of folks from Labo, a pizza party. The president of Labo (I forgot his name) sat next to me, and I had a few conversations with him before we did formal introductions and I found out who he was. The pizza itself was pretty good, I wonder if Dominoes has ever considered selling eggplant, corn, and mayonnaise on pizzas in the US as well.

For class, we had Kurosaki-sensei, the head teacher at the Nihongo Institute. He was really good, I finally understand the difference between wa and ga now. We learned a bit about the US and Canada as well, as we explained things about our homes.

After the train, I stopped at the SATO in kita-kogane. They had a few lego sets, but it seems that lego didn't get a patent soon enough in Japan either, as there were several knockoffs. One of the knockoffs was really prominent, and featured the badge "made in Japan!" I almost bought I set of legos just to spite it. I should have.

There were banks upon banks of gashapon, but most of them weren't of any interest. They're getting pretty expensive, many were 200yen a pop, and a few were 300. There was a Lucky Star one I wanted, but I didn't want it 300yen bad. Of course, now that I don' t have it, I do sorta wish I'd gone for it. Oh well, maybe later.

I found a vending machine on the way home that was selling CC Lemon for 120yen. It normally goes for 150, so I bought it. I put in 150 yen (100 coin and 50 coin), and it spit out 70yen back at me, plus the drink. It's possible that I accidentally put in two 100 coins, but I'm pretty sure I didn't. I think what happened is that the machine ran out of 10yen coins after dispensing two, so it dropped a 50yen coin (the next highest denomination, the machine doesn't take 5yen coins and there is no japanese quarter). Lucky me!

Ishida House, Matsudo

I stopped by Yodobashi Camera this morning and bought a microSD card for my camera phone. Now I'll be able to take as many photos and movies as I want without having to worry about running out of space, I hope.

Hirano-san spent the morning explaining the Labo organization to us from a Japanese perspective. Most of it wasn't that exciting, but he did have an interesting way of describing the differences between western and Japanese socialization. He drew two sets of circles; one had a thick inner circle and a thin outer circle, the other vice versa. The circle with the thin outer "shell" represented a westerner: generally outgoing and easy to make friends with, but always maintaining a strong personal zone of privacy. Japanese people tend to be more shy, but because space restraints in Japan make personal space hard to come by, their culture has adapted. Once you really succeed in befriending a Japanese person, your bond is close and there is not as much privacy expected.

After class, all of us interns went out for the evening. We stopped by Shinjuku station and found the Shinjuku Eye, and neat sculpture thing. Then we went and found what is apparently one of the only Mexican restaurants in Japan. It wasn't quite Mexican how I know it, but it was more Mexican than the Italian restaurants are Italian. We played some games (I'm Tupac) and told scary stories, fun times. I didn't get home until almost 11.

My phone is pretty nifty. I've been playing with it and attempting to familiarize myself with it over the last few days, and I've figured out most of the basic stuff. I set it up so it'll work with my gmail (that is, I set gmail to forward to the phone). After sending a few messages, I've found that despite my native language, it's way easier to text in Japanese than it is in English. Part of it is how good the predictive text software is (it regularly correctly predicts words before you even enter one character, based on learned context), part of it is how much better the Japanese alphabet is suited to the keypad, and part of it is that words generally have less characters (even just four or five kana is a long word in Japanese). All that and it plays tennis!

I'm Here!

My main journal is now over at Newmiller@Blogspot.com. It's got an RSS feed and everything!

I'll still post in this journal in the same manner I did two years ago, but the main journal will be more modern (e.g., it will have a navigable archive, look more orange, etc.). Please check it out, even though it's still under construction.

My journal so far:

Friday, August 29th
New City Hotel, Nishi-Shinjuku

I'm here!

Those words don't convey much on their own. But when "here" is understood to be "on the other side of the planet," damn the semantics. Japan is no longer "there," it's "here." That is awesome.

Yesterday I spent the day packing. I wanted to travel as light as possible, so there was a lot of saying goodbye to treasured possessions I had hoped to be able to bring. Lots of cleaning up so that I wouldn't leave behind too big of a mess. Lots of loose ends to tie up. With so much to do, it was convenient that time seemed to pass slower the more I anticipated the next day. I finished everything up at the reasonable hour of midnight, and went to bed.

Usually when I go to bed, I need to listen to some music or podcasts to get my eyes shut. Last night, I didn't bother. I laid down in my freshly turned bed, and looked out the window. I could see a single star shining through the smog, and tracked it as I thought about what lay ahead. Was I ready? Did I forget anything? How's the flight going to go? I marveled at how far I was going to travel, something on the order of 5000 miles. The starlight twinkled at me as if to brag, "miles? Try light-years!"

Moments of clarity like that do not come to me often, and I knew that I wouldn't get another one for a long time to come (for about a year, to be precise). I rolled over and went to sleep.

My alarm was set for 8:00 in the morning (I needed to leave the house at around 10:00), but someone apparently thought that wasn't early enough. I woke up at about 7:15 to the obnoxious ticking of the kitchen timer; it had been brought up to my room as some sort of parting gift, I presume. By about 7:30, I was getting ticked off enough to get up and chuck the thing out the window, but it seemed to sense my intentions and went off before I did. The funny thing about our kitchen timer is that the ticking is louder than the ringing... but I digress.

I couldn't go back to sleep, and I ended up getting up before my alarm anyways. Took a shower, took my bags downstairs, ate breakfast. Dad was kind enough to accompany me on bart to the airport (SFO). We arrived two hours before my scheduled flight, and it took about half an hour to check in. As dad and I were getting something to eat before splitting up, I noticed that the line to the security checkpoint was rapidly growing. I took a spot in line, and dad brought me a little seaweed salad to munch on. The line took about ten minutes to get within the roped area, when dad and I said goodbye.

At least half an hour to get through security (man, it was jammed), but no problems. I bought a little bottle of water and a pack of lifesavers for the plane, which ran me more than five bucks. I got on the plane.

My seat was a window seat on the left side of the plane, with a little monitor and a tethered remote. The plane taxied and took off.

Flying is nothing new to me, I do it all the time. I had prepared some movies on my iPod to watch, but once the monitor activated, it became apparent that Northwest had me covered. There was a selection of about 40 movies, a bunch of music, and even some simple video games. Throughout the flight, I watched "Kung Fu Panda," "Iron Man," and about half an hour of "The Wild." I listened to some J-pop music (HiHi Puffy AmiYumi had a song I really liked... don't remember the name, but I know it was on the album Honeycreeper), and played some Picross and Chrono Trigger. Great fun.

I hadn't registered a vegetarian meal plan. Oops. My neighbor was a nice old Philippine lady who decided that she didn't like any vegetarian item that was served to her, once she heard tell of my predicament. By the time the last meal of the flight came around, a few more people in the row were doing the same. I survived on charitable donations of fruit cups and rolls. People can be pretty cool sometimes. I helped her by getting her movies playing a few times and with her baggage.

As we descended into Narita, I whipped out my camera and took a few photos. A bunch of them through the window, the clouds were nice and fluffy. The captain said to turn off all electric items and stow baggage, so I obligingly put away the camera. As if on cue, one of the most blindingly vivid double rainbows you ever saw jumped out, dead center through my window, over Tokyo. It hung around for a few minutes, lots of people admiring it.

We landed in light showers, and got off the plane. I meandered through the terminal towards immigration and customs, taking a few pictures along the way. At immigration, I was faced with a stunningly huge line of people. Over on the other side of the room, there was a single open immigration window, with an officer hollering to get my attention. This, it became apparent, was the foreign passport area. They took my picture and fingerprints (a new addition since 2006), and checked my paperwork with impressive efficiency, and had me through to the other side within a matter of seconds. I got my bag and went through customs, and the officer looked at my passport, asked what I was doing in Japan, and waved me through even faster than immigration.

I walked into the lobby and met with Ariel (my coordinator), who took me over to the tired group of Emma, Kate, and Coral, my fellow North American interns. We shipped my bag and ate dinner at the airport, then (after some effort) retrieved Emma's bags, which the airline had previously lost. She had a nice big tear in one of her duffels, apparently a brand new one. :(

As we took the train to Shinjuku, the rain got harder. By the time we got through Shinjuku station (stopped by a photo booth on the way for our alien registration card photos), it was pouring. We got into taxis to get to the hotel, amid flashes of lighting and rumbling thunder. Checked into the hotel, I got my own room, where I am now typing this amid what sounds like an alien invasion just outside my window. I'm on battery power, because I'm not about to plug into these groundless outlets in a storm like this.

Now it's been about 24 hours since I got up, and I'm sleeping. Goodnight.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I woke up at four this morning, but managed to get back to sleep until seven. Got up, packed, and turned on the TV in the hotel room for a while. There are not a lot of channels on most Japanese televisions, cable is pretty rare. After surfing through the twelve channels, I could understand the lack of demand for more of the same. I watched a newscast that spent ten minutes talking about the rainy weather. One of the channels in the hotel was the BBC world news. I watched that for a while and learned that McCain picked his running mate. I forget her name, but she seems like the last thing Obama would want to be up against.

I went down and ate breakfast, it was sort of a continental buffet. They had natto, but there was no one to impress by eating it, so I restrained myself. I went back upstairs and watched some more TV (saturday morning cartoons are a bit more interesting here). I went down and waited in the lobby a little before ten, our meeting time for the orientation was 10:30. When I got to the lobby, I noticed that one of the rental computers still had five minutes left one it, so I took my chance; I had been meaning to double-check that my macbook's power brick was 100v compatible. After four and a half minutes of fighting with the Japanese keyboard, I managed to get to the apple site and confirm it.

I spent the time waiting on a bench with my DS dictionary, entering kanji and studying. I learned how to write "Tokyo" (東京) pretty well, because it wasn't in my DS dictionary and I entered it a dozen times thinking I'd made mistakes. Eventually everyone came down, and we proceeded into the cafe area for the orientation. As Ariel briefed us, another dude from LABO came in and set up some more tables, then our host families arrived and did their own orientation.

We introduced ourselves. Most of my host family was there: my host father, Naota, brother, Yuuto (8), and sister, Mayoko (4). My host mother, Tomoko, couldn't make it. After some pictures, we left. Emma's host family lived nearby and drove, so she wasn't going to the station. Coral, Katie, and I needed to change money, so our hosts agreed to meet up near the station and go to an exchange place. Coral defected along the way, I guess they changed their mind. After wandering around Odakyu for a while, we found the exchange place. After that, we went to eat lunch at an underground restaurant.

My family won't be able to accompany me on the train for the first day, so I had to keep track of the line as we traveled. On the way, my host dad updated my Suica commuter card from two years ago.

We arrived home after a short walk. It's a fairly big house by Japanese standards, enough so that they gave me my own room. At 4:30, my host mother arrived home. It was raining, as it had been on and off since I arrived. Lightning got pretty close. Among other things, I played othello with Yuuto before dinner. He beat me soundly, even though I thought I was winning for part of the game.

Dinner was great. Afterwards, I showed them my (tentative) album on my computer, and delivered scharffen berger. It had gotten a little melty in the heat, but it was still well-recieved.

Everyone helped me set up a brand new (!!!) futon and bedspread in my room. I took a bath, then we watched about half an hour of a Japanese dub of Independence Day that was on TV. The aliens loomed over new york, and just as they blew up the empire state, it cut to a commercial of a cute little girl singing and dancing.

Then I brushed my teeth and came up here to write this. Sorry if I seem a bit punctual in these entries, I guess that's a side effect of writing when I'm this tired.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I woke up at five this morning. Still working on this time zone thing, although I guess it's better to be ahead than behind. We had pancakes for breakfast, yum.

We went for a walk down past the train station to a local temple. There was a famous old sakura tree there, but this isn't the season for it to be all pink, so it looks like a regular tree now. There was a huge bell, and something making noise from within the temple (a priest?), and we had the whole place to ourselves. On the way back, we stopped at a little shop and bought some dango for yokoo-sensei.

After we got home and had lunch, Naota fired up his laptop and challenged me to play against his 100yen go program. The first game lulled me into a false sense of security (I beat it by more than 120 points), then he cranked up the difficulty on me. I would have won the second game without komi! I wasn't really trying, anyways. Pshaw.

We walked to Yokoo-sensei's house (one of my host families from two years ago), and I got to see Naoya again. His dad is working in Shinjuku now, so he doesn't need to rent an apartment in Yokohama anymore, he was happy about that. Everyone is doing great, and I should get to see them a few more times this month.

We had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for dinner, which is basically okonomiyaki with yakisoba. Good stuff.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I'm sure that some people may have noticed that I haven't yet posted anything online... or at least, I hope they would have... hi, mom.

I haven't really had a chance to get online at all since I left, my host family doesn't have wireless. They don't have broadband, either. What they have, for whenever they need something online, is a little modem that they string across the living room and plug into the fax machine's line. I haven't yet summed up the gall to ask that they let me take over their living room in such a way. Open wifi points are myth here, it seems that wireless hubs come default with random passwords. An opportunity hasn't yet presented itself from LABO, either. Maybe tomorrow. It's strange to not so much as have checked my email for however long it's been since Wednesday, but I comfort myself in knowing that I'm still doing better than some unnamed family members of mine might in my place. That is, I haven't recessed into a catatonic shock withdrawal. Yet.

This morning, my host mother took me to get my gaigokoujin (sp?) card. The first government office we went to turned out to be the wrong one, but they pointed us in the right direction, three train stops away. I filled out some forms, including one to let me get a cell phone.

As we were walking out of the building down the front steps, a lady looked up at me like I had eaten her dog. With a positively mortified expression, she climbed the stairs. Not taking her eyes off me, she muttered something as she passed. I caught the words "gaijinsan," but my host mother either didn't notice or pretended not to notice. I don't know what the lady said, but from the tone of the words it sounded like something along the lines of "I can't believe that a foreigner...(is here)." The word "gaijin" does have a somewhat negative connotation, but "san" conveys respect.

I split up with my host mother and went to Shinjuku. I stopped in at the Bic Camera store to check out their cell phones, and got a multilingual pamphlet explaining plans. I stopped by the AMPM at the foot of the Mitsui building for lunch before heading up to the Labo offices. When I arrived, Simon, Kate, and Coral were already waiting. Katie and Emma showed up, and then we all went back to a convenience store for more food. Later, we took a placement test, I think I did ok on the interview part. blah tired.

During dinner, my host mother's parents paid a visit. Nice folks, I've never seen someone so impressed by proper use of chopsticks. After my host father arrived home, I went over the cell phone plans with him. Here, the data transfer measure is in "packets," which, even after two hours of broken conversation, we still don't know how much are in meaningful units like bytes or characters. Oh well.


I would describe Japan as a pretty polite culture. I would probably give them precedence if one of their mannerisms directly contradicted one from where I grew up. Where I grew up, it's not polite to make noise while eating. In Japan, it's pretty much rude not to. Here, you pick up the dishes off the table and shovel stuff into your mouth. You're encouraged to eat things with your hands. You can pick stuff off of plates in the middle of the table using the same chopsticks you eat with. Its like the local Miss Manners turned her conscience the right way up.

And then, there's Rice. I swear, the Shinto religeon must worship a rice demon for a god or something. Rice is served with everything. The words for "dinner" and "rice" are the same, "Gohan". You can stick your chopsticks into anything else on the table like a fork, but a pair of chopsticks stuck in rice is a symbol for death. You don't put stuff on your rice, except for a few specific things (Nori, Sesame, and Umeboshi).

Japan would probably have a collective heart attack if they saw what I usually do to my rice in the US.

July 11th

Had a verbal interview test today. I'm not sure how well I did, the teacher kept using words I didn't know. Oh well.

During lunch, poor Danielle got herself into a conversation with Alex about religion. I managed to stay out of it for the most part, but some of the evolution stuff going across was too absurd to avoid. Catholic vs Philosopher vs Atheist, with some Hindu and Mormon thrown in for good measure. Everyone is still friends, I think.

Went to Labo party tonight. Nana wasn't there but there was this other really cool guy named Takeru. He didn't know a whole lot of english, but for some reason his pronunciation of the english he did know was really good. Usually I get to make do with people swapping Ls and Rs or Vs and Bs, but... yeah. He showed me how to make an origami peacock, but I think I already forgot.

July 12th

Today was the last day of school. We split up into groups and preformed skits that we wrote about our experiences in Japan. Some of the people had their host families come and watch, after the skits we had a little "graduation" ceremony. We got our report cards and a cool completion certificate in japanese. I got 100%, w00t.

I spent the rest of the day packing my suitcase. Damn, all this stuff adds up. It all fits, though. Now, for great sleepageness.

July 13th

Today I visited Take and Hide's school. Got to stand up in front of a classroom for an hour, explaining my experiences and answering questions. We also got to play some games... duck duck goose is a lot more interesting on a hardwood floor with socks, and hot potato was a hit to. It turns out that simon says doesn't work too well through an interpreter, though. After I thought I was done, I got to go through the whole thing again with Hide's class.

The kids were great, though... both classes made me a big bag of oragami souvenirs, and Hide's class even made me a book of thank you notes after I left.

After that, I went out to lunch with Mayumi and the Labo tutor. The food was good, but the restaurant was busy and had wailing kids, and I was kinda tired, not to mention I've got something of a cold going on. Oh well.

After I got home, Hide and I went through the oragami thank you notes, with him reading them and me trying to keep up. There was a lot of cool stuff in there.

Before dinner, one of the neighbors, Asami-san, came by and gave me a present, some manga I didn't have yet. She was nice, I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to meet her sooner. She came by not two hours after I had shipped off my suitcase with my extra presents in it, too. Oh well... I wrote her a thank you note on a post card, at least.

July 14th

New City Hotel, Nishi-Shinjuku

Today was my last day with the Mitsuda family. They all came down to the hotel for a goodbye ceremony, where anyone who wanted to went up and related their best experiences. There was a lot of crying and goodbyes, but everyone is gonna stay in touch, I think. I went up and talked about my experience with Take's school. I got plenty of pictures, too.

After that, everyone got some time off to explore shinjuku and find dinner. That is, almost everyone... the people who were transferring to LEX for their second homestay had to leave pretty soon after that, including Kage, Ben, and Becky. I'll miss Kage, I liked her.

We walked all around the freaking block looking for a place to eat, and short of a McDonalds and a couple conbinis, we couldn't find one. We had given up and were trying to find a shortcut back to the hotel through some back alleys, when this japanese speaking chinese dude popped out of some random door, and irasshaimasenned us into a little chinese restaurant shack hidden in the shadows. We decided to eat there (I don't think the guy was really giving us a choice), and navigated the menu to find something appetizing. I found what turned out to be tofu in a spicy sauce, with bits of something else that the waiter assured me wasn't meat. I didn't get upset in the stomach (aside from the spiciness), so he must have been right.

Ryan tried to order a plate of four potstickers, and ended up ordering four orders of potstickers. They weren't so expensive, so we survived, but then it turned out that they charged extra for the bowls of rice that they gave us with our food. My bill was reasonable enough, but some of the others' was kinda higher then they were expecting.

After that, we went back to our rooms. Danielle, Victoria, Bryce, and I went back to Danielle's room. Bryce pulled out a little ear piercer and pierced his ear on the spot, with a little help from Danielle and Victoria. He missed the right spot on the ear, and got it too close in. So, he yanks it out and whips out another piercer, and does it again, getting it right. By that time, I was pretty close to barfing, so Danielle gave me some chocolate and I went and bought some Haagen Daz out of the vending machine, and went back to my own room.

I'm sharing a room with Ryan... he's an ok kid, but sharing a 10' by 8' japanese hotel room with a 14 year old homo is not an experience I'd repeat in a hurry. The toilets in this hotel are terrible, too. When you sit down on them, the little asshole cleaner sprays downward for a minute or two, kind of a cleaning cycle or something. I wasn't really expecting it, see, and it kind of took me off guard... there's a good reason America hasn't adopted toilets capable of becoming freaking overlords.

July 15th

Yokoo house

Happy Birthday, Julia, but I think the gift I got today kinda pwns all yours' put together. I got a new host family, they're awesome!

I woke up a little later than I planned to, and almost missed breakfast. At our orientation, Victoria and a whole bunch of people had to leave during it, because they were being picked up or going to other parts of Japan. Our induction ceremony ended up having like 15 people out of maybe 80. I was a lot more confident this time, and didn't choke up on the podium.

The Yokoo family is awesome! Naoya is 16 years old, and already on summer vacation. He's been taking English for four years, and he's more or less fluent. Everyone else in the family is more or less fluent, too, especially Hirokazu.

After the ceremony, they took me to the Tocho government building, and this time we went in the south tower. The view from up there is amazing, and I got some photos this time. After that we visited Kouki's work, that curvy skyscraper I always walked by on the way to school. They had an art museum in there, and the collection was pretty impressive, it included Van Gogh's "Still Life with Twelve Sunflowers".

After a stop at an udon shop, we took the train home to Matsudo, in the Chiba prefecture. I met Kazuki and Hirokazu too, they're both pretty cool. Hiro lives in a dorm at his university and has to study a lot, but he comes back to the house for the weekends.

Before we went to bed, Naoya pulled out his Gamecube and proceeded to school me in the art of Daigasso Smash Brothers DX. I wasn't really in form, but I don't think the results would've been any different had I been.

July 16th

This morning Naoya went to lacrosse practice at like 6 in the morning. I kinda slept in. I talked with Hiro a lot about his experience in the US (he spent a school year in Virginia), and wrapped him up in an english quiz test thing on my kanji dictionary. He's easily the most fluent in english of all the Japanese people I've met.

After that, we went to a LABO meeting at a community center. It's just the senior group, but there were like 10 people there. They're finalizing a play they've been working on, "Prometheus and the Gift of Fire". It's pretty impressive, how they're able to do plays without props or costumes.

I got to show off some more juggling, and one of the girls even knew how already. Naoya managed to pull off three catches pretty fast, within five minutes of picking up the balls. He hasn't gotten much further than that, though.

July 17th

Went to Akihabara with Naoya today. There's an express line that goes straight there from his station, in less then 20 minutes.

We spent most of the day there, exploring the backstreets and finding a lot of awesome stuff. If I ever want to build a PC, I would go there... tons of used dirt cheap stuff, for blocks and blocks. We visited the Apple store there, too. Tallest apple store in the world, I bet, it was like 6 floors.

I bought the rest of the Azumanga Daioh books, some gifts, a few more games, and an ice cream crepe. I swear, I could save enough money in Akihabara to counter the national debt... if only saving money wasn't so expensive. Sigh.

July 18th

Naoya took me shopping today... apparently it's culturally acceptable for Japanese guys to spend more time then my mom in clothes stores. We went to some obscure fashion district near his station, with tons of clothes shops.

I still don't really get the fascination buying clothes yields, but we managed to spend a good chunk of the day there. Naoya got his polo shirts for lacrosse camp, and I got to look at more engrish T-shirts than I ever cared to. You'd think it would be fun, but most of them aren't as ironic or funny as the ones you see on the web, just nonsensical. Like what the monkeys banged out before they pulled off "Hamlet".

After we got back to the station, Naoya called his mom, but she couldn't pick us up since she was just going to a labo meeting. So, we walked the nice 15 minute walk back to his house. Once we arrived, we discovered that she had locked us out of the house. So, after half an hour of climbing around the house failing to get in, we decided to take the bikes on the 20 minute ride into town to find his mom. After getting lost and finally finding our way to the community center, the community center didn't know what a "labo" was. We looked around, and found them in a closed room on the third floor.

In exchange for the key, she ushers me in in front of 10 toddlers and their parents, and has me do a self introduction speech in Japanese. After that, we get back on the bikes and go back home, dodging pedestrians. Oh yeah, it was raining the whole time, so we got to ride the bikes while holding a more or less ineffective umbrella in one hand.

We were pretty wiped after that, so we played some video games for a while before going to bed. Gitaru Man is pretty fun, but we've only got one song unlocked for multiplayer. (Gitaru man is made by the same people who did Ouendan, btw)

July 19th

"Where's the shampoo?"
"Oh, just squish the pig."

It's been raining for several days now, but it's really starting to pick up. Two of Naoya's lacrosse practices have been cancelled, so we've been sleeping in a bit.

I got dad's package! Some psychic ethereal force commended him to send me an extra pair of shorts, and I'm really glad he did. Now if Kozue-san misses a day on the laundry, I'm not screwed. (Thanks, Jeanette!) The hacky sacks are perfect, too, just what I needed... I've been somewhat deprived of sacking for the last month.

We watched the Naruto Movie 2. Naoya was pretty geeked out over my iPod AV connecter, and he's put it on his list for the next time he visits Akihabara. Both he and Hiro have the same iPod I do, they both like music a lot.

July 20th

"What was that bright explosion over there? Fireworks?"
"No, I think it was a bird."

It wasn't raining today, so Naoya went to lacrosse practice. Kozue took me to a local park, and we went for a nice walk. They had gardens, a baseball field, a dirt soccer field, tennis courts, and like 50 totem poles made by graduating elementary school students. Apparently she's planning a Labo barbecue there, so I'll get to come back.

Naoya and I tried hacking out in front of his house after he got back. He loves the game, and he's pretty innate at it, too. The biggest hurdle for him was the not saying "I'm sorry", but he's not any worse then me now. We were out there for a good two or three hours, until it was time to go to a Labo meeting.

The first part of the meeting was the elementary school group, they were practicing a play of Alice in Wonderland, the part with the Queen of Hearts. I brought a hacky sack, and played with them a bit during the breaks, but mostly it was just sitting and watching. I looked out the window, trying to read some of the signs on the street, and found a sign saying "igo" next door. I think it was a go parlor.

After the younger kids' practice, we went to the conbini across the street for dinner. I got an inari instant udon, an umeboshi onigiri, and some other stuff. We took it back to the center to eat, but we went to a different room for the older kid's meeting. Turned out it was a tatami room with a bunch of go and shogi boards stacked up on the wall. After we ate, the group practiced their play while I played a game of go with myself on one of the nicest boards I've touched, one of the big ones with legs like in Hikaru no Go. White won, 49 to 47 not including komi. I made some pretty dumb moves, too. I would make a move, look up for a while, look back down at the board, and go "woah... how'd that hole get there?" and proceed to kick my own ass.

One of the girls brought a package of plastic pocky, and if you took the wrong one, they'd all shoot out at you. I didn't pick the wrong one, despite her offering it to me like three times.

Always say "Please" and "Thank you",


It's amazing how integrated politeness is in this culture, and mannerisms in this language. If you say any random phrase in the language, you probably included a "please" or "I apologize" or something like that in with it. One of the first things they told us when we came here was "forget what your parents said about not talking to strangers". There are no "strangers" here, you can talk to anyone on the street as if you knew them personally... Japan is the closest thing to a Utopia I've ever seen.

June 30th

Mitsuda house

The train was packed more than usual today. You don't know the meaning of "awkward" until you find yourself smashed up against an old lady on a running train.

Our classroom moved back to the skyscraper today (it's been in the other office next door since monday). Bryce never showed up, I hope he's alright. In class, we finally started studying something I don't already know much about, the "-te form" of verbs.

For lunch I had what turned out to be a packaged white bread kiwi, melon, and whipped cream sandwich with the crusts cut off. I also got to try some of Danielle's blue mint chocolate chip ice cream. Jennifer also managed to dump some soy sauce, guess I'm a trendsetter. Oops.

After school, Kage, Victoria, and I stopped in Ikebukuro again, and went to the manga store. After spending some time looking around (and discovering that there was more than one floor), I got around to translating the name of the store. "Ikebukuro Adult Comic Store". That kind of explains their rather wide library. The top two floors were evidently the interesting ones, but I couldn't work up the lack of integrity to visit them. Denis would kill to be in this place...

I watched a Doraimon ("Dry-mon") special today... interesting show. If only television content was like this in the states, it might be worth the space an antennae takes up. The show was funny, but the punch at the end was hilarious... Take and Hide could have been put up against Celeste as far as gas levels go.

Cripes... time's been moving like lighting for me. Only by thinking of how far away the WCF is can I slow it down to any reasonable rate, and even that technique is going to stop working fairly soon. Germany or Argentina? As much as I like Kahn, I'd love to see Argentina take home a cup. Find out in the morning, bed now.

July 1st

Mistuda house

Germany won, and they didn't even play Kahn.

The Mitsudas took me to the Future Science Museum today. There was a lot of cool stuff, I took pictures too. They had a huge spherical display setup, using almost a million LEDs... they were using it mostly to depict the Earth in various focuses (foci?). There was a bunch of environmental energy efficient technologies on the first floor. I got to see a fuel cell powering a little fan, and they had some housing structures showing what we all should be living in.

They had an exhibit on mammoths, and a mammoth head in a freezer. Like, with tissue intact... they wouldn't let me take pictures, though. They also had the shipping container it had come in.

Another highlight was watching Asimo do a demonstration. They've gotten pretty far with walking automation now, he could walk around and climb stairs almost as fast a normal human (relative size, that is).

In the evening we watched a Detective Academy Q live action special. It was pretty good, it melded plots from a few different arcs, and was two hours long with commercials. We recorded it on the nqtivo device, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get it on my computer to take home. I'll see...

July 2nd

Mitsuda house

I went to Akihabara with Tokio and Victoria today. That place is incredible. Blocks upon blocks crammed full of shops selling anime, manga, games, and electronics. Most of the shops span more than 6 floors, even though their footprint isn't any bigger than a couple hundred square feet. I could easily pick any store and spend hours looking at a small section. The entirety of Akihabara would take a freaking eternity to explore.

While each individual thing there is usually cheap compared to list price, there's a damn lot of individual things there. I found a pretty good deal on a cool silver slim PStwo... I kinda couldn't resist buying it... don't kill me, mom. I got Narutimate Hero 3, Katamari Damashii, and a Prince of Tennis game. I also bought another pile of manga... it's actually reasonably priced here, especially used. Clayton is going to freak when he sees this collection I've piled up, and then he's going to be really pissed that it's all in a language he doesn't know. I'm starting to be able to read a little bit, but I've got a long way to go.

After that, we went through some other stores before we had to go home. Victoria bought a bunch of little anime figures, the kind usually targeted to lonely otaku. I have to wonder if she felt out of place at all there... the only other girls there were the ones who had jobs involving cosplay. She sure as hell didn't look like she felt that, though, cause she seemed to have just a good a time as I did.

There was a ton of stuff I wanted to just grab, but I couldn't really spend much more money... I'm a little close to budget point already. We went to an arcade for a while, there were a lot of those crane game things. One of them had Phoenix Wright figures, so I couldn't resist trying it... now I know that I suck at those crane game thing. Victoria tried it a couple times too, and she almost got it, but the stupid claw slipped before it could get over the dispenser.

After we got home, we went to a LABO party at a local park. That was a lot of fun, we played soccer and vollyball, and when it got dark, we pulled out a ton of fireworks (花火). I managed to juggle a single lit sparkler before I was told that it was dangerous, so I never got around to doing three. I had a lot of fun with the various kinds of sparklers, and they had roman candles and little tanks that shot fireworks out their barrels. I had a nice surprise lighting what I thought was just a big sparkler, and it started launching rockets. No one got hit, at least.

Tokio burned the DAQ special onto a DVD for me, so Clay and Dad can look forward to that. Also, there were a couple of upsets in the world cup this morning... England lost to Portugal, and Brazil lost to France. What is it with Brazil and France, anyways? France has been totally sucking, except when they play Brazil. This is like the third time in the last few decades that they've upset them like this.

July 3rd

Mitsuda house

I went to Asakusa today with the class. They've got big-ass lanterns there... too bad I couldn't see it at night. I got a little fortune stick... "regular" luck. I got a little umbrella, about eight or so inches in diameter, and it's got a picture of boats getting pwned by waves on it.

I've been a little slow recently, I don't think I'm getting enough sleep. Sorry for the skimpy entry.

July 4th

Mitsuda House

In class today, we started learning about adjectives and how to use them. So we went on a field trip to the Tocho Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices. It's one of the tallest buildings in Shinjuku, and we went to the top tourist floor (45th floor). I hadn't realized just how freaking huge Tokyo really is. It dwarfs SF and Chicago, and even LA or NY don't have anything on it. From the top of that building, there was nothing but Tokyo as far as the eye could see, and the eye could see pretty far. Go figure I didn't bring my camera. Oops.

I went to the Labo meeting again today. Nana and everyone was there, and we had a good time looking at photo albums and talking about differences in our cultures. Apparently Nana won't be able to make it next week, so that was the last time I could see her. I hope I'll find a way to see her again someday, I liked her.

July 5th

Learning more ways to use adjectives today... We got to go fill out a description sheet while buying something from the store. Bryce and I bought a snack called "Collon" (pronounced "colon") shaped like little short cylindrical wafers filled with a green cream. It tasted good.

On the train home, I managed to snag a seat at Ikebukuro. Unheard of in the trains this packed, but the person sitting in front of me got off, so yay! Just as well, I was feeling pretty sad. Class ran late, Victoria and Kage ditched me, it was raining really hard, and the wind blew out my cool yellow umbrella. I'm feeling better now, though.

July 6th

Today, we made up a simple question and surveyed some hapless bypassers. My question was "anime or manga?", but apparently there isn't really a difference between the two in most peoples' minds. So I asked "terebi or comikku?" instead. Everyone preferred television.

I'm starting to get used to school, finally. Of course, there's only a few more days of it left, go figure.

July 7th

Today was Tanabata, a local holiday. I didn't see any parades or anything, but I got to write up a wish (in japanese) and hang it on some bamboo. I used neon yellow paper, but I couldn't reach the higher part of the bamboo like some other people had managed. So, I'm not sure what priority my wish will get from Vega and Altair.

Brooke is drawing a group picture of her friends, and I get to be a panda bear wearing my hat. And in Emily's drawing of me, I'm a blushing ice cream cone with my hat.

There are a million different random drinks you can buy out of vending machines. Even though there are vending machines everywhere, it can be difficult to find your preference. Out of all the stuff I've had, there's this one drink... in one of the huge steel cans, and a blue label. It's called *something* サイダー . It's kind of a soda, without the extra stuff like coloring or flavoring, but as far as I can taste still has plenty of sugar. Just wanted to remember the name.

July 8th

This morning I went down to play soccer with Atsuki's team for a couple hours. The kids here are all fairly good, so I had a lot of fun being able to put my all into it. The field we played on had some gravel near the goal, and I scraped my knee on a particularly poorly executed dive. Oh well, I'll survive.

Kage and Victoria came over for lunch, and then we all went to Mandai Shoten for another reckless expenditure of money. I managed to stay within budget, but I did spend a lot. I got presents for Tommy, Denis, and Jesse, a DAQ game, a HxH game, a HnG game, and a Lupin III game.

Victoria bought enough stuff to stagger a donkey, mostly manga and figures. She also managed to buy the exact Orange Range CD I was planning to buy (and upon finding the shelf empty had assumed they were sold out.) I'll rip it before she leaves, though.

After that, we went to a LABO reception for exchange students. There were a bunch of kids who are going to be going on a homestay in North America in a couple weeks, including Mae and Kanade.

All the nihongo homestay students in the region got to introduce themselves. I introduced myself saying I liked my hat, Eric introduced himself saying he loved his host family, and Alex introduced himself saying he liked pina coladas and long walks on the beach.

July 9th

Today was a nice lazy Japanese sunday. We were planning on going bowling with Atsuki, but it got cancelled for some reason or another. Instead, Atsuki and his sister came over and we played games and stuff. We played a bunch of PS2 games that he brought over, including winning eleven and some sports car game. We played Othello for a while, too.

One of Mayumi's friends came by and dropped of some sushi, and this odd homemade soy stuff. Apparently it's what you get when you boil soy milk, and then skim the top. It's like a mix between yogurt and tofu, it's supposed to be really good for you. Bill would hate it.

Now I need to get a couple hours of sleep in before the final.

July 10th

I got up this morning at 3 am to watch the Final. Stupid tie made the game run an hour longer, so I didn't get to take a nap until 6, and slept til 8. I didn't get to sleep until after midnight, so I've been running more or less on autopilot for the day.

At school, we split up into groups for a kind of field trip hunt. Our group was given a picture of a shrine gate, and was told to find it and get people to take pictures of us with it. Turns out it was in Harajuku, all of a 4 minute train ride away. We each asked some bystanders to take a picture for us, in japanese. The people I picked to ask turned out to be Korean tourists, so I don't think they understood anything I said, japanese or english. They were plenty happy to take the picture, though. After we finished, we stopped by a concession shack and bought some slushie type thingies, mine was a sourish strawberry.

Take twisted his ankle at his table tennis club, and had to go into a clinic. He seems fine now... despite a limp, he's decidedly proud about the bandage.

By the way, I love seeing comments, it's a lot more fun to update when I know people are actually seeing it. Sorry I can't spend too much time chatting and stuff, but I do read them at least. :)

You know you're in Japan when...

... a buck for a little can of tea or pop is considered cheap. Or 17000円 for a used PS2 looks like a steal. They're not kidding when they say that Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world to live in. And you know why it's also one of the most populated? It's totally worth it. Quite a small price to get into heaven, if you think about it.

June 25th

Mitsuda house

Today, we got to go to the Anime Museum that I forwent in favor of the tea ceremony. We stopped at a Japanese spaghetti shop on the way for lunch... it really is a different experience when you eat it with chopsticks, but it was delicious all the same. Ryan was there with me, Mayumi, and Take at the museum. It was pretty cool... they had a little history area, showing the different eras of anime. There's the prehistoric times of Astro Boy and Lupin III, the BC 70s and early 80s of numerous mecha anime which no one cares about (Before Cordell), the New Testament of anime with stuff like Totoro and Evangelion, and the modern era of GitS2 and TVtokyo fodder like Bleach and Naruto.

They had animator's desks set up, so you could see what they looked like. I think those were real proofs on the desks, too. They had a room full of posters, and computers set up with a guide to putting together your own Astro Boy. They had an anime library with a bunch of DVD players set up, so people could come in and watch stuff communally. They had a big screening room, but it wasn't being used when we were there. They had a an old multi-ton cel camera, the thing looked like a freaking oil rig it was so big. They even had a little studio where you could make your own animation. You got a clipboard and paper, and you could clip the previous frame of your animation underneath so it would be consistent. I made a little 14 frame animation, but when we finally put it together, I had drawn too small on the paper for it to be very visible. Oh well.

After that, we visited a big temple across the street. It had an alter kind of place where you could put in five yen and pray for a wish. I put in 50 yen, and prayed that my money would last until I got home. I also met the guard lions (I think they were lions), あ(A) is on the left facing out, and ん (N) is on the right. Explains the kana on the gates of konoha, I'd been wondering about that for a while.

After we got home, we got to go out for sushi for dinner! It was just like one of those boat sushi restaurants in the US, only twice as big, and not full of barbaric americans trying to figure out how to eat the stuff. They had tea powder at the table, and a little spigot for hot water. They had more vegetarian stuff on the rounds then I thought they would... this eggplant wasabi stuff kinda like tomago sushi, a toasted slice of corn off the cob squirted with butter and on rice thing, and a kind of creamed corn sushi. All this plus a couple basic sushis like the cucumber stuff, something similar to the cucumber stuff that I wasn't exactly sure what it was, and the ever-yummy inari.

After we got home, we watched something on TV that involved these guys scuba diving in the Philippines. They collected some namako (sea slugs), and observed with stereotypical japanese "whooah!"s as the namako spouted holes and drained body fluids and guts like punctured water balloons. The namako then dried up and dissolved in their hands like corn starch and water. Julia would have barfed.

Nighty night.

June 26th

Mitsuda house

Instead of doing class today, everyone got to go to Harajuku for practical japanese speaking and a little shopping. I took a bunch of photos on the trip, I wonder if any of them turned out ok.

The store we went to was a toy store called "Kiddy Land". We had a kind of japanese scavenger hunt, looking for things in the store and recording kanji. After finishing that, we got some time to shop for ourselves. The prices were pretty high, so I ended up just getting a couple of Naruto gashapon. That was fun... there was a particular one I wanted (hinata), and another one that went with it (neji). I bought one and got Naruto... then Jennifer got Neji, so I traded her... then I got one more, and it was Hinata! It was really exiting, like beating a one armed bandit, you had to be there.

After that, we went back to LABO and finished. I couldn't come home until six because no one was home, so I went shopping with Kage and Victoria for an hour or so. I bought a little tatami mat and a cool fan with a slipcase. Then we took the train home together.

It's kind of a unique experience, walking through public in japan. I'm always wearing a neon orange or tie-die t-shirt, my yellow hat, and sometimes a yellow Volvic the size of a golf ball is hanging off my ear. I also tend to be openly exited or happy about something at any given time, especially when I'm with friends. This, coupled with the fact that I'm not exactly short, tan, or hairless, means I kind of stand out in a crowd. Drab grey and monotone colors seem to be in fashion or something as well, here.

I can look at anyone on the street, and see them immediately focus on something else, with that "mustn't... stare... and... laugh..." kind of look. Sometimes I can get in a smile and nod before they can look away, and then they usually smile and nod back. I can also reliably trigger a gaggle of excited whispers whenever I do that to a random group of schoolgirls (they're not a myth, they're everywhere). It's really great, in a whole kind of being in the center of attention way. In the US, I was special, just like everyone else. Here, I'm actually an individual, it's awesome. I've already gotten used to it... it's going to be way more of a culture shock going home than it was coming here.

I don't know what any of that meant, but I'd say this entry is sufficiently padded.

June 27th

Mitsuda house

Today was fairly productive... We had a crash course in common verbs. We got to play a kind of game involving about 50 or so cards depicting various actions. We spread them out on the table between the group, and sensei called out a verb, and the first person to find it got to keep it. I lost pretty badly, but only cause I was playing martyr and researching the verb for everyone else on the fly. At least I learned a lot.

At lunch, I went out to the noodle shop across the street I'd been meaning to visit. The system was kinda interesting... They had a vending machine in the front, and you bought your ticket from that and gave it directly to the cook. They didn't offer just the noodles by themselves, so I got it with a Croquette rice bowl. Turned out that particular croquette was a fish one, but I still got to eat the rice, and the udon was really good.

After lunch, we got to do a few more verb games, one of them being charades. That was fun, it was kind of interesting when everyone knew exactly what they meant, but no one could say it in japanese. After we got out, I went straight to the train station with Victoria (stopping at Odakyu for some Naruto cards), and took the first train out. Mayumi wanted me back by 5, though I never figured out why... I think she just wanted a chance to leave me with Take and Hide so she could go for a walk.

Apparently the tuesday LABO party was cancelled this week for some reason, so I didn't get to see Nana. Oh well. There wasn't a Bleach, either, another stupid special is coming up.

June 28th

Mitsuda house

I got to school today, and the teacher opened some hidden classroom through a dank corridor... made me think of hogwarts or something. After normal classes, we had a Calligraphy master come and teach us how to correctly write our favorite kanji. I chose 碁,"go" (as in, igo). Turns out that making the strokes is quite an art, there are lots of little twists and stuff you have to do. You can't mess up anywhere in a 15 stroke kanji, cause you don't erase ink. I went through five or so tries, but I finally got one that the teacher complimented me on. I was pretty proud of that.

Kage is working on a picture of Hinata for me, it looks really awesome so far. I can't wait to see it when it's finished.

After school, Victoria, Kage, and I stopped at Ikebukuro to look for an anime store. We didn't find the one we came for, but we found a few other stores, and a few movie theaters I'm going to have to come back to. The first store had a few cool things, but it seemed mostly just Shojo and Yaoi, not really my tastes. The second place was a normal bookstore with a manga floor... They had Azumanga Daioh 1, 3, and 4, but not 2, so I just ended up getting the first one. They also had the last two Spiral books, so now I have the whole series... I think Take's already read them all, he goes through them faster than Clayton. I also got what I thought was a new issue of Famitsu, but it turned out to be the same one I already had. Why can't they just put accurate dates on the things instead of dating them three weeks ahead or whatever? Sheesh. I guess Bryce or Tim is going to get a nice present tomorrow.

When I got back to Hasuda, I went with Mayumi to pick up Take and Hide from their Labo group. We kinda got trapped there for like an hour due to a thunderstorm, so I got to to some activities with them. They have this huge library of "american" nursery rhymes that they sing, but almost none of them I know. A few ring a bell for the tune, but not the words... there was one that I could swear was lifted from "Magical Treavor", but was about a wall or something. I also read them some books (The Hungary Caterpillar and it's sequel, some cricket book) which went over well. Tatsuke brought out some Dual Master cards, and we played with those a bit. Dual Masters seemed to be a very refined form of MTG, with some very interesting fixes. In fact, I believe it's developed by the same R&D team that does Magic. If only the flavor premise wasn't so YGO level crappy.

Watched Naruto after dinner. They ended the current filler arc, but it looks like they've got more in store for us judging by the preview. Muchly Bedtime.

June 29th

Mitsuda house

We had a new teacher in class today. I'm not sure why, but she seemed to strike an unagreeable chord with some of the kids, namely Eric. Seemed to work out ok, though.

During lunch, me, Victoria, Kage, and Bryce wandered Nishi-Shinjuku looking for a place to eat. Ryan tagged along some of the way, too. We found lots of places that cost a little too much, including a Denny's that had prices threefold of what they are in the states. We ended up just getting sandwiches from a convenience store, but the walk was nice. After we got back, Emma managed to dump a thing of milk all over her lap and the floor. All in good humor, but I'm glad to not be the only klutz around.

We wrote up some basic interview questions in japanese, then invaded the LABO work floor to interview a poor unsuspecting japanese LABO worker. Mine went pretty smoothly, but I didn't ask terribly confusing questions. Tim asked a girl to elope with him... she said "no" in english, and proceeded to look very busy on her computer.

Kage finished the drawing of Hinata, it looks really awesome. I wish I could draw that well... she can draw well beyond a professional level, even quickly and while paying attention in class. I wish I was that talented, at something at least...

On the way home, some of us stopped by Odakyu for a while. I bought a deck of Bleach cards and what I thought was a Naruto card box. Turns out it's the world's smallest display binder... you know how there are standard ones that display 9 cards a page? Then there are the ones that have 4 cards a page. This one has... 1 card a page, for 60 leaves. Pretty cool.

The train ride home was nice... I took the same line as Victoria and Kage, and we even got on early enough to get seats. I made the transfer at Omiya with less then 10 seconds to spare, the closest I've run for any train I've ridden so far. Hope I don't get closer then that. Bed now.