genki_rocket: (UP!)
Life has gotten incredibly busy lately! I've been all over the place saying goodbye to friends and getting ready to go to Tokyo and welcome in new ones. This time of year is always so hectic with things to do and people to see that it's easy to get caught up in it.

This weekend Chris and I went to Miyazaki for an awesome event put on by the ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers, for those who don't know) in Miyazaki. I wanted to talk about this and knock out two 100 things topics at the same time! So here we go!


Usually, in the Moto, ALT Events are held once a month or once every two months. Usually they involve going to the city and drinking while the city ALTs stand around and act like the popular kids in high school. Y'know, because they live there.

Since I got here, it's gotten a lot better. There are several charity events that are staples every year. We have a Valentine's Day Auction where people are sold for dates and the money goes to charity. We have an awesome Halloween party in an abandoned shopping mall in the middle of nowhere (that's right, ABANDONED) and we have a big talent show every year.

There are other events that pop up here and there and they're all pretty fun but I don't find myself going to a lot of them. It just seems to be the same thing over and over a lot of the time.

However recently, a Miyazaki ALT posted on the Kumamoto group and invited everyone to an event that they were all having.



The Amazing Race Miyazaki.

Now, I've seen the Amazing Race on TV before and I think it is such a cool idea!! I say that I could do it...but I don't know. It's pretty intense. But in Miyazaki?! It sounded like a GREAT idea!

Chris and I plus my friend in Fukuoka, Kay, formed a team and descended upon Miyazaki prefecture in a flurry of excitement and competitive spirit! Kay and I hadn't actually met each other prior to Facebook, but she's an awesome girl!!! We instantly clicked right away and are totally on the same wavelength. Chris, Kay and myself were the only ones who came from outside the prefecture for the event...and we were in it to win it.

We stayed with the Miyazaki ALT who was running the whole thing. She was also hella cool! Turns out she was a MASSIVE fan of the Amazing Race and was planning to try out for it when she got back to the states.

THE AMAZING RACE: MIYAZAKI! How did we do? Did we win? There are some cool pictures under here to save your flist! )
All in all, it was an awesome time! Even two days after, I'm still a bit exhausted but it was totally worth it. I made some great new friends and got to see Miyazaki City like never before! P.S. bitchy 'We're ORANGE' girl? She came in second to LAST! Karmaaaaa


(not pictured: Junya)
genki_rocket: (Default)
Long time no update! Life has gotten ridiculously busy and the fun hasn't even really STARTED yet. Blah.




For this entry, I want to talk about one of the Japanese artists who I really love. Rie Fu is an awesome singer/songwriter! Her songs are so pretty and her English pronunciation is badass!

I just recently felt like a BAMF because I sang this song at karaoke recently. It wasn't perfect, but whatever.

Even though I didn't understand a lot of her music, I still fell in love with her because her songs have a certain something that conveys her meaning no matter what language you speak. Or so I think. She sings in English a lot too...that helps :P

So bam. There ya go! Rie Fu. Enjoy and explore more stuff by her. She's so good!
genki_rocket: (MIKA!)



I had heard about Kumamoto ben (dialect) before I got here. One of my Japanese friends had been a tour guide before moving to the US and told me that Kumamoto people were very hard to understand.

The dialect of Kyushu is, in my opinion, awesome. To me, it sounds a bit rough and very different from the Tokyo dialect - which is considered 'standard Japanese'. I love it.

But to other people, I think that it sounds very...hick-ish hahaha.

I want to talk about Kyushu ben (specifically Kumamoto's dialect) for a few entries so I'll just start with probably the easiest, most recognizable difference: bai.

In Kumamoto, people tack on 'bai' to the end of their sentences. It takes the place of 'desu' or 'da yo'. I was skeptical when I read this, but upon getting here I found it was 100% true. Here's an example.

'Hontou desu yo!' (Really!) becomes 'Hontou bai!' in Kumamoto ben.

At recess, my kids often say 'Ian Sensei! Ikou bai!' (Let's go!)

There are a bunch of other instances in which people say it. You can really just tack it on to whatever you want, it seems.

I think that it's a super cool thing and I've definitely made a conscious effort to adopt it into my vernacular. This has caused some weird looks whenever I talk to people who are from other places in Japan, but I don't care. I just really like speaking the local dialect of where I live. I did the same thing when I lived in Spain because I feel like when you eventually leave that place, you'll have always have a part of you that reflects where you used to live. It becomes part of your identity and I like that.

So whenever curious locals ask me if I'm visiting from somewhere, I grin and say "いや、ここに住んでいるばい!" (Nope, I live here, yo!) . This both surprises them and puts them at ease, I think. I've noticed that using Kumamoto ben with older people always works out favorably for me - they're the ones who use it the most!

Have any expats in Japan or other countries picked up on any words or dialects?? What do you think about it all?
genki_rocket: (Default)
Thunder, lightning and heavy rain greeted me this morning - setting the scene for the incredibly shitty things I experienced during my first few waking hours.

I debated taking a taxi to work, but thought better of it. Later, I regretted my decision as lightning flashed around me, thunder rumbled loudly over my headphones and torrential rain beat down on me on my way to elementary school. By the time I got there, I was soaked. Quite literally sopping wet.

As I was drudging through the hallways (squish, squish, squish), I left my trail of WET everywhere. I made my way into the staffroom and made a bee-line for the locker rooms where I could change. On my way, I ran into no less than four of my fellow teachers who all looked at me and laughed. "ARA?! IAN SENSEI! OHOHOHO YOU'RE WET!" "OHHH! DID YOU COME BY BICYCLE?! YOU'RE WET, AREN'T YOU? HYAHYAHYA" "OHHHHHHHHH! HEHEHEHE DID YOU GET WET???"

"Oh yeah," I responded back with rainwater stinging my eyes. "Just a little, you know." I doubt they picked up on the sarcasm.

Luckily, I caught myself before I entered RAGE mode. I've gotten used to this whole Japanese thing of stating the blatantly obvious as a conversation starter. During the winter when I'm bundled up in 7 layers of clothing "Ohhhh Ian Sensei, are you cold? Hurhur" In the summer when my hair is hanging limply on my head, bogged down with sweat and my shirt looks as if I've done a backflop into kiddie pool: "Ohhhh hurhur Ian Sensei, it's hot isn't it??"

Really, it's just a way of starting conversation. They all know that I ride my bike everywhere. But this whole stating-the-obvious thing isn't meant as an insult to my intelligence. It's just how shit is done here. Luckily I remembered that before I flipped out and caused an international incident.

The thing that's possibly more aggravating though, is the nervous laugh. I've recently noticed that several of the Japanese people I interact with laugh a lot. At least when they talk to me, they laugh a lot. They giggle or snicker or chuckle all the time. This can only be described as a nervous laugh.

It's almost like they don't know exactly what to say to me or whether or not I'll even understand them - so they just laugh. This one weird office lady at my elementary school does it ALOT. Instead of the normal "konnichiwa" or "Otsukaresama desu" in the hallway, she'll just look at me and laugh while bowing her head slightly. Sometimes she'll combine it with one of the above words - turning it into some strange mutation like "Otsukaresamahahahaha" or Konnichiwahahaha"

Another one of my teachers at elementary does the same thing! I'll ask him a question and his face will scrunch up into a fake-ass smile and he'll just giggle and nod. Never really responding to my questions or pleas for him to control his class and explain things for me.

Whether or not this is a real 'thing' or not, I'm unclear on. In my area, at least, it's prevalent enough to where I noticed it and think it should be filed under: Cultural Difference.

Anyone else in Japan notice this?
genki_rocket: (Squirrel!)
Photobucket


Cat cafés are the kind of thing that I heard about before coming here and didn't really believe. One of those things that I saw on TV or the Internet somewhere and thought "OH, JAPAN! YOU SO CUH-RAZY!"

For those who don't know, a cat café is a place where you pay to sit in a room full of cats and pet them. Or play with them. Or do any other number of adorable things.

When I was in Kyoto for winter break two years ago, my friends and I happened to come across one. At first, I thought it was a pet store until I looked inside and saw a room full of ADORABLE cats. The girl friend that I was with and I got incredibly excited and decided that we should go and see what it was like. My dude friend that was with us shook his head warily and decided to join us later.

When we went in, we paid 1000 yen (about $10) for like twenty minutes, I think? We ordered our drinks and then were led into a room with several yowling cats. The minute that the woman opened the door, she immediately had to push about three cats back with her feet. They were trying to escape.

We took a seat next to the window and waited for our drinks to come. The cats were all over! There must have been about a dozen or so in the small, cozy room that we were in. Gray ones, orange ones, fuzzy ones, shorthaired brown ones, black ones, kittens, old cats - there were all types!

On the table between us lay a large, cute scrapbook that had detailed bios of each cat. I mean...detailed bios! Their age, blood type, favorite food etc. It was expertly decorated and cute-ified out.

We tried to call over some of the cats, but none of them seemed to be having us. Instead, they were laying all around the room pretending that we didn't exist. A few were anxiously waiting by the door for their next chance at escaping.

Photobucket

Some were up in the rafters, chilling on the wooden beams that ran across the ceiling - safely out of reach of grabby human hands. Some were lounging around the corners of the room while others were semi-interested in us. We successfully played with one for a short time before he got bored and moved on.

Photobucket

At one point, two of the cats got into a hissing fight. Then one tackled the other and they started wrestling noisily. The front desk person walked in lackadaisically (brushing the waiting cats aside as she entered) and broke them up. She did this by taking one of the cats out of the room and putting him into a kennel in the separate room where we put our coats and shoes.

This didn't stop the remaining cat from trying to pick another fight with a cat who was minding his/her own business on the ceiling. Another noisy scuffle happened not too long after. This time, nobody came to the rescue.

From the other room, we could hear the departed cat yowling sadly from the kennel he was in. The other cats at the door perked their ears up and waited expectantly for the worker to come back. For their chance to escape again.

After our twenty minutes were up, my friend and I left the warmth of the café and made our way back into the bitingly cold winter evening. I think that I pet a cat for a total of maybe 3 minutes. The rest of our time was spent watching the cats lounge around warily.

Neither of us really enjoyed our experience at the cat café, we decided. It was actually a pretty sad experience. The cats who were in there clearly didn't get along. Nor did they really care for human interaction and affection. If anything, I felt more like an intruder in their room. Being pet and picked up and played with and poked day in and day out has to get old after a while, right?

And at night? It pained me to think that they get locked up in kennels only to be released into that room again the next day to do it all over again. I'm fairly certain there were more rooms in the café, but still.

Going into the cat café, I expected to be up to my knees in happy, purring kitties who would jump into my arms and let me pet them and love them. In reality, I was met with a group of oversocialized, grumpy cats who made me feel terrible for encroaching on their territory and bothering them.

I definitely don't see myself going to another one any time soon. Or at all.
genki_rocket: (TUNGGG!)
I remember learning about Japanese bullet trains in some social studies class or another in school. The ultra-fast trains that zipped passengers here and there in seconds - or so I thought in my head. Also in my head was the idea that they were everywhere - available with every other mode of transporation that big cities like Tokyo had to offer.

However, when I got here to Japan, I realized that I was lucky to even find more than one bus line in my town. In Kumamoto, we don't even have subways. To be fair, though, it's because Kumamoto has some of, if not the freshest underground spring water in Japan. For this reason, I guess it's pretty difficult to build a subway.

Luckily for me, shortly after I got here, the Kyushu Shinkansen opened up all the way down to Kagoshima (the southernmost prefecture). This means that the line is opened all the way from Tokyo (maybe further north, I don't know) to Kyushu! To celebrate, Kumamoto unveiled our Shinkansen mascot, Kumamon.



He won first place in a mascot contest throughout Japan, but I'll save that for another entry.

Anyway, I first rode the Shinkansen when I made my way up to Kyoto and Osaka for winter break in 2010. I was absolutely blown away. Being on a Shinkansen is like riding in a plane that never takes off.

The stations themselves are so clean and everything just runs like clockwork. As I was waiting for a train once, I saw a family of four waiting by the large barriers they have next to the tracks. After taking a picture for them, the trill of the announcement sounded overhead and the conductor announced that a train was passing through and to please be careful.

Not long after the announcement, an ivory blur whizzed past at incredible speed. One of the small children jumped up and down excitedly and the other cheered and laughed on his dad's shoulders. I thought it was just as cool as they did. Even now, I still see Shinkansen/train enthusiasts of all ages snapping pictures of the sleek trains as they expertly pull into the station.

Inside the Shinkansen, the seats are luxurious and comfortable. The interior is immaculately clean and spacious. What surprised me the most, though, is that there are no seatbelts. If there were to ever be a crash, I think we'd all be fucked anyway...so maybe they didn't bother with them? I don't know.

The customer service of the people who work at JR (Japan Rail) Kyushu is intense. I'm always so surprised at customer service here in general, but the Shinkansen cranks it up a notch. People are waiting outside the trains when they pull into the station to clean it immediately after the passengers disembark. The conductors inside stroll up and down each car professionally in their smart suits, white gloves and funny hats. Before they exit through the automatic sliding door that separates each car, they turn around and give a professional, deep bow to everyone.

Sometimes there will be attendants waiting outside as the Shinkansen leaves. As the train departs, they'll give a deep bow and - I thought this was incredible - they don't stop bowing until the train is completely out of the station.

Overall, the Shinkansen is an awesome way to travel. I feel super posh flying across Kyushu at speeds of I-don't-know-how-fast. The normal train from my city to Kumamoto City takes about 35 minutes. If you ride the Shinkansen between the two, it takes eight minutes. Let me repeat that: EIGHT minutes! It's not the cheapest way to travel and I only take it when I go to Fukuoka...but I feel like I should definitely use it as much as I can while I still have the opportunity to do so!

**Kyushu People! There's a discount called "Bikkuri Tsubame" that let's you go from Kumamoto to Hakata for 5500 yen! That's half what it normally costs! If it's from Kumamoto, there have to be other ones available in other locations! Check it out, it's a great deal! AND you get a 1500 coupon to use at Hakata Station's Amyu Plaza for ANYTHING you want to spend it on! This is half the price of a normal ticket PLUS the awesome coupon!


^^ it still boggles my mind!

So yeah, fuckin' Shinkansen, man!
genki_rocket: (pic#1294625)
My birthday is June 15th.

In the states, this day usually falls during summer vacation when it's hot and sunny outside. It's been this way all of my life.

In Japan, however, my birthday happens to be right around the time that rainy season starts (at least here in Kyushu). The moisture in the air is ramped up to 'miserable' and you're forced to shift gears from the amazingly mild weather of spring in preparation for the unrelenting monster of summer.

Behind my apartment complex sits a decent-sized rice field. In the spring and summer, it's brilliantly green and beautiful. In late fall and winter, it's harvested, brown and depressingly barren. However in rainy season, it's full of life.

Right now, I'm listening to a massive frog orgy take place outside my apartment. Somewhere in the rice field, hundreds (if not a couple thousand) are fucking their brains out in the water. The cacophony that they make is surprisingly calming. It happens in waves - gradually getting louder and louder and then slowly dying back out again. Then it will be silent for a while until one frog starts it again with a shrill croak.

With rainy season, all kinds of life comes back from winter hibernation. Frogs, snails, lizards and, of course, insects. I've already found a few spiders and a cockroach or two in my apartment. After dealing with them surprinsingly well, I've surrounded the entrances of my place with poison powder to keep out any other unwanted guests (like poisonous centipedes).

Thanks, rainy season!

Inside my apartment, the evidence that rainy season has begun is undeniable. The calligraphy boards that I have stuck to my wall are leaping to their deaths as the humidity renders the sticky putty on the backs of them useless. My posters get crinkly and other unfortunate papers that I have lying around my house begin to dampen. Fruit that I have lying out will go bad in triple the time - bananas? Forget about it. Avocados? Done. It's terrible.

My clothes are impossible to dry without taking them to the laundromat and I have to consistently keep up cleaning my bathroom and shower room for fear of mold growing instantaneously. Even in places you'd never expect (laundry piles, tatami, on the walls), mold can pop up ridiculously fast.

And let's not forget: the rain itself. When I first came to Japan, my fellow ALTs were talking about how much rainy season sucked. "Yeah," one of my friends said. "It literally rains ALL DAY!"

I thought to myself 'wow, that sounds like it DOES suck....but really? All day? No wayyyy."

Having lived here for two years now, let me assure you: in the height of rainy season, it DOES INDEED rain all fucking day.

This is especially unfortunate when the only means of transportation I have is a bicycle. It's an incredibly shitty feeling to be riding your bike in the middle of a pouring rainstorm. Even with a raincoat and pants, you still get soaked. And if not from rainwater, from your own sweat.

On Saturday, it rained so much that there were flood watches in effect (I believe). They made an announcement over the city speakers warning people not to go close to the rivers or the water. The rice field behind my house disappeared for a short time and I found myself living on lake front property.



from this


to this (taken from a different angle, but you get the idea)


So whereas my birthday in the US is hot, sunny and during summer vacation...my birthday in Japan is muggy, rainy and toward the end of the first semester. Unfortunately, this whole thing lasts for about a solid month. It's just something you've got to deal with living here, I think.

During rainy season, I find that since I don't see the sun for long periods of time, I get really bitchy and irritable. I'm definitely not the only one, though. Everyone seems to go through a brief dip of negativity. It's inevitable, I think. My goal this year is to try and get through it as quickly as possible.
genki_rocket: (pic#1294605)
I love recycle stores in Japan.

In the US, I would occassionally go to Goodwill or other secondhand stores like Buffalo Exchange etc. The potential for finding treasures there was always high and I often found quirky, strange and sometimes horrendous clothing and objects that I'd proudly claim as my own.

In Japan, secondhand stores are ridiculous. There are normal shops that are about the size of a Goodwill or so, but the quality of items is so much higher here. I guess that in Japan, something is considered 'old' after roughly two years. So because of this, it's possible to find some sweet deals on everything from clothes to cameras and games etc.

There are regular recycle stores, but they also have GIANT recycle stores. At least in Kumamoto, there are quite a few of them. Stores that have everything. Like...quite literally they have EVERYTHING!

These super stores are incredible because they have so many goods to offer. Clothes, accessories, figurines and toys, games, game systems, collector's trading cards, manga, anime, dirty magazines, fishing equipment, UFO catchers, purikura, various hobby stuff etc etc etc etc

In my city, one of these super stores opened up and it's been a madhouse ever since.

The thing about these stores that I've noticed, though, is that I can only be in them for a certain amount of time before I need to leave. It's so overstimulating and I really don't think that my brain can handle it.

For example, you enter the store via the game section. There are massive displays of Xboxes, PS3s, Wiis and other consoles with decorations thrown all over. In the game section, there's a massive Mario statue and further into the store they have a huge display devoted to One Piece complete with a big TV that's blaring an episode on loop.

There's also American pop music blasting in the clothing section, various other music blasting in the CD/DVD section (five feet away), videogames that are blipping and blopping and nonstop looping videos on the garish AKB48 shrine.

And over all of this, there's an intercom that the poor workers yell into to inform the people who are selling their goods. Among this, they also repeatedly welcome you into the store and thank you for your patronage.

If this weren't an onslaught for your ears already, there are dozens of interesting things that demand attention for your eyes. There are videogames to be played with, toys in various poses to see, bright, flashing signs, cute characters and other oddities like this:



and yes, that is a crucified Kermit the Frog.

It's quite easy to get lost inside these labryinths for an hour or more. There's just so much to see and do. I feel so bad for the poor workers, but I assume one would get used to it after a while.

So yeah, in closing, Japanese recycle stores are great. They're full of weirdness and novelty shit that I think American ones could benefit from dearly!

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