{Shaun in Japan}

Shaun in Japan Blog | Created By Www.BestTheme.Net

Archive for September 2011

Posted by Shaun

First of all, because apparently I explained it somewhere else not here, my host mom wants to be called Missus, and her husband (who I haven’t met yet) is Mister. Their kids call them “Mama” and “Papa,” though.

Her sister is also hosting a student from Japan Study. His name is Sam. Missus’ sister wants me and Sam to call her “Okaasan,” which means “mother.” She lives close to Missus, so Sam and I use the same train station to get to school. We live on opposite sides of the station, though, so we’re actually in different towns.

Things are on an upswing with my host family, and as I have more and more of my own things to do, things will probably get even better.

Yesterday, I had Japanese class all day. My real classes don’t start until Monday, but Japan Study had 3 days of Japanese class that they scheduled for us with a local language school. The first day was really long because it was all reviewing different phrases and stuff, but the next two days had breaks in the middle where we were supposed to go out and accomplish different things and then present about them. Yesterday we were assigned to go out to lunch and ask the waiter/waitress for recommendations or ask about different food. It was sort of goofy because we’ve been eating out on our own for two weeks now, and we just now re-learned (in my case) restaurant vocabulary. We had a two hour break in the middle of class to do that, though, which was nice. My friends and I ate at the Indian curry place that’s right next to our classroom, so then we had a lot of free time to buy some Waseda souvenirs. Now I have a Waseda water bottle I can reuse instead of buying water bottles. Haha. It’s a souvenir and it’s functional! Just like everything I’ve bought so far, actually…

Mom, in case you’re curious, that purse you got at Wal-Mart is amazing. Really. Today I fit the 500ml Waseda water bottle, a small umbrella, my camera, my wallet, my coin purse, my Japanese fan even though it’s finally not sweltering outside, my hand towel, my passport, my tissues, and basically the entire world in it. It’s the best.

Anyway, yesterday I went to check and respond to email at the computer lab and then I headed back home. I got a little lost along the way because I took a wrong turn, but in the process I ended up finding a huge department store and another Moss Burger. Then I realized that there was a Uniqlo (clothing chain store, pronounced uni-ku-(r/l)o, so in Japanese it sounds like “unique clothes”) right across from my neighborhood. I got home at dinner time and ended up eating with both Missus and my host sister for the first time. We talked about… whether I liked blue, and Pokemon because I wore my Pikachu shirt yesterday. And we watched TV. It was funny though, because Missus said lots of Japanese people like Pokemon but, “Ippai sugiru” – there’s way too many. I’m playing Pokemon Black version right now but I don’t even know how many Pokemon there are now… More than five hundred? Anyway, it wasn’t as awkward as some of the other conversations have been, and then Sam and Okaasan came over and after a long struggle, Sam eventually figured out how to get me online. Thank goodness (In Japanese, that’s “yokatta ne!”よかったね)!

I was really worried about today because it was another free day, like Tuesday was, but Missus made time to spoil me for the day. She was busy in the morning, but I slept in (8:30 is sleeping in!), so I didn’t really notice. We went to Asakusa and Ueno today. Asakusa was really interesting. There’s lots of delicious-looking food stands, including chocolate-covered bananas on sticks and Japanese snow cones. There’s also a huge temple where Missus prayed for everyone in her family, and lots of stores where you can buy traditional Japanese sorts of things (fans, yukata, prayer beads, lucky cats…) She took me out for okonomiyaki, and we were the only people in the shop, so the waitress actually corrected my table manners.

Missus has been talking about how quiet I am compared to her last host student, so I finally explained that I’m not actually a quiet person, it’s just that I’m not good at Japanese and I don’t have a lot of vocabulary. Then she asked me what subject I was interested in and I ended up talking about my interest in pop culture and the localization of Japanese media products in the US (In Japanese, “pop culture” is literally “pop culture,” “ポップ文化 pop bunka”).

It was our first real back-and-forth conversation, and that was nice. She also advised me to join a club to practice my Japanese, which is advice I’m going to take. Tomorrow is the club recruitment, as well as the School of International Liberal Studies’ entrance ceremony, and the day I get my phone! Finally!
In Asakusa, we found a bag store where everything was 1050 yen, which is really cheap. I wanted to get a (more fashionable) backpack to put my school stuff in, but nothing looked big enough to fit my computer should I need to take it to school, so I couldn’t buy anything there. I also tried yaki-imo  (baked sweet potato) flavored ice cream, which was sort-of unremarkable… After that, we went to Ueno, and I ended up finding a backpack there that was big enough. It wasn’t as cheap but it seems really sturdy, so I’ll definitely use it at Knox too. And when I got home I tried putting my laptop in it and it wasn’t that heavy, which will be great for my long walk to the train station every morning. I’m still not sure how many books I’ll need for class. Hopefully I can avoid buying most of them. Some classes mentioned they’d have copies of their books in the SILS library. Study abroad is so expensive!!!

Anyway, today was really fun and I feel like Missus and I have started to bond more. She still thinks I’m really quiet though. I heard her talking on the phone and she called me “zutto otonashii,” which I looked up, and it means that I’m always “quiet, gentle, passive, mild,” according to my dictionary. But it has the kanji for “adult” in it, 大人しい, so it’s probably not the worst connotation in the world… It sounds like she was going to have some high school student(s) she knows come over and talk to me sometime when I’m free, which should be interesting if not totally terrifying.

When I’m at school tomorrow, I also need to go sign up at the intercultural center to do a language exchange. That way I’ll hopefully have a Japanese conversation buddy so I can get better at speaking. I’m not sure when I’ll have time for a part-time job… I’ll probably survive without one, but I’ve really got to budget my time. I should fill out the work permission form anyway, because apparently Japan Study sometimes hires people to do things and they can’t pay us without it…

I feel like I’m really an adult now and I have to manage my money and it’s so scary! Even though the only meal I have to buy myself is lunch, I have to pay for my cell phone and my health insurance every month… yikes…  On Sunday I’m going to go to the grocery store near my house and try to see what kinds of cheap things I can find. My first thought was peanut butter and jelly, since I’m eating more diverse food groups for breakfast and lunch, but that’s probably expensive in Japan! I’ll just have to see what I can find. I also need something to put it in… And I’ll buy some snacks in bulk too, since no matter when you feed me, I’m hungry after an hour.

Wednesday, September 20, 2011, 8:32 pm

Posted by Shaun

              Today and yesterday night were better than yesterday. I met my host brother and sister and they were friendly. Not super talkative, but my Japanese didn’t exactly facilitate that either. My host brother asked me why I wanted to go to Japan and I told him that in junior high I really liked anime and so I started taking Japanese classes in high school. Then I became interested in Japanese culture. I was holding the TV remote at the time because I had been channel-surfing so he asked if I wanted to watch anime. I asked him what channel and he put it on (so I still don’t know what channel), but one of the shows we were talking about (Rurouni Kenshin, if you’re curious) was on so he asked me what my favorite character was, but since I haven’t seen it since middle school I couldn’t remember anything about any of the characters. But it was pleasant. Then my host sister tried to help me with the internet but we still can’t figure it out. Eventually Sam is going to come over and see if he can do it. Not sure when though. Saturday I’m going to buy a cell phone with my program. We’re getting a deal on an Android smart phone, so I’ll be able to Skype and use the internet on it anywhere. It’ll be such a relief to be connected to people again. It’s kind of embarrassing how excited I am to have it. I never realize how dependent I am on technology until I’m without it.
              Take today for example. My twin sister is studying abroad in the Nagoya area right now. I saw on the news yesterday that Nagoya city was being bombarded by an enormous typhoon. There was all this flooding, but I couldn’t understand enough to know how serious things were. I just saw roads full of water and people in boats and stuff, but I had no way of contacting my sister. I didn’t have her cell phone number because I’d only saved it in my email inbox, not on my actual hard drive. I asked Missus if the city where my sister lives was probably okay, and she said it was, but I wasn’t satisfied until I finally had the time to get to a computer lab.
              At that point, it was raining pretty hard because the typhoon was starting to come our way. Don’t worry, though. It was a huge, windy storm tonight, but no floods out here. So, it’s pouring rain, and I have my raincoat and my 525 yen convenience store pocket-size umbrella, which totally gets destroyed by the wind, so it gets thrown in the trash. Then I’m walking around campus because I can’t find the building with the open computer lab. It’s summer still, so that combined with energy saving restrictions from the earthquake means that even though there are a lot of computer labs, finding an open one nearby can be hard. I ask a passing woman  for help, and she doesn’t know where the building is, so I start looking around again. Then I hear someone calling out, and it’s that woman again. She found the building I was looking for. She leads me there and asks me if I’m okay because 1) I’m in a hurry and getting anxious about checking my email before I’m supposed to meet Sam and his host mom (Okaasan) and 2) I don’t have an umbrella. So she gives me one! Out of the blue! She has an extra umbrella in her bag, and she just gives it to me. It seems like a nice one, too. I was so surprised, and really grateful. And I got to check my email after all. Thank goodness.
              After that, Sam, Okaasan, and I went to our respective city offices to do alien registration and get signed up for Japanese National Health Insurance. It took some time, and Okaasan helped us out so much. Because Sam and Okaasan and Missus and I live on opposite sides of the train station, we’re actually in different cities, so we had to visit two different city offices, and Okaasan helped us out with all the forms.
              Everything in Japan has a mascot, and my city is no exception. It’s a round yellow elephant with brown spots. Apparently it’s called “Zoukirin”(elephantgiraffe). It’s really cute, in a weird way. There’s a giant stuffed one as well as several smaller ones in the ward office, and I wanted to take a picture but there wasn’t time. All I have is the label from the bottle of water Okaasan bought me, so I’ll upload a picture of that eventually.
              After we’d completed alien registration, because no one in my house was coming home until late, I got to go over to Okaasan’s house and spend time with Sam and her family. I ate dinner there, tried to listen to Japanese and answer their questions (they asked me questions! I was so excited even though I couldn’t really understand them or answer well…) and watched some TV. And now I’m here, too tired to interact with everyone and trying to kill time until a reasonable bedtime. I think 9:00pm is a reasonable bedtime, don’t you? Especially when you’ve been listening to a foreign language for half the day and breakfast is at 7am?
              I don’t want my host family to worry about me, but it’s normal to want to sleep all the time during the first few days in a new place, right?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 2:13 pm

Posted by Shaun

              I’m not going to lie. I feel like a new puppy right now. I was brought to a new home yesterday and given a lot of attention but when the next day rolled around, it was back to work for the people who live in this house and now here I am, all alone, with nothing to do but pant, whine, and wait for someone to come home and pay attention to me. But I’m a puppy who has never lived with people before, so when they come home, I don’t understand anything they say or do. I’m also a boring pet, because whenever anyone comes home, all I do is sleep, eat, and watch TV.

Monday, September 19, 2011 9:18 PM

Posted by Shaun

Japan really is a crowded country. Or at least, the Tokyo area is. I was disappointed to learn that my nice, long, relaxing 1-hour train commute is actually mostly walking. At least today, the walk from the station seemed way longer than the actual train ride. And so far the only member of my host family that I’ve met is Missus (When you pronounce that, say the second syllable with an “eh” sound, not an “uh” sound). She teaches English and she told me she doesn’t like the little kids she teaches to call her “sensei,” so she goes by Missus. Her husband is Mister. I have yet to meet him or their son and daughter, so I have no idea how they address their parents. The dog is about the same size as my dog, medium, and his name is Billy (Or Biri? Could be either, really). At 14, he’s pretty old (Missus called him “ojiisan,” when she was telling me about him).  Everyone else in the family was out of town for school or work today. Because just staying at home would be lonely, Missus planned for us to go out to dinner at a sashimi place, and we met up with her sister, who’s hosting another student from my program, and some of their friends. My listening is so bad right now that it was hard to contribute to the conversation even when they specifically asked me something. Right now I can only really understand Japanese when it’s one on one in a quiet place. Crowds and places with bad acoustics are really hard.
              So back to Japan being crowded.
              This house is small, and five people live in it. I’m staying in the tatami room, where the family shrine is, on a futon. Which I actually don’t know quite how to set up, and I don’t know where Missus went. I should have paid more attention in my futon classes! I’ve been taught how to set up a futon at least twice, but everywhere I am, the parts in the futon closet look different. Thankfully this time it’s summer and not winter (aah, good memories from that first Japan Term night in Kyoto, where we didn’t have enough blankets and all froze and got sick), so as long as I don’t sleep on top of something I’m not supposed to (?), at least I don’t have to worry about being too cold with the matching-looking blankets I can find. I couldn’t find sheets, though… I also can’t figure out how to turn my air conditioner back on, but you don’t use it while you sleep so I’m not going to worry about it right now. I’m wondering if maybe Missus turned the breaker off when we left for dinner and forgot to turn in back on. With everyone saving power because of the earthquake power shortages, I’m supposed to turn off the circuit breakers connected to my room when I leave. I know I’m going to forget, though.
              So, I’m in the tatami room, and across the hall from me is a tiny toilet room. There’s a Washlet toilet, which I am totally going to get used to, and the sink is attached to the toilet. What I can’t figure out is why there’s no soap, but I brought lots of hand sanitizer…
              I have an assigned chair in the dining area. I’m across from Missus, and my back is to the TV, but the chairs swivel.  The kitchen area doesn’t seem like there’s enough room to spread your arms in, but I haven’t actually stood in it. And behind the kitchen is the room with the sink, mirror, washing machine, and laundry baskets. Connected to that is the bath.
              Apparently the kids’ rooms are upstairs, but I don’t even know where the stairs are, and I don’t know if Mister and Missus’ room(s) are down here or upstairs. That’s typical though. If you’re a guest, which I am right now, you aren’t usually shown the whole house.
              The question I want to answer is this: Why are there certain types of products that you just can’t find in the US, but aren’t uncommon in Japan? Why does this house have blue toilet paper with little green grape vines on it, a toilet that washes your butt, an extremely-complicated washing machine that talks, and a bath that seems to regulate the temperature electronically and announces when it’s ready, while those sorts of things are the stuff of dreams (or nightmares, like that Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House) in the US? I know the yen is stronger than the dollar, but I feel like it must be more than that. Why is there demand for stuff like this?
              In other news, Missus liked my gift and told me my Japanese was good when I presented it, even though what I’d actually done was looked up the phrase we’d learned in class right before I gave it to her. She picked up all the tissue paper in a hurry though and actually threw away the Knox pennant that was still wrapped up in there before I noticed. Then I told her, embarrassedly, that I thought there was one more thing, and she, embarrassedly, had to get it out of the trash. But she thought it was really cute and tried to decide where to put it on the wall. She also told me that my hair was a pretty color when we were walking back from Waseda, and when she first met me, she told me that she was really glad I didn’t look like a boy like I did in the picture Japan Study sent.
              Tomorrow I have a free day, but I have no idea what I’m going to do. I’m going to sleep late, finally, but after that, we’ll see. I have no idea what I’m going to do for lunch, since Missus doesn’t have to find it for me and I’m not at school. When I’m at school, I can bring a lunch if I buy stuff and make it, but I have no idea where stores are right now… She also asked me if I wanted a part time job, so I think she’s going to help me find one at an English conversation school. I hope I’ll be okay at that, but my Japanese isn’t good enough for anything else.
              I’m going to bed now, whether my futon is set up right or not. We have wireless at the house but Missus doesn’t know how it works, so I’m not sure when I’ll get internet. Maybe next time I go back to Waseda.

Sunday, September 18, 2011 8:51 PM, JST

Posted by Shaun

Five is my lucky number. There are five letters in my first name, S-H-A-U-N, five letters in my last name, and five in my middle name. There are five people in my family, counting me. I will be the fifth student my host family has hosted, and, counting me, there will be five people in that family as well.
              I found out my host family assignment on Friday, but I’ve been too busy to write about it until now. I meet them and move in tomorrow afternoon, so it might be too soon to start writing about them, since I only know the barest of details. My host father is a businessman, my host mother is self-employed, and I have two host siblings. My host brother is 22 and has a part-time job, and my host sister is 21 and a student. The family also has an inside dog. They live about an hour commute from Waseda, but there’s only one transfer, and it’s at Ikebukuro, the area where we’ve been staying throughout orientation. From Ikebukuro to Takadanobaba, the second-nearest station to Waseda, is a four-minute train ride, so my hope is that I get to grab a seat on the train every day and enjoy some nice relaxing reading for the pre-Ikebukuro leg of the journey.
              I’m excited to meet my host family. On the paper that I was given with their information, their reason for hosting an American student was given as “They want their children to have a wonderful experience with you.” Since I’m not the first student they’ve hosted, I have high hopes that my host siblings will be interested in showing me around and helping me figure things out.
              I’m ready to stop living out of a suitcase and start getting settled. I’m also ready to have a group of Japanese people that I can get to know face to face. The people I’ve been meeting through orientation have been really nice, but it’s hard to get to know them in a group of 23 people. I need to dive into my Japanese more. Our hostel is so international that it’s hard to know which language to speak sometimes.