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Archive for May 2012

Those Pandas I Promised

Posted by Shaun

This post's theme is: cafes!

The huge variety of cafes is one of the few things I like about Tokyo. But let me tell you, going out to them too often can kill your wallet. My finances are in dire straits right now, not just thanks to cafes, so hopefully some sort of income source will materialize when I get back to the US... Food is expensive, and coffee is expensive, and guess what my favorite things are? Going to eat food and going to drink coffee.

Now that I've vented my financial stresses, cafes.

First of all, I went to Daikanyama, near Shibuya, with one of my friends, as part of my mission to explore Tokyo for cute cafes. The first place we found when we got there was The Queen's Collection Chocolate Cafe. So, naturally, we had to go in.

Their big thing is hot chocolate. You pick the bitterness of your chocolate, and then you get a candle/fondue pot thing and milk and you heat it up and mix it yourself. I really wanted to try it, but the day my friend and I went it was too hot so... I got hot coffee... because that makes sense. I kinda really want to go back on a cold rainy day and try that hot chocolate.
But look how happy my orange mocha was!
I ordered an orange mocha, and it took me a while before I realized that all of the orange was at the bottom. But after I stirred it it was delicious!

And the cafe was pretty adorable.
Occasionally Tokyo rewards me with places like Daikanyama, where the streets are wider and not that crowded and there are cute cafes everywhere, including places that look like old-fashioned sweet shops on the inside and are devoted to chocolate. Yeah. And then the rest of Tokyo continues to be Tokyo and it figures that the part I end up being charmed by is like... not at all thrifty.

So yeah, I've gotta go back to Daikanyama at least one more time before I leave. Maybe back to the chocolate cafe, maybe someplace new.

Next stop (I promise, the pandas are coming at the end), the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba.
For those of you who don't know, Gundam is an anime series about giant fighting robots, and this one is life-size. So it's really huge. It's also cool because if you get close it has all this stuff like "only assemble by a trained professional" and "caution: not a step" and stuff like that on. I don't think it really says that specifically, but like, those sorts of things...

Detail shot of the Gundam's foot.
After seeing the Gundam, we attempted to explore some of the malls in Odaiba, but we didn't get very far because we couldn't stop eating (lunch turned into Auntie Anne's Pretzels) and then the boys we were with were like... so ridiculously chill that we never got anywhere. And we couldn't get them to stop talking about trading card games. So it was a lot later than we meant it to be when we finally got home. And it was Sunday. Whoops.

But we got to see a nice sunset behind rainbow bridge and check out the lights of Tokyo Tower from the Yurikamome line on the way home. And then we managed to find, from the Yurikamome line platform, what we're pretty sure is the cliche view of the Tokyo streetlights that you see all the time online but we couldn't find in real life. If you're ever going to Odaiba for some reason, you should take the Yurikamome line at least one way. I was turned off by how expensive it was compared to the subway, but it does a loop in the middle for some reason, so it's good for sightseeing. You can get a good look at Tokyo Tower and some cool skyscrapers and stuff.
Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow lights
Okay, now, finally, pandas.

I bought a book of cafes in Tokyo, and one of the featured cafes was panda-themed! I didn't take a picture of the inside of the cafe because I already had it in my book but it was quite adorable and quite delicious.

Sign out front
Small sign out front
Sign at the top of the stairs (the cafe was on the 2nd floor of the building)
Panda table decoration
Panda keema curry
Panda mocha
Cookies and cream ice cream!
Laura and her Panda Set
So that was last Thursday. Then on Saturday my class was cancelled so I went to the Ueno Park Zoo with another friend, and we saw the real panda! And really cute elephants. And lots of other stuff. It was a really good zoo day somehow. We got to see the zookeepers feed a lot of different animals, and they all seemed really active.

The female panda! There's a male one too but he wasn't outside.
The zoo keepers encouraged the elephants to walk around the enclosure in a line like this and then gave them bananas.
Me and the elephants.
Oh, and today I drank this at a cafe in my train station that I keep wanting to try:
Azuki shirotama float
It was kinda expensive considering how much of it was ice but you live and learn, I guess. Now I don't have to be curious about that cafe anymore.

Oh, and of course, it's not related to pandas or cafes, but on Monday there was a solar eclipse over Japan, and I bought the special reflective sunglasses and got to see it. I didn't take a picture or anything, but I woke up at 7 to go check it out and it was well worth it, standing in the driveway looking at the sun through the special glasses and taking a break every two minutes. The moon covered the sun so that it was a perfect ring. I think you could see the eclipse in California too, but I'm not sure. It was really cool to see.

 70 days left in Japan, counting today (and it's already 9pm so I suppose I should be done counting today). See you sooner than I can believe, America!

"How do you know that you're right? / If you're not nervous anymore..."

Posted by Shaun

"How do you know that you're right?
If you're not nervous anymore..."
"Bling (Confessions of a King)" by The Killers
You learn a lot of things about your personality when you study abroad. One of the things I've learned is that I have the sort of personality that, for whatever reason, wants me to be continually denying myself something. If something is too comfortable, then maybe it can't be trusted. I've learned to overcome this in a lot of parts of my life - my schoolwork and my eating habits, for example - but it always manages to seep into some other area of my existence. Like English. Not in an "I'm going to challenge myself by only speaking Japanese today" way, but in a "You spoke too much English today. You should feel bad about that" way. There's a fine line between immersion and self-denial that results in the coding of English-language experiences and friendships as inherently less valuable than the same things in a foreign language. I'm not sure that I agree with that value system, but I'm definitely trapped in it.

I've also realized that at the beginning of my study abroad experience, I chose to be a good study abroad student, specifically a good white American encroaching on a foreign country, by deciding to avoid bothering people as much as possible. I don't really recommend this approach. There are other, probably better, ways to be a "good" study abroad student. Ask intelligent questions and engage empathetically with the people around you as much as possible, for example.

Now, as my friends in the US start to prepare for summer vacation, I'm starting to think about my senior year, and my future after graduation. And I haven't the slightest clue what that will be.

But I don't think I want to go right back to Japan. It's not that I'm having a bad experience here, but my family and friends are all an ocean away. There's not much that ties me to Japan except for my desire to master Japanese, though if you asked me why I want to be able to speak and read it, I'm not really sure anymore. I feel very temporary in Japan, and very precarious. There are a lot of political things going on in the US right now that make me want to punch something, but at least there I know where I stand and I feel at home. 

But I only feel so comfortable in the US because I am a white, straight, cisgender, middle-class American. I know better than to think that my comfort extends to every American. I know that there are people who are hurt or killed every day in America because of the institutions that make me feel like I have a place there. So that self-denial comes out again. I imagine someone with all the privileges I lack telling me "Oh, poor baby, you don't feel comfortable in Japan? I don't feel comfortable anywhere." There are jobs in Japan that I know I could do, if the only concern I had for my future was financial. English teaching, for example. Knowing Japanese, being a woman, speaking American English, and having a college degree would be great advantages to me in the "teach-English-in-Japan" field. And I wouldn't lose my hard-earned Japanese. So how can I turn that down for an uncertain job future in the US, just because I feel a little uncomfortable with being a gaijin forever and I want to be close to my family?

There's the additional problem that no one can recommend me any career fields anywhere but in Japan. Obviously, being physically located in Japan, people in charge my study abroad program are bound to be most familiar with the opportunities there. But no one knows anything about Japan Study alumni who didn't come back to Japan*. There's this accepted mythology that good study abroad students want nothing more than to live in their host country forever, and the ones who aren't dying to come back are failures. I don't want to be a failure.

I don't want to give up the progress I've made in Japanese. I've finally gotten to the point where I can actually talk with people and begin to read things, and I want to keep improving. But I want to work in America. I don't want the limits I feel placed on myself in Japan, both as a woman and as a gaijin (although I realize that gaijin women are privileged above Japanese women in some fields). In any case, I'm not ready to commit to any sort of two-year teaching contract in Japan right away.

This makes me feel like a bad white American study abroad student for not being "international enough" and sufficiently "culturally flexible," for not loving my host country more than my family, my friends, and my personal comfort, for wanting to take a path I imagine to be both "easier" and less restrictive in the long-run. For not having the sort of study abroad experience programs want to brag about, and for having the gall to write about it on a blog linked from that program's website.

So I'm sorry about all of that.

To my family, I promise I'm not depressed right now. I've been having a lot of enjoyable experiences that you can look forward to in future posts once I find a convenient way to host the photos (Gundams, chocolate, and pandas, oh my!). I'm just trying to work my way through a lot of thoughts, and some of them are stupid and for some reason I want to work through them on the internet in public. Probably in the hopes of advice from people older and wiser than me. Comments and emails are welcome.

*This year's program assistant is in the process of a new reconnect-with-alumni for the sake of her graduate research and the 50th anniversary of the program, so I could have answers soon.

My classes

Posted by Shaun

I realized I never posted about the classes I'm taking this semester.

-Modern Japanese Fiction in Translation
With the same professor I liked for literature last semester. We're reading Meiji and Taisho and early Showa fiction and looking at what it means to be modern and different writers' images of Tokyo.
-Tokyo: Ethnographic Fieldwork and Documentary Filmmaking
I'm not sure this class is actually about Tokyo but our final assignment is to make a 15-minute documentary. I think mine is going to be about two of my friends and their book-buying habits, but I haven't heard anything from my professor after I sent her the topic email. So far I know more than I did about cultural appropriation but I have no idea how to make a film. I feel like I should be starting soon but I don't know what I'm doing with my little digital camera. The only thing I've done so far is asked my friends for permission to interview them and bought a bigger memory card.

-Writing Essays with Volunteers
This is a cool class. We write essays and then we get help correcting them from native speakers.
-something about speaking and writing your opinion
We discuss stuff in class and then we write short essays about them. No homework because all the work is done in class.
-Intensive Japanese 5
I like my professors for this one so it should be good.
-Discourse Grammar in Japanese 5-6
This class is a lecture about grammar and it's hard but it's stuff I need to know, like the difference between は and が

And I'm volunteering in a freshman English class. Which is awkward but fun.
And I'm a member of an English conversation/cultural exchange circle, where everyone is a sweetheart and it's great and I wish I'd started going sooner.

Photo Dump: Minakami etc

Posted by Shaun

Photos from when my study abroad program stayed at Ryokan Tanigawa in Minakami

Room at Ryokan Tanigawa

On the table: a leaf that says "Waseda School of International Liberal Studies: Thank you for your stay!"

Outside the ryokan window

Dinner (sideways)

Me in my yukata

Terrifying-looking yet delicious grilled fish


Going strawberry picking

Strawberry picking in Japan actually means all-you-can-eat strawberries for 30min

Eating Minakami gelato

In Harajuku waiting outside Ben and Jerry's

Cherry Garcia and some kind of ginger flavor

Photo Dump: O-Hanami etc

Posted by Shaun

My host mom's friend, my host mom, and me in Yokohama before my host sister's marching band concert

Chocolate-banana pancakes at Pancake Days in Harajuku

There was a smiley face inside too!

A blimp flies over Waseda

Sakura near Waseda

O-hanami at Naka-Meguro

Takao-san and Shibuya

Posted by Shaun

Yesterday I climbed a mountain, went to an izakaya (Japanese pub), and did karaoke. And somehow managed to come home with a massive headache without drinking any alcohol.

How I managed to do all that is a bit of a complicated story.

I posted on Facebook on my birthday, "Hey, is anyone doing anything interesting tomorrow?" and the only person who responded was Kaori-san, one of the adult members of the English conversation circle I'm in. She said some people she knew from UCLA were going to climb Mt. Takao (referred to as Takao-san from now on) so I should see if I wanted to go with them.

The more the conversation developed, the more it seemed like she was trying to set me up with this friend of hers, but that was pretty much impossible from the moment I met him, since he's like 7 or 8 years older than me and I'm sorry, Kaori-san, but that still matters when you're barely 21.

So, I spent my morning and afternoon chatting with the group, mostly men, from America, Canada, and Scotland, and the Scottish guy's Japanese girlfriend. And, oh yeah, we climbed a mountain. They were all really nice and welcoming and funny, but they're not really the sort of social group I'd want to get stuck in if I were to somehow end up working in Tokyo. I'm not too into bars and joking with high school girls and goofing off in public places...

After we got back to Shibuya from Takao-san, me and the two American guys went to an izakaya and were joined by Kaori-san later. I got interrogated by Kaori-san about what I wanted in a boyfriend and then the guy I'd originally been introduced to decided to turn the tables on her and ask her about her love life, but she kept dodging the question and turning it back on me. I also found out that I prefer non-alcohol cocktails and I like kimchi cucumbers. I also got teased by Kaori-san for acting like I was the exasperated older sister of the two guys.

After we ate our fill of yakitori and kimchi and stuff, the boys couldn't stop singing but one of them had to go home to his fiance, so Kaori-san and the remaining guy and I went to do karaoke. So I got to spend the last of the money in my wallet (going out with people with jobs is expensive!) on a higher-tier karaoke joint than I usually go to.

It was a fun night, but I was so ready to just crash into the pavement when I got home at 11:30 after waking up at 8:30 am, and my muscles still hurt like crazy. Which is why I didn't do anything except update my blog today.


Inside the karaoke place

Club Kitty, where Hello Kitty is the DJ?
 Random out of order pictures from Takao-san

Tengu, a crow spirit that I know next to nothing about

There will be more on my Facebook. I figure this is enough for here. The photo uploader isn't cooperating today.