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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nara Day Trip!

The day after my Japanese class came to Osaka I got to go to Nara with the two Australian exchange students and Carl. Carl, "forgot" to tell us that we didn't have to wear a uniform so Mel and Kiera wore free dress anyway assuming we could and I...well...let's just say I am a good student. I sweated through the day in my many layers of uniform.
However, it was still a blast!!! We visited two temples, my favorite one was the Todaiji Temple. This temple is apparently the biggest wooden building in the entire world! It was HUGE! Inside was the famous giant Buddha statue that many of you probably recognize. In a certain part of the temple there was a large hole in one of the posts that is apparently as big as his nostril. There is some sort of good thing that happens if you could fit through this hole but I don't know what it is. Anyway, I could have fit through it if I hadn't been wearing a skirt. *sigh* silly Carl >.<
Oh well, to be honest the nostril hole wasn't the thing I had been looking forward to believe it or not, so I wasn't too bummed. What really made my day were the famous deer parks. Nara is famous for it's "wild" deer which just roam around practically everywhere. However, these deer are far from "wild", they are so used to humans that you can pet them. There are also street vendors everywhere that sell deer treats and if you buy some of these you quickly find yourself surrounded by insistent, and extremely pushy deer. If you don't feed them quick enough they will nudge you or, rub their head on your leg, try and eat something else on your person, or, if they are real gentlemen, they will bow (needless to say the bowing ones got the most food). Since I was wearing a skirt these deer were constantly perplexed by how they couldn't rub their head on my leg without catching my skirt and almost flashing the whole park, or just getting their whole head under it. Or maybe they did realize and they are just as perverted as the wind that blows when you ride bicycles (oh jidensha... >.<). Either way I had a few close calls.

I loved Nara so much! It was absolutely beautiful and so tranquil. Although it was overrun by tourists (myself included), it was still a great experience!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Bit of Home In My Bit of Not-So-Home

Yesterday all the people from my school in America who went on the Japan trip came to Osaka!! about 3 weeks ago I had been struck by a marvelous idea and since then I had been planning together with a teacher from my school(Carl) and my Japanese teacher (Mrs. Fullmer) to arrange something where my class could come visit my school and see a real Japanese high school. I could not have been more pleased at how it turned out!

Me, Carl, and the two other exchange students met Mrs. Fullmer and her possy at the train station right on time for 7th period. Then we all joined my homeroom class in the Japanese culture lesson for a special activity. Rather than going to Oral Communications, (which is what my class would normally do) they got to dress up some foreigners in Yukatas!! there were approximately 2 Japanese students to every American one and I think everyone had a blast all around. After that some of the girls showed how to do Japanese Tea ceremony and taught my classmates a little about it as well.
Afterward there was about 10 minutes free talking time between the American and Japanese students. The Japanese girls got to practice their English and the American girls got to practice their Japanese and everyone was happy.

We didn't end until well after school got out but no one seemed to really mind. Mrs. Fullmer and her group headed back to their hotel to drop off their stuff, Miyuu and I tagged along for we had all planned on going to Karaoke together afterward. However, because everything took longer than expected and Miyuu had to get home early, we ended up going to dinner with her instead. We went out for Okonomiyaki which none of the girls had tried before and it was super delicious!!!!!! Then we had to part with Miyuu and part of the group (who were saying they wanted to go back to the Hotel). Everyone shed a few tears over leaving this new friend they had made and then they said goodbye.

The girls who had stayed with me and Mrs. Fullmer(Lauren, Emily, and Holly) came to Karaoke with us!!!! It was sooooo fun! It is one thing to go to karaoke with your friends, it is quite another to go with your teacher, and ten times more fun too!
Since we are all Americans it was even more fun than before because we all knew almost all of the songs that everyone sang so we all sang them together! I had so much fun and it was so great to see people from home! I can't wait to see the rest of you when I return!

Mrs. Fullmer and Emily get dressed up by their new friends

Everyone posed for a picture together after the American's were Yukata-ified

A Japanese student shows everyone how to do Japanese Tea Ceremony

Everyone had a great time when they got to talk together for 10 minutes after "school" got out.

Breanna talks with her group of new Japanese friends!

Lauren was really thirsty after walking to the restaurant. She consumed not only her own water, but bits of mine and holly's as well. ^^

Holly and Richard on a busy Osaka street as we waited for everyone to finish purchasing their takoyaki.

Lauren and I rocked out together at Karaoke! It was fun to do this with Americans because we all knew the same songs so we could all sing together!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watch Your Mouth!

It is a well known fact that Japanese people are very helpful. This is a wonderful quality to have but as an American visiting Japan, you quickly learn when to hold your tongue. In America complaints such as "I'm hungry" or "my head hurts" are simply vaguely annoying but quite common. Japanese people are definitely not above complaining. "I'm hungry" "its so hot" etc etc are heard often. However, as a foreigner, the minute you speak openly about your discomfort it is like you put whichever Japanese person you are with into emergency mode. They will worry about said discomfort all day or until they can have it fixed.
They are also very sensitive to any interest you might show in anything around you. For example, I went out to dinner with Serina and her Aunt after USJ on Saturday. I knew we were running late and so we were hurrying through a shopping mall. I saw a store that looked interesting and all I did was simply look inside on our way past and Serina asked "Do you want to look around?". I of course replied that no, we had an appointment to get to and she looked pleased. As if I had passed a test. However, Test or not, I know that if I had said "yes" we would have done just that. She would have silently informed her aunt that we would be even more late but she probably would not have reminded me about our appointment. She simply would have made me as happy as possible and indulged in everything I wanted to do.

For the most part, this quality is a good thing. The sensitivity to others is something that I think everyone should have a bit of but as a gaijin, you learn very quickly when and how to subtly hint at what you would like to do without being direct, and when to keep your complaints and desires to yourself for the good of whichever freakishly accommodating Japanese person you are with.

Universal Studios Japan

Today I got the opportunity to go to Universal Studios Japan(USJ) with my friend Serina!!! I was greatly looking forward to today because this was one of the things I wanted to do very badly when I came to Japan. USJ did not let me down! We arrived just as it opened and for a short time we were treated to fairly short lines. We rode some rides, watched some shows, and explored gift shops!

One of the shows I most enjoyed was the "Wicked" production. It was a greatly shortened and condensed version of the play that was acted using English AND Japanese (in case you are wondering how that works, they switched between the languages in seemingly random places).

For lunch we ate Caramel Popcorn and later (around 3:30) we stopped for some real food. Pizza. I have never paid so much for pizza before but I also have never tasted anything so good! It was italian style (rather than the usual greasy American stuff) with a splash of Japanese taste (in the form of tomato braised octopus on one of the pizzas). Looking at the menu I laughed as I spotted something really unusual. A pizza whose ingredients are "shrimp and potatoes". Kinda interesting, I was tempted to try it but I was afraid it wouldn't be worth $20.

The only unfortunate (or was it fortunate?) thing about today was the rain. It rained all day. It wasn't too heavy but it was enough to soak my pant legs halfway to the knee and enough to make carrying an umbrella an obnoxious but necessary task.
The appearance of said rain also was the reason we didn't go on some of the rides I had been looking forward to. Jurassic Park was shut down and we didn't want to get even more wet by trying Jaws.
However, the rain did help us in one way. It made all the lines much shorter! the average wait time for these rides was 30 minutes rather than the usual 1 or 2 hours. So I haven't figured out whether the rain was a blessing or a curse but it doesn't matter too much since today was fabulous anyway.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Homeroom Changes

Since Monday I have been attending a new homeroom class. My previous homeroom class is currently preparing for their month long school trip to Canada so the school thought it best that I split my time at Takii between two classes. This new class is with the year one students (the equivalent of a highschool sophomore) and so far they are great!
Although I miss my old class very much since I made friends with literally every single one of them I am still enjoying making new friends in this class as well. I have gotten a little more than half of their names memorized but I haven't gotten all of them yet.
Hopefully soon I will be able to form some friendships that are as strong as the ones I made in my last class. Somehow, I think I will. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My apologies

Hello my avid readers...or well, people obligated to read this blog because you are family or friends...
I am sorry that my blog posts have not exactly been very regular. I guess I suffered from a major case of writers block but I promise that I will right this wrong. You will get exactly 29 more posts for that is how many days I have before I return to the states.

Anyway, today I got the opportunity to attend the Brass Band club. Clubs in Japan are a big thing since they don't really have any fun classes the only fun thing about school is the after school activities. At my last school, as well as the first month of this school I was really indecisive about a club. There were so many to choose from I just couldn't decide. My exhaustion after an approximately 8 hour school day didn't help matters at all.
However, today was so fun!! Everyone practices individually or with friends for the first half of club activities. I peeked into one room with a bunch of 3rd years "practicing" (aka, talking and taking pictures of each other with their cell phones) and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by these same 3rd years then practically dragged into the practice room amidst a flurry of excited Japanese chatter and then posed for pictures from multiple cameras. Nothing makes you feel like a movie star like a group of Japanese school girls.
We spent the next hour or so just talking. They exclaimed in surprise at my "wonderful Japanese" and then proceeded to interrogate me about my likes, dislikes, things I want to do, and the usual do I "have a boyfriend". I attempted to learn their names (and almost succeeded, not quite) and we all got along quite well.
We laughed at each other as we each tried to pronounce different words in English and Japanese. The video I attached is my new friend Maria's version of "cereal".

Only the last 20 minutes were spent playing our instruments with the group and that was just as fun as talking had been. I do rather miss Band class. Maybe I have found the club I want to join!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Behind the Scenes: What It Took To Get Where I Am

People always ask me how I planned my trip to Japan. Some of them are merely curious and some ask because they would like to do something similar. I personally believe this has been a life-changing experience for me and one that I think everyone should be able to enjoy so I am going to share with you all my not-so-secret secrets!

I spent almost a year preparing for my application to the "ideal" exchange program. I wished and hoped and wished again that it would work out for everything I had was dependent on getting accepted by this program. Needless to say, when I got rejected I didn't really know what to do. I didn't want to deal with the hassle (or the expenses) of applying for another program so it seemed the only other option I had was to make my own!

First I had to figure out more or less how this trip would lay out. I ideally wanted to go for 6 months because it is said that that is how long it takes to be fluent however, with my trip rushing in on me I realized that I did not want to deal with the hassle of getting a student visa. I can be here 3 months on a tourist visa (aka just a passport) and I realized this would just have to do. I asked around to find out what a reasonable sum to pay my host family for boarding me would be, I applied for a passport (of course), and I calculated approximately what all the expenses would be.

Next, I needed to find a host family. Thankfully I happened to have contacts in Japan through my Japanese aunt, my Japanese teacher, and my church (the LDS church). I am not exactly sure how the host families were found except that my aunt somehow contacted a church leader and the church leader found 2 families who would be willing to accept me. My Japanese teacher found one more willing family through a friend of hers who happens to live in Osaka. I decided to stay with one family from my aunt for 1 month and the family from my teacher for 2. With the first big hurdles done I was on a roll!

Lastly I needed to find something to fill my time while in Japan. I knew I wanted to go to school but I if that had not worked out I would have found a different sort of volunteer opportunity to make this trip really worthwhile! I asked my host families what the closest high schools were and it turned out that my host sister from my first family went to a school that loves exchange students. I wrote a formal letter to this school requesting that they allow me to be a visitor at their school. I offered to volunteer in the English classes if I couldn't be a student and basically assured them that I would respect their rules and be a great addition to their school. I had this letter translated into Japanese by my aunt and sent it off to the school. My second host family did basically the same thing for my second school. They went through about the same process.
For those of you wondering what the school's wanted of me this is what I provided for them:
-2 recommendation letters (one from principal, one from Japanese teacher)
-proof of health insurance that would cover me in Japan
-a few photos of myself (for the first school)
-and other various paperwork that will vary from school to school.

These 3 steps seem like very little but there are many little minute details that had to be planned in there as well but since every trip is different these details will vary. Basically the thing that made this trip possible was having contacts in Japan. Family, friends, church, teachers, etc, all of these are great resources for planning a trip to another country. The only thing you have to keep in mind with something like this is that there is always a way. Some plans may fall through, others won't work out quite like you wanted and all you can do is keep yourself open to many options and you can accomplish anything! To all those who are going to embark on a journey like mine I say "good for you! good luck! and you will never regret it!"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

No Cheapskates Allowed

I am going to take this opportunity to fill you all in on what I have been doing lately while at the same time comparing Japan and America as everyone expects me to do.

I become increasingly busier everyday at least 3 times a week I head off together with friends to a different destination. I've Osaka Castle for the first time, enjoyed the more karaoke (that never gets old), and gone shopping two days in a row! Almost everyday now is filled with a new adventure. This coming week I am looking forward to Universal Studios Japan, more karaoke, and probably a lot more. Each time I go out with friends I make it a priority to get purikura to remember the day by and so far I have done just that, my purikura collection is becoming quite vast.

However, the interesting thing is this: in America everyone is familiar with the phrase "just hanging out" which simply entails being together with friends. If you happen to have money you go see a movie, if no one has money then you just "chill" somewhere and do very little. Here, there is no such thing as "just chillin" when you want to hang out, you better have money because you will need it. I have not gone out once without spending at least 1000 yen (about $10). Because of this, play-dates are usually great fun and you don't often have to worry about long awkward silences or bored friends. You do, however, have to worry about going completely bankrupt.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I had the great opportunity to go to a Bunraku performance with my school on Tuesday. For those of you who don't know, Bunraku is traditional Japanese puppet theater. Needless to say I did not understand a word of it but this didn't seem to be a problem because judging by the looks on their faces, I don't think any of my friends did either.
Bunraku uses very old traditional Japanese the language, imagine really difficult Shakespeare then times it by 10 and you probably have about the right idea of what I was attempting to understand....yeah, probably not gonna happen any time soon. Not only this but the narrator (Tayu) puts so much characterization into his voice that even the Japanese people needed subtitles to have any idea what he was saying. Imagine really nasally shouting with a lot of breaks into the vocal ranges that shouldn't be possible for a grown man with lots of long drawn out syllables and you have about the right idea of what a Tayu sounds like.
However, through the eyes of a theater geek this performance was interesting on a different level. It was so cool to see the Tayu and Shamisen player working together to weave this story. At times it seemed like they were almost trying to outdo each other in their performances but according to the brochure this is the way it always is and in all actuality their efforts matched each other perfectly. The Tayu went from talking to singing and back seemingly at random but his "singing" was something new altogether.
All the puppets were so complex they needed two or three people apiece to operate them and almost every limb down to their eyebrows were mobile making this performance far more intricate than your standard sock puppet show.

I don't think any of my friends quite understood why I said afterward that I thought the Bunraku was quite interesting, most of them dosed off before it was halfway through but I wasn't lying when I said it. Bunraku is as different a type of theater as you can get from my usual Broadway musicals and quite an experience.

photos courtesy of: /bunraku/images/chanter02.jpg and

Saturday, June 5, 2010

America vs Japan: Reading Between The Lines

Each conversation that people have has underlying currents and extra communication that goes on. The direct meaning of the words you say have little to do with what you communicate. However, I have noticed the means for this underlying communication is different from culture to culture.

In America, tone of voice and inflection is a very important communicator. You can say the exact same words simply in a different manner or place the emphasis on a different word and change the way your comment will be perceived. Sometimes we Americans are a little oblivious to feelings or emotions but tone inflection says a lot.

When you are participating in a Japanese conversation this is very different. Heavy inflection is not often used when speaking in Japanese. In fact, I vaguely remember someone once telling me that the reason most Americans have an accent when speaking Japanese is that they put so much inflection into the words.
Yet there is much more that is perceived in a conversation than you might think. The Japanese are very attuned to emotions. They are much more sensitive to how the other person is feeling or the atmosphere of the room and conversation in general than many Americans. I had a talk with my host sister about this the other day and she told me that when she attended BYU Hawaii, her professors would often ask her to "speak up" and voice her opinions because they couldn't understand why she was so quiet. She said she was surprised at how oblivious they were to her emotions if she didn't speak.

Everyone "reads between the lines", humans communicate in far more complex and descriptive ways than the words that are spoken would allow, and everyone does it differently. Next time you have a conversation with someone this is a good thing to keep in mind.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The New Girl. Again ;)

As I sit here struggling to think of a clever and unusual to write this blog post and consuming large amounts of ice-cream like the American I was born to be I realize that I can't put off this post any more. In conclusion (or well, the conclusion of the introduction) you are just going to have to deal with a sad lack of originality. So suck it up and have a nice day ^^

Well, I am the new girl again. Not that I mind really, my first day of school was great. The first day is always the most entertaining for a gaijin exchange student. Unless of course you don't like being constantly stared at and admired out loud.
I was saved having to give multiple introductions by being asked to prepare one speech to give to the entire school. As an actor, large groups of people really aren't a problem for me, speeches have never really been a problem. However, put that speech in another language and I think Oscar winners would get nervous! Thankfully it went well and I didn't sound like a complete idiot.

Classes here are structured much the same way as at Mishima. We stay together as a homeroom class for every class except history in which half the class goes to another room for World History and half the class stays for Japanese History.
My classes are still practically impossible but I have taken to writing down all the notes solely for kanji practice. However, it's a given that I have no idea what I am writing on my paper, nor can I read it later.

As a private school, International Takii High School, is a bit different from the public Mishima. They are sticklers for the formalities, mainly the bow which we must perform before and after each class. Yet with this added strictness there is also a certain amount of freedom. Students actually speak up in classes here and ask questions when they have them and teachers talk a bit slower (which has done wonders for the gaijin's understanding level). There are other subtle differences but these are hard to put into words. Perhaps in the future (when my brain is not so clogged with writer's block) I will be able to describe these differences in more detail.

For today, I hope this simple description has sufficed.

gaijinzilla's alter-ego: UNIFORMzilla!

Every morning I wake up and I am saved the effort of trying to put together some sort of outfit that doesn't look horrendous by having my clothing dictated to me in the form of a school uniform.

I don my pleated skirt and collared shirt and try to convince myself that I am a real Japanese school girl. However, this facade doesn't really last when I actually get to school. No matter how similar the uniform is a gaijin is still a gaijin. In fact I probably get more stares in a uniform than I did in casual dress. I guess I can understand though, it would be like seeing Godzilla waltzing around in a sundress. I would stare too.

It is hard for me to understand other's conversations but I do know enough to understand that when I hear "gaijin" and "seifuku" (uniform) in the same sentence it is safe to assume that they are talking about me. Now, I get the opportunity to make this assumption all the time!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chapter 2: New Home, New School, New Experience.

Yesterday I made the move to the residence of my new host family. Due to this change I get the most thorough experience of Japanese culture because everything is very different than my last family. The only problem with this is that I feel like a newborn gaijin again!

I thought Takatsuki was a big city before(probably due to Mapleton being so small we only have 2 notable businesses) now I have moved to Osaka city. Which happens to be the 3rd largest city in Japan. I see now why Airi laughed when I noted how "big" Takatsuki was on my first day in Japan. I would have too.

Rather than my western bed in a western bedroom that I had become so accustomed to before I now reside in a traditional tatami room with a traditional futon to sleep on for the next two months.

After getting so very skilled at riding a bike on the terrifying Japan streets (or well, I didn't die every time I went out) now I must ride the bus to school and I am sure that will be an adventure in and of itself!

My new school is amazing, huge, beautiful, and "private". I thought I had a good handle on what Japanese schools were like and then I switched to a private one...hmmm. This isn't to say my new school is bad. No, in fact I will write a whole new post solely for its awesomeness. It is just, like everything else here, a bit different.

Thank you fate for giving me such a...thorough...Japanese experience. Hopefully I can come out of it alive, or at least sane.