Monday, October 31, 2005

Living in the Dorms


I live in the dorms at school. Very international, but not very Japanese. Tonight, I heard Italian, Chinese, German, Swedish, Japanese, and French at one time or another. As international as this is, the only Japanese is when students practice (so often is limited Japanese and with a heavy accent) or on TV. I guess this makes sense, as the only thing the school teaches is Japanese to foreign students.

The dorms are probably good for the younger students, as they get a chance to meet people from many other countries. For many of these kids (and they seem like kids to me - I am old enough to be the father of some) this is their first trip abroad.

The dorm has 2 kitchen-lounges to use to cook, eat, study, relax, etc. One of them is primarily used by the students from Taiwan. The other lounge is primarily used by English speakers. Of course, there are other students than Taiwanese and English-speakers who use each lounge, and students from each side do venture to the other side at times, but this is what the majority seems like on any given day.

I use the Taiwanese lounge, both because that is where I was assigned a box to keep my food, but also because the Taiwanese are much better are trying to speak in Japanese than the folks on the English speaking side.

学校のドーミトリーに住んでいる。 国際だ、けど日本式じゃない。今晩、イタリア語と中国語とドイツ語とスウェーデン語と日本語とフランス語を聞いた。国際でも、少ない日本語が使う。 外国人の練習とテレビで日本語で使う。 その学校は外人に日本語を教えるクラスがあるから。

若い学生にはドーミトリーに住んでいるのがいいだろう。ほかの国から来た学生に会えるから。 沢山若い学生は始めの外国へ旅行だ。



Saturday, October 29, 2005

Japanese Soccer

Today I went to a soccer game. I went with some other students to watch the Nagoya Grampus 8 team play the Shimizu S-Pulse team. These are J-League teams, the top teams within Japan. Grampus is an interesting name for a team. It is an English word, but I had to look it up. It is the name of a legendary killer whale.

The stadium was very nice, but is rarely used. It is located in the city of Toyota, which is where the company of the same name is also based. The stadium was made for the Japan-Korea World Cup matches a few years ago, but in the end none of the matches were played there. So Toyota bought the Nagoya team and plays about half the home matches there as a way to make sure the stadium gets some use.

We sat at one end (the Nagoya end). Everyone there was dressed in the red team jerseys and there was a cheering squad with loud speakers, flags, and drums.

The other end was where the Shimuzu team was at, all dressed in orange, and with a similar cheering squad. I think their cheering squad was better than the Nagoya squad. And, as it turns out, their team was also better, as the Nagoya team lost. I heard from a friend who went to a prior home game that they lost that game also. He said they are not that good a team.

I was surprised when the teams first came on the field, and the people on our side booed the other team. This is very different than the baseball game I had been to in Japan (click here for the write up), where the fans were very civilized. Maybe this is the norm for soccer? Or maybe because soccer is very popular in Brazil and many Brazilians have moved to Japan, it is the Brazilian culture coming out?

I have never been to a soccer match in the States or Europe, so can't compare to see what is different between Japanese style soccer and elsewhere.





清水エスパルスはサッカー競技場に入ると、名古屋のファンから非難の声が上がった。びっくりした。 3年前に名古屋の野球試合を見た。ファンは礼儀正しいやり方だった。この経験の日記を書いた(英語だけ)。

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Mos Burger

Foods seem to come up reasonably often in conversations here. And for some reason, it always comes around to the question of "what are American foods?" I don't know the answer, as America seems to be filled with foods from other countries, but not really have any of our own.

The Japanese people seem to think that hamburgers and fries are our national food. Given that McDs has popularized the burger so well, perhaps it is. But hamburger isn't actually American (we wouldn't have named it HAM-burger if it was), but instead a German name (I think based on the city of Hamburg). And French Fries have another country right in the name... (ok, the French part doesn't refer to the country, but the way they are cut, so maybe french fries are American).

Japan has their own home grown chain called Mos Burger. I had been to one once many years ago, so figured I'd give it another try. In the States, I don't eat hamburgers all that often, but when I do, it is usually at In-n-Out Burger. I wanted to see how they would compare.

I ordered the mosu che-zu-ba-ga-se-to (what we would call a Cheese Burger combo meal). Or maybe I should say, tried to order. The girl at the counter spit something out in rapid fire Japanese that I couldn't for the life of me understand. Maybe my head cold is slowing my head down, but she sure seemed to be talking super-fast. I guess when you work that job and say the exact same thing over and over again 100 times an hour, you start saying it real fast...

After a couple of tries, I realized she was asking if I was eating here or not. After that, I said "mosu che-zu-ba-ga-se-to", figuring all she would need to ask after that was what drink I wanted. Next, some more rapid fire Japanese that had nothing to do with drinks. What? With the help of pictures, I eventually understood was which type of set (she showed pictures of fries and some chili looking thing - I went fries). Then finally my drink option, which I figured out pretty quick. Then a last question which I never figured out what she asked, but cost me an extra 30 yen ($0.25), so I guess they added something. Maybe she saw the movie SuperSize Me and was asking if I wanted larger portions...

The presentation was pretty good. The food is brought out to you by a server. The drink comes in a real glass (no paper cups here) and sits on a plastic coaster. Food comes in a tray (similar to In-n-Out).

The burger was interesting. It had many different things on it, which was unexpected for something that is supposed to be a basic burger. The layers of the burger are (top to bottom): bun, tomato, meat sauce, onions, mayo, cheese, hamburger patty, mustard, and bun. Meat sauce? That is different. Kind of like a non-spicy chili sauce.

On the whole, it was Ok, but I am not ready to give up In-n-Out just yet. Much better than McDonalds, of course.

They do have some Japanese original, um, for lack of a better name, burgers, such as their rice burgers (patties of rice instead of bread buns) with pork (gyuudon that you can carry?), a seafood salad, or chopped veggies between these rice buns. I think I had the chopped veggie one in the past, but wasn't impressed.

日本人と話すときよく私に「アメリカの料理は何だ?」と聞いた。何だか分からない。日本人は「ハンバーガーとフレンチ・フライだ?」と言った。 英語でハンはハム(豚のもも肉)だ、でもハンバーガーはハムじゃない。 ハンバーガーの名前はハンバーガーはドイツのハンブルクから来た。でもマクドナルドは世界中に一番有名なハンバーガーのレストランなので、ハンバーガーはアメリカから来たと思っている。


今日Mos Burgerへ食べに行った。前に食べたことがある、でも一回だけ。そのときモスライスバーガーを食べた。今回はハンバーガーを食べてみたかった。

レストランで注文することはとても難しかった。Mos Burger員の話すことはとても速かったので私は分からなかった。ついに注文した、でも一つの質問はぜんぜん分からなかった。その質問は30円掛かった。何を買ったかまだ分からない。

Mos Burgerは美味しいだろう。勿論マクドナルドよりいい、でもアメリカのIn-n-Outのほうがいいよ。

Ise Shrine

After the night in the ryokan (see prior post), we headed out to Ise Shrine. This is supposed to be the 'parent' shrine to all the others in the country. It is important enough that whenever a new prime minister is elected in Japan, he comes here to pray right after taking office. The property the shrine is on is huge, but I was surprised that the actually shrine was rather small. And for some reason, they don't allow photos to be taken there, so no pictures to show of it. I joined the throngs of Japanese there and threw a few coins in, clapped twice, and bowed my head in prayer.

Found out that a prior emperor (Emperor Tenmu) declared that the shrine would be moved on the property every 20 years. I was told he did this to force the Japanese craftsmen to stay skilled in the craft. They have started building the next one already (foundation and all), but it won't open for 8 more years. I didn't know if I also wasn't supposed to take photos of this, but there wasn't anyone around to stop me, so the attached photo shows the current construction.

It rained on us as we were walking around the property. The business manager said something like "kokorogake ga warui ame ga fu-tara", which means "when it rains on you when you are doing something you want to enjoy outdoors, it means you did something bad in the past". I wonder what I did (or maybe more appropriately, which bad thing I did) that caused the rain to hit us.

After this, a quick udon lunch (the local style - no broth, but a sauce instead). Walked around Ise a little bit while the business manager reminisced, as this was the town he was born in. Interesting to hear him tell how the town had changed over 50 years.

旅館の後、伊勢神宮へ行った。 伊勢神宮の不動産は大きいが、神社はちょっと小さいだろう。 多くの人々と神社でおさい銭を上げて、参詣した。

20年に一度神社を動かす。掲示を読んで。だから8年後、新しい神社がある。どうして天武天皇は命令した? 社長にやると天武天皇は職人技術をを保持したかったそうです。

歩きとき、雨が降った。社長は「こころがけが悪い、雨が降ったら」と言った。英語で”when it rains on you when you are doing something you want to enjoy outdoors, it means you did something bad in the past”だ。 どれ悪い方だろう?


What is a ryokan?

I have been assisting a company that is trying to import Japanese soaking tubs into the States. The head person from Japan offered to put me up at a ryokan in Toba, Mie-ken that uses these tubs, so I can experience them (along with experience Japanese hospitality).

We arranged to meet up Friday, so I headed down after class. Arrived at the area after dark, so I didn't have a feel for what it is like. He said that we were right on the ocean.

My expectation of a ryokan is probably something like a Japanese style bed and breakfast. Probably smaller buildings (so only a handful of rooms at most) and Japanese style architecture. When we arrived, I was surprised to see a modern entrance, large lounge, restaurants and karaoke rooms on site, etc., more like I expected for a hotel instead of a ryokan. Place also has 9 stories (though it is on a hill, so only 5 stories stick above the ground), which made it feel more like a hotel.

But once we got into the room, it was all Japanese style, including tatami floors, shoji screens, and sleeping on futons (Japanese style ones, not those couch-things we call futons in the States). We were on the top floor, which had the rooms with the individual tubs. Suite would be more appropriate term than room, as it was 2 rooms with tatami floors, a toilet room, a makeup/changing room, a hall, and the soaking tub on a partially enclosed deck outside. Even sitting on the floor was reasonably comfortable, as they had thick pillows and nice arm rests.

Dinner was a bit later, so we had time to soak. I used the tub that was part of the suite (one of the ones which is the same as what they are trying to import into the States), and he went down to the public onsen. The tub in the suite was made for one person, so we would have had to take turns if we both used it. The tub was comfy and a nice size.

From this point until when we left the next day, we wore yukata (cotton robes). We had dinner in the room. I guess this is standard for this type and level of ryokan. Multiple courses, including sashimi (tai, ebi, tuna, ikura, etc.), various small plates of food, etc. And this wasn't some American-style room service where they roll in a cart of so-so food. Our meal even included having live abalone cooked on a hibachi grill right in front of us, and both a soup and rice being cooked on little burners on the table. The service was spectacular. Even when the woman who was serving us entered our room, she would kneel on the other side of the shoji door to open it, then get up and enter the room.

The business manager was going to go home after dinner, but then he wouldn't be able to drink (drinking and driving is a very big deal in Japan). So I offered for him to stay the night, which he accepted. Figured I had 2 rooms, so we could have our own rooms. Was surprised when they hotel people laid out the futons in the same room, but figured it wasn't a big deal. But I never figured out why there was a second room, as we never used it.

I woke up early (about 6), so went to the onsen downstairs (the tub in our room is not actually onsen water, and I wanted to try the onsen). Then had more spectacular service during our breakfast. Japanese style foods, so miso soup (with about a third of a crab in it), rice, fish, etc. Not something Americans would probably like, but very tasty and filling. The picture of food is actually breakfast - dinner was much more extravagant (and breakfast was already about 12 levels about what I am used to).

We hung out in the room for a while and enjoyed the view of the bay (we had an excellent view from the room). Pretty area, except for the open pit mine on an island across the bay. Many of the rafts in the pictures are part of a oyster farm, similar to what we have in Tomales Bay in California. Local oysters were part of our dinner.

So, I guess a ryokan is not so much the building, but instead the type of room and the excellent service.

浴槽をアメリカへ輸入する会社を手伝っている。 社長は鳥羽の旅館に泊まってくださる。その旅館は会社の浴槽がある。






晩ご飯の後、社長は帰るつもりだった。帰るなら、飲めなかった。だから「部屋に泊まらない」と聞いた。2部屋があったので、別々の部屋に寝ると思った。でも旅館員は両方の布団を同じ部屋で布団を敷いた。 少しいびっくりした。大丈夫だった、でも1部屋だけを泊まったので、どうして2部屋があったか分からない。




Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Very Busy

I have been very busy. Weekdays, because I have been studying a lot, I have not had time to write in my Blog here. Nor time to have experiences to write about. Or to translate the posts I have already written. Study, study, study... Sorry about that.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Gamagori Matsuri

英語だけ、すみません。 多分後で翻訳する。

Sometimes you think the day will be boring but you get surprised. Well this was one of those days. I didn't expect I'd be turning down sake and beer in the middle of the afternoon in order to keep from getting too drunk. Nor have I ever entered an onsen while drunk before. Nor until now had I realized that Japanese people can't speak Japanese well when they are drunk...

I started the day expecting to have a quiet day. A bit of studying, do some laundry, etc. After lunch, I headed to Gamagori, a place I had been to a few times before. My plan was to walk around, visit Takeshima (the island in the picture), and then soak in the local onsen.

When I arrived in Gamagori, I was surprised to hear a lot of music and see people dancing. On closer inspection, it was a matsuri. Seems like it had started much earlier in the day, as there were many drunk men around. I started checking it out and bumped into Patrick, a German student from my school.

We wandered together some, and before long were offered a beer. And then another, And then some sake in a cup. Then more beer. And more sake. And before long, we were doing our best to stop them. Had a few shots of sake right from the 1.8 liter bottles they were serving from. And many cups worth. Lots of chatting with people, but it seems to be hard to understand people when they get drunk (and probably my getting drunk had something to do with it also). Alcohol was definitely a big part of this event. One cart had a smaller cart that followed it carrying a cooler (presumably full of booze). Another cart had a keg built right into the float.

During this time, there were lots of drunk people trying to dance and play drums and flutes. And people shooting off fireworks. Some of the dancing and music was good, and some was powered by a little too much sake (and the guy in the picture with the red staff - if you look closely you can tell that the staff is in an interesting shape...). Most of the people were wearing happi coats to show their affiliation with some group or another (each group had their own cart). Here's a 2mb QuickTime Video clip of some music making.

There was also a group of 20 or so men running around in white loin clothes, white clothes wrapped around their stomachs, white socks, and slippers (and nothing else). They were getting more drunk than the others. Turns out they were all 42 years old, which is a special year, as one way of saying 4 and 2 is "shi ni", which could also mean "die". So they were trying to get special blessing to help them survive the year (or at least have one last big party). At one point, hey carried a float (maybe a portable shrine?) with one guy riding on the top to a local shrine, where I think the blessing occured. Here's a 9mb QuickTime Video clip of these guys as they headed to the shrine - note the guy running around and getting people to take slugs of the sake....

The matsuri ended with the 42 year olds going on a stage and throwing sweets to the crowd. I got my share.

After that, Patrick headed home and I went to the onsen. I could feel my heart beating more than normal - perhaps getting in hot water while buzzed is not the best thing to do. But if felt good to soak for a bit, even though I am not all that relaxed right now, as bumping into the matsuri was such a pleasant surprise that I am still a bit psyched out. Definitely was a fun day. Much better than I expected. Probably a more enjoyable matsuri than the one I went to yesterday...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Doburoku Matsuri

英語だけ、すみません。 多分後で翻訳する。

I took a trip that the school sponsored today to Doburoko Matsuri. We left early in the morning and drove north to Shirakawa, which is in a valley in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. It was raining a bit as we headed north (and stayed on and off rain for the rest of the day).

From the (Doburoku Matsuri web site), the festival is for the following:
People pray to the mountain god for safety and a good harvest and offer doburoku (unrefined sake) to the shrine to express their gratitude. While private alcoholic beverage production is banned in Japan, people in Shirakawa are given special permission to produce doburoku for a limited quantity for this festival. Doburoku looks like rice porridge. It is thick and slightly sweet.

We arrived early enough that we had plenty of time to explore and get a feel for the town, as the matsuri didn't really start in full until 2 or so. Also stopped at the location of the matsuri to get a souvenir sake cup. With that, we also got a cup of last year's sake. Had that at maybe 11am.

The town has Gassho houses, which are A-frame houses with thatched roof. Pretty interesting. Shaped like a-frame houses up in the Lake Tahoe area, but with thatch for roofs. Toured the inside of a couple of them.

Had soba for lunch, plus lots of festival food at the stands around the matsuri area. William (classmate of mine) and I stuck together through much of the time - he is much more open about just going up to someone and talking than I, which was good to get us more practice speaking. We connected with a couple from Nagoya at the time we bought the sake cups. Then again at the soba restaurant. We agreed that the 4 of us would reconnect at the matsuri for drinks.

After soba, went back to the Matsuri area and watched various dances, including a lion dance (similar, but in many ways different, than the Chinese version - I have put a 5mb QuickTime Video clip of it on my web site).

Then they cleared out the area and set things up for the drinking. By this time, William had disappeared, but I reconnected with the couple. Had a ceremony where the new sake (this year's) was blessed. Then arranged seating under a big tent by laying out tatami mats (and a big scramble, like musician chairs, for people to get seated on them - here's a 4mb QuickTime Video clip of this). This seemed rather unusual, given that Japanese people are usually super polite and defer to other's needs before their own.

Then they started serving sake. I had well more than 10 of the souvenir sake cups worth before it was time to leave. Could have had much more if I wanted to get drunk, as it was very free flowing (all the people standing in white in the picture are servers). And no charge for the sake or even entering the festival (but they made up for it on the cost of the foods...).

The sake had a much more sour/vinegar taste than what we normally drink (last year's was much more vinegar tasting than this years - maybe that was just how it was made or maybe it doesn't age well). Had the consistancy of porridge or maybe a wet oatmeal (lots of chunks of white stuff in it - click on the picture to see a higher resolution version, which perhaps is good enough for you to see). But good, none the less. While this was going on, there was more traditional music and dancing on the stage set up at the end of the area. Here's a 2mb QuickTime Video clip of the dancing).

Overall, good fun.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A day off

Today (Monday) was a holiday. In Japan, the school's have "sports days" twice a yea r on Saturdays, and when they do, the make the Monday a holiday (for many companies also). So today was a day off.

I had planned to go to a Matsuri in Takayama today, which is about 2.5 hours north by train. But it was raining in the morning, and I didn't know for sure if the weather would be different in the mountains. So after that, I figured I'd go to an onsen for a relaxing soak. But now it is night, and I haven't even left the building once today. I just hung out and studied and made dinner. This was probably good, as I have a test on Wednesday.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Kaiten Zushi

I went for sushi tonight with the Tanakas (my host family from 3 years ago). We went to a conveyor belt sushi place (kaiten zushi). There were 5 of us (3 adults and 2 kids) and we finished 49 plates of sushi. We sure ate a lot.

There were many types which we don't normally see in America, but but not some exotic raw fish like you would probably think. But more American style foods made into sushi. For example, they had nigiri sushi with cooked pork on it. Also some with cooked chicken on it. And this interesting one shown in the picture called sakura niku (cherry blossom meat). I guess that is a better name for it than what it really is, raw horse meat.

I didnt have the pork or chicken, but did try a piece of the horse. Tasted like I think raw beef would taste, I guess.

田中さん(3年前のホストファミリー)と回転寿司に食べに行った。 大人が3人と子供が2人いった。 皿49枚を食べた。 すごい食べた、ね。



Friday, October 07, 2005

A small matsuri (festival)

The Tanakas (my host family from 3 years ago) had invited me to a small local matsuri (festival) that was taking place near their house, so I met them there this morning. They had converted a community center building into a shinto shrine for the day. Inside the building, they had offerings of food and sake for the gods (plural) and a shinto priest (dressed like you see on the drama Yoshitsune, if you happen to watch Japanese dramas) on hand. Kids and the parents involved with the ceremony were all wearing Happi coats and milling around. Then they had a small ceremony where they purified the spirits and then there was a lot of picture taking.

After that, the kids split up into groups (with a few parents of course) and were supposed to carry these little portable shrines around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it had started to rain, so they just walked around the town without the shrines for an hour or so and chanting. From time to time, an older person (younger people didn't seem to do this) would go to their front door and make an offering of money. A couple of kids had a lion's mask and a tail, would go to the person and accept the money in the lion's mouth. Then one of the parents would light off some fire crackers to celebrate the offering or something. The lion and firecrackers reminded me a lot of the Chinese parades.

Was interesting, though I wish it wasn't raining.





Prices are Relative

I keep forgetting how relative prices are. I last traveled a lot around 5 years ago, visiting many contries. Since then, exchange rates have changed.

I realized this last night when I was at the schoool bar having a pint of Guinness. I thought the 750 yen (about US$7) was bit expensive, as I would pay about $4-5 for this at a pub in the States. But the Europeans in the group were happy because this was a bit less expensive than they would pay (even at the Guinness brewery in Ireland).

It was also interesting to hear a clasmate from mainland China talking about prices. She said the meats and vegetables were about the same price here as in China, and was surprised when I told her that they are a lot less expensive in the States.

Sorry I haven't been writing too much. I am focusing on studying during the week, but hopefully will get out for some sightseeing on the weekends.


昨日の晩バーに行ったときそのことを悟った。 ベールの750円の値段は高いと思った.でもヨーロッパから来た人は安いと思った。



Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Trash and Recycling


Trash and recycling is much more difficult to do here, than in America. But presumably they also recycle more materials.

There are 6 different bins for trash and recycling - cans, PET bottles, other plastic, papers, burnable, and unburnable. So if I drink a beer from a can, it goes into the can bin - easy enough, eh?

But if I drink a bottle of water, the bottle goes into the PET bottle container, AFTER you remove the outer label and the plastic top - both of which go into the plastic bin. They do make this somewhat easier, by perforating the label so it can be easily removed and labeling each piece with what bin it would go into.

A few days ago, I made some udon which came in a container that came with an aluminum pie plate for a bottom. In America, we would put this with cans - an aluminum tray will recycle perfectly with an aluminum can. But here, it goes into the unburnable bin, which presumably goes off to the landfill. Oh, well.

So, as you can imagine, it is very common to see a student standing above the bins and trying to figure out which each piece of trash goes in...