equals 49?

My first blog award, yay!

the rules:

1. thank the person who gave it to you.

2. share seven random facts about yourself.

3. share seven of your worthy posts under the following headers: most beautiful piece, most helpful, most popular, most controversial, most surprisingly successful, most underrated, and most pride worthy.

4. nominate seven other bloggers and notify them.

Onward, then.

1. thanks:

Steph is one of my best friends.  Thank you, Steph for nominating me for my first blog award!  I’m happy and proud to call you friend.

2. seven random facts:

Steph and I met in Japan in 2006 when I sat across from her in our school’s “cafeteria.”   Her first words to me were something along the lines of, “Do you always take pictures of your food?”  There was Engrish on my sandwich label and I found it quite amusing.  In fact, I think this is the picture I was taking.  I love how inspiring some of the Engrish is.

I do not step on these and these.   I saw a lady fall through the sidewalk while walking on one in San Francisco.  Seriously.  Jason thinks it’s funny to make me walk on them.

As a kid, I thought the highschool sweetheart stories were really romantic and always dreamed that would be mine.  And then it was.  I met Jason a few weeks after my 16th birthday.  And recently we just reached two and a half years of marriage.  Love is awesome.

And when I was even younger, I though my brother and I were adopted.  I was a little dramatic.

Micah and I are three years, three months, and three days apart in age.  Just in case you didn’t know, I’m older in all cases.

Knives is named after a character in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though a lot of people think she’s named after a character in Trigun, which is a bit silly since she’s a girl.  But I’m sure it doesn’t help that our second cat is named Vash, who is actually the evil brother of the Knives in Trigun.  Yeah, we’re so clever.

My first journal entry was probably written when I was about 8 years old and I’ve been journaling pretty consistently ever since.

3. posts:

most beautiful piece: justice

most helpful: and just because. . .

most popular: also

most controversial: poor reflection

most surprisingly successful: game on

most underrated: e.t.

most pride worthy: recap

4. i nominate:

Bear Ears

black. female. christian. vegan.

Like the Dawn…

Life in the city.

Antique Mommy

Stories from Behind the Lens

For Zion’s Sake

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unreal

On April 25th, 2007 I stepped off a plane and back onto American soil.  It’s hard to believe it’s been a year.  I still miss it and the people I left there.  But I’m ready for the next step in my life, ready to get away from here and go somewhere new where I’m completely out of my element.  I’m excited and scared and I will always cherish the memories of my time in the Land of the Rising Sun.

aftermath

So I went.  And it was really nice.  Arrived for the last 30 minutes of the party but it was all good.  Got to eat the homemade ice cream, never a bad thing.  But the best part was when Glen introduced me to Takeshi.  He’s visiting from Tokyo (he actually lives in downtown Tokyo) for three weeks to meet with his business partner who’s parent’s-in-law were throwing the party.  So we spoke for a while, he asked me what I thought of Japan and told me which places I should visit when I go back.  It’s so amazing how even though I’m not constantly thinking about Japan anymore, I still reminded in so many ways of my connection to it.  I can’t wait to return.

525,600 minutes

A year ago today Dad and I boarded a plane and flew across the Pacific ocean to a little island called Japan.  I spent the next 8 months going to Temple University, traveling and experiencing the culture.  Sometimes I can’t believe I was there, that I lived outside of this country for 8 straight months, that I lived in any house but this one, that I saw a country seeped in traditions and was finally able to live out my dream.  But then I see how far I’ve come in a year and how my views on life and myself have evolved.  So much has happened in this year and I know this next year will bring many more challenges and changes.  But I look forward to them, to the good and the bad.  I’m still learning who I am and where I fit in this world, but I’m more confident in where I’m headed.  I know God has great plans for me and I’m anxious to see them carried out.

us

I was finally able to finish this video.  I picked out some of my favorite pictures from Japan and our road trip (from my camera as well as Steph’s) and set them to music.  It might be a bit monotonous since I have the same transition setting for all 131 pictures, but it’s all about the memories, right?

Credits:

"I’ll Be There": Jackson 5 ^-^
"Leaving Song": Stephen Speaks

I miss you guys!  You are truly made of awesome.

8.2

So I’m leaving Japan in about 9 hours.  And I’ve been here for a little over 8 months.  It’s unbelievable; it feels like I’ve been here forever, and at the same time, like I’ve been here for a few weeks.  Time is crazy like that.  I’m going to miss Japan so much, I absolutely love being here.  Then again I’m ready to go back to the States.

Monday the 16th I left on a night bus for Fukuoka.  Steph and Matt saw me off (what nice friends!) and the bus ride itself was really long (15 hours) and uneventful.  The seat wasn’t that uncomfortable, I could lean it back quite a bit and there was a lever for the footrest.  I slept for most of the ride waking up every three hours when we stopped for 20-minute breaks.  We arrived at about noon on Tuesday but I couldn’t check into the hostel until 3 so I spent that time exploring the area a bit.  I checked into the hostel, took a shower, had dinner and went to bed early.  The next day I headed out to do some more exploring.  The area my grandmother lived in was pretty close so I hopped on the train and got there in about 30 minutes.  I was exploring the area when I came to a shrine that had a trail going off into the trees (I like to think of it as a forest, that’s what it felt like).  As I walked down the trail, I thought I heard the sound of the ocean and sure enough the trees suddenly disappeared and I came to a very nice beach.  The water and sand were gorgeous and I was the only one there (probably because it had been raining all day up to that point).

Shigeko had told me that her friend from high school had a 22-year-old daughter, Chizuru, that I could connect with while in Fukuoka.  She gave me Chizuru’s contact information and on Tuesday I e-mailed her.  She asked me if I could meet up with her “at 19.”  I thought it meant the hour but she meant the date.  After exploring Nata I went to meet Chizuru not realizing she was expecting me the next day.  But after all the confusion was sorted out we finally met up and her mother picked us up at the station.  Chizuru was able to get off of work earlier than usual and we went back to their house.  I met her 24-year-old brother, Shunsuke, her non-English speaking grandmother and her father.  I ended up spending three nights at their house (which I was not expecting at all…I had to wear the same clothes four days in a row) and they took great care of me.  Not only did they feed me, but since Shunsuke doesn’t have a job he was able to drive me and Chizuru to Beppu, where my grandpa’s side of the family is from.  I hadn’t planned on going since it was so expensive by train but we had a great time visiting a very touristy area of Beppu.  And that night while Chizuru worked, Shunsuke’s two friends came over and we played the card game “Uno” for over an hour.  None of the family really spoke much English so it was quite an adventure trying to communicate.  But I was so thankful for their hospitality.  They even drove me to the train station on Saturday and gave me parting gifts.  It made me wonder how many people would do that in the States.

I went back to the beach in Nata before the bus left for Tokyo at 3:30 pm on Saturday.  The ride was also uneventful but this time I sat in the very front and for the first 6 hours of the trip I was able to see out the front window.  After that they pulled a curtain across so that we could sleep (which I did for the rest of the drive).  I arrived back in Tokyo at about 6:30 am and went straight to my host family’s house.  We went with Ayumi’s friends to a baseball game which I didn’t see any of because so many people were blocking our view.  It was okay though because it was free and we were there for the atmosphere, not the game.  The last two days I spent time with Ayumi and the girls.  While the girls were at school yesterday Ayumi and I went back to a shrine we had gone to during one of my previous visits.  The wisteria had started to bloom from the 200-year-old tree that resides there.  This weekend there is a festival especially for the wisteria and though I’m obviously going to miss it, I’m really glad we were able to enjoy them anyway.

Ayumi drove me to the station and I said goodbye to the girls.  They kept saying thank you and talking about how cute/kind/funny I was.  I think they understood that I’m not going to see them for a long time.  Right before I went through the ticket gate, I noticed that Ayumi had tears in her eyes and I almost lost it right there.  I made it without breaking down though and today Ayumi is going to meet me at the airport.  I leave on a bus at 11:20 and will arrive at the airport around 1 pm.  My flight leaves at 5:55pm and I will get to SFO at 12:15 pm on Wednesday (4 am on Thursday in Japan).  As I said before I’m really going to miss Japan and all the people I’ve met, but I’m ready to come home.

8.1 videos

Mai (:25)

Mai 2 (1:38)

Yui (:47)

Munitions Elevator (1:21)

Camp Tama Lodge (:45)

Our Room (:27)

Fujiya Hotel Room Panorama (:30)

Room Window View (:13)

Fujiya Hotel Japanese Garden Panorama (:24)

Fujiya Hotel Japanese Garden Panorama 2 (:28)

Fujiya Hotel Japanese Garden Panorama 3 (:13)

Fujiya Hotel Panorama (:45)

Valley Floor Panorama (:33)

Bridge Crossing in the Valley Floor (:28)

Waterfall Panorama (:14)

Breakfast Panorama (:31)

Waterfalls (:18)

DisneySea Plaza Panorama (1:03)

DisneySea Plaza Fountain – Day (:21)

Mediterranean Harbor Panorama (:27)

Mediterranean Harbor Panorama 2 (:28)

Dancing Water in Waterfront Park (:25)

Mysterious Island Panorama (:27)

Waiting on Caravan Carousel (:27)

Triton’s Kingdom Panorama (:21)

Mediterranean Night Panorama (:15)

BraviSEAmo! Water Show 1.6 (:27)

BraviSEAmo! Water Show 2.6 (1:58)

BraviSEAmo! Water Show 3.6 (:56)

BraviSEAmo! Water Show 4.6 (:30)

BraviSEAmo! Water Show 5.6 (1:45)

BraviSEAmo! Water Show 6.6 (:33)

DisneySea Plaza Fountain – Night (:40)

Zojoji Panorama (:27)

Zojoji Panorama 2 (:19)

Mai Reading (1:26)

Yui Reading (1:30)

Pictures and Ayumi (:26)

Ayumi Darts (:17)

Swan (:06)

Conbini (2:01)

Moving Out (:32)

Sakura rain (:03)

Sakura rain 2 (:16)

Parking lot panorama (more sakura) (:29)

Lighthouse Panorama Outside (:59)

Inside Buddha (:33)

Tunnel Musician (:47)

8.1

Wow, it’s been a while since my last update.  I’ve been quite busy and I’ll just do a brief overview of the important events.

At the beginning of March I spent the weekend with my host family.  March 3rd was Girls Day (also known as Hina-matsuri) and I was able to wear my kimono for the first time.  Ayumi wanted me to learn how to put it on myself so she only helped with the obi (the thick sash that goes around the waist).  We went to the Japanese garden, visited a shrine in Koshigaya, and then stopped by a garden full of plumb blossom trees in full-bloom.  That night we had a traditional Hina-matsuri dinner in the Japanese room with the Hina dolls (they represent the Emperor and his wife and their court and are meant for good luck for the owner).

The next day we went on a very nice day trip.  We went to a museum, hiked around a really pretty river, and visited a really cool shrine.  As always it was such a joy to be with them.

On March 8th Stephanie’s best friend, Sasha, arrived here in Japan.  Apparently some lady at church randomly told Sasha she wanted to send her to Japan.  She was here for two weeks and it was so much fun.  During her time here, we went on the Single Ladies Retreat put on by the church.  It was put on at a military base recreation center.  So it was like being in America in  Japan.  And for dinner we had real American food for really cheap prices.

The next weekend we went with our friend Josh to a club, club Vanilla.  Steph had gone while I was visiting my host family and had had a really good time.  The thing with going to clubs here is that the trains only run from 5 in the morning to midnight.  But midnight is about the time that things really get started at clubs.  So when you go to a club, you either leave before the last train and miss all the fun, or you stay out all night until the trains start running again.  Since it was Sasha’s and my first experience with clubs, we stayed out all night.  The clubs here are different from (my impression of) clubs in the States.  Here everyone just dances and no one cares if you’re a bad dancer because most likely, so is everyone else.  You don’t dance with a particular person, it’s just everyone hopping around to the beat and doing whatever crazy moves they want.  The environment is safe and for the most part, it’s all in good fun.  So we danced for about 3 hours and then at 4 am headed back to the station.  We had a really good time and finally got to the apartment at around 7 am.

The next week was Steph’s birthday.  We had a holiday for the first day of Spring, Wednesday the 21st and since we only had one class on Thursdays, we decided to go somewhere to celebrate the day.  We ended up at Hakone, a really nice place about two hours away from Machida with a lot of hot springs.  Steph had booked a hotel about a month or two before and when we arrived, we were blown away by how nice it was.  Our room was huge and after settling in, we walked around the Japanese garden that the hotel owned.  Then we explored the surrounding area and ended up on the valley floor where there was a man-made waterfall.  We walked around the area and then climbed the rocks to get closer to the waterfall.  That night we went to the onsen (hot spring) after dinner and again the next morning.  A very nice continental breakfast was included in our hotel fee.  It was so nice to get away and go somewhere new.

March 24th, a Saturday, we (Steph, Sasha, Matt, and I) went to DisneySea.  DisneySea is not owned by The The Walt Disney Company and it was made especially for Japan.  After what I’d been hearing from other people, I expected it to be slightly better than Tokyo Disneyland.  But it ended up being much better than Tokyo Disneyland.  It’s geared to an older crowed with more roller coasters and rides of that nature.  Another reason it’s a lot better is they have sections themed after a particular movie.  One was themed for Aladdin, another for the Little Mermaid.   The Little Mermaid section was definitely my favorite.  It was underground and you really felt like you were under the sea.  They also had an amazing Little Mermaid show where a girl dressed in Ariel fins was suspended from the ceiling and she “swam” around the theater and sang “Part of Your World.”  The whole show was about 10 minutes long and I think that alone was worth the price of our ticket.  We hadn’t planned on staying very late but didn’t end up leaving until the park closed.

The next week on Thursday the 29th, Matt and I went to a park in Shinjuku to see the sakura (cherry blossoms) for which Japan is famous.  They are very fragile flowers and only bloom for about a week.  It was a perfect day, the temperature was just right and it was a very sunny day.  And the next day, instead of having Japanese, our class went to a temple close to Tokyo Tower to see the sakura.  Again the temperature was just right and it was the perfect day for sakura viewing.

After I left the temple I headed out to visit my host family.  Ayumi’s tea ceremony teacher was putting on a tea ceremony on Saturday and she had invited me to attend.  So on Saturday we dressed up in our kimonos and went to Ayumi’s English circle, a group of older Japanese men and women who want to improve their English.  They meet every Saturday and two (or three) times a year they have a party on Saturday night.  After we went to the tea ceremony we came back to the house and changed out of the kimonos.  Masayuki had come back home from work so we walked around the neighborhood river which was lined with sakura trees.  That night Ayumi and I went to the English Circle party at a local restaurant.  We ended up sitting in the restaurant for about 4 hours and they took turns sitting next to me so they could practice their English.  It was a lot of fun and after we left the restaurant, one of the guys taught me how to play darts and then we joined the rest of the group for karaoke.  Ayumi and I had planned on staying for one song but ended up staying for the whole hour.  We didn’t get back to the house until about 11 pm.

The next day Courtney, the new homestay student, came back from a short trip to Korea.  She came with us to more sakura viewing.  We went back to the shrine I had visited with them on my last visit.  It was a really nice day and we ended up walking around the area a lot.  So in the end, I was able to see sakura trees four days in a row.  I was a happy camper.

Last Thursday, the 5th, our contract ended for the apartment.  So we moved to the church.  It’s been really weird living here, the kitchen is on the 2nd floor, the room we sleep in is on the 3rd floor and all our stuff is on the 4th floor.  And when no one else is here, it’s a strange feeling.  But we do get to play the piano whenever we want to and it’s free.

Last Friday we had a student art exhibition at school.  I displayed two pieces, one from Drawing and one from Computer imaging.  There were a lot more pieces than last semester’s exhibition and a lot more people came.  I think everyone had a good time.  My teacher Claire came to see my work and that of her other students.  She ended up hanging out with our group for about 20 minutes and we had a lot of good laughs.  She’s definitely my favorite teacher, she really knows her stuff and she really cares about her students.  We need more teachers like her.

This last Monday, the 9th, was the last day of official classes.  After classes a few of us went to Shinjuku for a last hurrah.  We went to “Shakey’s,” the closest to American pizza you can find in Japan (aside from the military bases) and then hung out at Starbucks.

Yesterday, Thursday, I went with Matt and two guys from my Computer Imaging/Drawing to visit the ocean.  We explored the island that was connected to the mainland by a really nice bridge.  We saw a lot of shrines and went inside a really nice garden that had a lighthouse inside.  We went up to the top and were able to see the coast in one direction and the open water in the other.  It was pretty spectacular.  Then we visited Daibutsu (the giant Buddha) in Kamakura, and walked around Kamakura a bit.  And it was another really nice day.

Today I had two of my three finals, for Art History and Japanese.  Both were really easy and I’m not all that worried about my last final on Monday.

On Monday at about 9 pm I’m going to be on the night bus on my way to Fukuoka.  It’s going to take about 15 hours to get there but I can sleep on the way.  I’ll be staying four nights and five days and leaving Saturday the 21st, arriving in Tokyo the next day at about 6:30 am.  It’ll be a really short trip but at least I’ll be going.  Unfortunately it means I won’t be able to see Steph and Matt off but we’ll see each other in the States when we go on our road trip in May.  I’m really excited about the trip and I’ll finally be able to explore the area where my family is from.  This has been a life-long dream and it’s pretty exciting to be this close to fulfilling it.

In other news, I have 11 more days until I’m back in the States.  I’m ready to come home but there’s so much I’m going to miss about Japan.  Steph and I have decided that Japan needs to be move closer to California.  We could build a bridge to connect the two and then we could just drive across the bridge whenever we missed Japan.  If only it were that simple.

whoo hoo!

On Friday I bought tickets for a night bus to and from Fukuoka.  And I also made reservations with a nice hostel that I’ll be staying at there.  I’ll be leaving Monday the 16th at about 9pm and arriving in Fukuoka the next day around noon.  I’ll stay 4 nights at the hostel and come back to Tokyo around 6 in the morning on Sunday the 22nd.  A really short trip, but I’ll get to visit the area my grandma lived in when she was here 70 years ago.  And maybe I’ll be able to find her school.  It’s pretty exciting to have this trip planned out.  I can finally see where I came from.  Or half of me at least.

7.2

After leaving Shinjuku and Soul Betting Ground, we headed to Akihabara since we weren’t able to on Saturday.  It was late when we finally got there and we were all pretty hungry.  Akihabara has a lot of Maid Cafes, (where the waitresses dress up as maids, Steph and I went with our teacher Paul last semester) Matt and Bobby hadn’t been to one so we thought we’d try it.  But after finding a few and reading the signs we decided it wasn’t smart to go to one at night.  We found another restaurant and took our time eating and talking.  After we were finished, we walked around some more and ended up one station away from where we started.  Matt had wanted to take us to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku (where he lives) so we got on the train and headed back to Shinjuku.  When we got to the Government Building it had already closed so today (Thursday) we’re going back after school.  We will be able to go to the 45th observation deck and see the city lights.  Bobby will not be joining us because he and Matt’s landlady has somehow made it possible for him rap on Japanese national t.v., which he’s going to do tonight.  Amazing!

On Saturday our group went to Odaiba (where I spent the New Year’s).  It’s a man-made island filled with shops and business buildings and includes a ferris wheel and a miniature Statue of Liberty.  One of the ways to access it is the Rainbow Bridge, which you can walk across.  Even though it was raining on Saturday we decided to walk instead of taking the train.  I’m really glad we did because it was only sprinkling and the view was amazing!  I took some videos and lots of pictures of our visit.  After we were planning on going to the Government Building but by the time we were done in Odaiba we were pretty tired.

Sunday Steph and I were supposed to meet our Japanese class in Chinatown in Yokohama to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  We got there late, which was unfortunate because we missed the dragon dance and the whole parade.  But it was nice because we were able to explore on our own.  We had gone to Yokohama last semester with the school but since our group was so large we didn’t have to time to really see Yokohama.  We had wanted to go back so it was the perfect excuse.  We quickly walked through Chinatown then headed back to the Yokohama park and decided to walk to the ferris wheel (the Japanese seem to really like ferris wheels).  We discovered that at the base of the ferris wheel was a miniature amusement park.  So we bought tickets for the wheel and the little roller coaster.  After riding the ferris wheel, which took 16 minutes and was an amazing view, we explored the arcade area, took pictures in a photobooth and rode the roller coaster.  It was a really short ride but worth the money we paid.  We went back to the arcade to warm up again and then went to Queen’s Square, a huge mall that consists of 3 “towers” and has beautiful architecture.  We explored the mall a bit, bought some things, ate dinner and headed back home.  Another good day of exploring.

This week of school has been. . .fine.  Yesterday I had my Art History midterm and tomorrow I have the first part of the Japanese midterm, the written portion.  Next Monday we have the oral part, a 5-minute interview with our teacher.  That should be fun.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  And surprisingly I’m finding myself enjoying Drawing.  I thought I would hate having to use color but it’s actually a lot of fun.  Hopefully after this semester I’ll continue to draw, it’s expensive but I feel myself relaxing while doing it.  And we have about 7 weeks left until the end of the semester.  Yay!  I’ve decided I’m boarding the plan on Wednesday April 25th, which means I’ll be back in the States on the 25th.  62 days and counting. . .

As I’ve said before I will miss a lot.  My teachers are amazing as well as the staff at Temple and I’m going to miss all the people I’ve met at school and church.  I’m going to miss my host family.  And I’m going to miss a lot of little cultural things and some of the food, which will be hard, if not impossible, to find in the States.  Japan is a great country and I’m definitely coming back.

a rush of blood to the head

I woke up at 9 after turning off my alarm.  I freaked out because I was supposed to have left about 20 minutes prior to that.  So I shot out of bed, got ready really quickly, rode the bike to the station and got on the train at 9:17.  My muscles had been shaking like crazy as they always do after riding the bike.  I was really winded and since I hadn’t eaten my stomach wasn’t feeling too great.  So I stood against the door and waited for my body to normalize itself.  It never did and before I got to the first stop I started feeling really dizzy and my vision started blurring.  I prayed that I wouldn’t throw up on the train, and that if I had to throw up that it would be outside.  My body grew really weak and I could hardly keep my eyes open, my head drooped down and my arms hung limply at my sides.  My whole body started feeling very numb and I felt ready to collapse any minute.

Finally we got to the station and the doors I was leaning against opened (I wasn’t leaning against them when they opened, thankfully I had enough awareness to avoid that).  So I decided to get off and I stumbled my way down the platform.  It was very odd though because my vision was very blurry, I was almost blind, everything was very white and I could hardly make anything out.  And my ears were acting strange too, it was like my ears were mega plugged and there was a buzzing sound.  Since I couldn’t really see, it was very difficult to walk to the end of the platform even though I was only a car away.  I could feel myself swaying, ready to faint.  I finally made out a pole and decided that’s where I’d crash.  So I sat down against it and waited.  One of the conductors asked me something in Japanese and though my ears were still ringing I managed to tell him that I didn’t speak any Japanese.  He didn’t speak any English so he got back into his train and rode away.  When the second train pulled up I was still sitting against the pole but I could now see more or less normally.  The conductor got out and asked me something in Japanese.  I again told him that I couldn’t understand but he was able to ask me, “sick?” and I said “yes, very quickly.”  I don’t know what he would have done because after that I got up and slowly walked to the escalators.  After finding that I had gone to the wrong platform, I trudged back up the escalator and caught the local back to Machida.

I’m now sitting in the apartment and I’m feeling much better, but very exhausted.  It’s been a strange morning.

vending machines

Today on my way to school, I took a picture of every single vending machine I passed (except those across the busy street).  I made a slide show of aforementioned pictures.  These pictures don’t even include the 6 (I think?) vending machines inside the school.  Though it doesn’t really need to be stated again, this country is crazy.

 

konbini

It’s already been established that Japan is a crazy country.  They like to take things to the extreme here.  No doubt about it.  One of the many things they have in great abundances are convenience stores, aka “konbini.”  And they aren’t your typical American convenience stores either.  At a Japanese konbini you can make a fax, a copy, pay your bills, buy tickets for Disneyland, and in some you can buy clothes, hose, school supplies, etc.  Not to mention the food.  Many people, students and business workers alike, buy their meals at a konbini.  They will heat up the food for you, provide you with hot water (for your cup o’ noodles, etc.) as well as any utensils you’ll need.

Oh.Yes.

holiday

Yesterday was our last day of the four-day weekend.  Most of the day was spent at home on the computer just messing around.  Finally at about 4:45 Steph and I headed out to meet Matt and Bobby in Shinjuku.  It had been a beautiful day and we were bemoaning the fact that we had wasted most of it inside.  When we arrived at the station we walked to our normal meeting place.  We didn’t see Matt or Bobby, plus we were distracted by the band that was set up next to the construction wall.  They were really funky and we decided we really liked their sound.  After a while I noticed that Matt and Bobby were there but they were standing off a ways.  Steph and I decided we wanted to keep listening to the band and eventually the guys came over.  We stood there, enjoying the music (with Bobby using the beat to rap) and decided to buy their c.d. if we could no matter the cost.  So when they finished Steph, Bobby and I walked over to them and Bobby started talking to one of the singers.  He asked him if he could have a go on the mic, the guy agreed and Bobby started rapping while a bunch of people stopped and stared.  It was amazing!  He was amazing!  And after he finished we all (except for Matt) got pictures with the band (their keyboardist was blind!).  They were really good and their c.d. was only about $5.  I think we’re going to try and see them again since we know about when they are there.  It was an amazingly fun night, which I will expound on in my next update.

Soul Betting Ground (3:49)

Bobby (3:38)

Akihabara Panorama (:25)

Leanna

I’m so happy!  I recently was able to chat online with my best friend, Leanna.  I haven’t had a good conversation with her in a long time.  And we talked for about an hour and a half.  It totally made my week.  And it made me long for home even more.  A little over two months!  Like I said, I love it here in Japan but when the time comes for me to board the plane and return to the States, I will be one very happy camper.

7.1

So it’s been a while since my last update.  I’ve been busy but it’s also been pretty boring around here since my weeks are basically either going to school or doing homework.  I figured you didn’t want the details of my classes day-by-day or the homework I was working on.  So I will highlight the most interesting/important events of the last four weeks.

January 20th (Saturday) Steph was leaving the apartment in the late morning and suddenly rushed back inside to tell me that it was snowing!  We immediately opened the window and leaned outside.  Sure enough there were some flurries coming down.  It was so light that by the time they hit the ground they melted, but it was snowing and we were both really excited.  (The only other time I’ve seen snowfall was in Yosemite when I was about 12.)  Since then it hasn’t been cold enough here to snow and I doubt it will again; we’ve been having relatively warm weather here, averaging in the high 40’s – low 50’s.

The next day we got another bike from someone from church.  She’s letting us use her mountain bike (read: a bike that can actually change gears) until we leave.  So now we have two bikes, neither of which we had to pay for which is a real blessing.  Unfortunately Steph’s bike (the other one) has a hole in the back tire so it’s currently out of commission.  But with the bikes we’ve been able to get to the station a lot quicker.  And Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings we don’t have to worry about any crowds of people on our way to the station and when we get back, it’s all downhill so getting home is very quick.

Saturday the 27th I had to go back to Shinjuku to pick up more art supplies.  Steph and I met up with Matt and we checked out the Krispy Kreme again and found that the line was still about an hour and a half wait.  So instead we went to a Mister Donut, found that there were no seats, walked around Shinjuku and ended up back in the Krispy Kreme area where there is a Starbucks.  After buying more junk food/drinks we sat outside and started making plans for a road trip this summer.  We would all like to see each other’s houses and meet each other’s families and friends, so we were trying to plan the best way to do that.  We decided it would probably be about 2 weeks and we started thinking of things we could do at each other’s houses and on the way.  Matt lives up in Seattle and Steph lives in San Diego.  The original plan was for Steph and I to drive straight up to Seattle and then come back down with Matt.  But if he were to go with us, he wouldn’t be able to go on a road trip with his friend, which they have wanted to do for a long time.  So at this point I’m not sure what our plans are.  We are definitely going to do something to see each other during the summer but I’m not sure about the specific plans.

A week later, Saturday the 3rd, I had to go back to Shinjuku to get more art supplies.  This time we met up with Matt and his new housemate, Bobby who is also from the States.  Bobby had gotten here just the previous Thursday and will be here until the end of February.  He’s here to see Japan so Matt had been showing him around Shinjuku.  After we picked up the art supplies we headed over to Shibuya and ate at Ichiran Ramen.  It’s a really interesting restaurant because you chose the flavor strength, tenderness of the noodles, the fat content, etc.  It was delicious.  After eating we walked around Shibuya a bit and ended up at the world’s busiest Starbucks (we’ve decided it’s required that we visit the Starbucks every time we go to Shibuya).  Being the busiest in the world we had a wait a while for seats to open up, when they finally did we didn’t leave until about 11.

Yesterday (Saturday) I had to go to an art museum in Ueno.  Steph, Matt and Bobby came with me and while I was in the museum they explored the area.  Afterward we were planning on visiting Akihabara, another part of Tokyo a few minutes away.  The exhibit I visited had paintings from the French museum, Musee d’Orsay that included original Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh paintings.  It was so amazing to be able to view the real thing, to see each brush stoke less than two feet away.  Unfortunately so many people were in line for the exhibit that when I finally met up with Steph and the guys we didn’t have enough time to go to Akihabara.  Shigeko had invited Steph and I to dinner at her house so we had to leave to meet her.  About 10 other people were also there and we had a wonderful time eating and talking until about 10.  And tonight Steph and I went with a group after church to a steak house and then to Mister Donuts.  It’s always wonderful to be with the people from church.

Things at school are going well.  I’m currently enjoying a four-day weekend that lasts until Tuesday.  I’m enjoying all my classes and Shinya even asked me to work for the Art department.  So starting next week I’ll be monitoring the Art rooms and the Mac lab on Tuesdays and Saturdays every other week for a total of four hours each week.  Not a whole lot of money but it’s better than what I’m getting now.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been worried about what I’m going to do next semester.  I had wanted to take a semester off of Temple and stay in the States during the Fall and return here in the Spring.  But due to Visa complications that wouldn’t have worked out for the school or the immigration office.  And I recently decided that while I enjoy photography, I’m not really an “artsy” person.  So I’m changing my major…but I don’t know what I’m changing it to.  Since I’m changing my major that means I won’t be attending Temple anymore because the Japan campus doesn’t offer any other majors that I’m interested in.  And I don’t want to transfer to main campus in Philadelphia because the location is in the worst part of town (there was a shooting in front of the school).

So next semester I’ll either attend the community college I was at before and finish my GE (General Education classes) while deciding where I want to transfer to and what I want my major to be.  Or I want to help with the African Children’s Choir.  If I were to help with the Choir I’d be committed for a whole year.  The Choir is a group of orphaned African children ages 7 to 11 that tours around North America and the UK.  If I were accepted into the program I would need to raise money for any extra expenses since everything else is taken care of.  But even if I weren’t able to do it next semester I know I want to do it sometime.  It’s exactly the kind of organization and program I want to get involved with.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it here despite missing my family and friends.  But being here as a student has really limited my time to explore (though I’m going to visit Fukuoka before I leave). When I have the means I’m going to come back with a tourist visa and explore for the full 90 days.  And of course I’m going to miss everyone here and a lot of little things involved with the culture.  But coming back for school would be a waste of time and mony.  It is a relief to have plans for next semester.  I guess that’s it for now.

rush hour

The line stretches across the platform and as the train pulls up the tension builds.  Everyone takes a step forward and as soon the doors -whoosh- open, they are pushing their way inside.  Once on the train my nostrils fill with the smell of stale sweat and perspiration forms on my brow from all the body heat.  The crush of people pushes me into the man in front of me.  He stretches his arm and I can feel it pop.  With no room to move I’m at the mercy of the crowd and when they lean, I’m forced to as well.  Eventually I close my eyes and let the steady sway of the train put me to sleep.

spam

You know how e-mail spam is so annoying?  But at least you can have it filtered and you aren’t notified every single time you receive a message.  The last few weeks I’ve been getting loads of spam on my phone.  The first time it happened was a few months ago at about 3 am.  It didn’t happen much after that but lately I’ve been getting a message every day…and normally at 3 or 4 in the morning.  The first few times it happened I had my phone set on the table so that when it vibrated I woke up.  I quickly learned to leave my phone on the carpeted floor or on the chair where the cushion could absorb the sound instead of amplify it.  I’m just glad I don’t have to pay for e-mails I receive on my phone.  But it is annoying to get a message like this at 4 in the morning:

 

6.3

The first week of school is over and I’m as satisfied with my schedule/classes as is possible.  I’m there from 9-5:30 Mondays and Wednesdays.  Fridays I get out at 3 and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have one class from 3:45-5:45.  Four out of my five classes are taught by teachers from last semester who I really liked and my only new teacher is wonderful.  Koyama Sensei, Steph and my Japanese teacher, is probably in her 40’s and she’s extremely energetic.  Class is and will continue to be fun with her in charge.

On Monday, our last night of freedom, Steph and I headed out to the outlet store that Shigeko had taken me to before.  We had dinner at the food court, thawed ourselves in some of the overpriced stores (it’s an outdoor mall and it was really cold) and then bought groceries at the grocery store near-by.  The next morning we didn’t have school until later in the afternoon so the ride to school was pleasant since I could find a seat with no problem.  After our classes we came back to the apartment and made our first official meal of curry and rice.  It’s my favorite meal here and before I moved out of the Fukuoka’s, Ayumi taught me how to make it.  With little effort we made a delicious dish that fed us for three meals.  It definitely made this place feel more like home.

Wednesday morning we woke up around 6am and were finally out of the door at 7:20.  Even though we arrived at the station late we ended up being only 5 minutes late to our 9 o’clock classes.  We had our break from 11:15-1:40 and then headed to our Japanese class.  The day was very long and the train ride home was very crowded.  But I was happy because I was finally able to get a semester sticker for my student i.d. so that I could buy a commuter pass for the trains.  When we arrived at Machida station we bought our passes and later figured out we’re saving over $350.  It’s a big relief to finally have that taken care of.

Yesterday (Saturday) we went to Shinjuku to pick up some art supplies and check out the Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  Unfortunately the Krispy Kreme just opened last month so when we saw the very long line outside of the building we decided to go next door to Starbucks.  Then we came back to the apartment and made our second official meal, white curry and rice.

Ayumi told me that in March on the 3rd or 4th she is going to a party for Girl’s Day (a annual Japanese festival) and in April her tea ceremony class is having an official tea ceremony.  I can wear my kimono to both events.  I’ll just need to figure out the complicated process of putting it on.

The temperature here has been dropping, interspersed with a few warmer days.  I’ve been told that February is the coldest time of the year so I’m bracing myself for the impending chill.  Today though is a clear, crisp day, not a cloud in the sky.  And tomorrow begins another week of school.

hollow

I didn’t recognize him at first, thinking him just a tired businessman coming home after a long day.  It wasn’t until I came closer that I saw the telltale signs; his greasy hair hung low over his eyes, the left pant leg had a tear up the side.  At one time he was a proud businessman, now a shell of whom he once was, trying to hang on to what is left of his dignity.  He still wore penny loafers and a button-up shirt tucked into his slacks.  When the train’s doors -whooshed- open he shuffled into the car and sat down dejectedly, not looking anyone in the eyes.  Everyone around him ignored his presence.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he was like before.  Did he have a family?  How did he lose it all?  What keeps him going?  Even now as I sit in my warm, comfortable apartment some 5 hours later, I wonder where he is and my heart goes out to him.

6.2

I’ve got the “Roller Coaster” feeling where I know the unavoidable plunge is just over the hill.  School begins again tomorrow and I just don’t feel ready to go back yet.  Now that Steph and Matt are back and I have a means to access my money I have more reason to do things.  But alas, time marches on.

Disneyland pt. 2 was really fun.  It was much colder and more crowded than last time but I still enjoyed my time there.  Besides me it was the Boeks, another couple and their two kids and a man with his 3 year-old son.  I’d never gone to a theme park with little kids before but I think they made it more exciting.  We basically made it onto every ride except for Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain because both were out of order.  We entered the park around 9 and stayed until it closed at 10.  While we were in line for The Haunted Mansion we were able to enjoy the firework show.  The one in the States is longer but this one was still impressive.  When Jeremiah and Geigy dropped me off at 12:30 I told Jeremiah I would pay him back for my ticket in a few days but he said not to worry about it!

On Friday I met with Ayumi, the girls, Ayumi’s friend and her friend’s former homestay students.  We were shopping for recycled kimonos at a nice department store that has a really good sale only once a year.  I found about 6 that I was interested in and eventually narrowed it down to two.  They were both very elegant and formal.  It was a hard choice because both were in wonderful condition and had beautiful designs on them.  I eventually decided on the one that the saleswoman told me had “royal” colors.  I don’t yet have a picture of either of them but hope to get them from Ayumi soon.  The kimono and the obi (wide belt that ties around the waist) were both the same price and the ending cost of both was about $170.  After buying more of the pieces (but not all because some were more than I was willing to pay) the ending cost was about $220, which is amazing since a brand new, formal kimono is normally in the thousands.

After lunch, our group headed to a home appliance store where I was able to find a nice toaster oven for about $15.  Ayumi’s friend dropped us off at her house and I ended up staying until about 10.  I was able to meet her new homestay student.  Her name is Courtney; she’s 20, from the main campus in Philadelphia and has been studying Japanese for 6 years.  I really liked her and we even started making plans to go with a group to Sapporo for the Snow Festival in February.  I don’t know if I’ll see her very often at school because I think our schedules are pretty different but I’ll probably see her when I visit the family.

Saturday was the day Steph returned.  Her flight was supposed to arrive at 4pm and so I left the apartment around 1 to meet her at the airport.  Matt had come back on Thursday and was finalizing a contract for an apartment he found.  While I was on the way to the airport he said he could meet me but the train schedules made it really difficult.  Eventually we met up and made it to the airport about 4:15.  Steph’s flight was late coming in and the whole process of getting out took a while so she finally made an appearance at 5:15.  We started heading back to the apartment and made it around 9.  Steph crashed soon after we got there while Matt and I went to get dinner.

Sunday the church had a potluck after service and Steph came up with the brilliant idea (no sarcasm) of making grilled cheese.  So after the service everyone went downstairs to the kitchen/dining room area and we had a good time of talking and eating.  We left about 6 to meet Matt at the station so he could pick up a box of his stuff he had left here during the break.  He hung out for a little bit and then headed back to his apartment.

Steph got a laptop over the break so a lot of our time has been spent on our computers.  We both have the feeling that’ll be how we spend a lot of our time here.  But today (Monday) we’re going to head over to the outlet mall that I went to with Shigeko.  It’s so good to have my friends back.

6.1

School starts up again next week on Tuesday.  While I’m not looking forward to it I am glad that Steph and Matt will be returning this week.  I’ve missed my buddies and I’ll be glad when we can hang out again.

On Friday I went with the Jeremiah and Geigy to one of the five Costcos in all of Japan.  They had many of the same products and the way the store was set up was similar to the ones in the States.  It was odd seeing women walking around in their high-heeled shoes and designer clothes.  Geigy was shopping for the pizza and game night planned that night at the church.  After we finished shopping all of us enjoyed an authentic Costco meal together.  Cali and I were supposed to bake cookies when we got back to their house but we stayed out so long that we didn’t have enough time for that.

The pizza/game night was really fun.  Another family showed up with their two young children.  Larry, the husband, told me about their week in China and the adventure they had on Christmas Eve while they were there.  Once everyone had eaten, the adults (there were 10 of us and 5 kids) played a really fun dice game called “Zilch.”  Everyone had a lot of fun and we ended up just playing that game for about an hour.  Jeremiah and Geigy dropped two other people off and when I finally arrived at the apartment it was about 12.

Sunday I went with a group to a place called Odaiba for the countdown, a really hip shopping area with a miniature Statue of Liberty and a great view.  We arrived at about 10 and walked around while waiting for midnight.  Before midnight there were 6 of us: Eriko, Hide and Kevin from church and Matt, Eriko’s friend from one of the military bases and Sarah who works with Kevin.  We had a lot of fun and after the countdown (which was a little lame since we couldn’t see anything from where we were standing. . .) we met up with Kevin’s brother Adam and rode a ferris wheel.  It was an amazing view once we reached the top with blinking red lights from high rises in every direction.

When we finally got to the train station it was almost 2 in the morning.  And by the time we made the last transfer the only trains were locals (meaning they made every stop instead of the expresses which skip a bunch and are much faster as a result).  We rode the train for over an hour and many of the people were (understandably) sleepy.  Kevin had brought his PSP along and we challenged each other to games of “Pong” to pass the time.  I got to ride a scooter for the first time for about a minute for the short ride from the church to the apartment.  It was a bit scary since I had to take the back and I felt I was going to fall off any minute but it was very exciting too.  By the time I got home it was 4 in the morning.

So today, the first day of the year 2007 I slept in until 12:30 and at 7 went with a small group to eat dinner at Kevin’s house.  A train ride that should have taken 2 minutes took me 40.  First I got on a train that split off in a different direction than where I needed to go.  So I went back to my station and hopped on another train.  I had to get on quickly because it was about to leave so I didn’t read the sign carefully.  It ended up being an express and passed my stop.  So when it finally did stop I had to go back on a local; definitely a test on my patience.  The dinner was really good; Adam made delicious ribs and a traditional Korean New Year’s soup, which was also very tasty.  After dinner we watched X-Men 3: The Last Stand and then the end of some Japanese movie or t.v. show until 11:30.

Tomorrow I’m going with a group from the church to Disneyland.  Yes, I was just there but I had a really good time and I don’t mind going again.  The company’s not bad either.

tomei expressway

-zoom-

lights from the city reflecting in my eyes and headlights echoing off the walls

There’s something so graceful about the night: the mystery that shrouds a city when the sun dips below the horizon is a wonderful thing.   At night I often sit at my window and stare at the lights below and before me, wondering who is out there and why.  Tonight as we zipped across the expressway my heart filled with love for this little town called Tokyo.

george

This is George (as in Curious George), the cat who adopted Steph and me the first night we were here.   She hangs around the apartment building a lot and I often hear her pitiful meows.  She’s been a guest in the apartment a few times but only because once I open the door she dashes inside.  I’m always afraid that someone will see and report to the head honcho that there is someone who is housing a pet against the rules.  Tonight when I heard her outside my plan was to get a picture of her while she was outside, but true to her nature she ran into the apartment before I could so much as touch a button.  Her meows echoed off the walls in the entryway and I tried pacifying her by rubbing her head while also attempting to take a picture.  The picture above is the 33rd picture I took and by far the best.  That Darn Cat.

the storm

Last night we had a magnificent storm that lasted for at least five hours.  The rain came down in buckets, lightening flashed across the sky and thunder shook the ground.  At midnight I leaned out of the window and felt the rain wash over my face and arms.  Everything in me felt alive.  I wanted it to never end.  The next day the sky was clear and the sun shone so brightly, as if the storm had never happened.  But I will not forget it and I hope someday to see another like it.

Storm (:29)

At 12:16 am (obviously since it’s dark it’s hard to tell but it was raining really hard and the sky was completely overcast…I couldn’t get a picture of the storm during the day):

At 3:06 pm: