Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yukata

Today I decided to venture to Seiyu and buy a yukata, a Japanese summer kimono.  I've been eyeing them as I go up and down the escalator shopping for other things, but I had never stopped on the women's clothing floor to take a proper look.  I always thought, "They can't possibly fit me" and went on my way.  I'm a good eight inches taller than the 5'2" average Japanese female according to official statistics by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (thank you Wikipedia).  Anything made and sold in Japan couldn't possibly fit someone my size and height.  So I usually passed by, gazing longingly as I made my way up to another floor.


But I really wanted a yukata.  We're going to a summer festival on Sunday and I wanted to be dressed appropriately and festively.  I can't go to a Japanese summer festival in Japan not dressed in a real Japanese yukata.  That would be blasphemy (or something along those lines), not to mention less fun and exciting.  So, before class started, I asked my female teacher, Moromizato-sensei, if it would be difficult for me to buy a yutaka, knowing that I'm much taller than the general population.  However, she told me that I wouldn't have to worry because yutakas are made really long to begin with.  The way they are worn requires you to pull it up and fold it at your waist and other such things in order to look right.  So, if I were to buy one it would already be long enough because they are made super long on purpose.  Of course, this made me really excited.  I could wear a yukata!


So, after all my classes were over, I dropped off my books at my apartment and headed to the store.  Up on the fourth floor I stepped off the escalator and headed onto the battlefield determined to come away with a right and proper yukata.  However, being the person I am, I was also scared.  How did I know which one to get?  There were different prices and different brands.  What if I bought one that was too short?  What if I bought a kids one?  So many worries!  Fortunately I was able to hunt down a nearby sales associate to ask for help in broken Japanese.  I let her know as best I could that I was looking for the longest one they had, and soon she was going around the aisle checking the tag for sizes.  Before long we discovered that the longest size they had was 165cm.  


I had no idea what that meant.  Would it be right for me?  She started saying something in Japanese about a little short, or ankles or something.  She motioned to one of the manikins wearing a yukata in the process as well and asked me if I was okay.  I tried asking her if it was okay if it was short but I don't think she understood my broken Japanese as much as I couldn't completely understand her perfect Japanese.  So, I told her everything was okay and thanked her.  Whether it was too short or not I would deal with it when I got home.  


Once the sales associate had gone back to her work I returned to browsing through the 165cm yukatas.  There were many pretty patterns to choose from, so finding a nice one wouldn't be a problem.  I just had to narrow down my search, which was a pretty easy thing to do in the end.


Did I want one that came with geta?  No.  I was already worried about whether it would be long enough and by looking at the shoes I could tell that they would be way to small.  


Search narrowed.


Did I want want with a pre-tied obi sash?  Yes.  I was already worried about whether it would be long enough.  I didn't want to struggle with tying a sash properly as well.


Search narrowed.


Did I want one for 9900円 or 4000円?  4000円.  I was already worried about whether it would be long enough.  I didn't want one that was too small and expensive.


Search narrowed.


Now, all I had to do was pick the right pattern.  There were many to choose from.  Pinks, purples, and blues.  All sorts of pretty flowery patterns with matching sashes and pre-tied bows all ready for me to pluck off the rack and take home with me.


Oh?  You want to know which one I chose?  Well, you'll just have to wait and see after the summer festival as I continue on my adventure in the land of the rising sun.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nerd-gasm

"You never know how much of a nerd you are until you engage in nerdy activities" is the lesson I have learned today.  Today, we went to the Studio Ghibli Museum and the life sized Gundam exhibition, and boy was I excited today.  All day I had a huge smile on my face as I was captivated by the magnificence of the architecture of Ghibli museum and the magic of Miyazaki's art and then  by the grandeur of the giant Gundam Mobile Suit and all the exhibition had to offer.  Literally, when I walked into the white, brightly lit room containing the copious amounts of Gundam figurines, I said, "Heavenly light, angel chorus!"  It was nerd paradise.  It's been many years since I last watched any of the Mobile Suit Gundam series and yet I was so enchanted by everything even though it was in Japanese.  The nerdy mind is a wonderful thing.

We started off going to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka and it was simply amazing.  The building was overgrown with ivy and there was not only greenery everywhere but also Miyazaki characters, most notably the giant robot soldier on the roof from Castle in the Sky.  Unfortunately, but understandably, there was no picture taking in the museum.  Oh how I wished I had been able to take pictures inside because the architecture inside was just as amazing as the outside.  There was a spiral staircase encased in a cage, a play room for kids with the cat bus from Totoro (which I wanted to play in but was for kids 12 and under), and even a room with a history on animation.  Along with taking a tour of the museum we also watched the short film that was showing today.  It was the story of a boy who sells his vegetables for a magical seed which when he plants it turns into a small planet with it's own orbit and eventually it's own atmosphere and such, like a mini earth.  It was pretty interesting to watch especially since there were no English subtitles.  Over all, I would definitely come back if I were able.  It was a pretty amazing museum full of magic and wonder.

After we were done at the Ghibli Museum, everyone split up and a few of us went do Odaiba to see the life sized Gundam.  It's so amazing and large, and the nerd inside of me died from a heart attack.  It's really cool because it lights up and stuff, which looks really cool in the dark.  Inside the shopping mall behind it on the top floor is a Gundam exhibition of sorts.  They show a short film where you get to watch a Mobile Suit space battle as if you were out in space with them.  Then they have an exhibit with another large replica of just the bust of a Gundam and a piece of a Moble Suit that looks like it's been damaged in battle.  Also, there's a place where you can get your picture taken to look like you're sitting in the cockpit, and another place where you can choose a character to take a picture with.  In the section where you can't take pictures, there's a timeline of the Mobile Suit Gundam universe that starts with the original series and leads up to the newest one.  There was also original art, a model of the life sized Gundam, and a touch screen with all the characters and information on them.  It was pretty cool and nerd-tastic.

All in all, this was one of the best field trips we've had thus far in my opinion, but that's probably because I really like anime.  No matter, it was all very interesting and fun and I can't wait to see what else Japan has to offer as I continue on my journey in the land of the rising sun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Flavor Flaaaaave!

One of the things I'm going to miss about Japan is all the interesting flavors you can find for snacks.  Green tea this, and red bean that, taro those and so forth and so on.  It's really amazing what you can find at a convenience store or at the friendly neighborhood Walmart owned Seiyu.  So, here is a few of the snacks that I've bought and liked while here in Japan.  It's not a very long list, but it's something.

1.) Morinaga brand Matcha クッキー from Seiyu
Sandwiched between two slightly sweet and crisp cookies is a matcha green tea cream.  It's not too sweet nor is it too bitter.  Just two or three of these cookies go perfectly with a cup of unsweetened green tea.  I'm sure they'd be even better if I had an actual cup of perfectly brewed matcha to go with them.  I like to call these my homework tea cookies because they seem just a bit more special than regular cookies.  I like them so much that I even restrict them to homework time, therefore if I want to eat these I must be doing homework with a cup of tea.  If I remember I might just bring a box of these back with me...

2.) つぶあんぱん from Tamaya
Inside what looks like a plain roll with black sesame seeds on top is hidden the tasty gem that is red bean paste, one of my favorite flavors of Japanese sweets.  Now, tsubuan pan isn't some specialty of Tamaya, the little bakery in my neighborhood, but I think that theirs is the best.  I've tried tsubuan pan from a bakery on the other side of the station, but it just wasn't the same.  It wasn't as good as Tamaya's which will always hold a place in my heart.  If I could transplant Tamaya near my university in America, I would.  Though, that would probably be a bad thing for my wallet.

3.) Conpeito from Nakamise Shopping Arcade at Kanmon Temple in Asakusa
Conpeito is a traditional Japanese candy that are like little explosions of sugar and color.  I don't know their exact history, but I once heard that they were introduced by Spanish missionaries or something.  I don't quite know how they came to be, but I like them.  Different colors are different flavors, so it's not like you're eating a mouth full of flavorless sugar crystals.  I'm sure there must be somewhere to buy them other than the temple, but I haven't looked.

4.) みたらし団子 from Seiyu
Mitarashi dango is a Japanese treat that, like mochi, is made from pounded sweet rice that is formed into balls.  However, instead of having a filling, mitarashi dango is stuck on a skewer and covered in a sweet and salty sauce usually made of sugar, soy sauce, and something else I think.  It's very chewy and quite satisfying as a snack.  Although you buy it at room temperature I prefer to refrigerate mine first so it can firm up a bit.  There are other types of dango with different toppings or with stuff mixed into the dango themselves, but I prefer the mitarashi dango.


Now, pardon me as I continue to snack on my adventure in the land of the rising sun.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elementary School my dear Watson


On Thursday, July 5th, a group of us went to the Yokohama Adventist Elementary School to help with their English class.  Many of us expressed interest in teaching English in Japan on our applications for the ACA summer program, so sensei thought it would be a good idea if we could actually get a taste of the real thing.  So, we left the apartment around 6:40 in the morning for Ogikubo Station, the station closest to us, to start our journey.  Three trains, a van and a little over an hour later, we arrived at Yokohama San-iku Elementary School out in the boonies of Japan.  We were greeted by students who were also arriving at school at that time, some even coming up to a few of us with a handshake and a well enunciated "Nice to meet you!"  They seemed so excited to see us.  I knew it would be an interesting day even though I didn't know what we would be doing exactly.

Once in the school we were given a tour of the building.  It consists of two and a half floors.  I say half because the main entrance is between the upper and lower level but isn’t really an actual floor.  The lower level has classrooms for first, second, and third grade while the upper level has the administrative office and fourth, fifth, and sixth grades.  There are also rooms for Home Economics and Music, a gymnasium and a library.  Everything was so clean and organized and, yes, all the students wore a uniform.

Our job was not so much to teach the students as it was to aid in the teaching.  We weren’t set as teachers, in charge of a whole class of students.  Instead, we were guests in the English class for several grades.  About ten students would come into the English classroom at a time and would sit in a half-circle in front of the chalkboard where the five of us were standing.  The teacher announced why we were here, and then said a prayer in English, which the students would repeat line by line.  Afterwards, each of them introduced themselves in very simple but accurate English.  They told us their name and either their favorite color, snack, food or sport depending on the group.  Then, we introduced ourselves telling our names, where we were from, which school we went to, what we were studying, and our favorite color, snack, food or sport depending on the group.  After the introductions, we played a few rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors, each of us visiting students taking turn being the “king”.  Then we moved on to the more interesting part.

Before we came, the English teacher had surveyed the students and asked them what questions they would like to ask us.  The questions ranged from simple ones like “What kind of animals do they have in America?” and “What’s your favorite Bible verse?” to more complex questions like “How is America?” (a very loaded question indeed) and “How do you feel when you see a Japanese person?”  Fortunately, in our meeting before hand, she went over the questions the students had prepared for us so we would have time to think up answers and so we wouldn’t be surprised.  After each question the kids asked us, we got a chance to ask the kids questions.  We didn’t ask them anything too serious or difficult.  Mostly questions like, “What’s your favorite anime?” or “What’s your favorite subject in school?” or “Where’s a good place to visit around here?”

After we had gone through all the English classes for the morning, it was lunch time.  The school provided each of us a tasty looking bento and we each were sent off to eat lunch with a different grade.  I chose to eat with the first graders because after lunch was origami time for them.  When I got to the first grade class, they were in the middle of singing their lunch song.  All the tiny little desks were set up in a circle with one bigger desk empty for me.  I was like king of the first graders.  They even gave me a welcoming gift of a dried flower, laminated for posterity.

When both the song and prayer were done everyone opened up their bentos and started eating and having a funny little debate with one boy being the head of it all.  He would shout out things like, “Who likes korokke?!” or “Who likes so-and-so-san?!” (all in Japanese of course) and kids would enthusiastically raise their hands.  This went on for the entire lunch period with him asking if they liked different things, sometimes getting into arguments over who knows what.  It was so interesting to see that even though they were so young they already had personalities.  They were so lively and interesting to watch even though I didn’t say much.

The girl sitting next to me was especially expressive.  She would get into arguments with/threaten the question asking boy and would get up to walk around the room to talk to other kids.  I tried to speak with her a little but when she found out I couldn’t say or understand much in Japanese she took it upon herself to be my ambassador to the others.  Whenever one of the kids would come up to me and say something, she would promptly take them aside and explain to them in hushed tones that I didn’t understand Japanese.  That didn’t stop a boy from coming up to me and asking me what one plus one was (in Japanese) it took me a few seconds to realize what he was asking before I could answer him correctly.

When I was done eating, my little ambassador informed me that it was okay for me to get one of the books and some paper to make origami.  So, I grabbed some supplies and went back to my desk.  I wanted to make a crane, but I couldn’t remember how to and it wasn’t in the book I chose, so I made a frog instead.  A few of the kids crowded around my desk to watch for a little while before scurrying off back to their desks and chattering among themselves, sometimes looking back at me.  Before long, it was time for me to go, but not before they all rushed towards me with their own origami creations: a flower, a couple of origami hearts, a failed attempt at a heart that ended up being a wrinkly circle with a heart drawn on it, and a crown. 

They were all so cute, I wish I had made more of an attempt to speak to them in my broken and imperfect Japanese but I wasn’t confident enough in my language skills.  However, it is an experience and a memory that I wouldn’t go back and change.  Maybe one of these days I’ll be confident enough to hold a conversation with a first grader as I continue on my adventure in the land of the rising sun.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Japanese Garbage - Level: Hard Mode


Americans have it easy. All you have to do is toss all your trash, no matter what it is, into a large black bag and set it out on the curb or take it to the dumpster and let someone else take care of it. If it's too big to fit in the bag you still set it by the curb or the dumpster and forget about it. It only gets a little difficult if you decide to recycle. Not so in Japan.  The Japanese take their garbage disposal very seriously.  In fact, there are nine categories that you are required to sort your garbage into or else the garbage police will call you and tell you you did it wrong.

Okay, so there's no such thing as the garbage police, but it's the trash collection people who will call you.  Inou-san, the dean, emphasized this point because it would be a hassle if we did the trash wrong and then they called the hospital which would in turn call the school which would in turn get in contact with us at the apartment because we didn't sort the trash properly.  Trash is serious business.

The first group that garbage must be sorted into is "Recyclable Resources" which is split into five sub-groups which I will now quote verbatim:
Paper: Paper consists of newspapers, flyers, magazines, books, miscellaneous paper (paper boxes, wrapping paper, paper bags, memo sheets, notebooks, pamphlets, calendars, etc.), cardboard and milk cartons.
PET Bottles:  PET bottles, such as for beverages and soy sauce.
 Glass bottles:  Bottles for food and beverages.
Cans:  Aluminum and steel cans for food and beverages.
Plastic Containers/Wrapping:  Plastic bottles, such as for shampoo; plastic cartons, such as for eggs; plastic bags and wrapping for confections; plastic trays for meat and fish; Styrofoam, etc.

 Not only must you sort them into these five groups, you must also know how to dispose of them properly, which I will again quote verbatim from the packet we were given:
There are many things being thrown away that can still be reused.  Collection of recyclable resources is conducted so that such items will not be treated as garbage but handled by making the best use of them as recyclable resources.
(1) Paper (Newspapers, flyers, magazines, miscellaneous paper, books, cardboard and milk cartons) should be separated according to type and bundled with string.
(2) For PET bottles, remove the caps and labels, rinse the inside, crish them and place them in transparent bags that allow the contents to be seen, or in the specific net.  You can also dispose of these items at collection boxes in front of stores.
(3) For glass bottles, remove the caps, rinse the inside and place them in the yellow container.
(4) For cans, rinse the inside, crush them and place them in the blue container.
(5) For plastic containers/wrapping (Plastic containers/wrapping refers to plastic wrapping, containers and bags used to package foods and daily necessities, which are no longer needed after taking the product out of the packaging.  Look for this identifying mark (I've placed it to the right).), rinse lightly and place items in transparent bags that allow the contents to be seen.

Aside from these five, there are four more groups that you must sort your garbage into: combustible, noncombustible, oversized garbage, and items not collectible as oversized.  However, I don't want to make this post about garbage unbearably long because I think you get the idea.

So, you enjoy your easy American garbage while I continue to sort on my adventure in the land of the rising sun.