Sunday, May 16, 2010

Japanese culture for you

This is something I have had soooo much trouble with. In Japan, when you are offered food or anything else you are supposed to say no. If someone at school tries to give me something, it's fine, but with the older generation you have to say no!
I'm afraid to go places with people because depending on the situation you are supposed to respond no or yes. Here are a few experiences I have had and their outcomes:

Situation 1: Our neighbors invite me out. We go to a special grocery store. The neighbor asks me if I want ice cream I say no. She buys it for me anyways. After, she offers to buy me some fried things. I say no, she buys it anyways
Outcome: I get home, my host mother tells me nothing if for free in Japan and I have to go over there and try to pay them back. My host mother insists and they take the money.

Situation 2: I am walking down the street and all of a sudden this old woman runs out and tell me to come inside. I go into her shop and she asks me if I want tea. Me: no. She goes to get tea. I drink it and then leave.
Outcome: My host mom says that I shouldn't drink her tea or I'll become obligated to get my hair cut at her shop... For some reason this time it was ok to take something for free as long as I don't do it again.

Situation 3: A neighbor gives me a piece of candy
Outcome: My host mother tells me to tell her whenever that happens so that we can both thank her.

As strange as it seems to Americans my host mother told me it is Japanese culture that even if you receive something tiny like a piece of candy, and you are under age, you have to thank the person, your parent has to thank the person, and then next time your parent sees the person on a different day they have to thank the person again! For candy. It seems soooo strange to me but my host mother said that if the parent doesn't thank the giver twice they are considered rude by whoever hears about it. Because, she told me, Japanese people love to gossip. Huh.

My daily scenic bike ride

These are the scenes I see every single day coming to and from school on the 15 minute bike ride. For me, it's a big change from the traffic of Chicago.

I left out some pictures of things I pass on the way to school like small shrines and statues but maybe I'll take a few pictures of those later.

Partying in Ogi

Wow, I've already posted like, four things today but here it goes before this gets too old: Last week we had an AFS party in...uh, Ogi. There was so much good food and we all just stood around and talked and attempted to play the piano. There was supposed to be a talent show but somehow all three of us American and this French guy got out of it (we met up with the exchange students from Nagasaki too.) Knowing I had run out of money, I went of to the cookie table, looked around all shady-like and dumped about 20 cookies into my bag. It sounds bad but it ended up being a joke between my LP and me later (the party was at her house). In case I didn't mention it before an LP is the person who looks after the exchange students in your little area or 'chapter'. It was so fun that we ended up not leaving until 10:30 pm!
All of the host families came and a lot of volunteers.

Mothers' Day in Japan

In Japan, Mothers' day is indeed celebrated. It is called "haha no hi" (母の日).

Me, being an idiot, planned on buying flowers for my host mom until I realized the day before that I had utterly run out of money (I'm not even exaggerating, we went to a party and when no one was looking stuffed snacks into my bag). Therefore, I did pretty much nothing but at the last second tried writing her a letter in Japanese which she said was really good, which I doubt.

Pretty much it's the same thing here. All of a sudden this cheesily touching cards come out (though I admit some were cute) and there all ads for all manner of household items that have the words 'Mother's Day' seemingly tacked on at the top.

Personally, later in the day my family and I visited some lady who owned a magnificent rose garden at the back of a shrine. I took some pictures just for the heck of it!

Candy :D (ame)

I have not even made a dent in the tons and tons of awesome looking candy that the Japanese have but here are two that I have really enjoyed so far:

This is called ao ringo...(I guess?) It's the kanji for blue and then apple but it's green apple....whatever, the point is, it comes in both cherry and green apple flavor. It's not that it's the most delicious thing ever...I just love it for the way you eat it and the taste. It's not a very strong taste and it's not even that sweet. They are like chewy little waxy...squares. The little pack comes with a toothpick and you spear them and eat them. :D

The other one I have a picture of is called neri ame. It's really cool because it's an extemely thick goop that you can play around with before you eat it (though I admit I got tired of it and just ate it straight up after a while.)

It comes in a little container. You pour it on two sticks and knead it around with them untill it has an opaque quality and then you eat it....yeah, it's that thick my hands started to hurt halfway through the container.

Being a girl in Japan :P

It isn't really the first problem that pops into anyone's mind but I have found it rather annoying. That is the obvious separation between boys and girls. I'm not even really sure if I can satisfactorily into words what the problem is but I will try.
Girls just don't seem to free as in the US. Sometimes I find myself bored because it just seems like...Japanese girls' number one priority is to sit there and be cute. Boys are so much more at freedom to do what they want and have fun.
When I say that it seems like girls' number one priority I don't mean they don't have ambition but literally it just seems sort of like a "you sit there and look cute while the men go out and do whatever." Japanese boys are CONSTANTLY up to something crazy while the girls sit there saying "KAWAII" about everything. There also isn't such thing as ladies first here. It's men first and the girls just wait their turn (although once a boy cut in from of my at school and his friend pulled him back and said, "ladies first" ......though I don't think this is a normal occurrence between Japanese people.)
Even my friend Matthew, who is from the USA as well and in a nearby city said "If I was a girl I would have gone to Europe, not Japan."
I'm not saying to girls, "don't come, it's horrible", just don't expect the same amount of....I don't know...not freedom, per say, but equality on what's expected of you? It's only a little wearing sometimes but oh well.
Other things I've noticed about Japanese girls and from what my host mother told me is that sometimes, behind the sappy/cutesy facade they are real *******. Me and some of the girls actually ignore each other already. I used to say hi but after they stopped replying I was just sort of like "eh." Especially after a story my host mother told me about my host sister and how she used to be harassed by girls smiling cutely and then saying horrible things.
Everyone is probably thinking I hate Japanese girls but that's not true at all. I have made some great friends, girls and boys, who are so patient with me even if sometimes we can't understand each other.
I don't know if my friends who are girls are the more rebellious type (ie: A few refuse to brush their teeth after lunch and some others refused to join a club, hehe) but they are awesome and I hope we can all stay friends.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My school

Ok, so I finally got together some pictures of my school and I will also discuss some of the differences between Japanese and American schools. Hopefully, I'll get more pictures later.

First off, are the bathrooms. As I mentioned earlier Japanese toilets are pretty different. In school there are about 5 Japanese toilets and one "western toilet".

As you can see at the right of the picture there is this little I was a little confused about the usage of these for a little while but they are these movement activated....speakers... that make fake flushing noises as you use the bathroom...for privacy I guess.
Other differences in the bathroom are that there isn't really any soap. Unlike in the US, no one here even really uses soap for their hands at all.
Also, if you walk into the bathroom during the lunch period, there are always tons of people crowded in brushing their teeth. Everyone brings a little bag with toothpaste, a cup, and their toothbrush for after lunch.

This is just a picture of my classroom. I sometimes get to school overly early so I was able to take a picture without creeping out TOO many people.
All the windows and doors are sliding. I didn't get this in the picture but at the back of the classroom are these large cubby holes. Everyone has one where they put their books, PE uniform, etc. For the most part we stay in the same room all day and the teachers come to us. Before and after each class we stand up. There is a appointed person who has to say "kyousukete....Rei" which pretty much readies us to bow. We bow on "rei" at the beginning of the class we say "onegaishimasu" which pretty much means "please". At the end of class we bow and say "Arigatou gozaimasu" which just means "thank you". At the beginning of the day we all bow and say "Ohayou gozaimasu" (good morning) and at the end of the day we say "Sayonara" which is, of course, good bye.

In Japan, there aren't really any public trash cans so you always have to take our trash home and seperate it for recycling there. Same with school. We have 3 trash/ recycling cans (gomi-trash, cartons, and plastic I THINK, though I'm not really sure because the recycling sorting is hard to remember). We are only allowed to throw trash from food from the school store into the bins.
We also have a broom closet. At the end of every day we have "souji" which is where we all go to assigned rooms to spend 10 minutes sweeping or taking out trash. This is because Japanese schools don't have enough money for cleaning crews.

Me and my problem of getting to school too early (No one is there)

At the student entrance of the school there is an entry way that has a block of cubby holes for each class (1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-1, etc. up to 3-3). There are umbrella holders for umbrellas too. At the beginning of each day everyone has to take off their loafers on this astro-turf, step up on a ledge, switch their loafers for their slippers, and then go upstairs. Yes, we actually have 4 different types of shoes for school (slippers, loafers, inside PE shoes, and outside PE shoes) We also keep the outside PE shoes down here and the inside PE shoes in bags on hooks outside the classroom.
I don't know if I mentioned this but there are only 3 years of high school here. A kou kou ichinensei (first year high school student) is the equivalent to an American high school sophomore student. I am only 15-almost 16 but I got put into the second high school grade even though everyone there is 16-almost 17.

This is the actual student entrance that we go through to get to the cubby holes.
This is the front of my school.
Pretty much everyone rides their bikes to school except on rainy days when everyone takes the train or bus. The bike corral is separated by grade and gender. First years are in the back while third years are at the front. Girls are on the left and boys are on the right. Now, as I've probably mentioned, club is very important to high school life so people are genuinely surprised when someone is not in a club. My host mother even told me the all the good boys are in club. It seems like for boys everyone one says "Oh, he's not in a club, he seems like a slacker."
This is why I laugh when at the end of the day and see the bikes of people who stayed for club.
Girls' Side:

Boys' side:
(For those of you who can't tell because of picture size, you are looking at....oh ho! What's that? Emptiness! Ha-ha....Oh, those boys)

Ummm off the top of my head some other differences are that boys and girls are almost completely separate. Except for a few they hardly talk. During lunch everyone is completely separate. All of the boys tend to leave for one classroom and all the girls for another. It really is pretty amazing. There are a group of sort of "rebels" at out school as I'm pretty sure there are at every Japanese school. All of the girls avoid them like the plague. Whenever I interact with them my friends look at me strangely. In fact, I'm going to talk more in depth about this in another post.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Ok, so before I left for Japan I'd heard really mixed things about peoples' weight changes. You would think that since it's Japan, you would lose weight but that's definitely not the case. In fact, one of my other exchange student friends said that she had even gone on a diet after gaining weight. Personally, I lost 10 pounds after I left the US but gained back 6 or 7 of those pounds... probably in muscle from my training that I have to do every day for Kyuudou (Japanese archery). However, the Japanese make probably the best pastries/breads I have ever tasted. THEY ARE SO GOOD! Even in this tiny city I live in there are at least 5 different bakeries all selling really high end looking cakes, etc. Everything is full of fruit and chocolate and...deliciousness. I've avoided them, however, because they are rather expensive but it's sooo worth it. Students here are really obsessed with cakes and breads and everyday on their way to school stop at 7-11 (even the cakes they sell there are awesome) and pretty much fill their bags with stuff to eat during the day. I'll turn around to see people eating the end of coffee cakes and baguettes about twice the size of their heads!

Besides that though, my eating habits completely changed. In the US I was rather picky, ate really slowly, and could only eat half of an average sized meal at a time. After a few weeks here I started to eat more than even my host father and in record time. He always jokes around and tells everyone I meet that my favorite past time is eating (Just to be clear I'm not fat)

Anyways, everyone is different but caution should probably be exercised (besides my friend my host mom has also told me stories of her previous exchange students going home a little bigger than they were when they came).....

This is a bread shop in Ureshino that's famous throughout the entire prefecture.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


.............Oh my God...yesterday I tried the most delicious thing I have ever tasted....Udon..actual udon that is...I've tried this frozen stuff was, yeah....amazingness
I felt compelled to take a picture and then sit in silence for a few moments to thank whoever invented this
It's actually cold and there's a scoop of shredded radish and egg and meat

Random Excursion #1

Ok, so sometimes I may have pictures that aren't of anything particulary significant... but I would hate to just leave them on my computer without every posting them so I will call these random excursions. This first one is from a few days ago when I was walking around with my host mother and we just found a temple (temples/shrines are everywhere). It's not famous and I'll probably see a whole lot more of them later but I'll upload the pictures anyways for anyone who just wants to browse them.

Random Buddhist temple in Ureshino (famous for its hot springs!)

At the entrance of most temples and shrines there are guardians on either side of the doorway. The first one on the right says "Ah" while the left one says "mm". "Ah" is the sound made when breathing in like your first breath of life when you are born. "mm" is the sound made when breathing out... the sound made as you exhale your last breath as you die. It's beginning and end.

A turtle biting stuff

A different shrine... Before you pray you have to wash your hands and mouth (mouth is optional)