Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Japan differs in that Christmas isn’t celebrated on Christmas day, but on Christmas Eve. Presents, if to be given at all, are given the night before. All the Christmas décor and ornaments and stuff in stores are cleared out by Christmas morning (in preparation for New Year’s). One particular Christmas tradition that is uniquely Japanese is eating KFC for the Christmas meal. Apparently KFC was pretty unpopular until some person decided to dress up the Colonel Sanders statue that is in front of most KFC restaurants in a Santa costume. It brought in customers...and now you have to reserve your Christmas day chicken well in advance.
My Christmas was pretty uneventful, although Christmas Eve was a total blast.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
We then shuffled into a big hall where we were divided into sections of English and Japanese speakers. A survivor of the bombing, Nagano-san, told us her story, which was translated into English by an interpreter. She lost her two siblings; her brother died the day after the blast from burns, and her sister died shortly thereafter from radiation sickness. They were very young. Her mother suffered from radiation sickness as well, but recovered and lived a long life. She expressed deep regret at requesting her siblings to come back and live with the family a few months before the bombing. What I think was most personal for me about her lecture is that I am familiar with, and frequent, the places she was vividly describing as only 60 or so years ago being covered with rubble and corpses.
After her lecture, there was a panel/discussion for a number of different topics. Most of the NICS students from my school attended the program. They are mostly from China, and a couple of them, during the discussion, made comparisons between the atomic bombing and the Rape of Nanjing. I'm not sure how the Chinese students phrased it in Japanese, but the interpreters translated it as the "Nanjing Event."
After the discussion, there was a guided tour of the Peace Park and the Hypocenter Park. Our guide pointed out the stark difference in atmosphere between the two parks. The Peace Park is more positive, and is often used for promotional, PR, and political stuff. By contrast, the Hypocenter is very solemn and quiet. Other than the obelisk and statue of Mary, it is quite empty. It is also, I hear, a place for high school couples to go at night.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Second, “Everywhere Visa is accepted” is the exception, rather than the rule, at least in Nagasaki. Typically only major stores and chains accept foreign credit cards. Most people use cash for everything.
Third, if you’re studying abroad in Japan and you want to buy something off the internet, keep in mind the fact that Paypal does not allow a person to have a billing address in one country and a shipping address in another. This restriction applies when websites use Paypal simply for security reasons as well, so you don’t actually have to have an account to be shafted by this.
Fourth, identity theft happens. One of the other students here had her identity stolen a few weeks after arriving, and had a good sum charged on her card. She has since recovered the money. I have no idea as to the frequency of this, but it happened.
Fifth, it’s a pain in the rear to send money to/from Japan. If you can get the money in your bank account at home somehow, pulling it from an ATM is easy. Of course, there is typically some sort of bank fee plus a currency conversion fee. I’ve never withdrawn money from an ATM here; the fee was $5 per transaction in Canada. Wiring money is another option. It is quick, but it is also expensive (about $50). You have to have a Japanese bank account as well. It takes a little bit longer, but the easiest way to send money out of Japan would be with an international money order. However, they are expensive if you have to send a large amount of funds. They cost $20 each, with a limit of $700 per day. There is no fee on the receiving end, and they can be cashed at any U.S. post office. They can be denominated in foreign currency as well. Of course, this would also be a viable option for receiving money in Japan.
First, here’s a pic from Wikipedia:
This is almost identical to the one in my house, except the one in my house has no English on it. I think the picture is pretty self-explanatory. As Japanese houses don’t have central heating, in the winter time, heated seats are quite welcome. Our toilet also has a sink built into the top of the back which saves water. It filters the water through for the next flush. Every Western style toilet I have come across in Japan has two flush levels, big and small. Some public restrooms have toilets with such features as well. Otherwise, they are normative for houses, hotels, etc.
Shower/bath rooms in Japan have electrically controlled water. There’s a little box on the wall that lets you set the exact temperature you want the water for your shower/bath (the nozzles do not affect temperature in any way). My host mother has ours set to a comfortable 42 degrees Celsius. If taking a bath, you can have it fill up the bath and stop at the appropriate point automatically.
Monday, December 1, 2008
1st, Suizenji park:
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I'm doing an independent study project on the Japanese metal (music) scene. It seems there is a big gaping void for scholarly sources on this topic, which is making things rather difficult. If anyone has any ideas for sources, I'd be thankful for the input. My small college here in Japan does not subscribe to any online databases, and I cannot access those of my home institution since I am not registered for classes there (which is irritating...).
Some Nagasaki related news: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008425685_worldweek23.html
Thursday, November 20, 2008
This is the big Peace Statue. The left arm signifies peace and the right warns of the threat of nuclear weaponry.
The statue as seen through the Fountain of Peace. Nagasaki's water supply was contaminated by the radiation from the atomic bomb that was dropped here, and many perished in search of clean water. This fountain is a memorial to those who died.
This black monolith marks the location where the atomic bomb exploded. The black box at the front contains the names of all those who perished in the attack. This includes members of my host family.
The above two pictures are of the remnants of a church that remained standing after the bomb exploded.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The cost of a cell phone itself in Japan is not cheap, at all. Forget about being able to get a nice phone for cheap with the signing of a contract (unless it's two years or more). Phones here are full price. I bought the second cheapest phone from a Soft Bank located in a Yamada electronics store. There are more Soft Bank stores in Nagasaki than Starbucks in any American city. Walk a few feet…Bam! Soft Bank. Here’s what my phone has/came with: about 200mb of internal storage capacity, two 2 mega pixel cameras (one on each side), a barcode reader, bluetooth and infrared support, a microSD slot, internet, TV (which I’m not buying), and I don’t know what else. The software it came with includes unit converters, a Japanese->English/English->Japanese dictionary, a couple games, an e-book, vocal recognition software, calendar, world clock, calculator, etc. Oh, and it came with Gundam emoticons. I don’t know how this compares to U.S. cell phone tech, but remember this is the crappy budget phone. The phone itself is chrome, which I really like, but it makes it a total fingerprint magnet. It came with a USB cable that I use to charge the phone through my laptop. The phone allows different types of text input, as far as auto-words and stuff go. Japanese text is entered similar to English. There is one button for each set of hiragana, and a menu pops up at the bottom allowing the user to choose kanji.
This is completely unrelated, but…
Japanese colors, as descriptors, are far more abstract and vague than in English. Traffic lights in Japan are, as in America, red; yellow; and green. Japanese traffic stops when the light is red (aka) and goes when it is blue (ao). Although, an American would definitely refer to the color of the light as being green. Green does exist in the Japanese language; the word for it is midori. I have no idea, then, what makes something green, but Japanese color descriptors cover a wide range. My homestay brother insists that my tan khakis are a shade of white and not brown.
Some of the events that were put on during the festival: kanji competition, reading competitions (English, Chinese, and Korean), plays, hip-hop dancing show, flamenco dancing show, karaoke competition, and a fashion show. There were a couple larger scale competitions on Sunday which brought in people from outside the school. One was a singing competition sponsored by Sony, and the other was a dancing competition. The people that did the dragon dance for O-kunchi gave a performance on the grounds Sunday morning.
Both of these pictures were taken at different locations on the way to school. I had to duck for a few days to avoid walking into the one in the bottom picture.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
A popular phrase in Japan is shiken jigoku, which means “examination hell.” The tough competition to get into the right schools can begin as early as preschool, as certain schools claim affiliation and feed into each other. Getting into university is one of those times where shiken jigoku directly applies. In order to get into a university, a student must pass a tough entrance examination. High schools in Japan have different curriculums based on a student’s aspirations, similar to some in the U.S. Those that intend to get into college will spend their last one or two years focusing on getting ready for the exam from their school of choice. Japanese universities may provide practice exams to the high schools, and students can take these to determine if they would stand a chance at admission. To aid in preparation for the exam, most students (around 70%--taken from a text book) attend juku. These are classes offered outside of school hours, on weekends or evenings. They can be offered by the school, by professors from their desired university, or by qualified people in their homes. For those that don’t make it into university on the first try, but are still interested may continue attending juku for years. These unaffiliated high school graduates are known as ronin, a term originally used for masterless samurai. Japan’s current/future population issues (i.e. consistent decreases and a disproportionately large amount of elderly people with no one to take care of them) are having various effects on the nation. For example, there are rural villages suddenly ceasing to exist, as their exclusively elderly population cannot any longer support it, and, in a surprisingly extreme measure, the Japanese government is considering legislation to welcome in large amounts of foreign laborers to replace the eventual gaping void in their workforce. However, the effect this is having on education is a reduction in competition to get into university, and universities are being more lax with their acceptance requirements, except at the most prestigious level.
Whereas students are put under extreme pressure to do well in junior high in order to get into a good high school, and then again to get into college, the college experience itself is far different. The painfully dry textbook I have to read for my sociology class refers to Japanese college as “leisure land.” The reason for this is that Japanese companies care more about what college a student gets into rather than their actual performance in that college. This is why there is so much pressure to do well on the entrance examinations. Japanese businesses work in cooperation with certain schools to feed students directly into their workforce upon graduation, creating tough competition between schools for these contracts, and basically guaranteeing a job for the students. Once a person graduates college and is ready for work, they go to a “company college” where for a few years they undergo rigorous training and indoctrination in company policy and psychological shaping. Companies invest considerable time and money in training their junior workers, so it is kind of understandable that they give little care to the student’s prior college performance. One of the main criteria that students are evaluated on, however, is how well the company thinks the person may be assimilated into the company. They want moldable conformists, not individuals (which is the case for many schools as well). This psychological aspect is taken very seriously. People who leave work to live abroad for a few years or leave for family reasons may not be able to return to their jobs since this psychological training is suspected to be lost.
So, college is basically the last chance Japanese have to express themselves before entering the workforce. The lack of rigor in college level Japanese education is a particularly negative aspect, especially after considering a few things. First, very few Japanese go to graduate school. It is possible to teach at the university level with just a baccalaureate. Second, the concept of “publish or perish” is nonexistent here. One of my professors argues that his Japanese colleagues aren’t “academics” since they don’t publish. I haven’t noticed that college here is too much different from at home. There are a lot of foreign professors here, who bring teaching styles from their respective countries. I have professors from Germany, the U.K., and Australia, as well as the U.S. and Japan.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I recently noticed an interesting sentence on a container of honey that seems to promote cannibalism. The text reads "A healthy person please eat the person that thereis not confidence in health."
My host mother does not have a car; she takes a bus to work. My host brother does have a car, but he lives elsewhere and is only around on weekends. For people such as my host mother that do not have cars, groceries can come via delivery motorcycle. There is a company called Co-op, which is like a generic brand name that carries virtually everything, and they offer delivery. The Co-op brand is sold in grocery stores, and I am unsure if my host mother orders through one of the stores or Co-op directly. Regardless, once a week, a motorcycle shows up with a bunch of red and white coolers to drop off the goods, and comes by beforehand the next week to pick them up. I’m not sure how widespread the delivery system is; it would seem pretty inefficient to rely on motorcycles to transport stuff when they can only carry enough for one customer at a time. However, something like a Schwann truck would be physically incapable of travelling down many of the very narrow side roads.
The most popular grocery store chain in Nagasaki is called Lawson’s. They are everywhere. Lawson’s stores are more like a 7/11 instead of a Kroger, but you can get pretty much anything you need there. There are many, many malls and shopping centers in Nagasaki, but nothing really like a Super Wal-Mart except a place called Seiyu. The bottom floor is a big grocery store, and the upper floors have random non-food stuff. There is also a book store and a McDonald’s inside. Oh, and Seiyu is owned by Wal-Mart. They happen to carry Wal-Mart's “Great Value” brand, which is, ironically, more expensive than a lot of the name brand stuff.
Hello Kitty is still very popular here with girls that are of a younger age. Many stores have sections devoted to Hello Kitty themed stuff. Pokemon is still popular too; McDonald's currently has some kind of Pokemon promotion thing going on.
Random fact: Elevator doors in Japan can’t be opened once they start closing, except by pressing a button from the inside. Sticking one’s hand in at the last moment will result in crushed fingers, as is evidenced by stickers of a sad face and swollen fingers that are found on many elevators. Some automatic doors at grocery stores and such are the same way, and have similar stickers. Probably to prevent frequent injury, a lot of doors that look automatic actually aren’t, you just press a little box on the door to make it open. It takes a second, and a little embarrassment, to figure that out if you don’t expect it.
The Unzen trip was for the JASIN and NICS students, so a little over 100 students total. I shared my room with three other guys. There were also some faculty and student assistants present as well. The resort had a very traditional atmosphere. Each hotel room had a genkan (place to put your shoes/entrance area), as the floors were tatami (you don’t wear shoes on tatami). The tables were, of course, the kind you kneel at, and traditional tea ware was provided. We slept on futons. Actually, during the day we piled our futons together and made a couch, which was probably the most comfortable piece of makeshift furniture ever. Since it was an onsen (hot springs/bath) resort, the rooms did not have a bath/shower, only a toilet and sink.
We were provided four big meals during our stay at the resort. I’ve tried a lot of different Japanese foods since arriving here, but out of the 10-12 courses provided at each meal, I could not figure out what most of the stuff was. Some of the Japanese students there were unable to recognize the dishes. I wasn’t very adventurous at trying new food at this time; I didn’t eat much. I wasn’t particularly fond of the things I did eat, except for lunch on Sunday, which was champon and Chinese food! The Chinese dishes consisted of some kind of pork/fish ball in Sweet and Sour sauce, Chicken in a honey glaze served with pineapple and onion, and vegetable rolls. We had grapefruit jello for desert (I love grapefruit)!
The activities consisted of a scenic walk (or mountain climb, but I didn’t do that) through the forest and around the lake, a visit to the geyser basin area, some lame school thing, and karaoke. Pictures are below.
Registering for classes in Nagasaki is way different than the American system. You don’t actually register for class until a week or two until after classes have actually started. The catch is, however, that in order to be able to register for a class, you must attend it on the first day. This setup gives students the freedom to sit in on whatever classes they want and get an idea of a professor’s teaching style and requirements beforehand. Although the university states the first day attendance thing is a requirement, it’s actually quite laid back. I’ve seen people show up for the first time in the middle of the second week, and the Japanese professors seem to not mind. Or, rather, they just don’t say anything. Some of the Western professors that teach here do not like it at all because they have no idea how many students they will actually have for the semester.
College here has a lot of similarities to high school in America. For example, classes are organized into periods; there are five periods a day. There is a break after second period where there are no classes held at all (for lunch). There is a ten minute break between periods, and the end/beginning of classes is signified by a bell (actually a song). There are many clubs here, and they are run (and funded) entirely by the students, independently of the school. Clubs are really laid back. There is no membership requirement or anything; people are free to just show up as they please. Clubs make money by participating in the university festival, having a food stand, or doing a performance, or something. The festival for my school is coming up this next weekend, and it is open to the community. Hundreds of people come to the school festival each day it is held (or so I hear), and they tend to be quite profitable.
Nagasaki GaiDai (as it is called, for short) has tennis courts, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, music rooms, an auditorium, and some grounds to play soccer on. In Nagasaki it rains a lot, so sand is used to prevent the school grounds from getting all muddy, particularly for sports.
The school I am attending is actually a Christian college, although maybe not in the sense that American universities are. There is no requirement to take religious studies or attend chapels, and I’m not sure what classes are offered to Japanese students. However, the entrance ceremony began with a hymn and prayer, entirely in Japanese, of course. Nagasaki is still the most Christian area in Japan; there are churches here and there, and I see nuns riding the busses every once in awhile. The entrance ceremony is an important tradition for Japanese education. Students dress up in black and white and get a congratulatory message from the university president. Our entrance ceremony was followed by an hour long presentation from the Nagasaki police department on safety and law. It was translated into English and Chinese by a couple of the university professors. I am a JASIN student, of which there are 20 some total. It is for Western students only; most are from America, but there are some French and British as well. There is another study abroad program here for non-Japanese Asian students (called the NICS program), of which there are over 80.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I've eaten at McDonald's twice. The first time I got a teriyaki burger. I was expecting a hamburger covered in teriyaki sauce, but it was actually a sausage patty (with mayonnaise and lettuce too). The second time I got a double cheeseburger, picture of the receipt is below. If you can't read the katakana, double cheeseburger in Japanese is romanized as daburu chizubaga. A double cheeseburger in Nagasaki costs about $3.00. I got a water with it (free), and the cup it came in was marginally larger than those little paper cups you get to put ketchup in. Another interesting thing about this receipt is that mizu (water) is printed in katakana, which is, according to my Japanese professors, a horrible sin.
Below are some random pictures I took within Toys R Us with my cell phone. They have a sizeable Halloween section and multiple aisles of Gundam toys and models.
I shouldn't poke fun at the poor examples of English that are, well, everywhere, especially considering my Japanese is rather poor. Although, I just can't help myself. This is a picture of the outside of the Sega World game center. Yes, it has a pachinko parlor on the second floor. In fact, the description above applies exactly to the place below. It's kind of hard to think of Sonic as a child's icon after being in there. They do not have Sega games only. Anyway, the description on the top left of the building says:
Oh, and here's a random shot of some Japanese currency. I don't have a 5000 yen bill at this time. One yen coins are like cheap Monopoly money.
On a more positive note, I did go check out some of the historical spots here. The first place I went to was the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. It has a bunch of artifacts acquired from trading with Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese merchants. It also houses a replica of the samurai offices where Nagasaki magistrates dealt directly with foreign traders. There was also a bunch of really pretty scrolls, some swords, the first ever Japanese-English dictionary, and too much to list, really. About half of the museum is carpeted or tatami, and shoes are not allowed. I was not allowed to take pictures inside, so here is a picture of the outside:
About 3 inches to the right outside of the photo is a Japanese police officer. It is illegal to take pictures of Japanese police officers.
The next place I saw was Spectacles bridge. It is the first arched bridge in Japan, constructed in 1634, and it gets its name from the shadows cast over the water. My picture did not come out that well, but I decided to post it anyway.
Finally, I went to Dejima. The actual Dejima no longer exists, and it was originally an island. All the land around it has been reclaimed over time, and it sits inside the city. The island that was the original Dejima can be pointed out because it sits slightly higher than the reclaimed land around it. It was rather late when I went, and I did not get to see much. It is quite pretty in the evening, though.
The main shows are very lavish and very expensive. My history professor here was the first non-Japanese ever to perform in his town's performance. The kimonos worn by the performers are worn for only one day, and then they are burned. His kimono cost around $3000, so that's $9000 for the three days for one person. He says the kimonos for the dancers can cost upwards of $40,000 each. The O-kunchi festival is a multinational festival, with performances relative to a variety of cultures. There is a Chinese dragon dance, for example. One specific perfomance involves a Dutch trading ship, and the event parodies the Dutch style (clothes, etc.). The event my professor was in last year involves a giant whale constructed of wood. It weighed about 2 tons + all the water inside + the weight of the guy inside pumping the water out of the top. This giant wooden whale is spun around by a crew of men who also carry it up and down steep hills and hundreds of stairs all day, for three days. The level of endurance required for that seems staggering.