Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Typing Japanese on English XP

Being able to type Japanese ideograms on an English version of Windows XP is easy. First, you’ll need to install East Asian language support. For this, go to control panel -> Regional and Language options -> Languages tab. Then tick the box for “install files for East Asian Languages.” You’ll probably need your XP CD for this.

Then, under that same tab slightly above the East Asian languages option is a box that says “details.” Click that, and then click the “add” button. Select Japanese on both pull down menus, click ok, and then you are done. XP home edition may be different. This does not change the language for the XP operating system, only the input, so don’t worry about getting your pc stuck in Japanese.

This adds the language bar to Windows XP (if you didn’t have it already). If a window does not display the language bar (such as in an IM program), you can change the language option and then go back to the window to type in Japanese. Shift + Alt. by default allows you to switch between languages. You can have the language bar at the top of the screen or minimized at the bottom right. Under input mode you can change between direct input (romaji), hiragana, katakana, etc. You’ll need to understand Japanese syllables in order to be able to type correctly; some Roman character combinations don’t exist in the Japanese language. Typing in ‘h’ and then ‘i’ will give the hiragana for ‘hi’ in hiragana mode (ひ). Pressing the space key allows you to cycle through the kanji for that ideogram (i.e. fire: 火), and you can then press ‘enter’ to continue typing. You can just press enter to move on without selecting a kanji. Foreign words will be written in katakana by default, usually.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Western Food & Weather

My host mother made a Western dinner yesterday that was quite reminiscent of home. It was pasta (tomato sauce & onions), meatloaf with BBQ sauce, gohan (with butter!), and an orange.

Today I had noodles w/ cabbage, onion, and chicken along with gohan & nori (onigiri) for lunch. Okasan always makes more food than I can eat. Nori is dried seaweed. It has its own distinct taste, and a *very* salty flavor. One way of eating it is by picking it up with chopsticks and bending it around the rice. Note: It doesn't do well in the microwave.

It's nice and cool today, as well as really rainy. Category 3 super-typhoon Jangmi (which I think has been downgraded) will make it's way to Nagasaki next week sometime, according to the weather reports.

Public Transportation

The bus system in Nagasaki is complex. Destinations are also written in kanji only, so if you can’t read Japanese or don’t know what the kanji looks like for where you are going, you’re in trouble. Busses are boarded in the rear only, and can be paid with exact change only. Busses have little change making machines at the front that should be consulted before reaching a destination. At the rear of the bus is a ticket that needs to be taken when getting on the bus, and deposited with the change when getting off. I totally screwed this up, much to the embarrassment of the cute girl I was out with that night. Most intercity bus rides are a couple bucks each way. I like walking and typically will walk the 40 minutes or so each way that other people insist on taking a bus for.

Taxis are quite expensive in Japan. It’s like a 500円 minimum charge, plus distance, plus a late-night fee if the ride is after the busses stop running. Taxi doors open on their own, and patrons should wait for the driver to open the door.

There are also street cars that can be taken for a cheap 100円 regardless of how long you ride them for. I have not done this yet.

Pop Culture, Insects, and Spiders

Tommy Lee Jones is the advertising icon for Boss coffee drinks. His face is plastered on vending machines, walls, signs, etc. all over. Disney and Thomas the Tank Engine are very popular here as well. The 100円 shop has sections devoted to both. There is a Thomas the Tank Engine theme park somewhere in Japan. Hello Kitty is still quite popular/fashionable also.

Mosquitos here are really fast. They are as hard to swat as houseflies are in the states. They are black with white lines on the legs. There was a really ferocious spider in between the screen and my window yesterday. I put my finger against the window, and it would put its front legs up in attack position. If I moved my finger around, it would articulate its body at the torso to follow. If I stopped, it would jump at my finger to attack it (and knock itself into the window). This happened a few times before I coerced it outside. Picture of the spider (it's a little bigger than a nickel):

Western cars

I've been surprised to see at least a few Western cars. My neighbor owns a Jeep cherokee, and I've seen at least one other Jeep driving around, as well as a Chevy Astro van and a giant Dodge Ram. European cars are decently popular, though. I see Mercedes (there is a dealership across the street) and Volkswagens all over. There is a Volvo dealership a short walk from the house as well, but I'm yet to see one on the road anywhere. I pass three Suzuki dealerships on the 40 minute walk to city hall. It is a rarity to see cars that aren't well polished and extremely shiny...anywhere. People here take good care of their vehicles at least superficially.

This is my neighbor's Jeep Cherokee.

Japanese Electricity

Japan uses 100 volt 50mhz/60mhz (west/east, respectively) for electricity. They do not use 3 prong plugs at all. Contrary to what I heard before departure, the plugs are grounded/polarized, so American electronics will fit (at least here anyway, and in Fukuoka). Most modern electronics can handle a range of voltages and frequencies (usually 100-240 volts and 50/60mhz). All of my electronics (laptop, external hard drive, electric razor, etc.) are compatible with Japanese electricity except my battery charger. Electronics that get hot easily already will get even hotter on Japanese electricity, such as my external hard drive, which was basically a space heater to begin with.

Also, I forgot to mention in my previous post about units that Japan uses the 24 hour clock, military time, whateveryouwanttocallit. So, basically, 1pm is 13:00, 8pm is 20:00, etc.

Traditions in daily living

My homestay family has had students before and is pretty laid back about traditionalist aspects and rules. A lot of people living in homestays have rather strict parents, imposing tight curfews and whatnot. The biggest surprise I have had with living here is being able to take showers in the morning. It is a hard coded Japanese tradition to take a BATH in the EVENING. Some of the other people in my program doing homestays can take showers, but I think I'm the only one who is allowed to do so in the morning. Also, some Japanese families are very rooted in tradition, and find ritualistic phrases such as Itadakimasu, Itte Kimasu, etc. to be required for their appropriate times. According to our director, homestay students in the past have been kicked out of their homes for failing to honor these traditions. Japan has a complex system of social norms. One way Japanese norms are defined is through the uchi/soto relationship. I’m not going to explain this now, but this concept is kind of like a set of rules for social interaction based on a hierarchy of closeness with another person. The mother’s domain is the kitchen, and quite often guests (especially male guests) are not even allowed to enter the kitchen. I’m not allowed to help with the dishes, yet, but I can go into the kitchen and put my dishes away. Okasan does let me do my own laundry, however. I think I’m still in the guest phase, though, because she always serves me bigger servings and more sides for the meals than herself or her son.


I like food. A lot. So, I apologize if the consistent mentioning of what I’m eating/ate ends up in a post somewhere totally unrelated to food. I should note that before coming here I had never had any real Japanese food other than snacks and candy. Ordering food from a cafeteria or made-to-order semi-fast food place is done through vending machines. You'll put in your money, pick a number from a picture wall or food list, get a ticket, bring said ticket to the counter, and then receive your food. The cafeteria at NUFS has a specific area to go to to exchange a ticket based on type of food (noodles, soup, sandwich, etc.). None of the foods in the vending machine lists are written in romaji nor do they have pictures. My homestay mother is a very good cook (it's also her job). Her meals are typically a blend of traditional and western dishes. Dinner is always served with gohan, and it is to be eaten plain (usually).

Gohan: Japanese white rice. The rice grains are fatter and shorter than American rice, and they are sticky. It is quite easy to eat with hashi (chopsticks). The flavor is subtle but by no means a chore to eat. It is considered rude to ruin the purity of the rice by dumping soy sauce, etc. on top of it. Gohan is often seasoned with pieces of fish, nori, or sometimes butter (my favorite), among other things.

Ramen: Real Japanese ramen is nothing like the stuff that comes in the little Maruchan instant bowls. It is long and thin (thinner than spaghetti). To eat it, you grab some with hashi, dip it into soy sauce or something, and then slurp it up.

I’ve eaten from the cafeteria a few times. I try to avoid it and skip lunch because it’s expensive, but it smells and tastes quite good for cafeteria food. You do get decent portions as well.

Udon noodles: 250 yen (I think)
Curry with breaded pork and gohan: 350 yen
Ice cream cone: 100 yen


I eat breakfast at about 7:30 every morning. It consists of a main course and 2 or 3 sides, usually yogurt, fruit (banana, strawberry, tomato, orange, etc.), and something else (like gohan or pudding). Some main courses for breakfast have been: eggs and ham, coleslaw sandwiches, sausage with tomato in a bun, zucchini and egg in a bun, Japanese style pizza (light on the cheese and sauce with pepperoni and corn), and soba noodles.


I typically skip lunch, but Okasan will make something on weekends when she is around, or in the morning when she makes breakfast, and I warm it up later. Lunch is usually one big main dish and maybe a side (usually gohan). Besides cafeteria food, I’ve had soba noodles (with onion, cabbage, and chicken) and ramen for lunch. I had some kind of fish flavored soy sauce with the ramen. I hated it at first, but it grew on me over time, and I think it is quite good now.


Dinner happens at 7pm every night. I’m still in the guest phase, so Okasan is going above and beyond making elaborate meals with countless sides that I could do no more than hope to sample each. Chicken is really common for dinner, either on its own or as a part of another dish. I hate seafood, a lot, but I’ve been challenging myself by trying a few different kinds of fish. I know one was salmon, but I have no idea about the others. I know the others I’ve had are not common to Western grocery stores. I have no intent to eat sushi. Ever. Regardless of how good it may be. Some other courses have been: beef/potatoes/mushrooms, salad (egg, ham, lettuce, tomato, dressing), tomatoes (fruitier than American tomatoes), breaded pork, breaded onions (think hush puppies), mushroom soup (little mushrooms, ham, cabbage, onion), and miso soup. Miso soup and the mushroom soup use the same type of broth, which I *strongly* dislike. Udon noodle bowls also have the same broth, but it’s not typically as strong.

A couple nights ago Okasan made champon, which is the dish local to Nagasaki. It is very good! It’s an elaborate soup created from 10 or so different ingredients (ramen noodles + whatever + a really tasty broth). Historically, champon was soup sold to poor Chinese university students created from that day’s leftovers.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Unit Conversion

Japan, like the rest of the world, uses the metric system.

For time conversion, use this: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

For currency conversion, use this: http://www.xe.com/ucc/

100 Japanese yen is about a buck. So, 1000円 is about $10, etc. The international symbol for the yen is (¥), and the symbol precedes the number. The kanji for yen is(円), and it is pronounced without the 'y' (en in romanji). In Japanese, the number precedes the kanji. I'll probably only be posting prices of stuff in yen, so just subtract two zeros from everything to estimate its cost in USD.

Where I live

I live in a small house surrounded by other small houses located on low lying land (everything around us is either on a mountain or on pseudo ground supported by giant concrete pedestals). To be specific, there is a three story electronic store directly in front of my house. It would be around a 5-7 minute walk directly there...if it were on the same level as my house. Since the ground it's on is about 3 stories up, getting there is significantly more difficult. Located on the closer side of the road from the electronics store is a KFC (yes, the fast food chain) and a men's clothing store. So close, and yet so far. KFC plays a special role in Japanese culture; more on that later.
This is kojima; you can see the KFC to the left. On a quiet day, I can hear the kojima theme song through my open window over and over and over and...

Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Until the upcoming August I'll be living in this mid-sized sea-side city of around 500,000k people. It is located in the Southwest portion of the Kyushu island. The weather is comparable to Northern Florida or Los Angeles (semi-tropical). Yes, there are palm trees here. Due to high energy costs in Japan, most people do not use air conditioning or heat. During the day it is hot here, but not intolerably so (although it may be in summer). The nights are cool enough. The actual size of the city is quite a bit bigger than one might think given that it is very mountainous. There are hundreds of small mountains within city limits and groups of buildings are found in between them. There are, of course, buildings on sloped surfaces as well (think San Francisco), most of which are not connected to the sewage line (they have septic tanks). The Japanese cut off the tops of mountains for land reclamation. The university I am attending was constructed on one of these half-mountains. The view from campus is AMAZING (pictures soon). Thankfully, my homestay family lives within walking distance of the campus, so I shouldn't have to take a bus. The catch: the walk is quite...verticle.

Destination Japan

I flew out of Chicago O'Hare Saturday morning. My scheduled flight was delayed by a few hours, and would have resulted in a misconnect at Narita airport in Tokyo. United Airlines was extremely helpful with finding me a matching flight on a different airline (I flew on American Airline). It was a 13 hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo. This was also my first flight. Ever. I was surprisingly served three meals, all of which were actually quite good (Beef wasabi and rice, ham sandwich, and pizza). Most of the other people in the same program as I only got served one meal, and they were quite famished upon arrival to Nagasaki. The plane arrived late to Tokyo, and I had about 30-40 mins. to get through customs, wait for the bus to take me to a different terminal, and then check in before boarding. The best way to describe the weather in Tokyo when I was there: sauna in a rainforest. Very hot. Very muggy. Very rainy. The plane for Fukuoka left at 6pm Japan time (so, about 3am in Fort Wayne). Needless to say, after having no sleep, I was out as soon as I got on the plane. The flight from Narita to Fukuoka was about 2 hours. I read somewhere that the Narita to Fukuoka transit is the third busiest line in the world. Based on the size of the plane, and the fact that it wasn't nearly full, I find that questionable. The Fukuoka metro area is the fourth largest in Japan, with 2 million people living within city limits, or 4 million total including surrounding areas. The weather in Fukuoka was pleasant. Monday morning, we took a 2 hour bus trip from Fukuoka to Nagasaki. My camera was stowed with my luggage under the bus, so no pictures of beautiful mountain sides with the occasional Shinto shrine, rice patties ready for harvest, or giant pagoda houses. Sorry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Internet in Japan

I have now secured an internet connection in Japan. I'm splitting the cost of 4000円 a month with my homestay brother for a fast broadband connection. I've still been writing entries despite the lack of an internet connection and will soon be putting up posts en masse.

Wireless and wired internet seems to be as readily available here as in the states, and it is comparable in price and speed. However, I cannot access the IPFW netmail server or MSN instant messenger. Suggestions would be appreciated.

I'm going out tonight to research cell phones more closely. Japanese cell phones are often in the market for a year are two here before making it to the states. What's new and trendy in the U.S. is typically obsolete here in terms of technology. Cell phones here are also exceedingly cheap. I intend to buy one quite soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I'm in Fukuoka right now. I'll be leaving in an hour or so to head to Nagasaki for orientation and stuff. I don't have time for an elaborate post now, but in the meantime enjoy some pictures of Fukuoka as seen through my hotel room window.

Down the road a little bit behind those busses is a nice 24hr convenience store, where I picked up some fantastic candy at 6am.

Below the buildings are railroad tracks where both the shinkansen (bullet train) and subway travel.

Some characteristics of the hotel room I'm staying in that may or may not be different from American hotels:

you have to keep your room key in a wall receptacle for the electricity to work (took awhile to figure this out)
tea/teapot (no coffee)
smart toilet (more on these later)
air conditioning (I was really surprised to see this given energy costs in Japan)
free internet
RGB adapter on the TV
free toothbrush/paste (I don't usually see these free in hotels)

The hotel also has a public bath.