Sunday, October 26, 2008

Groceries and Engrish

Mikans are a type of Mandarin orange that are currently in season. They are easily available at a very low cost, and are very good. There has been a recent diet fad here in Japan called the Morning Banana diet. It involves eating a banana for breakfast with water, and retaining a normal diet for lunch and supper. I think the fad was way more popular in summer compared to now, but I guess some areas in Japan are still having severe banana shortages. Nagasaki isn’t one of them. I’ve had a banana for breakfast almost every day since I’ve got here.

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.

Curry and doors

I love curry. A lot. It’s very popular in Japan, although hot foods are not really part of the Japanese food canon (other than wasabi). I usually get curry for lunch from the cafeteria, and little microwave packets are really popular here. Japanese style curry can come with a variety of meats, it isn’t spicy, and it is served on a plate with gohan. However, one of my friends showed me this really nice Indian restaurant not too far from home. It’s quite cheap and very tasty. You order your curry on a hotness scale that ranges from 1-50. I tried 30, which wasn’t bad. It didn’t burn going down, but my stomach was warm for awhile afterwards. My friends tried 25, and they had sweat dripping down their face. My other friend got 50, and I can’t say it worked out too well for him, really.

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.

More Unzen Photos

Here are some pictures from the village/geyser area.
Torii/shrine in the village

Unzen National Park

The weekend before last I went to Unzen national park, which is about an hour and a half or so from Nagasaki city. Unzen was Japan’s first national park, and it consists of a small village, an onsen resort, and a mountainous forest with geysers. The Unzen village is located high up in the mountains. There is a semi-active volcano nearby, and water from the geysers is pumped into the hotel for the onsen. There are vents all around the village that emit steam, and most of the village smells very strongly of sulphur. The geyser area itself has a sulphuric odor that is quite pervasive. Some of the local treats include eggs boiled in the geyser water (for that extra eggy taste) and lemonade made from the same water. I didn’t try any of the eggs, but I did try the lemonade, and it didn’t have a sulphuric aftertaste, thankfully.

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.

This picture is taken from the hotel area.
Picture taken from the scenic walk through the woods. I didn't take many pictures while on the walk because it all looked the same.
Torii in the forest.
Picture of the village, as seen from across the lake.

Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies

I probably should have posted this a long time ago, but now is good enough. I’m packing a couple weeks of info into one post, so forgive me for changing topic in the middle of a paragraph.

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

Western companies in Nagasaki

There are numerous Western businesses that have shops here in Nagasaki. I've already noted the KFC and some of the car dealerships. There is also a Toys R Us, a Claires, a Shell station, and numerous McDonald's. I'll note more as I come across them. There are supposedly Pizza Hut and Taco Bell joints in Japan as well, but unfortunately, I don't think they are in Nagasaki.

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.

Arcades and Engrish

Unlike in America, the arcade has not yet died in Japan. There are a few large arcades here in Nagasaki, although here they are called game centers. They are usually two or three floors, the first floor being your typical arcade, and the second floor being a pachinko/slot/virtual horse racing parlor. Pachinko machines virtually all have some sort of anime theme to them, and the Hokuto no Ken pachinko machines are oddly popular. Also unlike American arcades, kids under 16 years of age are not allowed inside after a rather early 8:00pm. Once you walk past the rows of gachapon machines and the cutesy pink crane games, you see a poorly lit, smoke filled room occupied by older people (almost exclusively) playing the arcade machines, regardless of the time of day. Another interesting thing about the arcades in Nagasaki is that they have mostly only very new games. They do not take kindly to people taking pictures inside.

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:
Now Showing Sega Games
Medals, Video, Simulation, Prize, and More
Come on Join Us! Let's Get Cupful of Medal!
I got my cupful of medal playing Street Fighter IV.

Vending machines and yen

You can get pretty much anything in vending machines in Nagasaki. Vending machines with pop/juice/canned coffee are everywhere. Cigarette and booze vending machines are also extremely common. Refrigerated vending machines with 100% juice, milk, or ice cream are easily found in buildings. One less common one I spotted this afternoon sells batteries.

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.

Christian Persecution and Nagasaki places of historical importance

Nagasaki is a city with a rather unique history. It was given special permission to conduct international relations during the time when Japan was supposed to be closed off to the world. It possessed (I think it still does) the largest amount of Christians, who suffered intense religious persecution at the hands of the Tokugawa. This weekend I am going to the onsen (volcanic hot springs) where many Christians were boiled alive. Comforting. Every year, the Tokugawa government required Nagasaki residents to stomp on carved images of Jesus or Mary to prove that they were not Christians. This was known as fumie. Those who refused were either tortured or executed. In Nagasaki is a memorial to 26 Christian martyrs who were marched here and crucified. I am yet to find this place.

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.

Suwa Shrine

The main O-kunchi performances occur at Suwa shrine. The heavy wooden creations used in the performances have to be carried up all those stairs. Below is a picture taken from the top of those stairs.
Below is a picture of Suwa Shrine itself.
More of the shrine grounds:
Pretty fountain area:


The most prominent festival in Nagasaki, and one of the most well known in Japan (as my professors say), is the O-kunchi festival. Similar to parades and stuff in the U.S., this festival is recorded live on national Japanese television. The festival consists of different main events and multiple smaller events that occur all over Nagasaki, and are put on by its 7 towns. There is also a *very* extensive web of shops and tents that sell food, have games, etc. I was not able to see any of the main events, but I did see some of the smaller private shows. The festival is reliant on private donations (usually businesses) to function, and the performers walk around the city putting on private performances in front of the places that donated money. They also do impromptu performances at unscheduled locations for tourists and such.

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.

These two guys sang a song while the girls below danced.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Walking to school

My school is on top of a half-mountain, and I live on land that is comparatively lower than the surrounding area, so my walk to class is more vertical than horizontal.

I head out of my house and walk down the road a little ways, then I go up this ramp which is sometimes traversed by scooters and small vehicles. Then I go up that set of stairs with the white railing.
After going up that set of stairs I walk across this path. I turn, walk up another little path, and then reach more stairs...
The tan-ish house is the one I am staying in. The picture is taken from the above path.
I eventually reach this set of decaying stairs. This set is then followed by two more before I reach the road.
I have a relatively decent view of the area from the road, although the view from the upper floor of campus is much grander.
Once I get to the road, I walk uphill for awhile before I reach campus. The blue signs state the school's name in kanji. This road only leads up to campus.
It is a relatively uncomfortable walk on hot days.


These are some random pictures taken from the second floor of the house I am staying in.

I walk the above path to class every morning.

This is my room. I can only fit so much of it in one picture. It was a really windy day.