Tuesday, December 30, 2008


So…do the Japanese celebrate Christmas? I suppose so. To say “the Japanese celebrate Christmas” is a bit of an overgeneralization. Plus, the Japanese conception of Christmas is a bit different than the American one. First, only 2% or something of the Japanese population is Christian, so it isn’t exactly a religious holiday here. Christmas is, pure and simple, a commercial holiday. I was surprised when I first walked into a store and heard Christmas music being played, but it ended up being an inescapable constant just as at home. George Michael's "Last Christmas" seems to be *the* Christmas song to play over and over and over again. Stores had Christmas sections and Christmas sales just as at home. There were a few houses nearby that put up Christmas lights and stuff. The girl’s dormitory for my university had lights up as well. Nagasaki station, which is a large shopping center, had a big Christmas tree with pink lights setup outside.

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

Nintendo DS

I bought a Nintendo DS awhile ago. This is, hands down, one of the most versatile tools for a student of Japanese. I was initially going to buy an electronic dictionary, but the DS was a superior alternative. The DS is like most game systems, where only a tiny fraction of the available software gets released in the States. However, in Japan, there is an extensive library of kanji-centered learning/study software. There is software for everything from simple quiz programs, to software for practicing brush strokes/order, to dictionaries, to software specifically setup for practicing for the dreaded Kanken exam. Electronic kanji dictionaries in Japan start at about $80, and ones with a touchpad/stylus like the DS start at about 3x that cost. The DS itself is a little more expensive here, but a used DS Lite plus kanji software would run about $100. Compared to the actual dictionary, this is way cheaper, plus it can do stuff dictionaries can’t—like play games. The only downside to the DS as a dictionary is that it doesn’t have an actual keyboard, but that’s quite minor since after about 40 minutes of practice, the stylus can be used just as quickly. There is similar software for Chinese and Korean, although not as much.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Peace University

This past weekend I attended the 6th annual Nagasaki Peace University. This was a tour, lecture, and discussion put on by (I think) the Nagasaki Peace Foundation. It was open to the public, but most people there were students, jets, or professors. It began with a tour of the Atomic Bomb Museum, that was sadly cut short due to our bus leaving late. I'll have to go back sometime because I didn't get to see everything. They had a replica of the bomb, which is larger than I expected. They also had many artifacts recovered from the destruction, such as: a tower with its metal beams completely contorted, walls with shadows burnt into them, roofing tiles that formed blisters, and different objects with human bone melted into it.

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

A few practical notes on living in Japan

First, it is considerably more expensive to send stuff overseas to America than it is the other way around. It doesn’t help that sea mail is no longer supported.

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.

Japanese Bathroom Tech.

Sorry for being extremely late with my post on Japanese toilets.

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

Kumamoto pt. II

Here are some pictures of Kumamoto castle and the city.

Kumamoto pt. I

I went to Kumamoto this past weekend for a fieldtrip. We first went to Suizenji park, and then Kumamoto castle. In between we were served a traditional Japanese meal. It consisted of both cooked and raw fish, tempura, rice, super delicious shiitake mushroom soup, radish with wasabi, some kind of brown pudding-ish stuff, a sweet bean paste w/ some green stuff, a vegetable dish (with squash, lotus root, and green beans), some crusty brown stuff (sorry, I don't know what a lot of this is), and lotus root with wasabi stuffed in the holes. My buddy described the last one in that list as a "war in [his] mouth." I'm inclined to agree. Raw horse meat is a popular delicacy in Kumamoto.

Anyway, pictures...

1st, Suizenji park: