Thursday, May 28, 2009


NHK is the national television station for Japan. Anyway, a couple weeks ago they had a day in dedication to themselves. I'm not really sure what the purpose behind the event was, whether anniversary or whatever. Regardless, I went with a group of people set on watching some fireworks. There was a stage occupied by various Jpop performers, and a tent full of NHK related stuff including news desks for people to sit at and get their picture taken, etc.

It's difficult to take good pictures of fireworks.

Anyway, my key fell out of my pocket while there (thus barring me from my apartment...), so I returned the next morning to look for it and ask the koban (police box) if they had it. They didn't. Regardless, I took some pictures of the port since I still had my camera on me.

A week or so later, I returned to the port-side park for a picnic. This date coincided with the seeing off of a Japanese Navy vessel:


Well the beginning of May was Golden Week, a time for vacation in Japan when a bunch of holidays occur concurrently or within a short period of each other. I got the 4-6th of May off, so it wasn't exactly a week for me. Anyway, during this time I went on a short day trip to Sasebo with a friend and his host family. Sasebo is a city about an hour and a half away from Nagasaki, but traffic was backed up on the way, so it took a little longer than that. The population is about 1/2 the size of Nagasaki. We went through the excessively long shopping strip, a park, and ate Sasebo burgers (which are burgers with all the toppings plus an egg). Delicious. Sasebo holds one of the U.S. Navy bases which, as I'm told, sells American food and has a Taco Bell. Despite the military base, it was still quite surprising to see so many foreigners there.

Some pictures taken from the inside of a moving vehicle:

En route:

The shipyard:

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The end of April (23-27) was marked by the Nagasaki Tall Ships festival, which was the 10th anniversary of the festival. The purpose of this festival is to celebrate when Nagasaki's port was re-opened for international trade. Most of the sailboats were from Japan, but there were ones that travelled from Korea and Russia as well. The festival was accompanied by food stands, rides on the ships, and an extensive fireworks show. After dark, the ships were all lit up like giant Christmas trees. Below is the 海王丸 (Kaiwomaru), which is used for sea training.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A short post

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. The new students arrived on March 31st, and shortly thereafter we had the entrance ceremony. It was basically the same as I had reported last semester. Unlike last semester, we had 2 weeks of orientation, which essentially means that my between semester break was 2.5 months long. I studied a lot of kanji during that time, and I managed to test into a higher level Japanese class this semester. I want to point out that the semester schedules are structured a little bit different here. Instead of having one large break between spring and fall semesters, the breaks between winter-spring and spring-fall are roughly the same length.

The classes I’m taking this semester are as follows: Japanese history (contemporary), seminar on Japanese film, Japanese fine arts, aikido/kendo, intermediate Japanese, independent study (doing another paper on metal), and I may be taking a class on Jpop that is taught in Japanese.
The fine arts class consists of calligraphy, flower arranging, kimono wearing/dance, and tea ceremony.

This weekend is the sailboat festival, which I intend to go to and take lots of pictures of. However, there is a decent chance of rain for this weekend as well. Hopefully it doesn't put a damper on the festivities.

My friend lives out at the far end of Togitsu, and it's quicker to walk through the countryside rather than go through town to get there. It's also more scenic:
The sakura in Nagasaki are gone at this point. I did take some more pictures, though:

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Well, it's currently flower viewing season in Nagasaki. Around every spring, the sakura flowers blossom over the course of a week or two, then fall. The blossoming begins in the South of Japan, and it moves progressively North. Therefore, it will be awhile before the sakura in Hokkaido begin to blossom. The dates for the start of and estimated end of the viewing season are given mainstream news coverage. People often have parties under the sakura, reserving the good spots rather early by laying out their blue tarp to mark their territory. There is a saying (花より団子) which implies "sweets over flowers" and alludes to the fact that sakura viewing parties are more about socialization (or getting royally smashed off sake and shochu) rather than enjoying the aesthetic qualities of the flowers.

Today (I'm actually relatively quick with making a post again!) I went to a mountain-top park with about 15 people for hanami (flower viewing). It was a beautiful, but relatively chilly and windy day. I took a few pictures:

As can be seen below, there were food stands setup in rows throughout the park. I can't say it wasn't excessivly overpriced. There was takoyaki, crepes, okonomiyaki on a stick (can't remember the actual name), fried meat, and some other stuff. I bought something that my eyes assured me was an icecream cone. It wasn't. It was like tasteless shaved ice in a cone. My Japanese friend said it's a Nagasaki thing. It's made from lemon juice and somehow manages to have no sugar in it.
Since we were on top of a mountain, we had a beautiful view of the city. Somewhat ironically, I wasn't able to evade the flowers in order to get a clear view of it.

I would like to go back sometime and get pictures at night time. Those pink thingies are lanterns. That combined with the backdrop of the Nagasaki nightscape would be pretty, I think.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Today was the graduation ceremony for the students at the school I'm studying at. The ceremony was held at Canary Hall in Togitsu, not at the school. There are two schools within the institution, a four year one and a two year one. The guys were all dressed up in suits or traditional Japanese garb (don't know the name of the outfit), and the girls wore kimonos. The ceremony opened with the school song and a hymn, proceeded by a prayer. Following that, the graduating students were called by name, based on their school and major, and were then asked to stand. Students did not go up one by one to receive their degrees. From each major there was a representative, nominated by a teacher, who went up to the front and received congratulations from the president. After all the students were recognized, the president proceeded to give a lengthy speech. This was then followed by speeches from junior students to their seniors (senpai). The songs were sang again, and the ceremony was concluded.

Here's a picture:

Friday, March 13, 2009


I haven’t posted in awhile. There’s not much going on here, really. I’m still on break through the end of the month. I basically just go to the library and study everyday, and then I go home…and study some more.

In the absence of real content, I’ll throw out some random observations.

First, it’s accepted and polite for people who are sick to wear surgical masks to prevent spreading their germs to others. This is entirely normal. You can buy ones in stores with designs on them too, although I’ve never seen anyone actually wear one like that.

Second, it’s amazing to me that stores actually manage to sell magazines, books, and manga. Go into any of the aforementioned shops, even a 24hr grocery store at 3am, and you can find people standing at the magazine section reading to their heart’s content. It’s not unusual to find a wall of high schoolers jammed into the manga isles at used book stores during the day; they just stand there and read.

Third, you can pay your bills at these little 24hr grocery stores that are everywhere. It’s extremely convenient. I pay my electric bill in this fashion, and I will with my internet bill, whenever they decide to send it to me. I just bring the bill with the cash, they rip off a stub, stamp it, and the end. These stores are essentially the equivalent of the stores that are attached to gas stations in the states, and gas stations here just act as gas stations. They also sell cheeseburgers and hot dogs, which don’t taste that great (but are cheap). The major chains are: Lawson’s, Family Mart, 7-11, am/pm, and I think I’m missing one.

Fourth, one of the popular ways to advertise in Japan is through disposable tissues. Print off some sheets of paper with your business info, shove it into little plastic bags with some tissues, and hire people to stand on the street and hand them out. Instant success.

Fifth, umbrellas. The masses here all own the same umbrella. It’s clear with a white pole. I very much doubt that most people who put their umbrella in the rack before entering a building leave with the same one. Big places, like shopping malls, don’t have umbrella racks. There’s a little trashcan/plastic bag dispenser unit at the entrance. You’re supposed to take one of the bags, put your umbrella in it, and then trash it on the way out. It’s often so windy here when it rains that umbrellas are pretty much useless. I managed to have 2 distort into pretzels on the same day. That was a fun day.

Sixth, the word “Togitsu” is spelled wrong on all the manhole covers in Togitsu. It’s spelled Togitu. Whoops.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apartment Living

Well I got myself an apartment, as I stated before. I'd say I got pretty lucky with my current living arrangement. To get an apartment in Japan is typically a rather expensive investment. The deposit is usually a few months rent; there is a fee to the landlord which amounts to about one month's rent, and a fee to the real estate company (if used) that also amounts to about one month's rent. I did not have to pay a deposit, and I did not go through a real-estate company. I knew the guy that lived there last semester, so I basically transitioned in when he moved out. It was quite convenient. I did have to pay a "cleaning fee" (aka key money) to the landlady that was about 1/2 a month's rent. You might hear horror stories of how expensive rent is in Japan, but in Nagasaki it's pretty reasonable. If you're a foreigner, you have to have a guarantor sign for you in order to get an apartment as well. There are agencies in Nagasaki setup to do this in the event a person can't find one. Last semester I lived with my host family in Togitsu town, but my current apartment is located in Nagasaki City. This means I had to go to city hall and change the information on my alien registration card and reapply for the Japanese national medical insurance. That was fun. Except not. I live a greater distance away from the school now, but I'm closer to Sumiyoshi (area of massive convenience). As for food, there is a 100 yen store like 4 minutes away, and a large grocery store just a few minutes further.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chinese Lantern Festival and Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is celebrated in Japan on the same day, but it is pretty much the inverse of the American version. In Japan, women buy chocolate for guys. There are essentially two types of chocolate, one that is given for romantic reasons, and "obligation" chocolate which is given to coworkers/bosses/etc. Chocolate given for romantic reasons is unsurprisingly more extravagant and expensive than obligation chocolate, and the holiday can end up being quite expensive. A month later is White Day, where guys return the gift of chocolate. Morinaga was trying to start a trend with Gyako-Choco (reverse chocolate), where guys buy chocolate for the girls on Valentine's Day.

Last week marked the end of the Nagasaki lantern festival, which occurred the week prior. I went twice towards the end, once at night and once during the day. Various areas of the city were dressed up with lanterns, and around the central area there was a stage for performances and some displays. At night it was extremely packed. I think I saw more foreigners in that one night alone compared to the entire semester prior. I watched an Okinawan dance that took place on the stage, and the Kunchi performers did the dragon dance at Shianbashi. Some pics:

Lanterns in Shianbashi

This is an area where people were lighting incense and praying. Those are real piggies.
There were lots of figures such as these around the central/Shianbashi area.
Lots of people. And somebody's cellphone.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Sorry for the huge delay, I’m still alive. The semester ended over a week ago, and this past week was the first week of spring break. I was expecting spring break to be filled with free time and boredom, but I’ve been far busier this past week than during the actual school year. I got to see many of my foreign friends off for the last time (only 5 or so of the 20 something JASIN students are staying in Japan for the next semester), and I moved into my own apartment. I also did some site seeing, attended a festival, and went to the Nagasaki and Togitsu city halls to take care of the paper work for my registration. I’ll post pictures and go into greater detail in subsequent posts.

Anyway, since fall semester just ended last week, it can easily be seen that school semesters in Japan run on quite a different schedule from American ones. The semester began at the end of Sept. and ended the first week of Feb. The next semester begins at the end of March and ends the first day of August. This means that I essentially have a 2 month long break. The orientation period for next semester is, I think, 2 weeks, so it is actually a bit longer than that. It should also be noted that the school year in Japan begins in the spring, not in the fall, so there will be many new students coming in next semester. There will also be many students graduating in March, including a lot of my friends.

There are a couple American students from an air force academy that arrived here a couple weeks ago due to a misunderstanding of the different semester schedules, so the school kind of threw together a few classes for them at the last minute. Since it’s break, I’m going to try to get in on these classes as well to continue my studies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Japanese Writing System

The general consensus among Japanese language students here is that Japanese is pretty simple in terms of grammar, but it has a complex writing system. Despite that, I can read/write Japanese way better than I can speak it. Maybe it’s because I study kanji. A lot. Regardless, I’m going to break down the writing system and explain it a little bit in case someone is interested.

There are four symbol sets in Japanese: romaji, hiragana, katakana, and kanji. If you are capable of reading this, then you know romaji. Because Japan does business internationally, and not exactly everyone in the world knows Japanese, but many people can read Roman characters, businesses often write their names (and slogans) using romaji. Foreign businesses that setup shop in Japan also tend to retain their original spellings. Businesses in Japan also often use English for advertising, despite the fact that many people don’t know English. And in reality, the English used in advertising tends to not actually have any real meaning, which is where Engrish comes into play. Similar to the way that kanji are used in America as fashion statements, such as tattoos or whatnot, English has a “cool” factor in Japan. Seemingly random or nonsensical phrases are commonly adorned on shirts and stuff. One of the American students that studied here had a shirt with the kanji for “wind” on it, but the specific connotation of the kanji was “fart.” I’ll just say he didn’t wear that shirt again.

The most basic and essential symbol set of Japanese is hiragana. I guess you could compare it to the alphabet, but it (mostly) represents syllables instead of individual letters.
There are 46 basic symbols, but there are actually more given that the basic symbols’ pronunciations are changed by slight alterations (i.e. ひ=hi, び=bi, ぴ=pi, ひゃ=hya, etc.) Since hiragana composes the basic syllabic sounds of Japanese, all kanji can be written in hiragana. This poses an interesting dilemma for students of Japanese, or at least me. To kill time and simultaneously study, I tend to translate stuff. I find it extremely frustrating that sometimes words are written in kanji, and sometimes they aren’t—even in the same source. Some words don’t have kanji, but hiragana typically marks the grammatical portions of a sentence (verb/adjective endings, particles, etc.). If a word has a kanji, I wish it would just be used all the time. If you aren’t familiar with a word, and you just see a big jumble of hiragana, it can be difficult to separate everything. Kanji may be more difficult to commit to memory, but it really is easier to read.

Katakana is essentially the equivalent of hiragana, but for foreign words. Japanese borrows a lot of foreign words, Japanamizes the pronunciation, and then firmly integrates them into the language. Borrowed words have to be modified to fit into Japan’s syllable system. For example, Christmas becomes Kurisumasu. These words are then represented with katakana instead of hiragana. Because some foreign sounds don’t easily fit into Japanese syllables, there are some extra katakana modifications that make this symbol set larger than hiragana, such as for the letter ‘v.’ I think katakana is the mortal enemy of Japanese students. A lot of students really like it because the words are basically just cognates (assuming they are derived from English, some katakana words come from Portuguese or Dutch, due to Japan’s long trading history, or German, French, etc.). However, a lot of katakana words already have Japanese equivalents, so I feel that studying katakana is kind of the bane of making real progress with the language. This is strongly noticeable on product labels. For example: milk is often miruku, not gyunyu; apple is often apuru, not ringo; and fruit is often furutsu, not kudamono. It’s a rule in Japanese that Japanese words are written in hiragana only, and foreign words in katakana only (except in kanji dictionaries, where one indicates the Chinese reading, and the other indicates the Japanese reading). But to further emphasize how inconsistent the language really is, I see Japanese words in katakana and vice versa on signs and stuff all the time.

Kanji is probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Japanese. Kanji are the complicated ideograms borrowed from China. There are a lot of exceptions when talking about kanji, but generally, there are at least two pronunciations for each—a Chinese one and a Japanese one. Some kanji can be pronounced many different ways. Kanji may have different readings if: they are alone, they are in a word, they are used as a suffix, they are a prefix, they are a different part of speech, etc. Maybe because I’m a visual learner, I don’t find kanji to be all that difficult. Kanji are composed of different radicals (there are 214 of them). Once you learn the radicals, you stop seeing kanji as a group of complex strokes, and you start to see them as a pairing of different radicals. If the meaning of the kanji isn’t totally abstract, the radicals may indicate somewhat the meaning of the kanji. One interesting issue I have come across with studying kanji is that sometimes I can read a sentence and comprehend it, but not be able to read it aloud. I’ll know the proper meanings, but I’ll forget the reading.

One way Japanese literacy is determined is through knowledge of the Joyo kanji. The list is updated periodically, but there are currently 1945 kanji in it. The Joyo kanji are basically the “official” kanji that are used in media sources, etc. Other kanji (or different readings) may be used as well, but they are accompanied by furigana (small hiragana above the kanji to show its pronunciation). On top of learning the symbols, the Joyo kanji list consists of the various readings that need to be learned as well. 生, for example, has twelve different readings. Most Japanese words are constructed from combinations of kanji, so memorizing all the symbols and their readings isn’t going to result in the ability to understand a newspaper article.

A list of the Joyo kanji can be found here.


President Obama seems to be quite the celebrity in Japan. There are numerous towns in Japan which are called Obama, and they seem to be doing their best to capitalize off this similarity. Obama-cho, which is nearby, and I think is the location of Unzen, has been doing President Obama themed omiage (souvenirs) and special champon (a noodle dish) that adds potatoes to the formula. It is not uncommon at all to find shirts, cups, etc. with Obama's face on it in mall shops. Obama impersonaters are also very popular on Japanese variety TV shows. Finally, there was a ceremony today for the students that are leaving for home in February. Our school's president gave a speech and talked about Obama for a little bit. It was complete with an English "Yes we can!"

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Snow and fish

It's snowed a few times in Nagasaki this winter, but never enough to stick except for this one time last week:
This is completely unrelated, but here's a Japanese snack mix that includes dried fish:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year's

Well last week was an interesting week. It was New Years, obviously, which is one of the major holidays in Japan. My host brother got the whole week off from work, which meant limited internet access for me since the only connection is in his room. The week began with extensive cleaning of the house. Then on Tuesday, Chris' Pizza, the only place in Nagasaki to get some real American food, was having it's last ever day open (RIP). I opted to go to my French buddy's birthday party instead, though. Got to try goose liver sausage. We then went to a nearby bar and sat on the tatami floor and hung out for awhile. Some of the people there were glued to the TV, watching the annual New Year's singing competition. I had a nice big bowl of kimchi rice, which is a Korean dish. Shortly after midnight, the bar owner/chef treated us to a free bowl of soba noodles, which is traditionally eaten on New Year's. We then went to another bar for awhile, and then went karaoke for three hours. I topped that off with an early breakfast from a 24 hour McDonald's, and I made it home and in bed by 8am. It was a blast.

The day after New Year's, my host mother's daughter came by and helped her make a very elaborate dinner. The rest of her kids, their spouses, and their kids came by for dinner. My host mother's daughter's husband plays drums in a band composed of people from his workplace. They like to play Deep Purple and Red Hot Chili Peppers :) My host family went to the shrine in the afternoon, and the onsen late in the evening. Many Japanese go to the shrine shortly after midnight on New Year's morning to offer their prayers for the new year and receive a fortune, followed by a period of heavily enebriated karaoke. The fact that my friends and I got into karaoke at that time is notable.

The week ended with me virtually rewriting my entire 20 page independent study paper on Japanese metal because I wasn't satisfied with how it turned out. I finally finished it yesterday, so now I can start on my 10 page society research paper which is due in a couple weeks. My soc. paper will be on ijime, which is "bullying."