Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Oh, your Japanese is so good!" and Chopsticks.

When a Japanese person says about your Japanese language skills, "上手ですね!" ('jouzu desu ne!' or, "You're good!"), what does that really mean?

Well, sometimes it's not always literal. Sometimes it can mean something along the lines of, "Oh, you're trying very hard, but you're still not there." It's like telling a four-year old that her drawing is so pretty when...well, you get the idea.

Sometimes, I have no idea what it means for someone to say I'm "上手." Last week, this nurse at the health center asked if Japanese was okay for me, and before I could answer, one of my classmates said (in Japanese), "Oh, she's good at Japanese!" My classmate meant it (I think), but then the nurse would sometimes tell me that I was "上手" when I hadn't even said anything other than, 'hai'. Other times, when trying to explain something or ask a question, I often don't get to finish because they've figured out what I was talking about. (However, I've learned from Japanese classes in the past that a lot is implied and not spoken anyway.)

Also, when I ask a question in Japanese to a Japanese person that happens to also know English, they almost ALWAYS answer me in English." Why? Are they trying to practice their English? Do they think that I won't understand their response if it's in Japanese? It's a mystery to me. (Needless to say, when a Japanese person asks me a question, they usually ask me in English.) Because of this, I often feel like I really don't know Japanese.

About chopsticks: I wish I could tell some people, "For goodness' sake, YES I KNOW HOW TO USE CHOPSTICKS. And OMG, it's NOT because my mother is Korean!" As most of you already know, the ability to use chopsticks is learned, not genetic. Being able to use them at a somewhat earlier age than most Americans might have to do with the fact that my mother had chopsticks available in the kitchen...but it's not because she's Korean. If those types of things were genetic, I'd be able to speak Korean as well! I'm sure most of us non-Asians who use chopsticks can relate to this. I wonder what would happen if I asked a Japanese person if they can use a

So, to learners of Japanese: Do Japanese people often tell you, "Your Japanese is so good!"
And to chopsticks-users: Have people from a chopstick-using country ever asked you if you use chopsticks, or express utter amazement if they see you using them?
And Japanese natives: 外国人は日本語が上手じゃなくても、あなたはその人に「上手ですね」って言うことがある?

Sunday, October 19, 2008


During my first few days in Japan, I went to HMV and some other major CD shops and wondered, "Where would I find indies J-Rock and Visual Kei?"

So on Thursday in Ikebukuro I found a small J-Rock/VK haven by the name of Closet least I think that's what the name was...I don't remember fully. This place has the music of indies and mainstream J-Rock and VK bands, as well as DVDs, photobooks, concert goods, magazines, Gothic and Lolita clothing, and used items. I was SO HAPPY to find this place on the 5th floor of a building on Sunshine 60 Street, advertised by a simple black sign next to an elevator.

I looked around and only ended up buying a 2007 issue of SHOXX that had a poster of the GazettE. I wanted to buy some CDs, but it's hard when you don't know what to expect from a band without hearing their music. A lot of the Visual Kei bands have similar appearances, but different sounds. I'll have to do some online research, but in the meantime, Closet Child goes on my list of Christine-approved places. I'll be revisiting this place from time-to-time.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tokyo Game Show 2008

It was but a brief visit. You could say it's kind of like E3, but I think E3 is actually bigger. As far as the size of the convention, it was pretty huge, but in terms of content there didn't seem to be much. For only a 1200 yen admission price, it's not bad at all. The show took place for four days from the 9th to the 12th (only the 11th and 12th was open to the public). I was planning to go on Saturday but I was busy, so I went on Sunday instead.

My camera's batteries were, for some reason, running low when I had just gotten in, so I couldn't take a lot of pictures. There wasn't much to see other than elaborate stages and large screens with previews that I wasn't allowed to photograph anyway. I ended up making a short list of games to look out for, at least the ones that my brother and I might be interested in:
  • Valkyrie Profile: 咎を背負う物 (Nintendo DS, Nov. 1st)
  • Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope (XBox 360 and PS3, Feb. 19th 2009)
  • Gyakuten Kenji <--this is for my own interests, I know Jonathon doesn't care for this one. (Nintendo DS, no release date announced but expected in Spring 2009, according to Wikipedia)
  • Patapon 2 and Loco Roco 2 (PSP, I didn't catch a release date for these)
  • Shin Sangoku Musou: Multi-Raid (no idea what this is about but I didn't see any Dynasty Warriors characters in it)
  • Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes (wasn't sure about this either, but I saw that guy from Gatchaman/G-Force in it)
Blah, blah, photos:

There was a long line of people waiting to play a demo of this.

Koei: You can't tell in the picture, but that purple display is actually a HUGE lighted screen that changes. Can you say, "overdone"?

Final Fantasy Dissidia? Seems like some reprise of FF legends or something. I'm not a fan, so I took a picture and walked away.

These dudes were playing electronic music of sorts. I tried to take a video but my camera had other plans in mind, i.e. the batteries were low. Funny since I barely used my camera the day before...

XBox 360 stage. In another room there was another 360 area with playable demos of SO4.

Of course, the show also had a sales area. Don't get too excited; it was nothing compared to Otakon's dealer's room. But I wasn't fully disappointed...Gyakuten Saiban/Phoenix Wright fans, don't hate.

Stickers for IC Cards (those cards people in DC like to call 'Smartrip,' remember?) I won't be using mine until I get back from Japan, since recharging the IC card requires you to insert it in a machine, and I don't want the stickers to get all messed up that way.

Bookmarks! Don't you wish there was one for all of the attorneys and prosecutors?

Blue Badger strap! My cell phone was already nicely decorated so I put it on my DS.

And my favorite...a Godot Blend No. 107 mug. Unfortunately, no coffee was included. Even if there was, it wouldn't matter since I don't drink coffee. The other side of the mug has a picture of Godot on it ^_^

Well, that's it. There was also a lot of cosplayers, but I found out that they all rented their costumes from this booth at the show, so I didn't take any pictures. Ah, I miss cosplay already.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A fun and eventful weekend (^o^)

Thank goodness it's a three-day weekend, at least for me.

I had a few plans here and there this past weekend. A few days ago Aino invited Kenisha and me to a party/social of sorts. I agreed, and then soon after I realized that it was the same date and time as the 2-hour special of IQ Supli on TV! Aaaaah! Eiji-kun, how could I knowingly miss you on TV?!

But I went to the party, and I'm absolutely glad I did, because it was really fun. We went to this restaurant in Ikebukuro which had a karaoke machine. I didn't do any serious singing...I wanted to but the atmosphere wasn't right and I don't think anyone would have cared to hear me. I'm somewhat of a 'majime-na hito' (真面目な人, 'serious person') when it comes to karaoke (sometimes), and of course other people like to get drunk before they sing. To each his own.

After karaoke and dinner, we went bowling. It was fun...and kinda sad...I'm really bad at bowling! Bowling on the Nintendo Wii is fine...but real bowling is very different. Starting out I was so bad, not being able to hit anything. It was so bad that Yuichi had to stand right there by the lane to keep me from throwing the ball too far to the left. He had to do this for every frame or else I wouldn't hit anything. But it was still a lot of fun. Since he mentioned to me that people seem to think his name sounds like 'Luigi,' I've decided to call him that from time to time.

After bowling, some people went home, and the rest of us went to Shibuya for clubbing...totally unexpected. I must say that that was a good and bad experience. It was good because I was with other people and not by myself. It was bad because it was very crowded and my clothes and hair ended up smelling like cigarette smoke...which brings me to a brief rant about smoking and smoking areas.

When I went clubbing for the first time at Ibiza in D.C., the rooftop was the area where everyone gathered to smoke. Smoking wasn't allowed inside, of course.

Japan is much different. As you may know, in restaurants and other public areas, there's often (though I should say 'always') a smoking area and a non-smoking area, although there is little to separate the two. Smoking isn't really criticized as it is in the United States--there are even vending machines for cigarettes, which have just recently been given a verification system to confirm that a buyer is 20 years old or over.

Since I absolutely despise cigarette smoke, it's really hard to be in or near smoking areas. Kenisha also hates cigarette smoke, but pointed out that for some reason it doesn't bother her as much in Japan. Perhaps Japan's cigarettes don't contain as many toxins as those in the States, to which I replied, "Really? Then why bother smoking? I thought people did it to poison themselves." If such a thing is true, Japanese people really aren't getting their money's worth--they should buy American cigarettes instead. "Dang it, I'd BETTER get my fair amount of toxic chemicals!!!"

As you can see, I have no problems poking fun at smokers and smoking-related issues. I will now continue to write a post covering my account of the Tokyo Game Show.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Trains. In Japan.


I've heard that Japanese schools aren't so busy compared to American schools.

So why am I so busy? Or perhaps it's just that I feel busy, and that it's all in my head. (Not.) I'm always thinking about what I need to do and by when I have to have it completed.

I'm really tired. I arrived at school at 7:50 this morning, even though my first class starts at 9:00. I wanted to avoid the more crowded trains, because yesterday I wasn't 100% sure that I would live. That day I had intentionally missed a Commuter Semi-Express train at Nerima because it was so full, so I decided to wait for the next local train coming up. It was fine until we got to the next stop, and that's when I got packed in against a bunch of salarymen, none of which were young and handsome like I had hoped. Though, even if that were the case, it would be so cramped that I wouldn't be able to look up at their faces anyway.

There was a girl next to me--or, at least her head was next to me since that's the only part of her body I could see--and at times I wondered if she was alive. Her eyes were closed and her face looked somewhat lifeless, as if she were attempting to sleep in the sardine can that was the morning train for Ikebukuro. But occasionally I'd hear a sound from her, so everything was okay. It made me wonder if there are ever cases where someone really does suffocate on a train in Japan.

Every day is a trial, and I have discovered a few small points in avoiding crowds, potential suffocation and being shoved into a train car. One is to move towards the center of the train. I realize that this is one of the reminders from that annoying voice on the Washington D.C. Metro trains. It appears that this isn't really done in Japan; I imagine it's because most people want to stand close to the door so they can get off the train as quickly as possible, such as when they need to transfer. Yesterday I stood next to the door, assuming the train wouldn't become so crowded. Suddenly everyone was piled up in that area, but I noticed that that was hardly the case in the area where the seats were. I suppose there are trains in which every inch of the train is packed (such as on the JR Yamanote Line), but since I take the Seibu-Ikebukuro line it's not quite as crowded. Today I moved towards the center and felt a lot more comfortable on the way to school.

Another tip is to get on the first car of the train when going towards major stations like Ikebukuro. The way the station is designed, there are stairwells going down to the JR Lines right there along the platform. For people who aren't transferring and just want to exit Ikebukuro Station, this can be troublesome as many people are shuffling to get downstairs, taking up all the space on the platform. Unlike Metro, in Japan the doors that divide the train cars are open so one can go right through to the next car, so often people who are trying to avoid the blockage on the platform go through the cars and exit out of one with empty space in front of the doors.

By being on the train's first car, not only can you avoid the crowds of people transferring to JR, but you can also avoid having to wait in line to get through the ticket gates. Despite having Suica and PASMO cards (the same technology that Metro's Smartrip uses), there are so many people that even that doesn't speed up the exit process by much. Being on the front car also means that you don't have to shuffle to get to the staircase leading underground, either. I've that problem many times--waiting to get through the gate, getting through the gate, and then waiting to go down the stairs. (In case you haven't noticed, I often like to wait as little as possible.)

Since I first tried these tips earlier in the morning, I'm not sure how well it works during my normal time of commute. But it sure was easier getting out of the station...even though an extra 30 minutes in the dorm would have been nice too.

So in case you were wondering about those YouTube videos of people getting shoved in crowded trains...yes, it happens.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

This post is dedicated to food.

Along with going to school, doing homework, making sure I have clean clothes, and recording my thoughts on life in Japan in both my personal journal and this blog, there's one more concern that comes up a few times a day: What am I going to eat?

I avoid eating out too often, especially at places like McDonald's and KFC. For lunch, I sometimes have something made at my dorm, but if not then I don't hesitate to get something from Rikkyo's cafeteria, because their food is really good. For the most part, I like to make sure my diet from day to day is balanced, so the best thing to do is to prepare my own food.

Here's a few things that I've had over the past few weeks:

This is a rather inaccurate representation of what's in my fridge, actually. This photo was taken about a week after arriving in Japan, so I still didn't have a lot of ideas for food. These days, I often have:
  • uncooked chicken breasts (some are kept in the freezer)
  • canned fruit--I mix cans of peaches, pineapple, and mandarin oranges together and put them in a container.
  • ready made salads--Preparing salad myself is time consuming, and I don't want to produce too much and let it go to waste.
  • eggs
  • milk--This and the eggs are mainly for making pancake batter.
  • tempura and korokke--I discovered that these are very, very cheap at the grocery store around 8 or 9 o'clock at night, so I refrigerate them and then heat them in the toaster oven when I want to eat.

This is my version of 'oyakodon' (親子丼). 'Donburi' of any sort is a bowl of rice with something on top, such as pork for 'katsudon' (カツ丼) or shrimp tempura for 'tendon' (天丼). Oyakodonburi, or 'oyakodon' for short, is a dish of chicken (親, the word for 'parent') and egg (子, the word for 'child') served on top of rice. A light sauce and some onions are usually included, but I don't have time to cut up onions and things like that. So I used some leftover ramen soup powder and black pepper to season the chicken, and then to finish I poured a bit of sesame oil on top.

At one point, when I didn't have any rice, I made udon (thick, white noodles) and put chicken and egg on top. I call it 'udonburi' =)

My typical breakfast includes a fried egg and a hash brown (in Japan they call it 'hash potato'). At first I also made pancakes, but then I discovered that pancake batter can be used for more delicious things (which you'll see below). So this particular breakfast includes onigiri, which is a rice ball--typically triangle-shaped--filled with some kind of meat or vegetable. I mainly use tuna since it's pretty cheap and tastes good, especially when the tuna is kept in salad oil.

This was my first experiment with pancake batter. I had some chicken and extra batter in my fridge, so I decided to make chicken strips. They were pretty good, and very tender.

THIS. THIS IS GOOD STUFF. I'm not sure what to call it yet, but it's DELICIOUS. Or, as they say on Japanese TV, 'めっちゃうまい' ('meccha umai,' or 'really really delicious')! I attempted to make funnel cake for breakfast just a few hours ago, but according to most recipes I didn't have enough oil. So I decided to use as much oil as I could without dumping the small bottle I just bought the day before. I proceeded to follow the format of using a funnel, and just turned over the cake to fry the other side. When it was done, I used a paper towel to soak up the excess oil, and then topped the cake with pancake syrup and strawberry jam, since I didn't have any powdered sugar.

That cake was the best thing I've ever cooked so far. I'm not sure what made the taste different from a regular pancake; I think it was either the addition of cinnamon to the batter or the canola oil, since typically I don't use oil to make pancakes in a non-stick pan. But anyway, it was so good that it inspired me to finally write up this entry about food, which I had been too lazy to do before.

I've been thinking that I should eat more beef, but as I told Kenisha, if I want beef I'll go to McDonald's or some other restaurant. Beef at the grocery store, along with fresh produce, is REALLY expensive.