Monday, August 31, 2009

One Day Down...Many More to Go

Today was my first day of class at UM since sophomore year. It was a busy day, from the time I woke up at 5:30 to getting home at 6:30. Yep, that's what my life was like before Japan, and the way it will be until I graduate.

I missed the bus I wanted to catch because it showed up early...so I went back home and waited for the next one, which showed up late. I ended up missing my transfer and took the next bus at New Carrollton, which was 40 minutes later. Once the bus finally reached campus, there was tons of traffic trying to get in. I ended up 10 minutes late to my Professional Writing class, but fortunately it wasn't a big deal.

I'm not even going to talk about my History class because it was boring. But I noticed something interesting: The TA for my History discussion ensured us that our class was going to be the most interesting class this semester, but I couldn't wait to get out...History is my least favorite subject. On the other hand, the professor for my Web Programming class told us that we would probably be really bored with his class, yet he's a really funny, enthusiastic, and overall a seemingly great professor; I think this is going to be an interesting class. I also happen to have some experience with web design and even know a little bit about computer networking, so a lot of the material shouldn't be too much of a problem.

But onto the point of this blog. I do feel like a foreigner on this campus. It's like starting over because it's been so long since I was last here. And since I'm a senior, that means my stay at UM will be just as long as my year at Rikkyo. There's no reason to try too hard to adjust.

I will say, everyone on campus looks so...boring. T-shirts, flip-flops, shorts, sandals, sneakers, hoodies...I miss Tokyo fashion. Everyone was interesting to look at and I could always get great fashion ideas. But not on this campus. Maybe I'll be the one to set the example.

...

I want to go back to Japan.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

When I actually stop to think about where I am, I still feel strange. I'm at home, in my bedroom--the same bedroom I had lived in for about 10 years. It doesn't feel completely foreign to me after being away for 11 months, but at the same time I don't feel 100% comfortable in it.

I've been going out a lot lately, almost everyday. I've been seeing friends that have missed me while I was gone. If this was like a 3-week visit back home and I was returning to Japan for school again, going out all the time wouldn't be a problem for me. But I realize that I'm back here for months, maybe even years. Do I really need to go out every night? It's not the same as when I was abroad...I knew I was only there for a limited time so I took many opportunities to go out. But now I'm back in Maryland, where I have lived all my life.

A webpage that I read about Reverse Culture Shock noted that someone who has been abroad may have a hard time dealing with the fact that their home country has indeed changed since they left. But not for me. From what I see, little things have changed here and there, but for the most part everything has stayed the same...and that's what I'm struggling with. It still takes about 90 minutes to get to College Park (where my school is) on a Saturday. Cell phones and cell phone plans are still ridiculously expensive.

I'm trying to get through it by enjoying things I didn't have in Japan. On Wednesday I had Chipotle for the first time in ages. I had also gone to Five Guys, and enjoyed my mom's home cooking as well. But in the back of my mind, I'm still wondering when...or if I'll be able to go back. Aren't my friends and family good enough? I wonder how many people's feelings I've hurt by saying, "I love life in Japan, I want to go back."

Friday, August 28, 2009

DC Nightlife...sort of.

Last night I went out with my best friend and her buddies. We were supposed to be going to a goth club in dc, and of course I had no trouble dressing the part.

The only problem was that we didn't check all the details beforehand, so we figured out that the club is 21+ only. That kind of annoyed me, but it can't be helped. I still despise the fact that the drinking age here is so high.

So the four of us were all dressed up and didn't go to the club. We just had a night out in Dupont Circle, which I remembered was D.C.'s gay district. This is comparable to Japan's Ni-Chome, next to Kabukicho. We turned a lot of heads with our outfits.

Finding a place to eat wasn't easy. Most places were closed, of course. It was only around 11 p.m. I also realized that some of the clubs in D.C. are only open until 2 in the morning. 2?!?! That's it? In Japan, clubs and bars typically close around 5 or 6 in the morning, just in time for the first morning trains.

Since so many places were already closed, we went to this bookstore that had a [very expensive] cafe. We ordered one meal and two desserts to share between the four of us. Everything was needlessly and ridiculously overpriced, but it was still good. It was strange to see for the past few days how prices have changed in America. Everything is so expensive, just like it was in Japan.

Of course I prefer Tokyo nightlife compared to D.C., but being with friends and being dressed up in goth and punk clothing for apparently no reason made it fun ^_^

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tips for Packing: Before the Trip

A friend of mine who is leaving Japan to come back to the U.S. VERY soon is having a crazy time trying to get everything packed in time for her departure. It reminded me that I should probably write a few tips about preparing for a year-long study abroad in Japan, at least in terms of transferring goods, whether it's by suitcase, takkyuubin, or ship via the post office. This will be the first part of a series of blog posts I will be writing about transporting goods overseas.

Part 1: Before going abroad
Packing to leave was pretty easy for me. I ended up with two suitcases and a carry-on, all with some extra space. Most of the stuff in my suitcases were clothes and shoes, and then a few knick-knacks here and there (a flat iron for my hair, some basic hygiene products, for example). Here are a few tips about taking stuff to Japan.

1. Use Space Bags, or some other type of vacuum-seal bag. My mom gave me a box of these life-savers to help me pack my clothes into my suitcases. It's amazing to see the difference in size once you pack in some clothes, seal the bag, and then start vacuuming the air out. My suitcases didn't have the slightest evidence of bulge by the time I was done. Packing to come back home was a different story...^_^; If you don't have time or money to buy Space bags, you could also use a lot of Ziploc bags; just sit on them or flatten them with heavy objects to force the air out. Space bags are basically oversized Ziploc bags, just with the one-way valve for vacuuming. I used both, the Space Bags for the clothing and the Ziploc bags for socks and underwear.

2. Don't try to take all of your clothes, shoes, purses, etc. Fortunately, because I wasn't too into fashion before I left, I hardly had any shoes or purses that I wanted to take with me to Japan. In addition to the purse I had with me on the plane, I took about three extra bags: One bag meant for school and two extra purses, both made of fabric so they could be flattened more effectively compared to a leather bag. As for shoes, I brought two pairs of boots, a pair of flats, and the tennis shoes on my feet.

Keep in mind that in Japan (or wherever you go), there will probably be plenty of opportunities to acquire new things, clothing included. This is where that little extra space and the Space Bags come in handy. Even I had to ship stuff home, throw stuff away, and fight to get my suitcases closed in the end. But if you take a limited amount of clothes from the beginning, it'll save you at least a little bit of trouble.

3. Keep in mind any luggage weight or size guidelines set by your airline. I was lucky that my larger of the two suitcases I brought was just barely under the weight limit, otherwise I would have had to pay a fee. Both of my suitcases were the lightweight, semi-soft type. You can read this guide from Overstock.com about different types of luggage.

4. Include a change of clothes in your carry-on. You never know what could happen before arriving to your destination--especially if you have a flight with one or more stops--or even after you arrive. I wrote last September about how I almost missed my flight from LAX to Narita because my first flight from Dulles was late. If I had missed my flight, they would have provided a hotel room for me, so I would have needed the change of clothes for the next day. But the other reason the clothes came in handy was because I didn't have my luggage for one night after I arrived at my dorm (which I'll write about in a future post). I had orientation at Rikkyo the very next day, so I changed into my sleep clothes for the night and then wore my extra clothes to school the next day.

5. Don't take all of your language-learning materials. If you are going to continue your foreign language studies while you are abroad, it won't be necessary to take all of your notes and textbooks. I took two books and a couple of notes with me to Japan, and I didn't use them even once while I was there. The Japanese language classes at Rikkyo taught me way more than I expected, and I collected a lot of notes from those classes to bring home. Learning a language is more than just studying it, but using it as well. As long as you put in effort to immerse yourself in the culture and everyday situations, you won't need to take all of the study material, not even to cram on the plane before your language placement test the next morning ^_^

This post came out a little shorter than I thought, but this is all I could think of in two days. These are just some key points that came up during my own experience, so hopefully they will be of some help to anyone who plans to study abroad. My next blog post about packing will provide some insight on shipping things home in the middle of your stay, to avoid crowding out those tiny dorms and doing everything at the last minute. Happy packing!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Business as usual.

This morning I had a dentist appointment. My mom left just a little earlier to go to the Korean Embassy.

It was my regular checkup and cleaning at the dentist's office, 1 year and a week after my last one. Unlike a lot of people, I actually like going to the dentist, as long as it's just for cleaning. I'm not too thrilled about fillings and stuff, but I don't find it scary or painful either.

Everything was good and I was on my way to CVS Pharmacy (like Matsumoto Kiyoshi in Japan) to pick up some stuff when a black car drove up next to me.

"'scuse me," the voice said. I looked over, and knew exactly what was going on. The guy asked if I had a boyfriend (I said I did), and then asked if my boyfriend would let me have friends, "'cuz he wants to be my friend." I did my usual method of refusal ("I don't have a phone," blah blah blah etc.) and he finally drove off.

This is my life in Maryland, U.S.A. I liked it a lot better when the guys approaching me were spiky-haired Japanese hosts. But even in Japan I got the occasional non-Japanese guy hitting on me. It's rather annoying wherever I go.

After that I made my way to CVS. I was very disappointed. Stuff in America is just as expensive as it is in Japan now! At least facial cleansers and shampoos. Maybe I just don't remember it being so expensive because I didn't shop on my own as often as I did in Japan. Not only that but I couldn't find two of the products that I wanted to buy...I don't know if they were discontinued or just not there. Maybe I need to start ordering all my stuff online or something.

Customer service was not there, as usual. In Japan, if there is even one person waiting behind another at the register, a worker immediately opens up another register to serve people as quickly as possible. No, not at CVS. The lady at the front had a cart full of stuff and it was taking a little longer than usual to finish up. Another employee (could have been the manager) was doing nothing important except restocking a single box of candy right in front of the register, as two of us waited behind the lady at the only register open. I wasn't in a hurry or anything, but it reminded me of how exceptional Japanese customer service is.

This isn't a "I hate America" or "I'm a Japanophile" thing. I just think that the U.S. has gotten so absorbed in the "It's all about me and money" craze, and I've come to realize that we have this habit of giving people as little as possible (except for when it comes to food). This goes along with my complaint about cell phone technology here.

Speaking of which, I recently checked out a sample plan on AT&T Wireless. With a free phone, the minimum monthly fee to have anything close to what I had with au by KDDI in Japan was $59.99, tax not included. I normally paid about $30-$40 for the same thing and more with au.

On the bright side, at least I can watch Maury on hulu now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Japanese Cell Phones

A reader recently commented on my blog and asked for some information about cell phones in Japan, so I'll write what I know. I wrote back in September about the cell phone that I picked up from Bic Camera shortly after my arrival in Japan. Japan has three major cell phone services: NTT Docomo, Softbank, and au by KDDI. At the recommendation of a regular student at Rikkyo, I got au, which I will also recommend to anyone that is going to get a cell phone in Japan. Each service has their pros and cons, though:
  • If I'm not mistaken, Docomo is the most widely used service among people in Japan. They have pretty nice cell phone models as well. However, it is also the most expensive. I don't know much more than that, since most of my fellow international students either got Softbank or au.

  • Softbank is probably the cheapest (especially with the student discount), and also has nice models available. The iPhone is also available through this service, but I highly recommend that you DON'T get it. A friend of mine knows someone who has one, and it's--for lack of a better word--crap compared to the usual Japanese phones. You have to download your mail manually, and it's VERY slow to do so. The iPhone is so unpopular in Japan that at one point they were having a campaign offering it as one of the free phones that you can get with a 2-year contract.

    One advantage is that many of the Softbank phones have an English option available, so if you know very little to no Japanese, that won't be a problem. A disadvantage is that Softbank's reception isn't all that great. Once I was in a restaurant in Sunshine City with some friends, and all but two of us had lost reception. Needless to say, the two of us who still had even the minimal reception didn't have Softbank.

  • AU (which is normally typed 'au' but I'll capitalize it for easy reading) is the service that I chose, and I was very happy with it. Depending on the plan you get, you may be able to get a student discount (my plan wasn't eligible because it was too cheap). At the time they were doing a 10,000 yen ($100) cashback campaign as well, which was good. AU's reception is VERY good and I've rarely had a problem with it outside of the subway (no one gets good reception on Oedo Line >_<). My bill was about $30-$40/month on average, the highest being about $60 when I used the internet and e-mailed a lot. One disadvantage is that AU doesn't have as much of a variety when it comes to phone models, and most of them don't have English. Since my reading skills are moderate I didn't have a problem with it. However, if you only plan on calling people and sending e-mails, the functions are pretty straightforward. I even learned a lot of Kanji trying to figure out how to do certain things. Overall I was happy with AU, and whenever I return to Japan I'll be sure to sign up with them again. Cancelling my contract before I went home took less than 5 minutes, it was pretty amazing.
Specifically if you're going to Rikkyo, there will be plenty of people from IFL who can help you get a phone. Make sure you take some of your important documents that you received when you got your letter of acceptance. If I can remember correctly, one of the papers was a blue certificate of admission, which you will need in case you apply for a student discount.

Next, some general information about Japanese cell phone culture. In Japan, cellphones heavily outweigh other types of networking and communication. It's not unusual for a Japanese person not to own a computer, and instead do all of their web surfing by phone. Wi-fi hotspots also aren't quite as common as they are in the States; in fact, Rikkyo's campus just got Wi-fi this past semester. Being able to check my e-mail on my phone was really helpful when the Internet was down at my dorm for about a week.

One cell phone function you will inevitably learn when you make friends in Japan is 赤外線 ('sekigaisen', or infrared). Infrared is how Japanese people exchange contact information. This used to be a feature on Nokia phones back in the U.S., but apparently people here find it easier to read out their entire phone number. But the other reason we do this in the U.S. is because we use our phone number for both calling and text messaging, whereas in Japan, phone numbers are for calls and then there are mobile e-mail addresses for written messages. Instead of copying both a phone number and an e-mail by hand, Japanese people use infrared to exchange all of the info at once. You can also add info such as your birthday, alternate addresses and phone numbers, and even blood type to your profile so that it is exchanged when you use infrared. (I still have my old Nokia 6102i with infrared, and apparently I can exchange information with my Japanese phone...not that it really helps, but it's kinda cool.)

The last major feature I'll mention is 絵文字 ('emoji'), which are what we call 'emoticons'. Japan is very big on animation, and there's no exception when it comes to sending e-mails. If you really want to get into the Japanese texting culture, it would be good to learn what the different emoji mean, because there are so many of them! Pretty much any message you receive from a Japanese person (especially from girls) will have an emoji instead of a regular punctuation at the end of the sentence. I got used to it very quickly, and now I feel awkward when I type messages on my U.S. phone without any cute emoji (the American emoticons are pretty bland and even ugly). Emoji are very important when it comes to conveying feelings through e-mails and blogging, so be sure to keep an eye out for them!

There's more to Japanese phones, of course. But if you're going to Japan soon I'll leave the rest for you to discover when you get your very own phone. I wish American phones were this great, but as always technology here lags way behind that of Japan. That's all for now, and enjoy your Japanese phone ^_^ If you have any questions, you are always free to leave a comment or e-mail me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It'll start coming back to me soon.

I caught a cold on the flight home a few days ago. My throat really hurts, and now my nose is stuffy. This house is so cold.

I went out with friends twice this week. I was happy to see everyone again, but I feel like it hasn't been that long since I last saw them anyway, so I didn't feel different. I don't feel different being here because I'm still trying to remember everything that happened while I was in Japan.

My best friend was driving me home this morning around 3 a.m., and when I check my phone I realize that I have messages and missed calls. My parents. They were checking up on me, apparently. This was one of the things that I wasn't looking forward to coming back. Compared to life by myself in Tokyo, living here with my parents in a suburb where driving is the primary mode of transportation is like living in a cage. I have to get used to calling my parents again when I'm out late or something, which of course I never had to do for the 11 months before. If I want to go somewhere, I can't leave whenever I want and hop on the next train like I used to; I have to look at the bus schedule and see when the next bus is coming. They only come around every thirty minutes. Not only that, but the buses around the neighborhood don't run between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., so going out in the middle of the day is out of the question.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But this is what everyday life is for me at home. It's easy to see why living in Japan was so much easier for me. I was so stressed here. I told this to all of the hosts that asked why I didn't like Maryland compared to Tokyo: my life in Maryland is nothing but going to class and coming home. Sure, most of my days were like that during my two semesters at Rikkyo too, but at least I had the choice of going out, especially on the weekends.

The regular bus here that runs on weekdays don't run on Saturdays. Nothing runs on Sundays. Last train home left Ikebukuro at around 12:45a.m., while the last bus to get home from New Carrollton (on weekdays) is at 7:15p.m.

"That's why you need to learn to drive," people tell me. You don't understand how much I loathe the idea of driving. For me, there's no freedom in driving. It's not like hopping on a train and going joy-riding to see where it takes you. If I want to drive, I need to know where I want to go. If I want to drive, I need to have a car. Cars are very expensive. Maintenance is expensive. I constantly hear my friends complain about the next stupid thing that happened with their car, or how they have to buy gas for it all the time, or how they almost got into an accident because of some idiot on the road. If I want to drive, I have to focus on the road. I don't want to talk to people while I'm driving. Or eat while driving. I can't play Nintendo DS while I'm driving.

It's absolutely absurd how American transportation revolves around cars. When GM came crashing down, they got bailed out by the government. Meanwhile, one train collides into another on the Red Line in D.C., and we learn later in the news that Metro's equipment was long overdue for maintenance, which probably wasn't done because they don't have a lot of money.

What has the U.S. government done for public transportation? Nothing, when you put it side-to-side with the car companies. What good does do other than "create jobs," when these days everyone buys Japanese and German cars anyway?

I'm not trying to sound anti-American or a pro-Japanese freak. I look at things for what they are. A lot of people who have never had experience overseas don't understand that the United States is very far behind when it comes to innovation. Everything here is about money, money, money. Oh well, at least we've got great computers. Japan doesn't need them because they have awesome phones. And robots.

On the bright side, I had a huge lemon-filled doughnut yesterday.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm back. In the U.S., that is.

I woke up a few hours ago (4 a.m. Eastern Time) with a sore throat. I was in my soft, comfy bed, not realizing how good it would feel after sleeping on a futon for 11 months. I took some ibuprofen and then woke up again around 1 p.m. to eat.

My flight home didn't feel so long. It was an evening flight, 11 hours to Minneapolis/St. Paul and then about 2 hours to Baltimore. I slept and listened to classical music on the first flight, which I must say was a great idea because classical music is so soothing.

Once I got to Minneapolis, I remembered two things I hated about the United States. One was from looking at the rip-off soda and snack machines. At Narita Airport in Japan, everything is just about the same price. The other thing was that I had forgotten to exchange my money before I left. Currently $1 is about 96 or 97 yen, which is a good thing coming back from Japan. When I find the foreign exchange service in the U.S. airport, I see the rates and I couldn't believe it. They buy at 108 yen. So if I exchanged 30,000 yen, I'd only be getting about $276. If I exchanged in Japan, I'd have gotten around $310. See that huge difference? U.S. services are rip-offs...

So what did I do? I kept my precious yen. It's going in a safe place for when I return to Japan, whenever that will be. What an efficient way of saving money, seeing that I can't use it here. I went to an ATM and pulled out $40 just in case I needed it.

I guess I'm going to keep this blog, and I'm not going to change the name of it. 'Gaijin,' if you remember, means 'outsider' in Japanese. Even though I'm a U.S. citizen, right now I still feel like a gaijin. For the past 11 months I was surrounded by Japanese people, hearing the Japanese language, using Japanese services, and so on. I got so used to it. Tokyo became my home. Now everything has changed. I feel strange speaking English to people I don't know, and seeing Americans everywhere. There are no schoolgirls and school boys in uniforms, no Japanese salarymen, old women and men on the train. My yen is completely useless and I have to get used to using American money now. My Japanese cellphone is useless here, and I have to go back to my Nokia, with a battery that can't even last that long without charging it once a day. Last bus going home from New Carrollton is at 7:15 p.m., and if I miss it, I can't go to a manga cafe or all-night karaoke, because there are none here. My next two semesters will be about going to school and coming home, just the way it was before I went to Japan.

No host clubs. Even if there were host clubs here, they wouldn't be filled with Japanese people anyway.

If I'm hungry and want to go to a 'convenience store', I'd have to go to the nearby CVS instead, because American convenience stores aren't nearly as convenient in location as they are in Japan. What's more, I can't buy my tuna mayo onigiri, because there are none here.

I feel like a gaijin in my own country. I'll just have to get used to it. My friends can try and help me, I suppose. I can't say I 'miss' Japan, because right now I don't know how to feel. I just feel strange. I feel like this past year was just a long dream. But it wasn't. I have all of the clothes I bought in Harajuku. I have the collection of CDs I bought from BOOK-OFF. I have a stack of business cards from the hosts I met. It all really happened.

Tokyo is my second home now. One day I'll go back.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Goodbye...for now

It's been almost exactly 11 months since I set foot in Japan. I still remember my flight here and my first night in the dorm like it was only a few days ago.

It hasn't hit me yet that my life is about to change again in just a few hours. Right now I'm just trying to make sure things go smoothly. I have two very full suitcases and a bass guitar to take back to the States. I'm looking around my room and I'm surprised at how I managed to clear everything out. I hardly remember doing it because the last few nights have been all about the host clubs. I admit, the host club is probably the most enjoyable and most unexpected experience that I've had during my time here. I learned a lot about hosts and about myself as well. I'm really sad that I won't be able to go to a host club for quite a while.

No more all-night karaoke, no more shopping in Harajuku, no more purikura, no more e-mails from hosts asking me to visit them again. I adjusted to life in Japan so easily because I have so much freedom here. I don't know if I'll cry when I get on the plane, but I know it's going to be hard to leave. I miss my family and friends of course, I just don't miss American life.

While I was walking around Kabukicho last night, I decided that Japan was indeed my second home. I know this isn't over, and that I'll be back, somehow. I'll get a job here, I'll save money to take a vacation...anything just to come back.

Coming back from two host clubs last night, I only got about 2 hours of sleep so I'm going to take a really short nap now. I pray that I have a safe trip home.

I think I'll write more after I return to the U.S., just so I can tell everyone about my re-adjustment and any additional thoughts about my year of studying abroad.

For now, I'll write again once I come back.

A Return to the Host Club Scene, Part 3

This is the third and not-so-final part of my host club-hopping adventure. Part 2 is here.

In my last post I wrote about the shop that I chose to leave unnamed, and how my friend's designate invited us out to karaoke and talked with the boss about giving us a discount: 5000 yen for free time and unlimited drinks, even though it was our second visit to the club. Kenisha couldn't go but my other friend and I ended up going. While I'm getting ready to go out, guess who e-mails me? The host from United Prince who stood me up the night before. He apologized and said that he got stuck cleaning up and that he couldn't use his phone, thus why it never rang when I tried to call. Okay, so maybe he did get stuck cleaning. That's not his fault--it's part of his job, after all. But what bothered me was that he couldn't think to contact me ASAP, i.e. as soon as he finished work. That's not asking for much, especially since it was thanks to him that I was stuck in Shinjuku until dawn.

He asked if I could come to the shop again. Since it was Tuesday, it was supposed to be really cheap, and he said he's be able to take me out to karaoke afterwards. I wasn't all that mad at him, but I still couldn't go, because I had plans to stay at the other shop that night. Too bad, I guess.

My friend and I arrived in Kabukicho, ate, took some purikura and then headed to the shop. It was really busy that night, but we didn't mind, since we were able to entertain ourselves while our hosts were away. My friend's host is a real sweetheart; he doesn't look or seem like a typical host at all. He has a calm, older brother-like nature. It's also pretty interesting that he's originally from Hokkaido and used to be a fisherman ^_^

My host was pretty giddy almost the entire night. I thought he was drunk when we got there but I think he was just being hyper because that's his personality. My friend and I had been at the shop for about 10 or 15 minutes before he was finally available to come to our table. I must say that out of all the hosts I've chosen, none of them flirted with me like he did. But it was in a really playful way that I knew he was just being a host. I was rather surprised because he kept holding my hands, making kissy faces at me and kept spoiling me. He asked me what kind of food I liked in Japan, and I told him that I liked karaage (Chinese/Japanese-style fried chicken nuggets). Then he said, "I'll be right back," and about 5 minutes later came back with karaage from the convenience store! (How he managed to sneak out in the first place, I have no idea.) He also showed mesome yo-yo tricks (nearly hit me in the face when the yo-yo flew off of his hand) and then gave me the yo-yo as a gift.

"When you go back home, you're not going to forget us, right?" he asked me and my friend. It was sweet of him. I couldn't understand why he and my friend's host were putting in so much effort for us, even though we didn't have much money.

My host continued to show me cute little magic tricks and flatter me constantly. He even said I looked like Beyonce, lol. My friend and I thought that taking pictures of the hosts might not be okay, but when my friend asked my host to take a picture of the two of us, my host wanted us to take pictures of the hosts at the shop as well. (I won't post the photos for privacy reasons, of course.)

After four hours at the club, it was time to go since the shop was closing for the night. Our hosts escorted us to the elevator and said they'd let us know when they were done cleaning up, which was estimated to be around 2:00am. While we waited for them, my friend and I went to McDonald's to eat and chill for a little bit. When it was close to 2 we went back to the convenience store next to the shop to wait a little longer.

30 minutes later I was getting concerned. I didn't want to get stood up again, not after I did the night before. I got my friend to call her host and he said they'd be done soon. I was a little bit annoyed, and was explaining to my friend that when I see them I'm going to be a little bit mad at them. But when they came into the store at 3 I completely disregarded their lateness and smiled ^_^;

While my friend's host went to buy something, my host went outside and motioned for me to come outside and wait with him. "You're late," I said in Japanese. "Gomen ne," he answered with a cute little pouting face. They were no longer wearing their suits, and instead were dressed in casual clothing. They looked really nice, especially my friend's host since he didn't really look like a host to begin with.

We picked up some food from McDonald's and then headed to a karaoke place. My friend wanted me to sing Nakashima Mika's 'Glamorous Sky' so I could 'Wow the crowd' as I supposedly do when I sing that song. It was really fun, and in a way a dream come true, because I never thought that I'd be able to do 'after' with a host. My host was occassionally nodding off, which I thought was really cute. He and my friend's host worked really hard that night, after all. We sang the rest of the night away until 5 in the morning, and then our hosts walked us to the station.

And that was my fifth all-nighter in a row. My friend and I went home very happy, and it was by far the best host experience I ever had.

So that concludes my story about my host club-hopping. Since then I've been to several other host clubs, designating and telling them all that I'm going home but that I'll be back next year.

I'm not sure if I've stated this, but I'm going home tomorrow, August 11th. If I have time I'll write one last post before I leave, but if not, I'll say now that these were probably the best 11 months I've had in my life. It was a dream come true, but unfortunately it must come to an end. I haven't decided what to do with this blog once I return to the States, but I'll figure something out.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Return to the Host Club Scene, Part 2

Here's Part 2 of my return to Kabukicho for host club-hopping. The first blog is here.

So about two weeks ago (July 20th) I went to two host clubs after many months of...well, not going. Sorry about the misleading time stamp for that post, by the way; it's timestamped at July 22nd and I mentioned another night in Kabukicho later, but that actually happened the next week, not the next day. (I wrote the last blog on the 22nd and posted it on the 28th, but the timestamp wasn't updated, bascially.) So to clarify: I went to two host clubs--Egoist and Ability--on July 20th. Now I'll be writing about my next visits: United Prince and a club I will leave unnamed.

On Monday night we go to United Prince, and it was so much fun! It was maybe 2 or 3 times bigger than a standard club, and the cast was great to talk to. Two of the hosts arrived at our table and made us drink glass after glass of the drinks we ordered (milk tea and orange juice) because it was 'all you can drink.' It was really fun and very amusing. I ended up having to go to the bathroom twice though. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, someone ordered a champagne call! The champagne call at United Prince is amazing, it's accompanied by a short para-para dance routine and Eurobeat music--so organized! The host that I picked was pretty cool too; he invited me to karaoke with him after he finished work, but that didn't quite happen...more about that a little later.

The night wasn't over yet. After leaving United Prince, there was a switch-up of friends. The friend that went with me to Egoist and Ability last week showed up in Shinjuku, and we managed to run into Kenisha and two of her friends. Eventually three of us go into another 初回無料 host club (which I will leave unnamed for certain reasons). Of course after being at United Prince, coming to a smaller club was a bit of a downgrade. But it's not about the size of the club, it's about the hosts that we were going to meet that night.

This shop has a VERY small cast--in fact, between the three of us, we only met four hosts! I wasn't too sure if I had taken a liking to any one of them yet. But I was very pleased that the hosts did their best to please us. I was more comfortable with them than I was with the hosts at United Prince--the Japanese they used with us was slower and simpler, but not too simple as if we were still new to the language. Many of the hosts at United Prince talked really fast and it was hard to follow sometimes.

The shop has a chef, which explained the delicious looking snack that was served. It was really good too, and it probably helped since a few moments later we got tequila shots! At the time the club was having a "free tequila" promotion for first-time customers. By this point I was really impressed. I didn't quite understand all the effort they put in for us, but perhaps it was because the shop wasn't too busy because of bad weather. Either way, I had a much better time there than I expected.

Eventually it was after midnight, and our time was up. We chose our hosts and they had even invited us for karaoke, but my friends had to go home and I had other plans (karaoke with another host, as I mentioned before). On the way out to the elevator, my designate seemed really excited about the fact that I chose him. He even put his arm around me and gave me a squeeze on the shoulder, with the cutest of smiles on his face.

"If I have money, I'll come to the shop again," I told him in Japanese. It was my obligatory phrase that I felt I had to say to each host I designate (I actually had no intention on returning). But his response was really unexpected: He shook his head as if to say, "No, it's okay."

Huh?

No host has ever told me that, for obvious reasons. I expected a, "Sure!" or a, "Yes, by all means! I had a lot of fun!" But this host, by whom I was entertained for absolutely free, actually refused. It was very sweet.

Later that night I went up to the station with my friends to see them off, and then went back to Kabukicho to wait for my host from United Prince. He told me he should be done at 1, so I had about 45 minutes to wait. 15 minutes before the hour, he sent me a message asking if I was still in Shinjuku. I replied right away, saying that I was. After that...nothing. I sent him another message about 20 minutes later, asking if he was done yet. Nothing. I figured maybe he had to work a little overtime, so I decided to go up the convenience store near United Prince to wait for him. Around 2:00, the host that my friend picked (we'll call him Tezuka) came into the convenience store and said hello to me. I told Tezuka I was waiting for my host, and from there we talked for a little bit. He tried calling him several times and suggested I do the same, but to no avail. He told me later that he was waiting for another customer, but that he would wait with me for a while. I watched as he called his customer to tell him what was going on.

Everything that happened that night left an impression on me. Tezuka's customer showed up, and he explained to her that they would wait for a few minutes to see if my host would show up or at least answer his phone. I was afraid to look at the customer, but looked at her face for just a split second. She wasn't a hostess, but looked more like a normal girl. Who knows what kind of work she did though. In the next few minutes I found out what kind of customer she really was. A number of times she tried to get up and leave, and I could sense that she was annoyed. Tezuka grabbed her and asked her to wait for just a little bit. I felt bad taking up their time, so I told Tezuka that they could go, and that I would wait inside the convenience store a little longer. He asked, "Will you be okay?" and said "I think so." They left, and by that time it was about 2:30am. "She's one of those customers," I thought. A customer who demands her host's attention and expects him to be punctual and perfect at all times.

After they left, I called my host several times. The problem was that his phone wasn't even ringing, which meant it was turned off or had no reception. When I was at the shop I remembered that the reception was really bad--I never had that problem at any other club. At 3:00 I gave up and went to McDonald's, ordered a hamburger, ate and took a nap. My host never called. At 5:00 I set out to take the first train home.

I went to sleep, woke up a few hours later, and tried calling again. His phone rang, but he didn't answer. "What in the world is going on," I thought. I wasn't angry or anything, I just wanted to know what was up. Later that day, I get a message from the friend with whom I went to Egoist, Ability, and then the unamed club. She said that the her host from the unnamed club called her last night and asked if we could all do karaoke together, but she had to explain that she already went home on the last train and that I was out doing something else. But apparently they talked to their boss, and he agreed to let us have "free time" and all-you-can-drink at the club for only 5000 yen! I was so excited that I couldn't write an e-mail and had to call my friend back. This was going to be my fifth all-nighter in a row!

I'll tell you more about the rest of that day later, right now I've got some errands to run and one last visit in Akihabara...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Major Update

I apologize for not updating soon enough. The internet at my dorm has been down since last Thursday, so I've been unable to check my mail, blog, update Facebook, etc. Here's an update starting from about one and a half weeks ago...

On Wednesday (July 22nd) I went out with Kelley and a few others for okonomiyaki in Sunshine City and then purikura. It was Kelley's last purikura before going home :( But I'll be seeing her back in the U.S. really soon!

On Friday (July 24th) there was a party at the dorm. I thought it was just some other exchange students coming but an army of Japanese boys showed up as well! Needless to say I was not disappointed >.> We had a lot of fun, and afterwards we all did all-night karaoke. That was the start of a five-day all-nighter marathon...

...because on Saturday I went to a nightclub in Roppongi. I was expecting the same old packed dance floor and a smokescreen of cigarette smoke, but it was actually very different. Feria isn't your party-hard, getting-totally-wasted type of club. It's formal, and has a high-class type of atmosphere. I didn't even dance, I ended up sitting outside on these comfortable cushions until the morning because I was so sleepy from the night before.

I intended to go to church on Sunday, but I overslept by two hours, waking up at around 1:30pm. So I decided to relax and wait until 7 to go downstairs and have steak with the dorm manager and some friends. (The steak was AMAZING.) Afterwards some of us went to a nearby bar to have some drinks. I'm not a beer person, so I ordered a cassis orange and then a Blue Hawaii. I know next to nothing about cocktails and that kind of stuff, so the Blue Hawaii's sour taste surprised me. After coming back we hung out until I decided to go to sleep at around 2am. I had to get up at a reasonable hour on Monday so I could take another friend to a host club, which will be in my next blog update...