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3 posts from October 2011

10/27/2011

A sweets addict in Japan!

Greetings everyone!

First, a little info about myself. My name is Cynthia Liang and I am a student from the University of Oregon. My family is from Taiwan however, I was born and raised in the city of Portland, Oregon itself so you can say I am bit of an expert on the weird, spring allergies and year long rainy weather!

In terms of education I am double majoring in International Studies and Japanese. I wanted to study in Japan to not only improve (hopefully) my language skills but to experience and learn as much as I can about Japanese culture as it is something that has always fascinated me as a child. The reason being...since I was a kid, going back to Taiwan equated to frequent exposure to Japanese popular culture as it permeated every possible outlet in Taiwan. You see Taiwan definitely had a love affair with Japan from everything from Japanese television to drama, to Japanese fashion and food. Naturally as I got older, from my childhood experience, I developed an interest in wanting to know more about the culture that so influenced my family's home country.

Currently, it has already been over a month and a half since I first set foot in Tokyo this September. So much has happened since then that I can almost fool myself into believing that I have been here much longer. Before I got acquainted with my host family, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit some sites planned out by CIEE staff. First we visited Narita-san, a beautiful temple near Narita airport.
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Afterwards we had a guided bus tour to get ourselves acquainted with some popular/famous areas in Tokyo. We also were able to visit the famed Asakusa temple where I drew one of the best luck of the year slips from the temple (Win for me!). Back on the bus everyone had some much needed rest on the bus due to our jet lag and probably some essential mental adjusting to the fact that we were all finally here in Tokyo! I myself was mentally noting all the cool places I wanted to visit within my first month here. Which luckily I got to do almost immediately!

One of the many notable things I have done since my arrival here has been the opportunity to go to a maid cafe in Akihabara (AKA Otaku Paradise). Just to be even more awesome, I visited not just any run-of-the-mill-cutesy-maid cafe--I visited a samurai maid cafe. And although there were strict rules against photography in the cafes without first paying, overall the cutesy games and service provided along side the experience and fact that you can say "I did it" are well worth it. Although some people might find the fact that Akihabara's streets being populated abundantly with maids and maid cafes (even butlers) a tad bit intimidating--or just plain weird. However I myself have always been intrigued by this widely popularized and commercialized market niche for maid cafes and the like. Also, if they exist and have been able to for quite some time now, it just means its fulfilling the needs of someone out there and all the more power to them.

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Me (Top Left)

Although bad for my health I have always been a huge sweets addict (and food + buffets but mainly desserts yum!). Finding out from a Professor of mine that Japan offered Cake buffets (or cake vikings as its called here), you guessed it, all you can eat cake, landed cake buffets as another huge reason for me to visit the mystical and wondrous land of Japan. And eat cakes I did.

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(My first plate of cakes)

I visited the cake buffet aptly named Bittersweet in Shinjuku, which offered a good selection of cakes, crepes, waffles and even pizza and pastas alongside tea and coffee. I would go there everyday if I didn't have to worry about becoming diabetic.

As you can tell from the Halloween decorations on the desserts. Halloween itself is coming up soon! This weekend in fact is Halloween. And although only recently has Japan started to embrace more Halloween themed decorations and traditions. It seems the young people of Japan (plus exchange students of course) celebrate it in all its candied costumed glory much like they do in the United States.

So far Japan itself has been a dream come true for me and there are still many more places and things I'd love to see (and eat). Keep your eyes peeled for my next adventures, until next time! Also I wish everyone a fun and safe Halloween!

10/26/2011

Hello from the Land of the Rising… Kawaii?

Hello all, Jennifer here. Jennifer Liang. I join CIEE all the way from Boston, Mass in the US of A. My family is from Taiwan (which has amazing food!) although I was born right in Boston. Rochester Institute of Technology is the school that I attend in upstate New York in the city of Rochester. It's a great school by the way. It allowed me to come to Japan! Points for that, right?! Duh. I am in my "5th" year of school so I could make time to come to Japan before I get my diploma. I majored in New Media Marketing, with a minor in Mandarin-Chinese.

Now…why did I want to study abroad? For me, it makes more sense to first answer: Why Japan? Always loved Japan since high school. Ayumi Hamasaki was probably the accelerator for that. And 8-9 years later, she is still my all-time favorite artist. After that, it was all Japanese music, dramas, anime, Final Fantasy, ramen (the real kind, not Maruchan from the states), green tea flavored everything, soda candy, shabu shabu, etc. As for the language, I simply love the way Japanese sounds as a language and in my personal opinion sounds pretty damn awesome and so I decided to also study a little Japanese during college. 

20110924_MaidCafe36Now that we got the boring part out of the way…JAPAN! It truly is the home of all things kawaii (cute). It is almost…sickeningly cute at times. One of the experiences thus far that is burned into my brain is my first MAID CAFE experience. Let me tell you…you will never experience anything like it. Being surrounded by more-than-healthy amounts of fluffy, pink, cute starry-eyed girls in ridiculously cute outfits in an atmosphere that made you feel like it was all rainbow ponies and marshmallow bunnies everywhere, really does something to you. The maid cafe girls smile like there is no tomorrow and you can't help but reciprocate it and by the end, your muscles ache from excessive amounts of smiling (yes, there really can be such a thing). 

 Some (interesting) tidbits: 

  • vending machines are ubiquitous, thus it will likely take all the pocket change you will have because you will always "need" a drink…additionally...they also have vending machines where you can get...cigarettes...or an umbrella if you need one
  • clear umbrellas are cheap and also quite ubiquitous. people are likely to buy umbrellas often just because they forget to bring it with them or lose it somewhere…like the train. (it hasn't happened to me yet, -phew-, but perhaps I spoke too soon?)
  • Japanese people (from small children to seniors) are very talented multi-tasked bicycle riders (umbrella, cellphone, iPod in one hand, and the other on the handlebar). I'd say thats expert level right there. 
  • Convenience stores here are truly the epitome of CONVENIENCE. Perhaps America could learn a thing or two from what it means to be a convenience store. Faxing, making copies, buying tickets to various things, school supply section, a variety of foods you actually want to eat for breakfast or a quick lunch/dinner. 
  • People (ages about 18-30ish for the most part) are extremely fashionable and well-dressed almost all the time. It really makes a girl self-conscious when you walk amongst model-like girls who look like they just popped out of a fashion magazine… 
  • high-tech toilets with a control panel with too many unnecessary buttons…
  • trash bins on sidewalks and in public places are uncommon and RARE…good luck finding one. 
  • in addition to the above note, you will likely be given anywhere from 2-5 different options of where to put the trash you have in your hands (combustible, bottle caps, non-combustible, etc), so be mindful of that! 

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  • quite common to see people of ALL ages listening to music on their mp3 players on the train…the percentage of older people with technology is definitely much higher here (what a surprise)
  • never in America will you see small schoolchildren crossing a huge intersection or riding subways/trains…I'm talking as little as 5 or 6 years old. That's how responsible little Japanese kids are here…@_@ (and they are also the most adorable little things ever!)

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  • if you like peanut butter…don't buy it in Japan! An 10 ounce jar can be around $5 or more…
  • Nomihoudai. Oh the holy grail? This kind of thing would never work in America, HA. Prohibition? I think not. You can drink an unlimited amount of alcohol for a limited time (both are different from location to location) at a FIXED rate. Average prices can range anywhere from about $12-$30~USD…for unlimited alcohol? CHEAP. 

Halloween is soon coming up and before coming to Japan, I was not aware they also celebrated it…but only celebrate it in the sense of dressing up and going to a party I believe. This is practically the same as in the U.S. once you reach past the point of going trick-or-treating. But it is also a fairly large event (holiday?) here as well which many people partake in. Cool! What better place to celebrate Halloween than Japan? It kind of seems fitting, no?

Thus far, I really have had such an incredible experience and it was all made possible by the CIEE program. We really are a "special" group =). It's always been one of my dreams to come to Japan and sometimes I still can't believe I am here…and I have been living in the wonderful city of Tokyo. It's truly one of the best places to be! Time to get work out of the way for this week and prepare for a fun Halloween weekend! Until next time...

 

10/14/2011

An Introduction is in Order!

Hey there! My name is Russell Ottalini, and I'm one of the academic yearlong CIEE students who came to Japan a little more than a month ago this past Semptember. I am a junior out of the University of Pittsburgh, and I am majoring in Japanese (language as well as area studies) and Sociology. I'm twenty-one years-old, and the comfort food I am missing most here is good ol' peanut butter and jelly, or rather, peanut butter with preservatives or jam. Specifically strawberry jam. Yes, they have it, it is in fact sold here: but to spend more on a sandwhich whose purpose is to be cheap, quick and dirty (or 手っ取り早い as they say here), that seems to defeat the purpose. Nevertheless, I can pretty much guarantee I'll have to buy some at some point in the term.

It's very hard for me to grasp the fact that I've been in Japan for a month now; the time really does fly by. I've been wanting to come to Japan since I was in the third grade, when I was first exposed to this country's fascinating culture (even through a few days' lessons) in social studies. There is something about the combination of its beautiful traditions refined over several centuries and the tireless adoption of new ideas and the Japanese appreciation for novelty, which makes everything seem so futuristic, that simply clicked with me. Perhaps one of the most alluring thing about Japan to Westerners, particularly Americans, is that things seem so similar, but are simultaenously completely different. It is that divergence, amongst other things, that has brought me here.

Perhaps a good example might be baseball culture here. Japanese baseball is, in almost every respect, exactly the same as American baseball: so far as I can tell, the rules are the same, the uniforms are rather similar, and yes, there is no shortage of beer and hotdogs to be had when spectating. However, if you have ever seen even a clip of a Japanese baseball game, you will know that the attitude and spirit of the Japanese fans is much livelier here than their American counterparts exhibit. In fact, I'm going to correct what I said before: if you are cheering on your favorite Japanese team in a stadium, you are not spectating: you are actively engaged. Diehard fans pay more to sit in designated cheering sections for each game in order to participate in organized cheers for their team, as well as for each individual player who comes up to bat. Some fans even bring their own instruments in order to provide real musical accompaniment. From what I recall of the last American baseball game I went to, I spent more time concentrating on planning a beach trip with my friends than watching the actual game; the focus was not on cheering on the team, and it was indeed a shared concept amongst my friends and I that baseball was a "sport you could chat to" of sorts.

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I can't say that I know American baseball extremely well, so I won't claim that I can speak with too much authority on whether or not the experience of most fans is similar to mine. Nor will I deny that there aren't tense moments in American baseball games that hold the crowd's rapt attention. However, I really feel that the palpable spirit and enthusiasm for actively rallying around baseball teams is something truly characteristic of Japan. It seems to be a carry over from other aspects of Japanese culture, as well: see Omikoshi, the portable street shrines featured in smaller festivals, for example, or perhaps even simply the versatile word "ganbaru" which seems to be imbued with this spirit of perserverance. So there we have them: American baseball and Japanese baseball, one in the same and completely different at the same time.

It's been great to have the opportunity to see and experience such cultural activities, like Japanese baseball, and I cannot wait for the many more that are to come in the following months. One of the reasons I chose to come to the capital was because of my interest in the "Tokyo lifestyle," and I would like to learn more about the city itself. Even commuting on the train almost every day of the week has already been quite an educational experience, and I hope to share more experiences here. I am also hoping to join a hiking club through the university, which will give me an occasion to travel to other parts of the country, as well as a chance to see the beautiful countryside. With that, I'll have a lot to write about here; until next time!