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Hey all! Sorry again for the big delay between updates…things have started getting a bit busier around here. Which is a good thing. So I guess I should say that this 4 or 5 day delay between posts would be more reasonable to expect from now on…no need to send me e-mails making sure that I’m OK when I go awhile without updating. 🙂
Sooo, what have I been doing. Well, for one thing I finally got around to exploring Hirakata-shi, and I was surprised to find that it’s a LOT bigger than I’d initially thought. In fact, it’s a city of over 600,000 people. After speaking with some of the other foreigners who live here with me (in particular, there’s a 22 year old Japanese instructor named Daniel from Australia who studied at Kansai Gaidai about 3 years ago, and just came back to visit for the holidays…real nice guy, and FULL of great info) I found out about some of the lesser-known hot spots nearby.
The first thing I found was, believe it or not, a FREE Japanese language school! Apparently most major cities have these – they’re basically just a place where old, retired Japanese people go to speak with foreigners who are learning the language. Not really a formal classroom environment, but still great practice.
Next was a GYM!!! AT LAST! But wait…these dumbbells go UP TO 20lbs?! And it costs how much?? $80/month (2 months payment required in advance, along with a $40 sign-up fee)?? D’oh!
Finally I walked over to the actual Kansai Gaidai campus. The campus was MUCH nicer than I’d expected, especially considering Japan’s small-and-cramped style of doing everything. Huge buildings, lots of wide-opened space, tons of cute Japanese girls, and even a weight room made it quite the college environment. Good thing I decided not to sign up at that other gym. So I immediately dropped everything and got in a 2-hour workout, wandered around some more, and headed across the street to bikkuri ramen (“surprising ramen”). What’s the surprise, you may be asking? $2 a bowl! And it wasn’t half bad! Here I met a group of 3 other gaijin, Kansai Gaidai students from the last semester. We sat and talked for awhile, exchanged phone numbers, and when they left I asked the cashier where I might find a used bicycle shop. But rather than even trying to explain the directions to me, she chose to take the Japanese approach: throw everything down (insisting that her daughter take over in her absence) and walk me there, only about 5 blocks away. I didn’t actually buy a bike just then, but at least now I know where to get one.
Bikes are CRUCIAL here in Japan, but since they’re used for transportation and not for sport, 99% of them are very simple one-speed “shopping bikes” (or what we might call “granny bikes” in the states, with a grocery basket on the front). To the left is a shot of one such bike leaning up against a shop in Gion, Kyoto.
Next I went back on campus and sat in the library for about 2 hours, partially people-watching and partially studying Kanji. Since the school was between semesters the campus wasn’t too lively, but it still had its share of students roaming about. Even if I choose not to do my program abroad there, I’m eager to see what it’s like on a normal school day.
Finally, I headed home. My knees have healed a LOT in the recent days, thankfully (actually, what happened was I worked my calves out ridiculously hard in my room a few days ago, getting them so sore that I couldn’t tell where the pain was coming from – the calves or the knees – and when the calves finally recovered, the knees barely hurt at all!)
The next day I went back to Nao’s house. Okaasan invited me to try some of her home-made sukiyaki, and of course I couldn’t resist, particularly because I’ve been surviving on insutanto-ramen for awhile now. This time, however, rather than spending most of our time running all over the city and seeing the sights, we spent more of our time just hanging out at home. Okaasan gave me a brief lesson in sadou (tea ceremony) and a Japanese lesson (which was actually an hour during which she FORBID me to speak English). I paid her back with a little English lesson 🙂
The next morning Nao and I headed into Kyoto once again for another festival (this place is chocked full o’ them!) This festival was to honor Japanese kids on their 20th birthday. The festival itself was pretty similar to New Years; a ton of food and trinket shops all packed with people leading up to the entrance of a shrine. What was really cool, though, is that all of the girls wear full-on Kimonos. I’ve never seen so many bright colors. And again, like the moron I am, I didn’t bring my camera (THIS TIME I’ve really learned my lesson – NEVER go anywhere without your camera in Japan).
As a little side note, I’m not sure if I ever mentioned in a previous post how RIDICULOUS the cellphones are here. The phones you get free with any annual policy have 2 megapixel digital still cameras, mpeg video cameras, TV tuners, radios, mp3 players (with SD card readers), Japanese-to-English dictionaries, and full web browsers. I guess they make up for the cost of the phones with their 50c-80c/minute airtime charges. Very few people here actually talk on their phones – everyone just text messages. It’s really annoying at first, but I’m starting to get used to it…
Anyways, after the festival we headed back and hung out at Nao’s place a bit more before passing out again. Josh (Nao’s family’s host student) finally came back from Tokyo where he’d been for the last few weeks, but luckily they had another spare room for me to stay in. I’m not sure why they’re so cool with me living there – every time I leave Okaasan always tells me repeatedly that I should come back ANYtime, asks when I plan to come back, tells me all the foods she knows how to cook, etc. I think it’s because I got along so well with the kids (the parents of both Daigo and Tomo-chan told me on numerous occasions how their kids don’t usually like the other ryugakusei but how much fun they had on New Years. Yay me! 🙂
The next morning Nao and I headed to Hirakata Paaku – a small themepark one stop away from my place on the Keihan line (the main line running between Osaka and Kyoto). Okaasan is a hairdresser, and she gets all kinds of free stuff from her customers (free train tickets, gift certificates for department stores, and admissions to Hirakata Park) so she hooked us up with some tickets. However, I was surprised to find that once you’ve paid the $20 admission fee (if you don’t have a free ticket), EACH RIDE costs another $5 or so! Go figure. So we just went ice skating and headed home. My first time ice skating outdoors!
And since we were already so close to my place, instead of going back to Nao’s we decided to whip up some yakisoba here for dinner. Well, I guess she whipped it up…I just cleaned the dishes, much to her despair.
That brings me to another little side-point. One MAJOR difference between Japan and America is that in America women come first, but here men do. For example, in the states a guy is considered rude if he doesn’t open the door for a woman, but every time I do it here in Japan everyone around me almost seems surprised. When I tried to help clear the table after the New Years dinner everyone was shocked, and none of the women would let me help at all – they just kept insisting that I sit and wait while they do everything. They literally almost looked offended when I tried to wash my own dish. It’s really interesting how different it is…
So anyways, after dinner Nao headed back home, and much to my delight, during my 3 day absence OEH REALLY seemed to fill up with people! Everyone who had gone home for the holidays came back, and a few new people even moved in. Within a half an hour of me being back I met 10 or so new people, some foreigners and some Japanese. We all stayed up just hanging out and talking in the common area until somewhere around 2:00am when I finally crashed.
And that brings me about up to today. This morning I went back over to Kansai Gaidai to work out again, then I sat down in one of the libraries where I worked on this post, got hit on by 2 Japanese girls, and then coincidentally ran into Daniel (have you been paying attention? He’s the Australian guy I mentioned earlier…in the picture to the left). He and I spent the rest of the day walking around the campus and the neighborhood. We stopped by his old dorm room, he showed me around the main campus center, we played a little ping-pong, ate at a Denny’s style restaurant, and then headed back. Talking with him actually got me really pumped about studying here – whether it’s at Gaidai or Ritsumeikan. I’ll spare you all of his stories, but let me just say that it sounds like he had a ****ing wild time. It’s really a shame he’s only in Japan for another 3 days because we get along really well and it would be great to have him to hang out with. But I guess them’s the breaks.
And that’s about it! I’m now back in my room, tonight I’m either going bar-hopping in Osaka with Tyler or to a karaoke place here in Hirakata with Daniel and a couple of Japanese girls from OEH.
Hope all’s well back in California (or wherever you’re reading this from). And I just want to say one more time: family and friends, as I get into a more regular routine these updates WILL grow less frequent, but don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep up!
So, until next time**