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Virginia Beach, VA, United States
This blog (or 日記 if you will) is intended to chronicle my experience in Japan at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Japan from July to August, 2012. I have always wanted to have a journal, though, so I will try to get into a habit of writing frequently about the things important to me in my life. Besides, I plan on returning to Yamasa to participate in the AIJP after I get out of the Navy! These are the Espelancer Chronicles. Erica is also blogging about the trip, and you should totally check it out. It is The Marvelous Misadventures of Schneewittchen link over on the sidebar.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


   I really wish there was more time in the day -- with less than a week left in Japan I have been running non-stop since arriving.  I haven't forgotten about the blog, it's just that I was out having many different experiences in Japan.  As such, I will have many things to write about after I return, and I think I'll give you guys a sneak peak of all of the things that I have done here but not yet written about.

  I still have yet to finish talking about our trip to Tokyo, and we are about to go to Tokyo again for a day at Comiket.  We went to the Sumida River Fireworks Festival (after the adventure of putting on a yukata), we spent a half a day in Akihabara, and of course there is the trip out to Tama Town.  Back in Okazaki we visited Okazaki Castle and attended the Okazaki Fireworks Festival.  In Nagoya, we visited Nagoya Castle, ate at a maid cafe, and had a great time at a summer festival.  We even participated in traditional Japanese festival dance!  We took the ferry across Ise Bay from Cape Irago at the end of Chita Peninsula to the town of Toba in Mie Prefecture to visit the Grand Shrines of Ise.  This weekend we will also be experiencing the Northern Japanese Alps by riding the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway up the mountain, and then complete a short 45minute to 1 hour hike to the Nishiho Mountain Lodge, and then we will be taking the bus through the mountains to Tokyo to spend a day at Comiket.  We might even go to a Nagoya Dragons baseball game if we get back from Tokyo early enough.  Finally, the Obon Festival is next week, and I will want to talk about that as well.

Sugarwater at Nagoya Castle
   I have a lot to say about our experience at Yamasa, too.  Even though we are now finished with our studies at Yamasa (due to the Obon holiday, I shortened our study term by 1 week since we would only be able to attend a single day of class otherwise), this school was truly amazing.  I need to talk about the classes as well as the experience of living in Japan for a short stay.  We participated in a homevisit and had dinner with a Japanese family last night, and we might be going to a barbecue with them again before we leave.  Everything is different here from laundry and trash to getting around.  I also need to give my review of the SILAC program and the school, so I will be busy writing for a while after we return.  Of course, there are also the many pictures of Sugarwater in various locations that need to be posted.  So, keep posted, this blog will continue even after my return.

   Until the next time I have a moment to write, see you later!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Quick Update about No Update

   I just wanted to write a short post to say that I will not be doing a write-up tonight since tomorrow morning I will be taking a "Skip Test," which, if I pass I will be placed into the Intermediate level class.  I decided to go ahead and try after smoking today's written and spoken test, however I really need to study as the test will be on areas I was weak on on the placement exam.  What that basically means is I have one night to learn Keigo, or honorific expressions used in Japanese, and I do not understand Keigo very well since I have not yet studied it.  I'm sorry to disappoint everybody, but tomorrow I plan on writing about the Sumida River Fireworks Festival as well as a Yamasa post about things that I wish I had brought with me to Japan (i.e. if you are a prospective student don't forget these things!)  However, as you can see, I did give you a picture of some udon I had the other day (and it only cost 400円 for the entire meal!), so I left my handful of readers with something

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tokyo Tower

      Today we are skipping to Saturday afternoon to talk about our visit to Tokyo Tower.  I would love to talk about our Saturday morning adventures in Tama Town, but you will have to wait since I am preparing a different kind of post for that.  Tokyo Tower is the tall orange Eiffel Tower look-a-like structure that until recently was the tallest structure in Japan.  It was built in 1958 to support the television antenna at its center and enabled Japan to broadcast analog television signals throughout the nation.  The Tokyo Skytree, completed last year, overtook Tokyo Tower for the spot of the tallest structure in Japan and went on to take the record for the world's tallest tower and the world's 2nd-tallest structure (after Dubai's Burj Khalifa), and ironically was also built for television -- since Tokyo Tower is surrounded by many high-rise buildings it is not adequate for Japan's transition to digital broadcasting.  Tokyo Tower is still one of the most recognized landmarks in Tokyo, though,  and as expected is a huge tourist destination.

   At the base of Tokyo Tower is a place called Foot Town.  We did not spend too much time here, though, since we needed to return to the hotel by a certain time to change into our yukata for the fireworks festival.  Foot Town is a pretty cool place, though, although the attractions are pretty expensive.  Obviously the main attraction is the observation tower, as well as the second observation tower that you can pay more to go up into.  The first floor features a Detective Conan museum (sorry, I forgot to snap a picture), although tickets were 2200円 so we didn't do that.  There is also a small aquarium on the first floor.  The second floor has a gift shop that surprisingly sells novelties at an acceptable price.  I managed to score a Tokyo mug for 300円 to give to my grandmother and a wall scroll featuring a map of Japan for 550円 to hang at my house, which is really bad at all.  There is also a food court with various Japanese and American (i.e. McDonald's, KFC, and Krispy Kreme) fast food restaurants.  The 3rd floor houses the Tokyo Guiness Museum, on the fourth floor there is a wax museum, and the roof of Foot Town features a small amusement park.  All we did was the main observatory and the gift shop, though.

  At 1100円 a ticket, we decided to only go to the main observatory, however even though we only went halfway up he tower, the view was still spectacular.  If we wanted to go to the special observatory at the top of the tower, we would have had to pay another 900円.  It is actually possible to climb the outside staircase rather than using the elevator on weekends and holidays (weather permitting), and you get a certificate for accomplishing that feat, but I don't think Erica would have been terrible happy about climbing 660 steps after scaling the hills of Tama Town all morning in the scorching Japanese summer heat.  There are also a few lookdown glasses at the top of the tower, and that picture above was taken through one of the lookdown glasses.  Tokyo Tower was an enjoyable experience, although next time I think I will go to the Tokyo Skytree in Sumida (which was ironically where we went for the fireworks festival...).  Anyways, that is all for today, but I will leave you with more pictures from Tokyo Tower.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Simplest Explainations are the Most Useful

The pond at Okazaki Minami Park
   Last Friday, on the half day, as well as today, we covered transitive and intransitive verb pairs.  While I had studied transitive and intransitive verb pairs in the past, it was a subject of much confusion as the verbs take different forms in each case, and it can be difficult remembering which verb to use.  Ironically, a subject that has plagued me for several months was cleared up in about 5 minutes with a simple explanation and a picture.  It's funny how that works.

   Transitive and intransitive verbs function the same way in both English and in Japanese.  A transitive verb requires a direct object -- it is a verb describing an action directed on or towards something else.  "I opened the window to let the breeze in." is an example of "opened" being used as a transitive verb.  An intransitive verb, on the other hand, cannot have a direct object -- it is basically a self-fulfilling verb.  "The door opened automatically, allowing entry into the store."  shows the same word, "opened", being used intransitively as the action is not placed upon any direct object, but rather the subject.

  In Japanese, it is pretty much the exact same way, except it is not so simple as using the same word in different context as it is in English.  Japanese has what is called "verb pairs", in which the exact same word, written using the exact same kanji, have two different readings, each of which are used differently.  Using  開けます, which is the transitive verb for "open", here is an example:

 雪子さん は ドア を 開けました。 (Yukiko-san は(subject marker) door を (direct object marker) 開けました (akemashita - opened).
If I wanted to talk about the train doors automatically opening, though, I cannot use 開けます.  I have to use 開きます, which is the intransitve verb for to open.  Also, the sentence is structured differently:
電車のドアが開きました。 Train Doors が (A different subject marker) 開きました (akimashita - opened).

  To further add to the confusion, you also use intransitive verbs to describe the states of objects, for example "The door is open."  In Japanese, that would be ドアが開いています。  Door が 開いて います (Open, conjugated to て form, using います to make it present tense.)

  However, I think it is all cleared up, now.  I had thought at one point that I would never grasp the concept of verb pairs in Japanese, and that there was no rhyme or reason to how the verbs were distributed -- it is not as simple as conjugating the verb from its dictionary form. After having it explained to me (entirely in Japanese and pictures), though, it actually makes sense now.  Thank you very much, Suga-Sensei -- mastering this concept alone in such a short amount of time really has made this school worthwhile for me.

Birds found in Okazaki Minami Park
  I know the pictures have nothing to do with the topic, but I figure most people reading this will have absolutely no idea what I am talking about here, anyways, so I put some random pictures taken around Okazaki Minami Park to give you guys something not-so-dry to look at.

東京旅行について・・・ (The Trip to Tokyo)

東京へ来た (From Outside Tokyo Station)
  Well, it has been a few days since I last posted, and I do apologize for that.  We had spent the weekend in Tokyo, and we were so busy throughout each day that when we returned to the hotel, I honestly just did not have the urge to write.  However, this also means that I have a great deal of things to catch up on, as we truly did have a lot of experiences in the world's largest metropolis, so it is too much to write in one single entry.  This week I will be posting twice each day -- once about something we did in Tokyo, and once more concerning the day to day life at Yamasa.

   The first Tokyo post does not have very many pictures, unfortunately, because photographs were not permitted to be taken at the JDK Band Super Live concert in Nihonbashi Matsui Hall, so I will have to post various Nihon Falcom pictures from around the web.  We arrived in Tokyo on Friday evening at around 5:15.  I had the hotel address memorized so that I would be able to tell the taxi driver how to get there, but I made a mistake in the address and it was difficult to get there.  Our hotel was in the Chuo ward of Tokyo in the Nihonbashi area, and I thought the name of the Chome (neighborhood) was Horidome, so the taxi driver could not find the address and he dropped us off in Nihonbashi Honcho (the main Nihonbashi area).  The name of the chome is actually Nihonbashi Horidome, and that is how it has to be found.  Because of this difficulty, it took 2 hours to locate the hotel, even though it was very close to the station.  Luckily, though, this was our only travel difficulty during the entire Tokyo trip.

An old stage shot of JDK Band
   Anyways, even though we were a little bit late in checking in (and consequently a little bit late to the concert), we made it to Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall to see Falcom's JDK Band live.  For those of you not familiar with JDK Band, they are a critically acclaimed band that produces the music used in games developed by Nihon Falcom, such as Ys and Trails in the Sky.  This is the first concert I have ever been to, so it is hard to compare to American concerts, but the feeling was absolutely surreal.  JDK Band has some extremely energetic fans, and the place was completely sold out, as we were treated to 3 hours of Nihon Falcom's music.  Since the music is composed for video games (and especially RPG's), it encompasses a wide variety of styles, however JDK Band is predominantly known for playing mostly rock-style music.  Unlike most rock bands, though, many of JDK Band's pieces center around the violin as well as the electric guitar, giving their music a unique flavor.

Mizuki Mizutani, JDK Band's Violinist
   Speaking of violins, Mizuku Mizutani, JDK Band's resident violinist, plays a mean violin.  Watching her play her violin on that stage is truly inspiring.  Usually when I think of a violinist, my first instinct is to imagine a person playing as part of an orchestra, with the most talented violinists playing the difficult solo pieces in said orchestra, but is usually cued by the composer.  Mizutani, however, is a violinist in a rock band and is a central figure in said band -- a very different environment from an orchestra, and in my opinion this really sets her apart from other violinists.

   The JDK Band experience was highly enjoyable and I would love to be able to attend another JDK Band concert.  I picked up my 那由多の軌跡 (Nayuta no Kiseki -- the latest entry of the Legend of Heroes franchise which was just released last Thursday) shirt at the concert, and the game shortly after.  That was all we did Friday night, as it was pretty late by the time we returned and we were tired from the Shinkansen ride, the hotel-search, and the concert.

   The next entry chronologically would be our adventures in Tama Town, but I am preparing something special for that, so keep posted for Tokyo Tower tomorrow!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Studies Continue...

      Well, this is going to be a short entry, since I have actually been pretty busy with my studies.  The first week has come and gone, and I apparently did well on my test.  On the written test, I only got an 85.  I should really read the questions more carefully, since there were pitfalls engineered into the test and I fell into every single one of them.  On the speaking test, I thought I did absolutely horrible.  I felt like I was forcing the grammar points we were being graded on (well, I was forcing it) and I stumbled more times than I cared to admit.  Coupled with the fact that I was being recorded the entire time, the entire affair seemed like a train wreck.  Somehow or another, though, I managed to pull a 94 on the speaking test.  I wonder if maybe my sheet got mixed up with someone else, though, because speaking is my weakest ability, and after spending a week in Japan I have become aware with exactly how much I don't know about Japanese.  Seriously, I can't even order food at a restaurant without stumbling, yet somehow I am "intermediate".
This graveyard is actually right down the road from our villa
  Anyways, yesterday we went to the Aeon Mall to buy yukata for the summer festival this weekend.  I would have loved to post pictures, but that will have to wait until the actual festival since you cannot take photographs inside of Japanese stores (or museums).  Tomorrow we take the Shinkansen to Tokyo, kicking off the weekend, and it looks like beautiful weather in Tokyo all weekend.  Unfortunately, we will not be able to go to the Ghibli Museum, since apparently I did not actually complete the purchase for tickets while in the US, and right now tickets are completely sold out every day until September.  It probably has something to do with summer vacation -- next week we will no longer see junior high or high school students in sailor outfits everywhere we go as everyone will be on their one-month vacation.

   It was my birthday today, however here in Japan that day is coming to a close (although in Virginia it is still the 26th for another 14 hours).  Kenneth made some spaghetti with home-made meat sauce (it was extremely delicious), I received a jigsaw puzzle from 耳をすませば (Whisper of the Heart) from Erica, and our esteemed 先生 (teachers) gave me a 500円 gift card that I can use at several different places around Okazaki (truth be told, it'll probably get used at the Daiso, which is the 100円 store near our villa).  I know it is late, but I'd like to wish a happy birthday to James as well (hus birthday was on the 22nd).  お誕生日おめでとう!

 That is all for tonight, be looking for my posts from Tokyo!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Around Campus

   Class is really starting to ramp up in difficulty as the volume of information that we study continues to grow.  We are actually starting to get into topics I have not yet studied, too, since my SILAC course jumps around the textbook a bit.  Even in the topics that I have studied,  I clearly did not get enough practice on my own as I ended up struggling when we had to use いたたきます、くださいます、 and さしあげます correctly in sentences (particularly in Verbて~ sentences).  That is what I am here for, though, to sharpen my conversational skills.  Our first test is tomorrow, and it consists of a written portion and a speaking test, so I have a great deal of studying to do in preparation.  Also, I have 3 pages of 宿題 (homework) and an essay to write tonight, but I found a little bit of time to show my readers around campus.

    The building over on the right is the Yamasa II building, where Yamasa's main office and the AIJP classrooms are located.  This is where you go to get your student ID card on your first day at Yamasa, and also where you go if you have to pay extra money (or get refunded for paying to much) for a program, if you want to add private lessons, or make changes to your current study program.  If you are a long-term student in the AIJP (Academic Intensive Japanese Program) or the AJSP (Advanced Japanese Studies Program), then your classes will be in this building.  Also, the first floor lobby has computers that are free for students to use, as not everyone owns/brings their own computer to Yamasa.

     The building on the right is Aoi Hall.  Don't let the outside appearance fool you -- it is actually a completely renovated modern building on the inside.  This is where the classrooms for all of Yamasa's extension programs are located, including SILAC (my program), the Discovery program, the Business Japanese programs, and all private and semi-private lessons are held.  The first floor of Aoi Hall also has a cafeteria and kitchen that are free for students to use, vending machines, and a distance-learning classroom (which is mostly used for AIJP graduation ceremonies).  Okazaki FM 76.3 is also owned by Yamasa, and they operate their office in Aoi Hall as well.  Because of this, you can hear Japanese rock music as you enter Aoi Hall from the front, and all of the station's radio interviews are available on tape for the Advanced students to practice their listening comprehension from.
   Also on the right hand side is my classroom in Aoi Hall.  As you can see, the desks are set up in a U-pattern so that everyone in class can easily participate.  We talk a great deal in class, and it is much easier and feels much more natural when you are facing your classmates as you speak rather than speaking to their backs as would be the case if the desks were in rows.  Each classroom has its own individual エアコン (A/C) unit, so it is never too hot or too cold during class, and empty classrooms are available for student use after normal class hours.

 This is Fuji hall, located right next to Aoi Hall's radio station.  I haven't done a great deal of exploring inside of Fuji Hall, but there is a conference room and a few classrooms located inside of there.  Whenever you sign up for a weekend field trip, this is where students typically gather prior to departing.  I imagine it has a few other uses as well, but I honestly don't know too much about what goes on inside of Fuji Hall.  Just like Aoi Hall, though, its outside appearance conceals a completely renovated, modern interior.

   On the left is the school store, where you can buy various useful and not-so-useful things.  When you first arrive at Yamasa, this is where you buy all of your textbooks if you do not already have them.  Also, they own several bicycles that are available for students to rent for 800円 a week, and they sell various Yamasa merchandise such as coffee cups, bowls, and the like.  They also manage homevisits and homestays, and it is usually possible to arrange a homevisit through this office.  I am considering doing a homevisit, where you are invited to join a Japanese family for dinner or even for a weekend.

    This is the きつつき, or "Woodpecker", and they serve Japanese food just like your Japanese grandmother would make it.  It is pretty good and affordable, so it is popular among the students, although a lot of students still bring their own lunches or buy set lunches from the supermarket next door.  They give you a lot of food, too, surprisingly -- for about 500円 you get 2 Bacon and Egg sandwiches (with the crusts cut off), an assortment of fresh vegetables, and a glass of freshly squeezed apple juice.  It really isn't bad, at least compared with other restaurants in Japan (seriously, eating out in Japan is a costly affair).

     This building, as well as the one directly across from it, is where a lot of Yamasa's extracurricular activities occur at.  Yamasa owns a full cooking studio and offers classes in traditional Japanese cooking both to the locals and to Yamasa students who are able to complete the 8-week course.  The Yamasa classes are much smaller than classes given to the locals, though, as the class is also another Japanese language class in which the participants practice speaking.  There is also a dance studio on the second floor of this building, although the dance studio is not owned by Yamasa.  The building directly across from the cooking is where some of Yamasa's other culture-based extracurricular programs occur at, such as Japanese drumming and tea ceremony.

   If you follow this trail from the cooking studio, then you will reach the Fine Food Cafe and the sports complex.  The Fine Food Cafe is not owned by Yamasa, however students sometimes eat there and it is popular with the locals.  They serve something different everyday, and the food is absolutely delicious, but the price is pretty high so I probably won't be eating there too many times.

  The sports complex is owned by Yamasa and is free for student use in the afternoons.  Yamasa does rent out the facility to the local Junior League soccer team, though, so it cannot be used while the kids are practicing.  There are a variety of sports equipment available for use inside the building for anyone who wishes to use the sports facility.

  This is part of Yamasa's vegetable patch, and the building out in the distance is Yamasa's day care.  Most of the vegetables grown in the garden are sold to the Fine Food Cafe, however it is possible to grow your own vegetables in Yamasa's garden as a Yamasa student.  There is an AIJP student that is doing that right now.  I haven't been to the Yamasa day care, but I think mostly local children are left there while their parents are working.  Yamasa students who have children are free to drop their children off at the day care before attending class, though, so it is possible to study at Yamasa even if you are raising a child.  In a way, the child would be learning Japanese as well since he/she would be making Japanese friends.

   Well, this is the place that I have chosen to study Japanese at.  I hope everyone enjoyed the little tour.  There is more info about campus on Yamasa's website, although some of the information on the English website is a little bit outdated.  I guess that is what happens when you are a small language school maintaining a website in six different languages, though.  I would show you some of Yamasa's accommodations, but there are so many and they are spread out throughout the neighborhood.  Besides, I will probably end up writing about my Villa and possible about the Student Village at some point anyways.

   Well, I need to study for that test, so until next time, じゃまたねぇ・・・

Monday, July 23, 2012

Japanese Pizza, Dutch Pancakes, and a Night at the Movies

Pizza Hut Pizza in Japan
That trailer above is for おおかみ子どもの雨と雪 (The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki), which we watched tonight.  Anyways, I have to catch up from last night's quest to order a pizza from Pizza Hut and have it delivered right to my Japanese doorstep..  We decided to order Pizza Hut since it is possible to complete an order entirely online (I can only imagine how hard it would be over the phone... if we had a phone to call with), and because we get a 5% discount on the already overly expensive pizza.  Luckily, they have an step-by-step instructions on how to make an order in English in a nifty little PDF file, but it still took an hour to order the pizza.  I finally did it, though -- I ordered an "Eru-Saizu" (L-size -- not 大きい or ラージ or anything else...) and 40 minutes later the equivalent of an American "Emu-Saizu" (M-Size) pizza arrived at my door.  Japanese pizza is a lot different from its American counterpart -- not just the size, but the way it is made and the toppings that are available.  Only in Japan can you try a Tuna, Mayonnaise, and Corn pizza.  In fact, a certain senior chief I know just might go for the mayonnaise pizza, only with extra mayonnaise.  Of course at 2100円, we will not be ordering any more pizza.

View of the Okazaki sunset from my window
   Anyways, today was our first full day of class, and the pressure is really starting to build to keep up with the lessons.  Even though a lot of the material is review for me, I still need to prepare for class ahead of time and practice speaking whenever I can since speaking is my weakest area.  That is part of the trick -- speak Japanese as much as possible and try to avoid using English outside of class if possible.  I just wish my class size wasn't so large -- hopefully this week we will gain enough people to split the class into two (the maximum class size is 15, any more and the class is split).

   After class we finally decided to do our laundry (which was another adventure that can wait for another day) and were invited over to Yamasa Student Village to try some Dutch pancakes from Erica's classmate from the Netherlands.  That is the cool thing about going to an international school -- you meet people from all over the world and get the opportunity to experience small bits of different cultures all at once.  For how thin those things are, they are surprisingly extremely filling and taste excellent.  After only 3 I could eat no more.  As for the Yamasa Student Village, it is basically a large dormitory building with a shared kitchen and community area where any of the students living there can hang out.  It seems like a pretty cool place to stay, although I think I prefer my villa.

   Afterwards, we invited our Dutch friend with us to see the movie おおかみ子どもの雨と雪 by director Mamoru Hosoda (surname first).  For those of you who are not familiar with anime movies, he is the same director that produced The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, and I have been waiting for the chance to see this gorgeous movie since it the trailer was first released last December.  The movie is about a woman named Hana who falls in love with a man who can change into a wolf, and has two children with him.  Unfortunately, the wolf man is killed when he is spotted in wolf form, and Hana must raise her two children alone.  Since the children can also transform, they move from Tokyo to the country, and the movie follows the two children growing up.  It truly is a fantastic film.

    As for the theater experience itself, it is much different than American theaters.  The ticket prices are slightly more expensive (1000円, or about $12.50) per person, but the concessions are slightly cheaper, so I guess it balances out.  Unlike in the United States, where you buy a ticket and then seek out a place to sit when you get into the theater, in Japan you must choose which seats you want on a seating chart.  Your tickets will actually have your chosen seat numbers printed directly on the ticket.  Also, in the movie theater lobby itself there is a kiosk where official movie memorabilia from released and upcoming films is available for purchase.  Also, the theater is extremely clean -- I seriously think you could eat off of the floor -- but then again, I have yet to see a single piece of litter in Japan.  Trash, and especially recycling, is taken to another level here, but that is a topic for another day...

   Anyways, the night at the movies was quite an enjoyable experience.  I need to finish my 宿題 and get some sleep for tomorrow's class, so またね。  I will leave you with an awesome trailer of the upcoming live-action Rurouni Kenshin film, hitting Japanese theaters soon..... a week after I leave >.<

Sunday, July 22, 2012

京都へ行った週末 (Weekend in Kyoto)

   Kyoto really is a beautiful city, although it is incredibly large and can be difficult to navigate at first.  I think after spending the weekend here, I have become an expert on using the 地下鉄   (subway) and 市バス (City Bus) in Kyoto.  We did a great deal of walking the first day, though, since we did not know how to get around very well.  I don't think Erica has walked so much in all her life.

Chikashiku-in Temple
http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en/theme/sites/shrines/temples/m_chishaku/    We woke up on Saturday morning and searched for a place to enjoy breakfast, however we happened across a temple called the Chishaku-in Temple not far from our 旅館  (Japanese inn), so we checked it out.  There were not so many tourists at this temple since it is a little far from the popular tourist sites, so it was not so crowded at all.  This temple features a museum, the temple itself, and a beautiful garden with a pond (in fact, it is most well known for its garden).  After realizing we forgot to bring Sugarwater, we headed back to the hotel to retrieve his and had our first おにぎり (rice ball) for breakfast.
しゃけのおにぎり (Salmon Rice Ball)
Chikashiku-in Garden

On the Imperial Palace Grounds

   Well, it started raining at about that time, and it would not let up for the rest of the day, so it started to impede on the places we could go.  Added to that, it was our first time in Kyoto, so we spent a fair bit of time being lost as well.  We did make our way to the Kyoto Imperial Palace (walking from Gion-Shijo), though, only to find out that you need a reservation to enter the main palace.  There are plenty of places on the grounds that you can freely enter, though, and we rested in a small secluded temple in the southwest corner of the Imperial Palace grounds.

  After leaving the Imperial grounds, we began a quest to seek out the International Manga Museum, since Erica wanted to go there.  It was difficult finding it, though, since the directions we got were incredibly vague and for some reason the Japanese like to have maps everywhere pointing everywhere except for north.  Seriously, most maps here have "North" pointing to the right, and one even had north pointing down.  To make it worse, unless you knew 北 was the kanji for North, you would not even realize it.  I will say, though, that walking around Kyoto is really good exercise, and you really learn your way around after you do it all day.  We did not find the museum on the first day, though, and the rain continued to fall, so we returned to the hotel and watched コクリコ坂から and did our weekend homework.

Us at the 金閣寺(Golden Temple) in Kyoto
  The next morning's weather was much better, so we went to the 金閣寺 (Golden Temple).  After all of that walking we did the previous day, it was easy to figure out how to get just about everywhere in Kyoto by subway, so this time we actually used the public transportation.  For those of you who have Apple computers, the Golden Temple is featured in one of the screensaver themes that comes packaged with Mac OSX.  The Golden Temple was truly breathtaking -- both the temple itself and the scenery around it.  It is surprisingly very affordable -- only 400円 per person and you can see one Kyoto's best temples.  I wish we could have seen more temples during our short stay in Kyoto, but we had one more stop to make before returning to Okazaki.

   We finally found it -- it is on Kurasuma-dori north of the Kurasuma-Oike subway station.  The Kyoto International Manga Museum used to be an elementary school, but then it was converted to a museum commemorating manga and comics from around the world.  They probably have a copy of every manga since 1945 in there, and they also have comics from other countries and even America.  It's a 3-story library of manga and comics, and for only 300円 you can read any manga within the museum during your stay.  I found the perfect souvenir for Martha there, as well, so I went ahead and bought it.

   Anyways, I am now back in Okazaki, preparing for tomorrow's lesson.  I will leave you with a ton of photos from the weekend, though, in no particular order.  Until next time... じゃね。

Friday, July 20, 2012

First Day of Class and the Journey to Kyoto

      Today marked the first real day of classes, although since it is Friday our last class ended at 11:50.  My class is pretty crowded -- there are 14 people (the maximum class size in 15).  I am the only American in my class, however there are several people from the UK, several people from Taiwan, two people from France, two people from the Netherlands, and one person from New Zealand.  Even though there are a lot of people in my class, I still got a solid amount of speaking time during the exercises.  The material is stuff that I have already gone over before (we were covering volitional form), however I feel that I was placed in the right class as I found my ability to actually use the volitional form in conversation was actually really awful.  Erica is lucky -- there are only 3 people in Basic 1, so she gets no shortage of individual attention, although I doubt she will see it that way after a week or so.

Negiyaki on the grill
For lunch we ate at a place called お好み焼(Okonomiyaki) between campus and our villa.  This place was absolutely amazing.  Each of the tables have their own grill, as well as two timers and all of the sauces you need to use to make a good 焼そば (yakisoba) or ねぎ焼 (negiyaki).  When you order your food, they bring everything out ready to be cooked and you cook it yourself.  Everything is already prepared -- you just slap it on the grill and set the timer for 6 minutes.  After 6 minutes, you flip it over, put whatever sauce you want or soy sauce on it, and then set the timer for 3 minutes.  After that timer is up, you can enjoy one of the finest meals you will probably ever eat -- and you cooked it yourself!  Also, rice, curry, soup, and drinks are free on the drink bar when your order an entree.

   Afterwards our trip to Kyoto commenced.  We took a short train ride into Nagoya, and then a 45 minute ride on the Shinkansen to Kyoto, and arrived at about 4 PM.  Shortly after confirming the directions to Higashiyama ward on our map, we headed towards our hotel.  This was probably the most interesting part of the trip so far.  On our way to the hotel, we were approached by an elderly man.  To be honest, I thought he was about to try to bum some money, but he never did.  He was actually a really cool guy -- he spoke English exceptionally well and wanted to talk to us because we were foreigners.  When we said we were Americans, he told us all about his travels in the US.  He had several pieces of paper with handwritten Japanese phrases translated into English, and he asked us to read each phrase and comment about whether or not they sounded natural.  He was especially interested in learning English idioms that do not literally translate well into Japanese, as well as our thoughts and comments on some of the translations.  Since I know a little bit of Japanese, I also tried to read some of the Japanese since the sentences were simple enough for me to understand them.  We ended up talking to the guy for a good hour and a half or so, and he told us how to get to some of the best spots in Kyoto as well as led us to our hotel.  After all of that time, too, he did not once ask for a single yen. 
Our hotel room in Kyoto

  Our hotel is called Ryokan Ohto, and it is a traditional Japanese inn in the Higashiyama ward of Kyoto.  It is situated in the middle of a quiet neighborhood, and there are many local shops and houses in the neighborhood.  Personally, I don't think I could have picked a better place -- it really is a nice find.  As you can see, I have posted pictures of the hotel on the inside and outside.

   We went out to downtown Kyoto for a little while, however the bulk of our Kyoto trip is likely to occur tomorrow, so until then..... また明日ね。