About Me

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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.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Planning for an Unforgettable Tokyo Weekend

   With the timing of my upcoming trip to Japan, there are a great many festivals happening.  Since I will be studying in Okazaki, which is equidistant between Tokyo and Kyoto, I want to visit both cities during a weekend.  I'm not sure when I will go to Kyoto or what I want to do there, but I think that I have picked a perfect weekend for my Tokyo trip.

Trails in the Sky NA Boxart
  The JDK Band (links to a Japanese website) will be performing at Nihonbashi Matsui Hall in Tokyo on Friday, July 27.  If you do not know who the JDK Band is, they compose the music for Nihon Falcom's games.  Nihon Falcom is best known for The Legend of Heroes series and the Ys series, and Falcom games are consistently acclaimed for their beautiful dialogue, engaging gameplay, and an award-winning arrangement of musical masterpieces composed and played by JDK Band.  In short, Falcom is basically the Studio Ghibli of video games in Japan and they are wildly popular there.  They do not focus on making a shiny game with the best graphics money can buy -- they instead focus on polishing the details of plot and gameplay to deliver a truly unforgettable gaming experience, complete with a soundtrack that can pump you up for a boss fight or strike a chord in your heart.  The music featured in these games have are so popular in Japan that Falcom holds the record for most number of sales made for a video game soundtrack -- a record that not even Square's Nobuo Uematsu has come even close to besting.
Kevin Gifford does a good writeup about Falcom on 1Up, you should check it out.

May 2012 Concert at Nicofarre
  XSeed has started localizing Falcom games stateside and they attract a certain niche of the American video game market.  I highly recommend The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (First Chapter) and Ys: The Oath in Felghana on PSP if you are looking for a new game to play.

  But, that is my plug for Falcom games, I think this would be a good start to the weekend.  We get out of class early on Fridays so we should be able take the JR up to Tokyo and arrive with plenty of time to spare, and I think it'll be a lot of fun to go see them perform in Japan.

   The last Saturday of every July the Sumida River Fireworks Festival kicks off in Tokyo, and it is one of the oldest and most well known fireworks show in Japan.  It is supposed to be nearly 2 solid hours of 花火「はなび」 (Flower-Fire, or fireworks) and looks to be a spectacular event to be a part of.   Other than the fireworks, the streets are lined with vendors and people wearing yukata, and the summer festive mood is in full swing.  I'm betting it will be a good time. The catch, though, is that this event will not happen if the weather is poor, since it would not be possible to reschedule an event of this caliber very easily.  Hopefully it will be a beautiful night to wrap up Saturday with!

   I have no solid plans for what we will be doing during the day on Saturday or on Sunday, but that is fine.  Tokyo is a big city, after all, and I'm sure we will not be able to see everything that Tokyo has to offer in a single weekend, anyways.  I went to New York City four times when I was in Saratoga Springs and I definitely did not get to see everything in that city, after all!

   Well, that will be my last writeup for the next few weeks.  I am going out to sea on Monday (we have to be on the ship all day Sunday, though), so with the ship's highly unreliable internet access I will not get to write.  Thank you for reading, though, and thank you for 100 pageviews (hey, celebrating mediocrity is better than not celebrating at all!). 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ice Hockey in Japan

LA Kings 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Champions
Norfolk Admirals 2012 AHL Calder Cup Champions

   Coming off of the heels of two terrific playoffs with the LA Kings hoisting the Stanley Cup and the Norfolk Admirals sweeping the Calder Cup Finals, I have begun to wonder about how popular ice hockey is in Japan.  We know that 野球(やきゅう) is the Japanese pastime more than it ever was in America .  The MLB might have reported a higher attendance this year after 3 years of steady decline, but those numbers may be skewed and long term the trend in America is that baseball does not have the die-hard fans it once enjoyed (probably because there are too many damned games).  Soccer also seems to be popular in Japan based on how often it is used in my textbook's practice sentences, with sumo rounding it out as Japan's #3 sport according to Wikipedia.
   It is interesting to note that hockey has been played in Japan since the 1920's.  Japan used to have the Japan Ice Hockey League (JIHL), which featured 6 teams, however it folded and Japanese ice hockey was absorbed into the Asia League Ice Hockey which has a total of 9 teams throughout all of east Asia.  Currently only 4 teams play in Japan: the Nikko Ice Bucks out of Nikko in Tochigi, the Nippon Paper Cranes out of Kushiro in Hokkaido, the Oji Eagles out of Tomakomai in Hokkaido, and the Tohoku Free Blades out of Hachinohe in Aomori.  Much like in North America, ice hockey is most popular in locations that have colder climates, as all of these teams except for the Ice Bucks are in northern Japan, and Nikko is in the mountains near Tokyo.  Japan is also represented by a national team in the IIHF and the Olympic games composed of players from these 4 teams.

   Sadly, however, ice hockey is not very popular in Japan, and you can tell by the seating capacity of the stadiums that Japanese teams play in.  The Oji Eagles have the largest stadium with a seating capacity of 4,015 and the smallest is the Nikko Ice Bucks with only 2,000 seats.  For comparison, the AHL average regular season attendance sees about 4500 people per game, and the NHL averages about 18,000 people per game.  There seem to be more Japanese fans than anywhere else in east Asia, though, as Japan represents 4 of 9 teams in their league.
  Also, as you can see from the video above, the Japanese ice hockey teams are not very good.  The main thing I have noticed is that there is significantly less contact between players as in the NHL, AHL, or the IIHF for that matter.  Sure, there are a few checks in the video, but it almost seems as if the players are afraid to make some solid hits, and the game seems to flow much more slowly.  It makes me wonder if the Asian teams have hockey fights and how those play out.  In the IIHF, Japan is currently ranked #22 in men's hockey and #11 in women's hockey, and their highest world championship showing was a tie for 6th place in 1930 (they usually get around 20th now).  

   Nevertheless, I would love to see a hockey game in Japan.  Perhaps when I am out of the Navy and a full-time student in Japan, I will take the JR up to Nikko to see the Ice Bucks play.  じゃまたね。


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Malicious Ignorance in the U.S. Navy

   Hello, everyone!  It has been a week and a half, but that is only because I have spent the last 5 days out at sea where the internet is unreliable at best and Blogger is a blocked site, anyways.  I actually meant to write on the eve of our departure, but I never got around to it.

   During this last underway, an interesting new phrase was coined by the powers-that-be and used against a buddy of mine in my division: malicious ignorance.  What is malicious ignorance, you ask?  Well, let's see what Merriam-Webster has to say about these two words individually:

malicious (adj.) having or showing a desire to cause harm to someone : given to, marked by, or arising from malice

ignorance (n.) the state or fact of being ignorant : lack of knowledge, education, or awareness

   Well, I guess it isn't the first time the military combined two words that contradict one another and coined it as a phrase.  Terms such as military intelligence, government organization, friendly fire, active reserves, and tactical nuke come to mind.  You see, having malicious intent implies that you are knowledgeable or aware of the dire consequences that are behind an action, and do said action anyways.  You set the building on fire and laugh as it burns to the ground.  Ignorance implies that you have no ill will, you were simply not aware of the consequences of an action.  You forgot to turn off the oven and the building caught fire and burned to the ground (and you actually wanted to continue to live in that house -- no malicious negligence involved!).

Shipboard fire party nozzleman fighting a fire.
   What was the action that led to the crucifixion of one of my fellow sailors?  If you thought it was the berthing fire that erupted in the forward part of the ship prior to pull-out, you would be wrong.  Ignorance may have been in play, since the rumor going around is that someone had an unauthorized surge protector that caught the entire compartment on fire, but that was not really a big deal after the fact.  Besides, we don't really know exactly how the space caught fire yet and my department doesn't own any spaces anywhere near that part of the ship.

   Perhaps it was the Ship's Generator watch that lost one of his turbine generators to a hot condenser (which was caused by the watchstander not knowing what was going on in the first place), and then dropping his other turbine generator to a hot condenser when he secured seawater flow to the wrong machine, causing a subsequent loss of power to the ship and a scram of the only operating reactor.  This massive fail caused a huge incident, but really the guy responsible got what is effectively a slap on the wrist: he got removed from standing watch and has to complete a (fairly extensive) knowledge upgrade.  Such ignorance single-handedly delayed the underway by a day on both ends, yet he got off the hook pretty easily.

   Maybe it was the reactor controls technician that destroyed a rod control power supply because he had no idea how to properly energize it for a reactor startup, costing the Navy hundreds of thousands of dollars in parts and hundreds of man-hours to repair it while simultaneously ensuring that we could not restart that reactor for about 20 hours.  He wasn't maliciously ignorant -- he merely had to stay up all night to help repair the damage his ignorance had caused.

   So, if you can catch a berthing compartment on fire, take down the entire plant with your incompetence, or completely destroy an expensive piece of equipment without malicious ignorance being involved, that means that the event that coined this phrase must be quite dire, indeed.  Well, yes, it was quite dire.  Quite dire, indeed.

This pretty much sums up how I feel about my job.
   A watchstander was caught operating a routinely operated valve without looking at it, reading it, and pausing to think first.

   Really, now?  He wasn't doing anything wrong operationally, in fact he was supposed to operate that valve.  It is a big deal because he was caught operating said valve "without any form of control whatsoever" by the RDMC (basically the senior enlisted guy in the department) and 3 MTT inspectors that were observing us.

   Now, the nuclear Navy's "Point, Read, Think, Operate" policy is great for controlled evolutions or operations that are not done frequently, but it shouldn't be such a big deal for normal, routine operation, and if you are going to get caught violating PRTO it should be effectively a slap on the wrist.  Instead, the guy that was caught was threatened with punitive action and the topic dominated discussion among the senior chain of command above everything else that happened.

   If you are not in the nuclear Navy, this probably makes little sense, so here is a good analogy:  it is like reading a newspaper with a front page headline of "MAN CAUGHT DRIVING WITHOUT WEARING SEATBELT" followed by a murder on page 3 and a bank robbery and page 7.  That is one of the fundamental problems with the Navy -- you can be criminally incompetent at your job and not face any real trouble, but small benign issues that cause no real damage will jeopardize your career.

   The only other eventful occurrence of the underway was the meet and greet by former Presidents George Bush and George Bush.  They were on the ship for a whole 5 hours, and then they left.   I didn't get a chance to participate, though, since I was busy.  Anyways, more to come later.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Travel Arrangements

   I sure did pick a really bad time of year to fly to Japan, but it really couldn't be helped (I had to work around the Navy's schedule and Erica's summer break).  Regardless, both mine and Erica's plane tickets to Nagoya, Japan are paid for, and there is no more turning back now.  I knew international flights were expensive, but after a grand total of $4650 (2 people) for the flight alone, I am really feeling it.  The flight alone costs more than our tuition at Yamasa!  On July 16, 2012, I will be flying around the world to spend a month studying the Japanese language at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Japan.

Lanterns floating down river during the Bon Festival
 The reason why the flight is so expensive, other than it being the busiest vacation month of the year, is because of the Bon Festival.  The Bon Festival is a Buddhist tradition in which Japanese families get together to welcome and celebrate the spirits of their ancestors.  The date of when it is celebrated varies from region to region, but it lasts 3 days and is celebrated around July 15 (close to my departure) or August 15 (close to my return).  I'm not sure what holiday to compare it to in the States, but I would say it is most like Thanksgiving since families get together and employers give everyone time off for the holiday.  I will have the opportunity to experience the Bon Festival just before I leave (it is August 12 - 15 in Okazaki), so I will do another write-up then.

   All of my preparations are complete with just 6 weeks left before I leave, and I can hardly wait.  Really, this trip is going to give me a taste of what my life will be like after the Navy, since I intend to return to Yamasa as a full time AIJP student after I separate from the Navy. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Little Pony Personality

   So, today while I was waiting to go to the Norfolk Admirals AHL game at the Scope, I stumbled upon a personality test that I partook of.  I don't normally like these personality tests, but I just had to see which of the Mane 6 fits me best as I am a big fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  The test itself isn't one of those personality tests where it would be easy to skew your results if you tried.  There are some obvious answers that will boost your likeness to certain characters, but some questions have so many possible choices that it is hard to say how they would effect your score, and there are plenty of questions.
Yup, I am Twilight, leaning strongly towards Fluttershy and... PINKIE PIE???
     Now, I expected to be most like Twilight because, well, I relate with Twilight in many ways.  I tend to focus greatly on the things that I need to get done or am determined to get done, stubborn enough that it would take quite a doozy to change my mind or position, and I am probably more booksmart than streetsmart.  I would say my overall result was pretty accurate, although I had no idea that I would lean so strongly towards Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie.

    I expected to have some strong resemblance towards Fluttershy -- maybe above average, but I didn't expect to have such a dominant Fluttershy persona.  I am, after all, not the most social pony around, and I am not so great when it comes to meeting new people.  I pretty much only talk to my family, people I know, and people I work with,  but I will talk to other people if I really need to.   I can get really excited when it comes to a topic that is important to me and go on talking about it for hours.  If I ever did meet a talking baby dragon, I indeed would spill my life story up until today.   I love Fluttershy to death, and she is my favorite of the mane 6 (if I ever met a woman who was like Fluttershy, I would probably fall in love with her right away), but I never would have expected that I would have resembled Fluttershy so much that I almost got Fluttershy as my final result. 

Invade Espelancer's personality... check!
    The most shocking result of the test, though, was the strong Pinkie influence within me that I did not think was possible.  I cannot think of a single thing about myself that is like Pinkie Pie at all.  I definitely do not like parties, or any occasion where a large number of people gather in social situations, especially if I don't know anypony there.  I do not break the laws of physics... and I certainly do not think Pinkie Pie is even scientifically possible (in a world of magic and talking ponies, anyways).  I do not know everypony in town and I don't really want to know everypony in town, I cannot bake worth a damn, and I am nowhere near as random and hilarious as Pinkie Pie is.  I am absolutely baffled, and I wonder which of my given answers were Pinkie answers.  While I think Pinkie Pie is an awesome characters with some of the best one-liners and funniest situations I have ever seen,  I would go so far to say that Pinkie Pie is the polar opposite of me in every way possible... I literally expected to be near center on the Pinkie Pie scale.

    The rest of the test was pretty much as I expected.  I think Rainbow Dash is 20% cooler than everypony else, but I know I am certainly not 20% cooler anypony else.  I figured I'd have a little more Applejack in me, but that is OK.  I am definitely too lazy for the apple bucking life.  I didn't think I'd have so much Rarity, since I am not artistic at all, but it isn't too far off from where I expected to be.

    You can take this test at at Bronyland, and you should if you are a fan of the show.  I know if I wanted a pet, I would pick Scootaloo *hint, hint*.  (She is my absolute favorite pony if you couldn't infer that from my profile avatar.)

   By the way, the Admirals absolutely dominated tonight in the first game of the Calder Cup finals, winning 3 to 1 and outshooting the Marlies 42 to 24, and that is with what must have been at least 20 minutes worth of penalty time.   Three more wins and we win the whole thing!  Go Admirals!

Friday, June 1, 2012

いっしょに日本語を習いましょう。(Let's learn Japanese together.)

 みんなさん、こんにちは!  (Hello, everyone!)

    In this segment I will divulge upon you some things that I have learned about the Japanese language -- basically short little lessons from one student to another.  I might try to make these posts a regular thing.

    Now, I am in the Navy, and being in the Navy means that I go out to sea quite a lot.  One usually does not have a whole lot of privacy on the ship, and there are not really any places to sit down and quietly study, so I usually end up studying my Japanese in an open lounge where any passerby can see what I am doing.  Now, very few people study Japanese in the Navy (the people that I have met have all either been stationed in Japan for a long period of time, have a Japanese wife, or in many cases both), so it naturally piques the interest of the casual pedestrian walking through the ship's corridors when they see me studying.  I usually get a variety of responses from the ignorant "How do I say this (insert bit of American slang) in Japanese)?" to legitimate interest in studying the Japanese language.  I am going to cater to those who actually want to dive into learning Japanese.

    Learning Japanese is just like anything else -- it may seem difficult to get into, but if you take it milestone by milestone anyone can learn.  The biggest obstacle I think most people have is getting started, especially if you are forced to study on your own due to lack of other options.  The first skill any Japanese language student needs to acquire in order to be successful is mastering ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana).
ひらがな (Hiragana) Chart -- Start here.

  Written Japanese consists of 3 different writing systems.  The characters that most people are familiar with is kanji.  Kanji「漢字」are characters imported from the Chinese language, and they represent actual words and ideas.  They are those tatoos you see people get because they "look cool", even though some of the time they have no idea what it means.  You will need to learn kanji at some point, but don't worry about it in the very beginning.

  The other 2 writing systems are completely phonetic.  ひらがな is used in Japanese words, and any kanji can be expressed in ひらがな.  カタカナ is used in words originating from foreign countries (such as any of the many English words incorporated into the Japanese language, like ハンバーガー), or for placing emphasis on words normally written in ひらがな.  If you learned your ABC's as a child, you can learn ひらがな and カタカナ.  It's only 46 characters. I posted a ひらがな reference chart above that teaches you how to write each character.  The best way to learn is to practice reading, writing, and sounding the characters out.

美文字トレーニングDS -- Great for writing practice
  Good penmanship is a habit you want to get into sooner rather than later.  Remember when you were learning your ABC's in grade school on that special paper with the huge lines and the dotted line in the middle?  Take it slowly and deliberately.  Follow the stroke order -- it will make your characters look a lot more balanced.  Attention to detail pays off as well - get in the habit of ending your strokes correctly (pay attention to whether the stroke hooks, stops, or runs off as the pen is lifted).  Also, Japanese characters are all designed to take up the same amount of space, unlike the English language, so use graphing paper to make a grid and try to keep all of your characters the same size.  If you have a Nintendo DS, you can import a game called 「美文字(びもじ)トレーニング」 (Beautiful Letters Training).  It is easy to use even with no knowledge of Japanese, and you can use it to practice not only ひらがな, but kanji too.  It'll show you how to write each character and grade you on how well you write, as well as showing you how to correct your mistakes (you can usually figure out from the visual aid if you don't understand the Japanese). You can find it on Amazon used.

   For reading, the best way to familiarize yourself with hiragana at first is using flash cards.  Just get a stack of index cards, write the hiragana on one side and the romanization on the other, and practice.  Repetition is the key here.  You can also practice using online flash cards at this website.  When you feel comfortable reading individual characters, try reading ひらがな at a few Japanese ひらがな-only websites (I have a few links at the end of the post).

   Here is a video that has the ひらがな song.  This will help you remember the ひらがな and how to pronounce each character.  If you scroll over each character at this website it will sound out the character for you, as well.  Practice pronouncing the character when you use your flash cards.

  Well, that is a wrap for today's Japanese lesson.  One last thing I would like to mention for iPhone users -- you can get an app that allows you to practice reading, writing, and pronouncing ひらがな and カタカナ called Kana Complete.  It's pretty cheap (only $3) and portable, so you can practice wherever you go.  Remember, perseverance is the key to accomplishing anything that is challenging -- がんばって!(Don't give up!)

  As promised, here are some links to ひらがな-only websites that I found (if you google ひらがなだけ or やさしいにほんご you may be able to find a few more).  They are actually pretty hard to find.
An old blog written in all ひらがな
こどものページ (Children's Page) - The red pencil in the upper right toggles between ひらがな and kanji
Another children's website in only ひらがな
Another blog with mostly ひらがな entries
A children's language school in Tokyo has a section in all ひらがな describing their programs.
Rikaichan, an indispensable Firefox plugin.  Scroll over any kanji to get its reading and English definition!