Intimidation (Fat guys and deer).

Since classes have been over I’ve really piled on the adventures. I’m feeling my time here draw to a close and I’m realizing all the things I have yet to do. Once of those was to see a match of the legendary game of Sumo.


I remember on lazy Saturdays with my brother we’d watch whatever happened to come on TV at our grandparents house and consume unhealthy amounts of Sprite and Poptarts. Once we spent a whole Saturday watching sumo on some obscure sports channel, and we couldn’t get enough of it. We soon had favorites we cheered for and held our breaths as the two behemoths of fat and muscle stared each other down, ready to collide.

These memories came rushing back to me as we took our seats and watched face off after face off. We had come into Nagoya early that morning by bus and were ready for an all day sumo camp out. It was tournament style, starting off with minor leagues in the beginning of the day and ending with the big, famous contenders. Each match lasts anywhere from 3-10 minutes, and most of that will be tossing salt, crouching, leg lifting, and staring each other down as the drama mounts. The actual fighting is usually over very quickly, with a very simple goal of pushing the other guy out of the circle or knocking him over.


As with many things in Japan the beauty is in the simplicity. What makes it fun is the drama as fans cheer in earnest for their favorites. They stare each other down trying to intimidate, and rely on the techniques of either size or fancy maneuvers. The slightest hesitation or misstep can see the opponent on his back covered in dirt and salt, watching the victor crouch to receive his blessing.

We soon had our own favorites and had a lot of fun guessing who was going to win as each pair took the stage.


The intricacy of the ceremony was stunning, and there was so much color and activity I was fairly dazzled. This was a far cry from the football games back at good ol’ Bama.

Afterwards we saw some to them hanging around outside and we were dying for a picture, but true to their training they were rather intimidating, huge, stern looking fellas. One of them was surrounded by a group of sweet old ladies fangirling over him, so my friend Adrian shuffled over muttering the word for ‘picture’. The old ladies took command. Once of them tapped the giant on his back saying “Hey Oniisan would you take a picture with these Americans?” He turned around, nodded to the old lady that came up to his waist, gave us a once over, and grunted, “Ok, just one.”


Mission accomplished.

A day later and another adventure was in the queue. Something I’d been wanting to do since getting here. A trip to Nara, a small city southeast of Osaka full of nature, temples, and deer.


As soon as we left the station we were greeted by the sweltering summer heat, the smell of deer poop, and well the culprits themselves, who were happy to receive the deer treats we bought for them at sidewalk stands.

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Needless to say it was hot and we were ready to move on to some cool shady temples. The deer were all over the path and back in the fields and even stopping for shaved ice they made sure to show their interest in us.


The biggest temple, Todaiji, was beautiful though. It survived the bombings of WWII and numerous fires, and is now one of the oldest wooden structures on earth, and houses the largest iron Buddha statue, known as Daibutsu.

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Oh you know just one of the worlds oldest wooden structures, lemme put my name on it.

After wandering through Todaiji we were looking at charms. Behind the counter one of the workers started saying lewd things about me in Japanese, in full assumption that I had no idea what he was saying, as he was talking pretty loud and was right in front of me. It wasn’t the first time people have talked about me without realizing I know Japanese, but it’s pretty rare from them to openly talk about by chest. I could have easily told him off in Japanese, or (what I kind of wish I had done) asked a simple question in Japanese to let him know I speak, but instead I stared him dead in the face with a look of disgust. He quieted down mid sentence. Gaijin 1, scummy dude 0.

This sort of thing is pretty common, what with Japanese being a really difficult language for Westerners to learn, oftentimes they make the correct assumption that you have no idea what they’re saying. No matter what country you’re in this is a good way to get cheated, etc, so I’m always an advocate of  learning the basics of the language of your destination country, or in the very least being savvy of the common scams.

Despite the unfortunate encounter I didn’t let it get me down. We strolled along and admired many more temples and had an all round good time even though it was awful hot out.

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We grabbed some cheap conbini food and caught the train home. I watched the rural landscape whizz by and felt the biting desire to go on an extensive hike. Something I shall be doing if I have the time. Japan’s rural areas are beautiful, clustered old houses between rice fields, watched over by towering green mountain ranges encircled by clouds. In the meantime I’m hopping on the night bus for a trip to Hiroshima tonight (another thing on the to do list). I wont forget those lovely deer though, or their insatiable desire for an ice cream cone.



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Lights, gods, and Gion Matsuri.

This past week in Japan life has been a whirlwind of going and seeing and doing and it’s not likely to stop. Since yesterday my schooling is basically over and fun and traveling awaits. It started off with my friend Sarah’s visit to me in Kyoto this weekend.

Sarah’s been doing an 8-week research program in Hiroshima and was eager to stop by Kyoto and see nearby Osaka too. Her blog can be viewed here.

When she got here Friday night I took her downtown for some Indian curry, a stop by our regular hookah bar, and a bit of riverside local night life. This is the same river spot featured in my documentary, and this weekend saw tons of people, Japanese and foreign alike, mingling, drinking, and enjoying a Japanese jazz band that really knew how to play.

Insane weekend continued by hopping on the train to Osaka the next morning. I’d planned a slew of cool things to do and see, including a trip to Spa World. It’s a 6 story indoor theme park dedicated to bathing. They have a ton of elaborate baths, separated into European and Asian style, and rotate which gender can visit each monthly. This month the girl’s side was European style. We bathed and tried all the tubs and saunas for two hours before moving on to shopping. Sarah seemed to enjoy the experience too, her first shot at asia-style public bathing. I happen to love Japan’s public bathing, and had a good laugh when Sarah later declared, “I just realized I was naked for two hours today!”

The fun continued seeing Osaka’s prime shopping sights and watching the lights come on and some sort of boat festival from the main bridge.


We finished off the day with a trip to Umeda Sky tower and I was completely dazzled by the twinkling view of the city, and found myself missing my fella back home terribly.


Sunday I brought Sarah to church and then from there we went straight on to the classic Kyoto sights, Kiyomizudera and whatever other shrines/temples we happened to run into. The streets were full to busting and the bus got stuck in the first traffic jam I’d ever seen here. Why? It was time for Gion Matsuri to begin.

Gion Matsuri is a festival in Kyoto that’s been going on since 859 AD, and lasts all month but it’s peak is this week. Streets are shut down, and old families and companies open up and display their ancient treasures, including golden statues, jade, suits of armor, and all manner of ceremonious Shinto stuff. Sarah and I didn’t have time to goof off and do festival stuff, so we headed south to Fushimi Inari shrine as the sun set.


This is a rather famous and out of the way shrine dedicated to the Kitsune foxes, the guardians and messengers of the gods. It’s also famous for being featured in Memoirs of a Geisha.


We followed the path of gates leading all the way up the mountain. It was eerily quiet, save for the song of the summer cicadas. I recalled a story about Inari shrine I heard, that if you came there with a man you loved the kitsune foxes would curse him out of jealousy. Legends like this were believable on that path in the night. Stone foxes watched us from behind their gates and stray cats’ eyes gleamed from the bushes. I found myself telling one stone fox ‘good evening’ in Japanese as we passed. Once we reached the top we were exhausted but got ourselves another lovely view.


All the way back down the mountain and a bus ride to Kyoto station and I said my farewells to Sarah. It sure was a blast. I was wiped out and had an exam and a presentation the next day, so I pushed on through the night.

Monday night I served a shift for movie club’s screenings on campus (in which Gaijin was featured), and biked home through a summer rain shower. I got home soaked but excited, about half my dorm was headed to Gion Matsuri’s night celebration, and I was donning a yukata (summer kimono) that I purchased at that very antique fair mentioned previously on here.

It was really abuzz there as the float’s for the upcoming parade were displayed and there was festival food out the wazoo. I enjoyed some melon shaved ice and some squid myself.


This festival is so very old that it serves all sorts of purposes, the main one being to ward off illness (it was originated after a particularly bad plague). Each festival float is designed after a different myth or story or blessing, and there’s always music and dancing and ceremonies wherever you go, and not even the Japanese can tell you what each one means. IMG_8878

Dazzled and exhausted I rode the train home and crashed.

After making myself take a rest day on Tuesday, I was ready to face Kyoto’s biggest Gion Matsuri event the next day.


The parade.

Hundreds of local men haul these huge, towering festival floats decorated to the nines. The best part is when they had to turn the float they would lay strips of bamboo down at the wheels and soak them in water to make them slick, then directed by four elaborately dressed guys wielding colorful fans, they would pull it all at once crying “Yoisho!” Quite a sight.IMG_8924IMG_8934IMG_8967

I followed the whole route to the end, as the floats were pretty slow moving, and one part went down this alleyway of old buildings full of patrons. One in particular housed Maiko-san, better known as Geisha, looking on at the festivities and pretending not to notice how rabidly everyone was photographing them. IMG_8979IMG_8971

Wore out I picked up a big, cold green tea at the local conbini and chugged it on the way home. I was headed back out again to see what was left of the sights that night with my good friend Yui. I thought I would don the yukata one more time while I had an occasion to.

And of course we had to do some purikyua too, you know, that goofy Japanese photo booth that makes your eyes all buggy.


Girly to the max. Twas wonderous.

We went to the main shrine and got some really good steak on a stick and of course some matcha ice cream too. We walked back toward the train station and sure enough, true to Kyoto form, were greeted with a parade out of no where. This one seemed to have something to do with youth, and local men carried portable shrines through the street guarded by mounted samurai. People clamored for pictures and several other foreigners noticed me speaking Japanese to Yui and kept asking me what was going on. I really wish I knew, but I’ve found this scenario to be pretty common here. Things just happen to you. Even Kyoto locals wont know what it is or what it means, this city is just so deeply rooted in tradition that there are too many to keep track of, best to just enjoy the encounter.


I’ve seen and done so much this past week and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that classes are wrapping up I’ve been laying down the plans for my last couple of weeks before the family gets here to cart me back to the states. I cant reveal all but I will say plans involve fireworks and this sport called sumo, you may have heard of it.

Now that the main events of Gion Matsuri are up things are quieting down around here, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city, if you’re looking for an adventure, it’ll never let you down.

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The power of sweet stuff.

This weekend with the help of movie club and all my pals I was able to whip out my documentary and turn in a shiny Japanese version for movie club on Monday. Although the English version wont take me long, I’m setting it aside to focus on my studies, which I must confess are piling up rather impressively. Tests and projects abound, but after next week I’ll be out of classes and free to go on a romping-rampage all over Japan. (This of course means whatever day trips I can manage).

I did let myself have some fun this weekend though. I went to Kawaramachi again to shop and eat parfaits and be girly with my pals Beth and Alex. It was only for a few hours because we all had stuff to get done, but after it I was a happy gal. Here’s why.


We went to this famous parfait shop that has over a hundred different kinds of parfaits. I labored over the decision I tell you, but being unable to resist I elected to have the milk tea parfait you see here. Oh Japan and your milk tea. It’s one of my favorite drinks. It’s like sweet, cold, tea flavored milk, and let me tell you it was incredible in ice cream form.

But for real I could drink that stuff all day.

After feeling sufficiently gorged on this wondrous layered ice cream, we shopped around and looked at everything from bad English T-shirts to funky stickers to cool boho goods. Kawaramachi has a lot of stores selling the kind of stuff you’d find at Earthbound, only a little more legit. Incense from all over, parachute pants, woven hats, vests, jewelry from Africa and the Caribbean, and even Japanese house slippers with funky Indian designs on them. As you can imagine I was quite happy.

We got home and I hit my Kanji books in preparation for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) that I had coming up the next morning.

I was only taking level three so I wasn’t entirely concerned, but some of my peers here in the dorm were taking levels high as one (that big sucker you need to pass to gain citizenship). We all rode the bus together to the prestigious Kyoto University and wandered on to a campus busting to the seams with other foreigners. The majority were Chinese, but many were European and some even African. I don’t think I’ve been surrounded by that much cultural and ethnic variety in once sitting in my whole life.

They finally let us in to the test rooms, and under the strict eyes of the overseer went to our assigned seats.

He started giving instructions in Japanese, speaking slowly and clearly as we were only taking level 3. Don’t open your test booklets until I say, don’t touch your pencils until I say, if you drop something let me know so I can pick it up and you won’t be accused of cheating. If we broke any of these rules, we could either get a yellow card, as a warning, or a red card, ejection from the test. And so they handed out the test booklets.

Bam, several test takers open their test booklets. Yellow cards everywhere. As the test went on we had a couple more yellow cards for pencil touching and two people even got kicked out, not understanding no matter how many times he repeated the rules.

This was frustrating for me because when the test came around I watched as these same people breezed through the kanji section and finished incredibly early, and I had to struggle on with the rest.

That’s just the inevitable imbalance in studying Japanese though, a lot of people find them selves skilled readers/writers, or you end up like me with a talent for speaking/listening. Standardized tests like this are no good for me as our ability to communicate isn’t even measured. At least they had a listening section, with things as simple as two people talking about the weather and having to select what kind of weather they’re talking about. I doodled little rain clouds in the margins.

Later that night I tried to catch a festival for Tanabata, the Japanese holiday that celebrates the one day a year their mythical Milky Way Princess is reunited with her Prince in the sky. Homes and business put bamboo trees outside and hang children’s wishes in the branches. We didn’t make it in time for the festival, but we did catch the fireworks. Several groups of kids aged anywhere between middle school and college ran around on this riverbank shooting a fortune’s worth of fireworks. IMG_8650

It was fun to watch, despite missing the festival I came home happy, ready to get Gaijin turned in and face yet another busy week. I know I can get through it, I might just have to have a few more parfaits first.

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“Gaijin” is complete! (Or at least the Japanese version)

Turned this sucker in to movie club. Next up is polishing it up and sticking English subs on in stead of Japanese.


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Always a work in progress

It’s another rainy Wednesday and the past week has been a long stretching funnel of busy. I’ve been editing like a mad woman, sifting through 131 lines to translate into Japanese, and wrestling with the usual onslaught of quizzes, tests, and presentations. Not to mention the JLPT3 test is coming up Sunday.

But yeah, it’s been good.

Despite that you have so much to do and stuff is piling up what are you even doing state of mind familiar to those who know what it is to stress, in reality things aren’t so bad, it’s only the pictures I have to show you guys this week equal none. I’ll just have to describe.

Despite all the nitty gritty still in the way, Gaijin is looking pretty done for the most part, just a couple of shots I’d still like to throw in if I can. The usual problem of music was solved with a flourish by my tireless brother across the ocean. Ryan put in heaps of time and effort to deliver a rather nice set of tunes to my laptop just in time for nitty gritty editing. Another area my butt has been saved in is that of translations. After I tried my hand at all of them, I gave them to my Swedish friend Jacob who is the most fluent person I know. We went through about 60 lines, basically giving me a free tutoring session (though I did get late night McDonalds with him later as thanks). Jacob didn’t have all the time in the world though, so I brought my translations to movie club last week. After the meeting, I timidly raised my hand and waved at the kohai (underclassmen) friends of mine, holding up the notebook containing my problem. I was flabbergasted at how they all rushed to help. About five of them huddled about my notebook wielding an eraser and making edits and bickering between each other about which particle to put where.

It was great, they had a rather impressive understanding of written English. They stayed in the club room with me for hours plodding our way to perfecting those same 60 lines. It still wasn’t done after that, so I typed it out by hand and sent it both to movie club and my good friend Jumpei. Jumpei’s conversational in English, and to my surprise, whipped up a near perfect Japanese translation in a couple of days.

Way to save my butt Jumpei. We finished the last of it last night and went out for sushi with a senpai (upperclassmen). Now that translation’s out of the way, I can really crack my knuckles and churn out the Japanese version I wanted to.

Earlier, on Sunday morning, still in my ball of stress I went to the church I’ve been frequenting. As I biked up the hill huffing and puffing I noticed a large group being shown around by the pastor outside. I went in and was greeted by the kind people who have sort of gotten to know me there. The pastor’s wife told me the big group was a bunch of visiting Americans from Campus Crusade. Interestingly they were all Asian-American, working in a minority representation program of some kind as well. It was fun to say hi and offer the translation I could (only one of them spoke any Japanese at all).

A Korean man goes to this church as well, and is impressively as fluent in English as he is in Japanese, and translates each sermon into Korean for his family via recording device. He asked if I could provide the Americans with English translation as the sermon went.


While I know I can get the basic point of each sentence across, it certainly wouldn’t be to the extent he was asking. I told him I didn’t think it would be very good and he nodded understanding, seating himself beside their group. As the sermon went he started translating. It was interesting to see the difference in culture clash here.

The leader of the American group insisted it was okay, they didn’t need translation, there was no need for the trouble. The Korean man insisted there was no point if they didn’t hear the message. What the American didn’t understand is it’s almost insulting to turn down the help he wanted to provide. Because here, if someone helps you, it’s almost like an unspoken promise that you will help them out if they need it in the future. To turn down someone’s help is similar to saying, “No I don’t need your help, and I wont be there to help you either.”

After a little hushed arguing they finally settled on allowing him to translate, which was probably the better decision as many of them leaned over and strained to hear him as the sermon proceeded.

Afterwards I bid the Americans farewell as they went to lunch and went back to help my friend Kimmi and the pastor’s wife tidy up. Kimmi is getting baptized and I mentioned how I was disappointed I couldn’t be there as the JLPT is that day.  They both wouldn’t have it and wished me luck on the test and told me they would pray for me, which was rather sweet of them. I biked home humming hymns.

And so I trudge on through this heap of stuff to do. Gaijin will actually be DONE next week (well, the Japanese version), and I’m taking the JLPT3. I can’t wait to be freed up and take off to see cool places again. But who am I kidding, even being here is pretty cool. Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 5.51.04 PM

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But I want to have an adventure, mommy!

I won’t lie to you my friends. I have been one stressed out gal of late. Though the deadline for my documentary has been extended, I have had very little time to do my usual gallivanting. Upon learning of the deadline extension at Friday’s club meeting, I felt immense relief. I would enjoy the luxury of adequate sleep this weekend. And then I learned about Japan’s largest antique fair that only happens twice a year and it was going to be this weekend. Those who know me, would it really have been possible to pass that up?

Indeed it was not.


We had a midday start and took a series of trains to an area to the south known as Takeda (武田). All the while I was telling myself, “It’s ok, it’ll only be a few hours, I’m not even going to spend that much money, I know exactly what I want.” We arrived and after a long stroll found the convention center this thing was at. Bam. Two floors of endless cubicles filled with Japanese and European antique goods. I was in heaven.

This place. It was incredible. Everything from suits of samurai armor, katana centuries old, china, priceless works of art on scrolls, kimonos, towers of intricately carved jade worth more than a house, lockets owned a hundred years ago by lovers in France, old pipes from Europe in all kinds of fantastic shapes, one in particular owned by a Portuguese sea captain in the early 1800s, and more beauty than I could describe on here.

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It was like a horde of samurai were having a garage sale. I browsed all over everything, but my favorite by far was the collections of old post cards and books.

I have an extreme weakness for antique books, but the only ones at this fair were things like ledgers and a really cool leather bound on the emperor and his family pre-WWII.

The post cards were the jewels.

I had found several piles of them stacked in corners at these booths selling for about $5 a pop, but they were incredible. There were some dating back to the Meiji Restoration (500yen for a piece of art with someone’s writing on it from around 1860? How could I not be excited?). Many, unfortunately, had no writing on them, and I couldn’t even read many of the ones that did. The way Japanese is written changed so much so that in the past if it was written horizontally, you would read the text right to left, rather than the modern left to right.

I was so fascinated with one particular post card that I tumbled over from the crouching position I was in as I stared at it. The man minding the booth busted over to help me up and I sheepishly apologized, and asked him about the card I was holding.

It was a picture from WWII, he told me, of the Emperor’s daughters making bandages for the troops. Photo on 2013-06-22 at 22.12

I had to have it. Not because I’m pro Japan or whatever, but because this is a side of the history I have never seen before. We don’t see this stuff in our American textbooks. Japan is the only place I could so easily see this, own this. Someone had also written on the back in beautiful script that I hope to be able to read someday.

My other prizes include an original Totoro poster (I had to), and a yukata (summer version of a kimono) to wear to the upcoming, ancient Gion summer festival in Kyoto (祇園祭).


Upon returning home lets just say I got nothing done. All weekend. Too much play and too little translating and editing. I had a test coming up too. The early week was a lot of nose to the grindstone but as requested of movie club I have made a trailer by the deadline. Even if I did promise a complete version last week, I’m afraid this will have to suffice, but the complete version is also going to be rough. I’m only rushing to turn in this Japanese version for movie club, keep in mind I have to rest of the summer to fine tune my English work that I’ll try to turn in to competitions, etc. That said, I still want to make the Japanese one worth watching, as the things it has to say may impact the Japanese in particular.

Without further ado, here’s the Japanese trailer for my documentary, Gaijin.

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Camera Totin’ Gaijin

I’ll be honest, this past week has seen me running all over the place with a camera and a tripod, and I guess that counts for an adventure.

Not only am I heading up my own documentary project, I’m helping out my friend Adrian as he conducts research on youth and Japanese politics. This means I get to do my favorite thing, make the video pretty and shiny and organized while someone else interacts with people and coordinates interviews. It’s great.

One such interview excursion was to Kyoto city hall to interview the youth coordinator for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This would be the most formal situation I’ve ever been in here. Sure enough I donned the most business-esque outfit I could dig up and biked to campus (tripod and all) to meet Adrian. By the time I got there I was a sweaty mess but I got to chat with Cameron, a study abroad student at the highest level of Japanese, and therefore our translator. He too was in the business attire, dutifully enduring a tie despite the smothering, sticky heat.

Adrian arrived and we got on the bus and found ourselves dropped off in front of city hall.

There we were, a three man team of kids in their twenties about to do official stuff in this official government building. No sweat.

Actually a lot of sweat, it was hot.

But anywho, we went on in and inquired with several layers of posted secretaries about our appointment, Cameron being a champion using the polite form of Japanese “Keigo” (敬語), that I could definitely use some work on. (You only use it with people in authority or really polite situations).

Finally we were ushered in to a lounge and seated at a row of plush couches. I fidgeted with the tripod and started setting things up, and yet another secretary dutifully brought us fresh chilled barley tea (麦茶).

And then the moment of truth, in strolls Terada-san, fanning himself and gratefully going for the barley tea. We then started formal introductions- my first time doing it for real- using such lengthy phrases as よろしくお願いいたします。And then the infamous business card ceremony was performed, with synchronized bowing and receiving with two hands. After the pleasantries the interview began.

Keigo is a mysterious version of Japanese, and Cameron blew me away with his ability. Not only was he using a version of Japanese even Japanese people have trouble with, he was talking his way through political jargon and coming up with on the spot translations for Adrian’s questions. I monitored my camera and realized I had a very limited idea of what they were saying. I still have so far to go, even after all my improving, but honestly all this realization did was wake up that familiar little burst of energy I get when I see a challenge I want to tackle. Right there I wanted to hit my vocab practice.

After the interview Terada-san was kind enough to show us the council room, a really lucky experience for us random gaijin students to see see. It’s so steeped in history (being used as far back as pre WWII), and is used regularly for all of the city’s politicians to meet. We even got a picture.


Of course I’ve been juggling my own interviews as well, and I’ve started the editing process for my doc. Movie club wants me to turn it in by Monday, so I really gotta bust my butt. I know it’ll be at least decent, but I’m not sure how much other film I want to take, even after the movie club screening, before I call it a wrap. My main concern is that I have to make Japanese subtitles for it before I turn it in, in addition to making them a trailer. (AKA pray for me)

I’ll post the Japanese version (probably, if it’s not a horrible disaster) by next week for your viewing pleasure. See you then!

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