Lifestyle Update – Grinding it out in Japan

There are some weeks that are better than others. Lately I’ve resigned to just do my best at work and study Japanese, and enjoy FF and life at a casual pace. It’s been pretty much SSDD lately (same shit, different day), only without the connotation of shit being unenjoyable. I find that it’s rare when you’re at a point in life where you can just enjoy every day, and not have to worry too much about the past nor the future.

I’ve been meaning to throw up some pics from a recent trip to Tokyo, but technical complications led that being impossible until this week. So this week I’ll post some junk from that trip, as well as some stuff that’s been going on this week.

School Festival
I don’t watch as much anime as some of my friends, but they told me that they’ve seen the traditional JP school festival portrayed in many an anime.  I never saw it in one, but I got to experience it, at least.  There are two main festivals during the year.  In the fall, there is the sports festival.  That’s where all the major (mainly athletic) clubs compete with other schools.  My school doesn’t do baseball and soccer.  But in the Spring it competed in basketball, kendo, judo, table tennis, volleyball, badminton, and probably some others that I can’t remember.

The Fall festival is called  a “cultural festival.”  I mentioned to my JP friend that I felt it wasn’t so “cultural”–at least not in a multicultural sense.  She agreed.  It’s strictly a Japanese culture kind of thing.  The only exception at my school this year would be the presence of a single Chinese food booth.

This is a school flyer that they hand out before the festival.  Preparations take place days and weeks in advance.  At the bottom right it says “32; today too amidst the peaceful Teizan (my school’s name) atmosphere, we can do it, yeah? ; Yes we can!” Or that’s a rough translation. As for “Yes we can!” ..that being bob the builder / president Obama’s trademark, it pretty much became an instant catch-phrase here.  Anyone in Japan will understand the phrase and probably smirk if you say it int he right context.  The reason there is a big sun there is because this is the 32nd Teizan school fest, so they take “3 2” which in JP is pronounced “san ni” and get “sunny.”  So there were a lot of ‘sun-related’ decorations at this school fest.  On the left is a basic floor guide for the school.  It tells you where to go for what type of food.

As my friends might have seen in various anime, they do set up lil cafes in the classrooms.  The cafes have different themes.  As this falls around halloween-time, some of the festivities/cafes might be halloween-related, but my school didn’t do anything like that.  My friend also predicted that some of my students would cosplay, but only one did.  One of my English1 students, Haruna, dressed up as Ichimaru Gin from Bleach, her fav char.  I had no idea it was even her until she got right up in my grill and told me–the costume was so good.  She’s also an artist, and fairly good.  There were a couple classrooms set up displaying the various arts and crafts of the students.  One of the rooms was manga related, and here is some of Haruna’s art,

Shoujo style, ne?  I’m not sure who the other artists were.  The language barrier only gets me so far :(, but here are some other samples,

It looks so sad ; ;.  I just want my students to be genki, not depressed!

Yes, blame me that they spelled ‘night’ wrong :/.  If there’s one thing that non-English-speaking Japanese people have in common, it’s that when they write something in English they tend to not check the dictionary, nor consult a native speaker of English.  You see all sorts of ridiculous spellings and sentence structures on public signs written in English.  Chances are, if it’s in public and written in English, it’s going to be your standard Engrish.  Either way I think they did an excellent job on these.

I wish I could just take pictures of everything, but it would just be weird :/ aside from privacy issues.  But I can try to use description.  A gate was raised at the entrance of the school, made of cardboard, styrafoam, etc. There was a pikachu rendition attached to it.  Outside near the front door of the school were several different booths each with different types of food.  There was yakisoba (fried soba noodles).  There was yakitori; shishkabobs of different varieties, including chicken and octopus.  Mario’s (the teacher at this both whose nickname it bears has a rather prominent mustache; hence the name) Chinese booth had dumplings (like an American dumpling you’d find at a chinese restaurant, only more tasty and like 4x bigger) and sweet yogurt.  There was another booth with boiled eggs and something else I ate but am still yet to identify..

Inside were multiple cafes.  For some of them, the students were dressed in normal (not school uniform–they don’t do uniforms at my HS) clothes.  Others, the girls were dressed in white dress shirts and ties.  In some of the cafes, some of the girls dressed up in almost complete maid outfits.  Have you ever heard of a maid cafe?  Just google “maid cafe, Akihabara Tokyo” and you’ll know what I mean -.-.  Crapes are popular in Japan, so some students were selling those.  Likewise, cakes and pancakes.  Some students walked around with soft drinks and candy.  As mentioned before, aside from food there were art booths.  Not only was there manga, but there was also a photography display.  Some students were displaying or selling clay or leather work.

There were constant musical performances in the gym throughout the day.  There are two bands at my school, and both do rock and roll.  There was also a girl doing solo performances (with a teacher as pianist).  The bands played both light and hard rock.  An example of what they played would be Zetsubou Billy by Maximum the Hormone (the 2nd ending of Death Note).

The drama club won first place for the most outstanding content at the festival.  They did an hour long performance.  The play was set in the WW2 era.  Unfortunately, I can’t say much about the play as my Japanese isn’t good enough yet to have understood it.  As far as I could gather, this dude was having epilectic moments where he had visions of a mysterious woman.  But I don’t know what significance this had with the rest of the story.  Interestingly enough, the male roles were all played (rather well) by female students.  For anyone that doesn’t know, there’s something here in Japan called Takarazuka Revue (google’able as well).  Females playing male roles is nothing new in Japanese drama, and is even quite popular.

The school was also decorated with many multi-colored streamers.  There were also plenty of these little flower-looking wads of paper everywhere–made from like, the material you’d find in a gift bag.

After it all, I was so full. The students try to pass around coupons or otherwise try and get you to buy their goods.  Byt he end of it, I’d tried just about everything.

School Outing
Occasionally, the staff at a high school will have a nomi hodai (sp), or otherwise called a ‘drinking party.’  It’s goign to be going on this weekend, and I think I’ll go to this rather than joining my ALT gai-jin brethren at the halloween party this year.  None of the other English teachers appear to be going, so I don’t know how it’ll turn out.  It was difficult enough to read the invitation and make a reply.

This is written in almost 100% kanji.  It’s crazy.  But I made a bit of a study out of it.  My Kanji’s gotten so much better now.  I don’t know how many I know now–maybe 150, maybe 300.  To be able to read 90% of a newspaper, you need to read 2,000.

Tohoku University International Festival
Now this is what I would call a “cultural festival.”  This weekend, a friend of mine invited me to go. She turned out to be several hours late to Sendai, so I spent that time shopping and browsing around.

I ran into some of my students at the station.  This isn’t the first time–I don’t if it’s chance or what.  Sendai’s a big city and it’s not like I know a lot of people, but one always tends to run into others at the local station, it seems.  If it’s not students I see, it’s other gai-jin I know.

The first things that my dork-self went to go buy were work-related supplies.  I’m not even gonna get into the details.  But then I went shopping for clothes–work related clothes :/.   There’s a store here called “Uniqlo.”  It’s kind of like a staple clothing store here, similar to the gap, though the styles are different.

While I was browsing for clothing in Sendai’s AER (shopping) building, I happened to notice there was a small anime convention going on.  It was 6 bucks to get in, but I decided to check it out.

These are pages from the catalogue that I got.  Essentially, what artists do at these conventions is line up table after table into big rolls, and display their work in their own personal sections.  Low and behold, it turned out that the majority of the work was hentai-ecchi related.  What seems strangest to me is that this is somewhat acceptable for large portions of the female population.  Many of the artists were female, and their work was charming to say the least.

Finally I grabbed an avacodo dog, stuffed my shopping junk in a $3/day locker (more on that later), and chilled at the Taito Station (major franchise arcade) for awhile until my friend came.

looked kinda like this

We took a bus from Sendai station and arrived at the Tohoku University International Festival.  There were many many different kinds of people there, though most of the variety was from the Asias.  Food was available from Malaysia, India, Thailand, the Phillipenes, Indonesia, Jakarta.. I could go on and on.  I tried a sort of Phillpene gruel.  I don’t know how to describe it.  It was like southern grits or a cornmeal of sorts, except delicious.  It had chickena dn vegies in it and was slightly spicy.

There were also multiple kinds of dance on stage.  Among some that I saw were Indian, Thai, and Latin style dances.

Since my friend was pretty late, it ended up closing within an hour after we got there.  So we stalled until the international dance party that was to happen later.  She showed me around her university a bit.  Architecture and feel-wise, it reminded me of mine (University of Florida) back home.  The only thing that stood out was the Japanese Tea House, constructed in classic Japanese architectural design, with an exquisite garden to boot.

After dicking around for a bit, we came across a band of musicians from Okinawa.  For those that don’t know, Okinawa is in the south.  The far farrr south.  Think of this as the “Hawaii of Japan” (in one of their own words).  Okinawa is the home of the Ryukyuu people.  These are ~Japanese people, but the language is supposedly a fair bit different.  And the people on these Islands come from multiple descents–not just Japanese (Chinese, Korean, and Thai being some examples).

They showed me some of their instruments.  They had a samisen decorated in snake skin (I’m sure by now this entry is simply riddled with grammatical and spelling related mistakes), which is like a Japanese guitar, and a sort of box-drum.  I’m not sure what the deal w/ the drum was, but the player would sit on it, and depending on where they struck it, and how far up or down they tilted it, it would make a different sound.

They did a full-blown performance for us.  I was not prepared for how epic it would be.  I don’t know how quite to describe it, but the dance looked like some mix of coreographed (sp) kung-fu, and hip-hop dancing.  They performed for about 10 minutes, music and dancing and all, just for me and my friend.  The dance and song seemed to be dedicated to Okinawa and it’s splendor–specific references to its sea and sky.  I don’t know what else to say.. words can’t really describe it.

Eventually we made our way to the dance party.  There were a fair bit more westerners at this than at the prior festival.  I wonder just how many different nationalties were present?  Somewhere between 1 and 2 dozen would be my guess.

Tohoku University’s international culture is definitely interesting.  It’s not as if my university was not international.  But something felt different here.

Something that I’ve found quite interesting is the fact that all these people speak English.  Perhaps it’s why they speak English that’s interesting.  I know that it all boils down to America being a superpower, and the influence of Brittain and the spread of English in the 1800’s.  But it’s interesting that it seems as if most of these people aren’t learning English to speak specifically to people from native English speaking countries.  They’re using it to speak to…anyone o.O.  Namely, most often, other Asian/Oceanic dwellers.  To (roughly) quote someone that I spoke to “I’ve been here for a couple years, and will probably be here for several years more.  I have no interest in learning Japanese.  I get by with English just fine.”  I found it interesting that his perspective was so much different than mine.  I know what he means by getting by with a dictionary, survival Japanese, fluent English, and otherwise to fill in the gaps with body language.  For him, that’s fine and it can eventually get him whatever he needs when in this country.  But for me, it seems ‘very difficult’ to not be able to speak Japanese.  Difficult and embarrassing.  For me, I want to be able to read everything and speak to everyone.  For him, he couldn’t care to really communicate with people–he’s here to work on his physics research.

But it’s not just this impression that I get.  More and more, it’s become evident to me (although I knew it before), that people don’t learn English as a second language to communicate with Americans or Britts, etc.  They learn it to be able to speak with /the World/.

There’s a strange kind of independence that you feel when you’re not in your own country, and among others from many other lands that are, too, foreigners to the land.  You get the feeling that things such as genetics, nationality, language, culture, and location begin to blur and become arbitrary.

As for the dance floor itself, heh.  Japanese clubs and dance parties are so much difference.  People don’t dance close up together.  They dance alone or in groups.  The music they played ranged from 80’s western music (think MJ), to hip hop from earlier in this decade (think 50cent and lil john).

Unfortunately, after the night was done, I followed the advice of some drunk friends and ended up taking the wrong train (go me 🙁 ).  By the time I hopped on it, it was already about midnight (the trains stop going at around that time), so by the time I got off, it was too late to re-correct my route and go home by train.  I ended up taking a taxi for about $30 and going back to Sendai.  Then I went to a Bagus Internet cafe and stayed for about $20 for 9hrs.  (more on the convenience of Internet cafes in a bit)

Tokyo Trip

Playing on a PC at Bagus Gran Cyber Cafe, Shibuya, Tokyo

Original architecture of Tokyo Station.

Common ad for Marlboro black menthols here.. makes it hard for me to quit

Tokyo Metropolitan govt. building

Shinjuku (iirc), one of the busiest districts in Tokyo

More Shinjuku

More Shinjuku.  Not only do they have a mock “Big Ben”, but there’s also a miniature of the Statue of Liberty in Odaiba.

A common Tokyo arcade. This isn’t actually a good picture.  It doesn’t really do any justice to the “competitive feel” you get at some of the arcades.  At some of them, when like 8 dudes are going at it in Tekken 6, and 8 other crazy dudes are entering Gundam cockpits to prepare for battle, you get a really lively feel; something akin to a nerdy fight club.

Common commercial toilet.  Sometimes public ones are also this advanced.

I have no idea why these are so popular in some areas..

I think this was taken in the sleezy area of Shinjuku.  Even though some districts, like Shinjuku, are kind of upper class, they’re not without their sleezy areas.  There were lots of gentleman’s clubs around the region of this photo.  Shortly after we took this I was passing by a gent who didn’t look me in the eyes but said “sekkusu..” under his breath as I was walking by, I guess urging us to follow him as inconspicuously as possible.

Shibuya.  This pic is for Leonstrife.

For another friend.

Tenshodo sighted? (feeling nerdy right now) This was in Ginza.

Me sighted?  (guess we were pretty bored that day)

Shinjuku Gardens, a scenic tourist attraction.

Right outside the nearest station to central Harujuku, one of the fashion capitals of the world.

A fetching outfit from one of Harujuku’s many unique outlets.

No tout!

Shibuya maybe?

Travel Secrets (Internet Cafes, etc)
If you don’t have a lot of money, are traveling light, and have a party that doesn’t mind roughing it, I will share with you one of the biggest secrets of urban exploration and tourism.  Well, I suppose it’s not so secret if you know a fair bit about Japan, but if you don’t know much then here is my advice.

Don’t stay at hotels.  Youth hostels are a cheap alternative, but you have to book them months in advance.  The answer is to stay at internet cafes. This will cost you between $10-30 dollars a night depending on the length of your stay and the quality of your “room.”  This is the ultimate baller deal.  You get a shit-ton of manga and magazines that you can rent for your stay, no additional charge.  There are free movies (porn included, if that’s ur thing).  You can buy snacks, and some cafes even allow you to purchase full course meals.

There are free drinks.  This is one of the most epic parts.  I think these places cater to people who wish they coudl be 8years old their entire lives.  I know that every time I go to a Bagus Cafe, I’m always on the strawberry milk right away.  They’ve got that as well as banana milk.  Cold soft drinks including cola and calpis (this is like a kind of sweet JP gatorade), hot and cold tea, milk tea, coffee, ice coffee, espresso, etc etc.  Oftentimes there are free unlimited ice cream cones.  And free cereal with an ample supply of sugar (I call this the ‘gerbil bowl’, because you have to basically go to the machine and turn this crank and it spits out the chips).  There’s, of course, internet.  Often you’ll get a pc, a ps2, and a tv.  Depending on your deal, you might get a selection of various games/mmo’s.

That’s a pretty sweet deal, getting all that for what’s usually $10-20.  However there is a bit of a catch.  You don’t really get a room, lol.  You get a high walled cubicle.  Generally, for us, it’s ok though.  Most of the Internet cafes will have the “flat” option, where you get this padded leather flooring and a leather chair/pillow thing.  It’s plenty comfortable for the weary traveler.  The other option is the open seat.  This is like your basic quality lean back computer chair.  I’ve slept in one of these… I much prefer the flat option, lol.

Oh yeah, and most of the computers come equipped with FFXI.  Though even if you bring your security token, go ahead and enjoy playing on the JP POL :(.  Even for me, being able to read katakana, it was difficult.  No windower, and I couldn’t get macros nor typed commands to work.  I did an exp party as bard and rdm and played decently well, but had to manually select everything from the menu, reading the katakana, and do manual stave changes.  You will also find that they have FFXI guidebooks.  They’ll be on various subjects, such as crafting, endgame, or general.  But of course, they won’t be in English.

But even if you do have to sleep in a padded cubicle, the other perks and the price really make these cafes win-win for some people.  I should note that there’s a really nice ambiance.  Likely, the walls will be painted black and there will be no windows.  People are always quiet and the staff always helpful and courteous.  There’s usually soft music playing in the background, such as Jazz.  It’s a really comfortable atmosphere.  Oh yeah–there are also showers, and massage chairs that you can pay additionally to use.

I’ve got many pics, but as they’re on my friends camera I only have a couple for uploading here atm.

This is Maboo, that we stayed at in Shinjuku.  But there are many other types of Internet Cafes.  My favorite is Bagus.  Another nice one is “Personal Room,” which is the following,

So this would be the personal room.  The picture a bit up with the label that says “Ryx”, the picture of the anime dude in the suit jacket, is essentially their mascot.

This isn’t really an Internet cafe.  But it’s an option.  Basically depending on your traditional Internet cafe, you might be able to stay 6-9 hours in either open seat or flat, for $10, or might have to upgrade from open seat to flat, or otherwise 6 to 9 or 12 hours, for a price of $20.  The deal you want at the personal room is about $30 (on the blue sign above, you’ll see that it’s 3k yen for 12 hours).  There are a number of good thing about the personal room and other places like it.  Firstly, it’s an actual /room/.  It’s a shitty room, but one nonetheless.  You get a small bed and a little pillow, and a space with a computer chair and your computer.  Now, we were highly interested in using it as our mock hotel.  But it so turns out that most people (I think) use these places as some kind of fap-box?  Essentially you pay up front, and then some dude will ask you to select some number of DVD’s from their selection down in the lobby.  I tried declining kindly, but he simply repeated “3 DVDs!”  Ok ; ;.  Well I accepted and carried up some TV dramas they had (heroes) and maybe a couple of…other things.. (hey, when in Rome).  Not only this.. but they give you a complementary fap can.  There is no turning it down, they stick it in your bag along with your room card and dvd’s.  Sorry if this grosses anyone out 🙁 but hey, I’m reporting.

But these are your options.  You can pay possibly $10 a night for a full nights rest in a computer chair.  Or you could pay possibly $10 for only 6 hours of sleep in a flat.  Or you could pay $20 for a full 9+ hours in a flat.  Or you could go to the personal room and pay $30.  Now, let’s compare this to hotels.  The cheapest hotel I could get my hands on was $65 a night.  Obviously the quality of the room was leaps and bounds above a cubicle.  Only you don’t get all the free drinks, games, etc.  And in addition, hotels are less flexible.  You have to check out by noon.  At an Internet cafe you can come and go as you please.  And one more bit–oftentimes you’ll find Internet cafes right in the heart of the city.  Discount hotels will usually be a bit farther out.  Really though $65 is not terrible, but when you’re on a budget trip, you want to save as much as possible.  More importantly though, this was a rare find.  Normally a cheap hotel will be barely less than $100/person/night.  Standard ones will cost anywhere within $100-200.  Some of these make for a really nice experience though.  If you want to stay at a traditional Japanese Inn, where you can eat Japanese cuisine, bathe in a hot spring, sleep among walls of shoji and floors of tatami, there’s nothing wrong with that–it’s just a bit expensive.

Final note on this: where do you put your stuff?  If you have several suitcases and bags, and if your Internet cafe stay is only 9-12 hours, do you just lug around your stuff for the rest of the time?  Doesn’t sound very fun.  Well, fortunately, lockers are very popular in Japan.  All of the major train stations will have spacious pay-to-rent lockers lined up, and they are easy to find.  They’re usually $3/day and can hold perhaps a big suitcase and a shopping bag or two.  Other bigger ones might be available for $5.  You’ll get either a key or a key code, and you can come back and retrieve your stuff later.  If your stuff has been in there for over 24 hours, you simply need to put in additional money before you can get your stuff out.

So going this route, it is very very possible to stay in Tokyo for $23/night as far as base expenses, some food (cereal, ice cream) and drink (soft drinks etc) being included.  This is great as a base.  Tokyo is still expensive, and you’re going to need money to get around by train, bus, etc.  Food will be pricey.  Everything will be pricey.  But having a cheap place to stay is an essential start.

As I don’t have all my pics on me right now (friend is still uploading), I’m not gonna bother finishing this up or editing.

At an arcade in Shibuya.  Dk, but I’m really amused by stuff like this

School Dress Style
Most junior and high schools still do uniforms.  I went out to a new shopping mall today and I came across a store that should have looked all too familiar to me.  This is precisely how my kids dress,

Real California surfin’..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.