Category Archives: Travel

My travels, within and outside the USA.

Japanese and American Thoughts #2 Sex Talks


Having a conversation with a friend from Japan and comparing our thoughts on things we found strange or unusual about each other’s Country, while trying to explain, defend, or (agree and then) explore the aspects of our cultures. Part 2

There is so much to talk about so this is part two; We decided to continue by covering a few aspects of conversations around sex. I almost cut out a few key sections, but I wanted to keep the conversation as whole as possible as is the point of the conversation.

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Japanese and American Thoughts #1 Public Baths


Having a conversation with a friend from Japan and comparing our thoughts on things we found strange or unusual about each other’s Country, while trying to explain, defend, or (agree and then) explore the aspects of our cultures.

There is so much to talk about so this is part one. We decided to start off with the conversation by diving into the public baths in Japan.

Japanese and me, so far [part 3] (IS 5)


Once in Japan I was hit by culture shock in varying degrees depending on the situation.  I was also horribly nervous and could hardly say a few words to figure out where I was supposed to go to pick up my luggage, let alone have a conversation.  Within a week I was able to hold a shaky conversation and after a month, I was talking to everyone and anyone I could.  I had always been Read the rest of this entry

Host Vs. Home University Arrival Assistance (IS 2)


            I have been talking with a lot of the Japanese exchange students at my home university and I have come to realize just how different the treatment of international students is between my home university and my host university in Japan.

            About a month before heading to Kansai Gaidai University ( 関西外大 ) I received an email concerning where I wanted to live, how long I intended to stay and where, information relating to when I could apply for classes and most importantly information on how to get from the airport to the university.  Housing was straight forward, listing all of the details of the five off campus, by a mile, Seminar Houses (similar to dorms) as well as the steps in requesting a home stay.kgu dorms I checked out the details and knew within two weeks where I would be living (seminar house 4).  I gave a rough estimate of my housing dates, using my definite move in and a tenuous move out date.  Housing: check.  I found out that I would have to wait until physically arriving at Kansai Gaidai before I could choose anything. Classes: to be determined.  Seeing as most of the exchange students heading to Gaidai have never been to Japan before, are unfamiliar with the area, or just outright do not know how to navigate Japan as of the first hour off the plane at Kansai International Airport, Kyoto Station and Osaka Itami Airport, the option of taking a group bus (for incoming international students only) to the Seminar Houses is available and recommended. Ride to Seminar House: check.  There is a ¥2000 fee (roughly $24.00) for the bus, but the alternatives would be either a taxi, costing well over ¥5000 (~$60.00) or taking the train which ended up costing about ¥3000 (~$36.00).  It was nice to have the choice to go directly to the Seminar Houses or to take our time exploring if we wanted to.  Usually everyone is so excited to meet the people at the dorm, to set up their rooms and to see what the area is like, so they go straight to the dorm.

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International students on our way to Seminar House 4

            For international exchange students coming to my home university the story is a little different.  The students use the same system as the full time US students to register for classes and for housing.  This site is confusing enough for native English speakers that have dealt with it in the past and heard the best ways to use it.  The students are told to use the site and are on their own.  What needs to happen to successfully apply for housing is;

  1. Request housing appointment
  2. Wait for authorized housing sign up date
  3. Search for available on campus housing
  4. Try not to get stuck in forced triples or quads
  5. Try not to end up in the smallest dorms on campus
  6. Select a room and wait to hear back from the university

            Not the most enjoyable process.  Once the students make their way to the USA they have to find their own way to the campus.  There are recommendations for them on how to do so, but that usually goes as far as “we recommend you use either a Peterpan or Greyhound bus” and an address for the university. From there they are on their own.  As for the students that arrive a few days early they need to look for hotels and make their way there by taxi. Housing: check, Transportation: Unknown.

            That is saddening for me to hear.  For me how I was treated every day played a large role in my absolutely loving my experience in Japan.  I hope that any difficulties dealing with the university do not put a sour taste in anyone’s mouth. It might take a little more time and effort for the very busy staff, but to request a university bus to pick up the incoming students as an option would probably be a reasonable request.

Japanese Visa status: arrived !!!!


After the long wait I have officially received my Japanese Visa!  I was told that it would just be a small stamp in my passport, but it is actually a second photo page, similar to the main photo and info page of my passport.

This is one of the last steps to my preparing for study abroad at Kansai Gaidai University, Japan.  It’s hard to believe but in less than 3 weeks I will start my journey to Japan.

All I have left to do before I leave is to finish paying my university bill, pack (oh boy), clean/ organize my room, run…a lot!, work, and not purchase anything.

countdown 20 days 😉

“Why do we go to Japan?” [Study Abroad]


 

As I continue to plan my study abroad in Japan I am frequently asked a series of questions by both close friends and family, as well as by complete strangers.  The main questions tend to be  ” why do you study Japanese?”, “what interests you in Japan?” and of course the  “why did you/ why will you be going to Japan?”  One of my close friends that are also planning to go abroad to Japan found an article in The Japan Timesonline called “Why we came to Japan — a different realm” that  really blew me away with a way to explain our decisions.  If you know me and were wondering this, you are thinking about why you yourself would consider going to Japan, or if this is just something you would like to know, I recommend you read this.

In case the link does not work, I will paste a copy of this article by  AMY CHAVEZ

 

“Why did you come to Japan?” We’ve all been asked this question. I still can’t give a good answer.

 
I certainly know why I came here, but such a point-blank question, usually from someone you hardy know, calls for an equal and reticent answer. Thus, we tend to say what we think our questioner wants to hear: “I came to work,” or “I came to teach English,” etc. But our reasons for coming to Japan are likely more profound. After all, most of us could have stayed in our own countries to work. Some of our predecessors came to fight wars, occupy and help rebuild. Others came seeking a better life. But my generation came to study, to teach, to experience or sometimes just to understand their own ancestors.

Some of us are running away from something at home: love, family, or responsibility. Some of us are the first in our family to ever go abroad. Others are living the life their parents only dreamed of. And some of us are doing nothing of the sort. But one thing is for sure: We came to Japan because we wanted to step into a different realm.

We were bright, we were young, we were full of wonder. We wanted to know: What’s out there? We wanted to step off the airplane and feel the first moonstones beneath our feet. And even now, when we go home, people ask us: What’s it like over there?

We came to Japan because we wanted to know what it’s like to walk down her streets, to feel the history of the samurai, or the sexiness of a geisha sashaying in geta. We came to have our photos taken in front of torii gates and temples and to seek the meaning of dragons, giant Buddhas and ancient Shinto ways.

And this we share with others who have been doing for centuries, just like my great grandfather did when he came to Japan. He purchased Japanese kimono for his two young daughters and when he returned to the U.S., he dressed them and took their photos. This brief, unlikely moment — of my grandmother and her sister as young girls, wearing kimono and holding a parasol between them — is indelible in my mind now because of this photo that hung on the wall in the house I grew up in.

And when we arrive in Japan, depending on our expectations, we either reach for the life jacket or we jump into the rescue boat. We either choose assisted swimming, or a complete return to safety. Some of us will be wowed by the country while others will be disappointed. Some of us will be fascinated and intrigued to the point of wanting to prolong the adventure, while others will prefer to retrace their steps, returning to security of home and family.

Those of us who are frustrated because we can’t find the right shampoo, that we can’t do even the simplest transaction at the bank, or who don’t like sucking up to their bosses, will go home soon. Those of us who are fascinated by all the different kinds of shampoo, and will buy even the last odd bottle on the shelf of the old ladies’ decrepit corner shop, will stay.

Those of us who have a taste for seafood appendages will stay while those repulsed by the same will leave. Those who see the language as a challenge to embrace will stay while those who fear the language barrier, unless they find an assistant, may leave. Those who fall in love will stay while those who don’t may leave.

But we all enjoy our stint living in Japan, a cradle of politeness. Politeness, so often a case of mistaken identity, is not the Please-Thank you kind of politeness, but culturally defined by roles, manuals and rigorous training. Walk into any restaurant and the Way of Politeness orchestra begins. Yet some of us will condemn this politeness for its lack of sincerity. Some will insist that a smile should be genuine. So some of us will go back to where we came from, where the people may be more rude, but they are sincere in their rudeness.

Others of us will understand that the fake politeness is exactly the point. We aren’t always polite because we want to be polite, but because we should be polite. If someone says something we disagree with, is it our duty to disagree? Or can we just quietly, politely, accept their views even though they are not our own?

When we learn Japanese, one of the first things we are told is not to use the word hate. It is too strong. And so it is, in any language. Yet in English it so freely rolls off the tongue: I hate fish! I hate school! I hate that guy! Can we be proud of hating something? Isn’t hate, rather, a sign of weakness?

Japan teaches us that there are many ways to act and react. And that we are not limited to our own. We are presented with a plethora of discernments we never thought we had before, notions of ganbaru (doing our best), shoganai (leaving some things to fate) and kawaii (cuteness). We are challenged by concepts long forgotten such as shyness, stoicism, and modesty. Some peculiarities we may never understand such as shrill female voices, obsession with character goods and the next TV tarento. Yet these are the moonstones we’ve stepped onto as we stepped into this other realm. You don’t have to choose them. But then again, you can.

We all had that curiosity — what’s out there?

So when we do go home, if we do go home, we are changed. That’s why we came to Japan.

OK, on to the next question, “How long stay Japan?”

 

 

Study Abroad: Japan


I just received my Official Certificate of Eligibility for study abroad in Japan at Kansai Gaidai University (関西外国語大学).  This is the third time I am trying to study abroad in college and so far something has come up or changed to make it so I was unable to go.  At the moment I have several challenges in front of me before I can call this definite but I have put everything on the line for this to work. I have purchased round trip plane tickets through United Airlines, I have withdrawn from my UMass dorm, been removed from UMass courses, and there is no turning back now.  I am so happy that I am actually following through with this, but it is not without it’s risks.

Underwater martial arts competition; wouldn’t that be fun?


   Hajime! It starts with the officials shout, as the two competitors flip off the edge of their floating start points.  The two fighters become one with the water, swirling, pushing, and pulling at the crystal clear fluid.  Strength is not the most important part of this battle, staying calm; using specific movements to manipulate oneself through the pressure of 50 feet of water is a particular skill.  When the pair finally meets, an elegant series of movements ensues.  A flick of the foot can save you from a kick and a swing of the arm can leave you open to penetrating strikes.  One mistake and you may be left out of breath, 50 feet underwater with nowhere to go.

If I knew anyone with access to a nice underwater camera and a pool, or even some form of a clear water source, I would be all for underwater action photo shoots.  Add in some random spontaneity, passion, and fun and my happiness would be absolute. Until I tried to top it the next day of course.

I would be excited and worried for the opportunity to compete in an underwater martial arts competition.  I’m not sure if this would be feasible in consideration of only forms or if sparring would be included.  Either way, it makes me energized just thinking about it.

Trip to Japan, with a little more details. Part 1


I started my trip in the northeast of the USA and woke up by 3:30am in order to get on the road to the airport nice and early.  Bags packed, and ready to go i drove to my uncles  and then hit the road to the airport. 

Whenever I Travel I always tend to over pack.  I’m never sire of what would be appropriate for a few days to a week.  I had a big duffel bag and my backpack, while my uncle only had a medium-sized piece of rolling luggage and his backpack.   I will just go with the idea that I was leaving room for souvenirs…right.

After arriving at the airport the hype started to really hit me. This was the first time for me to leave the country, and the journey to Japan, the place I had been dreaming to see, was about to come materialize.  I was seated in economy plus for the short connecting flight to Chicago, and for the flight from Chicago to the Narita airport in Japan.  By some stroke of luck I was upgraded to First class for the short flight, and Business class for the international flight! Never having flown internationally I didn’t really know how nice the upgrade was until the flight back in economy plus seating.  We took off for Chicago and i had only slept about 2-3 hours the night before with all the hype, so I passed out for the couple hour flight and recharged a bit.

In Chicago we exchanged some US money for the Japanese Yen.  The Exchange rate was even worse than I thought it was, plus the handlers’ fee but it was still a fun experience.  Then we waited in the United lounge for our flight.

We boarded the double-decker plane and we seated on the upper floor.  Business class was pretty ridiculous, lots of food, drinks, 15 inch screens for each person, with a remote so you could pick out of movies, TV shows, video games, music and more.  The seats were fully reclining, turning into beds so you could sleep more comfortably.  The flight was about 12 hours if I remember correctly but it passed fast enough that I didn’t really mind it too much.

I Landed in Japan at the Nariata international airport and headed for the check in. 

I must have looked nervous, I was stopped and asked a few questions at both the passport check in and the baggage check.  It didn’t take long so it was fine.  I finally had the first things added to my passport. I received the temporary visa, and a departure tag thing.  We had a driver pick us up at the front of the airport and drove us back to our hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo. 

I was horribly nervous to be in Japan and to use my Japanese.  I had been practicing and studying for this, but I was still nervous just the same.  I started off with a few greetings to the driver and asked a few questions.  The first questions were pretty jumbled up and probably didn’t make any sense, but the driver was nice and understood the second time.  By the end of the ride I was feeling a little more confident and was still bristling with excitement for Tokyo. 

Our hotel was the Keio Plaza and it had great views of the city from the room.  It was funny seeing all the Christmas decorations throughout the city even though it was thanksgiving.  But the celebrations of course differ between the USA and Japan.  I’m not going to really get into that now though.

Alright more info soon to come.

~~mindofryan