Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'm not sure whether or not any of you celebrate Christmas, but I thought I'd take a moment before clearing off my bed and sleeping to talk about something that happened to me.

It was a busy Christmas Eve. I spent most of the day editing one of my friend's fanfictions she had written about Final Fantasy VI. I hadn't done any editing work before, but my friend insisted on treating me to lunch at a local coffee shop while I helped make her story more like one written in native English. This work wasn't difficult or boring in the least, in fact, I rather enjoy creative writing, but it took a little longer than expected to edit fourteen pages. I won't go into detail about any of that, though. We each said our thank yous and goodbyes, and went our own way.

I also received a Christmas package from my parents, brother and sister-in-law, and grandparents. I received multiple sets of warm clothes--hoodies, jammie pants, tights, socks, and thermal wear--some food from home, a cute snowman blanket, and some movies I wanted to see, but hadn't had time to watch. I am very thankful for these things. It's very cold in Kyoto, and I hadn't had the time or financial means to buy clothes for the upcoming winter weather. I feel that these gifts were perfect for this year, and that I didn't need anything extravagant. It's humbling, and I like it.

However, after going to Laura's house to celebrate Christmas Eve, she and Cornelius walked me back to my apartment. We had all eaten quite a lot, and we wanted fresh air. Laura carried my new snowman blanket as a bundle in one arm and suddenly, a woman--whom we've never met--wearing a Santa hat asked us in Japanese, "Is that a baby?" We kept walking, not knowing she was talking to us, as she had been talking to a man moments before, but she continued, "Is that a baby?" Finally, she ran to us and gently took Laura's hand, "Oh! I thought that was a baby!" The woman sounded relieved. (All of this is in Japanese, by the way.) Laura laughed and said, "No, no! It's a blanket! Just a blanket!" All three of us laughed and the woman smiled. "Oh! I really thought it was a baby! Oh! Silly me!" She took the blanket and rocked it and kissed it. I'm sure all three of us were thinking she was just a drunk, silly woman, but she gave the blanket back to Laura, then did something unexpected. She gave each of us a sincere hug and said, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" We hugged her back and laughed, saying the same greeting to her. She walked us to the intersection and told us to enjoy ourselves. We went our separate ways, and laughed about the experience on the way to my apartment building.

Yet, for some reason, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic at this. I looked at my computer clock, and the time read 12:05 a.m., which would put the meeting with this woman at exactly midnight on Christmas Day. I'm not sure if I'll ever see that woman again, or if I had even seen her before tonight, but I feel like meeting her was not chance. I feel as though I were four years old, sitting with my brother in our dining room looking at the gifts Santa had brought us with wonder, not knowing how fortunate we were. I realized how selfish I had been many Christmases before, never taking the time to try and understand the importance of family and a brief encounter with a friend. To me, this woman was Santa Claus, and our meeting will stick with my thoughts forever.

I think this Christmas, although it has nearly twenty-four more hours to fill, will stick with me because it is not the usual. It's imperfect.

Even if I'm not meeting my own goals in exactly the same way I'd like to, I feel as though I'm learning so much from my stay in Japan. I'm seeing a side of humanity that I never thought existed, or perhaps, it was just a side I had given up on somewhere down the line. If I were to see that woman again, I would look her in the eyes and say thank you with all of my heart. And I hope that someone, somewhere, and someday can repay her the kindness she gave me on this cold night in December in a land very far from home.

I'm sure she would laugh and smile saying, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homesickness

I didn't really understand how the other exchange students could say they were "homesick" after coming to Japan. I never really missed "home" because I felt--and still feel--very much at home in Kyoto. But with the Christmas holiday quickly approaching, I find myself having more down days than up. I find myself sinking behind in my studies and struggling to concentrate.All I want for Christmas is to spend time with my family and friends, and I know it's impossible for me to go back to Texas for the holidays. I also know that I would be mad at myself for doing this, if it were possible, anyway. I know it's good for me to remain in Japan even during the break.

But knowledge doesn't change the desire to be home, petting my animals, hugging my parents, cuddling the hell out of my boyfriend, and even playing with my chubby nephew.

I am very lucky to be where I am today, and even luckier to be living my dream of living in Japan. This trip has definitely been humbling. I've very lucky and proud to be living in Kyoto, even more so that I could  be fortunate enough to live here for a year.

But for those of you wanting to study abroad, here's my advice to you: Homesickness might not hit you at first, but when it does hit you, be prepared to deal with it for awhile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Experiences and Realizations: the never-ending continuation.

This is a blog I'd like to dedicate to all of the people I've ever met in my life, as silly as that sounds.

I woke up from a nap after eating way too many crepes  my friend, Laura made for me in return for some udon and edible chrysanthemum--I found out, once again, that I was allergic to a plant that usually doesn't bother me--and felt strange. I felt unsettled, out of place, and a little homesick. The dream was strangely familiar. I was home, in Texas in my high school, a hybrid of Japanese and Texan architecture, speaking to my friends and family in Japanese and English. I was welcomed with hugs by my friend, Oscar, a cook I used to work with at a restaurant called Outlaw's back home, and he told me that I was growing up too fast, going to get married soon. I laughed and told him that he'd better make sure my boyfriend married me. My Mom then took my hand and dragged me to talk to a woman I'd only seen at pep rallies in real life. Her blond, flipped-out hair, and former cheerleader smile unnerved me as she asked me if I had already sold my truck, a vehicle I stopped driving almost two years ago. The dream continued like this. My friend Bonnie smiled at me and bobbed around like an excited puppy. Why was I being told "Congratulations for going to Japan?" I opened my eyes and couldn't wrap my head around where I was. I looked to my right, a place I would normally see a black lab/pittbull mix lying beside me. My boyfriend's dog wasn't there, and I wasn't sleeping on the floor on a futon next to a surreal-post-modernist painting. I wasn't home. This was the second time I've had this feeling in Japan. The first occurring only after I woke up in a hotel after flying.

I'm not sure what this dream meant, but I'm asking all of my friends and family to be careful, safe, healthy, well-fed, and warm during the holiday season. I won't be home, something that feels a little lonely, and a weight in my stomach is telling me that something may happen. I'm not sure if it's good, but the suspense is right under my skin.

However, while this dream was rather perplexing--still is, even after writing about it--I've had a few realizations over the past week or two that I haven't written. Each experience is tiny, and I feel that when I write the whole, I lose the emotion that happened in one particular instance. These moments can't be expressed in mundane detail, like the number of steps it takes to climb up Kotohiragu Shrine in Kagawa Prefecture, or the details of my trip to Awaji-shima, school speeches, and being cast in a college film. All of these are interesting, and I'll touch on each of them briefly--I was writing a mundane entry about the Awaji-shima trip that I felt did no justice--but I want to discuss only the important details. (I'm terrible about repeating myself, aren't I?)

I hope that I will never forget sitting with my two good friends on a bench, staring at the river on a cold night with biting wind, drinking a can of fruity alcohol, laughing at childhood stories, complaining about school, and letting ourselves unwind. It was about nine o'clock, and we had just finished a fantastic eight-course meal at a Chinese restaurant in our hotel, the Tokushima Grandvrio Hotel. The trip until that point had been action-packed, and busy, but I'll save that for a different blog entry. Cornelius, Laura and I had been awake since early morning, and we couldn't wait for our two hours of exploration away from the other students and planned outings. We decided the best thing to do would be to stop at a convenience store, purchase some cheap alcohol, and just relax by the bank of a river passing through town.

Honestly, this was the first time that I had really spent time with Cornelius. We had hung around a few times before, but I had always taken it for granted, and I never gave the time to truly appreciate his company. However, away from the group, this pristine, reserved, intelligent guy let his shoulders drop from his rather straight posture. He laughed as my Texan accent slipped, and even shared stories from his childhood. We all took turns talking about laughing with food in our mouth, drinks spraying from nostrils, and even laughing to the point of vomiting. These aren't heavy topics, and they're easy to relate to, no matter whom you talk with. Yet, looking at the sky, shivering under my wool jacket while the can of alcohol stuck to my hand, I smiled to myself as the realization came over me: I've made some very good friends in Japan.

As all three of us walked to the hotel, relaxed enough from the alcohol to talk freely, but not slovenly, we joked that we would work together. Cornelius, the law student, would have to put up with the shenanigans of two very hyper coworkers. He would be our supervisor. Laura would bring people as a negotiation ambassador with her French charm and keep them there with her German matter-of-factness. Our friend, Sindre, would keep us well-fed, but forget to do some of the more important work that comes with being a secretary. Our boss, Chris, would keep the work atmosphere relaxed, allow us to work freely, but would hardly take work on himself. As for me with my hostess-loving personality, I would act as an Ambassador, meeting clients at the airport and restaurants, but would double as a security guard  with a hot temper and wicked umbrella-sword skills. These jokes were light and amusing, but all three of us knew that this probably wouldn't happen. It was a dream. Our smiles were betrayed by the sadness in our eyes. Cornelius kept a small smile on his face, but all three of us knew that he would be returning to Law School after January, and it would be a very long time, perhaps an eternity for me, before we ever saw him again. And likewise, the uncertainty of seeing Laura again after August 2012 hit me hard in the stomach. The hour we spent on the bench would seem like a snowflake in a warm pond. Spring would come too quickly, the snowflake would melt away and remain with the rest of the water; part of a blur too small to be remembered.

Oh, but I hope that I remember it always.

This is one of the heaviest realizations I've had in awhile, but it eases me to write about it. Even as I type, the moment is bittersweet in my memory. I find myself already forgetting the topics of our conversation and feel myself digging deeper and deeper to try to bring the details to light.

I feel a bit strange going on from this point, especially in such an abrupt transition, but I would like to talk about another realization I had, as well as an experience in brief that I feel changed my life forever.

First, the realization. As I sat down, preparing myself to write this blog, I tried to let go of some of the bitterness I have for some of the people studying language around me. I realized I can't advance unless I let this unnecessary jealousy, contempt, and self-pity leave my body. This is silly, but it's quite common among students that study languages. It becomes a competition to some of us, especially to people like me that consider all of life a competition. Some of my largest faults--and strengths--are my passion for learning, determination to learn, and hardness I put on myself. I have always been the type to push myself to learn something, and I get very frustrated and angry when I can't learn something new. Typically, this happened in math class, where the logic made sense to me, but not the numbers. This frustration comes typically from the fact that I learn pretty quickly, generally. And it makes me angry that people who I feel are on the same level, speaking, writing, and reading wise, are placed in a class higher than me in Japanese. But today, I realized I'm already better in Japanese than I thought. When I came here, I couldn't speak confidently, and if I saw someone was confused, I would switch to English. Now, even though I can't speak with perfect grammar, correct vocabulary, or even in practical sentence-structure, I can get my point across to my friends, teachers, and even strangers. People still look at me as if they can't understand me sometimes, but I can make myself understood. It's refreshing to know that I can survive in a country while receiving help from friends, but doing a majority of the work on my own. In the end, I was the one making this difference the world. I can't let it overtake my time. I'm going to learn Japanese and be happy with myself. Screw the other people.

But at the same time, I never realized how many people could utilize the English language. I had a rather scary moment, when a dear friend of mine told me they wanted to kill themself over skype yesterday. Sadly, this had become a sort of routine. My friend would tell me, I would spend about an hour talking them down, they would calm down, and then it would repeat the next time  I spoke to them. It seemed sort of boy cried wolf, but yesterday was different. It was them telling me they wanted to die, me trying a different reverse-psychology technique, my friend calming down, working back up, then silence on the other end of skype. I tried to wait. Perhaps it was a faulty internet connection. Perhaps my internet had died. Maybe they just wanted to scare me. Then I panicked. I talked to my friend, who at first told me that I was being a bit mean for not being more sympathetic, but then we both felt as if my friend wanted attention. However, we both thought it would be a good idea to take it seriously, so I messaged everyone I could think of, writing in basic English for my friends in Europe to try and contact my best friend of about seven years. Luckily, she was alright, but I had never been so thankful that European countries speak English. I can't say thank you enough to these people I had never met, and could only thank them for taking the time to read my message and check on my friend.

Time for another awkward transition; this blog entry is getting too heavy. Although, technically, this is along the same context, just reverse.

This weekend, a friend of mine contacted me on facebook asking me if I would be willing to participate in her friend's college film.  Apparently, the girl needed a foreigner that could speak English, and she needed some other foreigners for background actors and actresses. This was a case in which someone was very happy that I could speak English,a s well as understand acting directions in Japanese. I was asked to give my voice to even male characters, which had always been a weird sort of dream for me. I've always wanted to voice act, but my shyness has kept me from it. My voice is a  bit deep for a girl, so I figured that if I failed in my ventures to become an English teacher in Japan someday, I could always ask to play the part of gaijin, or background person in Japanese anime. It wasn't anime, but a real film. I had to speak in English, which was a bit harder for me, but I enjoyed it. It was cool seeing my friends on screen, and it was incredibly difficult to sync time with a person speaking in non-native English. I will receive a copy of the DVD when the editing is complete, but I won't say much about the story until then. I don't want to spoil anything.

Thanks for reading a rather long blog entry. But I hope it makes up for not writing very often!

Until next time, whenever that may be.

Please don't take the holidays for granted and enjoy spending time with your friends and family.

Monday, November 28, 2011

English and Schedule Changes

I'm getting bad at updating this blog again.

December is going to be a busy month for me. I'll be going on a bus trip with a group of students from Ritsumeikan to learn about earthquake and disaster safety on the 3rd and 4th, and the Monday after I have a small test and exam in the same week. I think I have two more tests in the month of December. It's going to be difficult, but now I have to learn how to manage my time.

Although I enjoy speaking in English to my foreign exchange student friends, I really need to start speaking in more Japanese. I feel that I can communicate pretty well with my Japanese friends, and we don't have nearly as many complete miscommunication gaps as we used to in the beginning. However, I want to have the  natural canter and accent when I speak. That's not going to happen if I keep speaking English outside of class.

I really need to make a schedule and stick to it. I've had too much fun in English. I need to have fun in Japanese.

However, with that said, even though I'm using English quite a bit while I'm here, I'm forgetting my native language. I can't think of how to explain the definition of words, even if I used them frequently at home. When talking about Japan or Japanese culture to my family and friends at home, I cannot speak with the normal canter or emphasis. I'm forgetting where to put articles and how to phrase things naturally. It's so weird, but I really like it. Sometimes I wish I could forget more of my English if it meant I would be that much better at Japanese. But it doesn't work like that. I'm just in a stage of integrating my Japanese into my thought process that I wasn't before.

I'm going to try and get my flickr account up and running today so I can share pictures with my friends and family who aren't on facebook. However, please continue checking here to see my progress with myself as I find a way to adapt to my new environment. I love the Japanese lifestyle, I've just got some catching up to do with the language.

Have a good day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Battle of Self

The reason why I have difficulty relaxing hit me hard chest today, and I became highly disappointed with myself. it seems that when I gain an interest in something, I talk about following up with it, but never stick to my word. I then beat myself up over not doing something I wanted to do.

I haven't been to Aikido since the first time I went. I told myself that it was fine because I had tests and schoolwork, and the Aikido circle didn't practice for about two weeks because of a change in schedule, but then I've missed the last two practices. I haven't contacted the girl that offered to take me, and I haven't even considered going. I'm so angry at myself. I tell myself that I'll join next semester when I know what classes are like and have more time to offer, but in my head, I always doubt myself.

My friend Laura told me there is a saying in German that mentions, "Just tightening your butt-cheeks, sitting down, and doing the work." Why can't I ever do that?

This blog has turned into more of an emo-kid's diary than an actual travel blog, but I guess this is part of the experience.

I know that inside of me, there is this anger, determination, and desire to move and be thrown. I need that kind of physical discipline, and I desperately need to handle these emotions that consume me. I'm tired of being the pawn and puppet for something that I'm supposed to control. I know Aikido will help me learn to center myself, and when watching, and participating in even the basic steps, I found myself calming down.

Part of me hates to admit though that I wanted to be the only foreigner in the club, and now that another student has joined, I'm upset and acting childish. If I really wanted to go, I would have gone all along. I would have sucked it up and just walked in the dojo and asked to learn. I thought I had gotten over my fear of failure, and apparently it still exists.

I'm going to stop complaining and do my homework before I write some more stupid self-pity.

When will I learn that I don't have to be perfect at everything?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thoughts on Culture and Identity

I forgot how relaxing silence can be. Well, a noise that's almost silent, but muted in the background. With the hum of my heater and the monotonous ticking of my clock behind me, I feel at ease in my apartment for the first time in awhile. It's not that I don't feel safe, it's just that I've been so tense with my school work and hostile towards myself for procrastinating. I'm very grateful that my internet has been nice to me for a little over an hour now, and I am taking this time to update.

For those of you that aren't on my facebook or skype account, I have been having difficulty maintaining an internet connection of any sort at my apartment. I'm still not sure what the problem is, as my internet was working perfectly two or three days ago. I'm telling myself that when it goes out, i must become a serious student again and continue my studies, or just simply do something better with my time, like exercise, read, or cook something decent for dinner. It's irritating, though, when the internet continues to shut on and off every five minutes while trying to write an essay in Japanese, and you're relying on an internet dictionary because your denshi jisho (Japanese electric dictionary) is outdated.

I've been having trouble finding my motivation lately, and I'm not sure where this laziness is coming from. Part of me wants to blame it on my new ability of relaxation and lack of stress, but I think a lot of it is just laziness at its best. My teacher told me a few days ago that she was starting to realize who was serious about the class and who wasn't, and she looked at me for the latter. I was a bit hurt and angry, but then I realized she was right: I hadn't been giving my best--yet I wasn't being a complete bumpkin, either--and I needed to push myself. today the same teacher smiled at me and said, "You really are pretty serious about studying, aren't you?" It made me smile, and it felt even better that it was all in Japanese.

I realized I'm in the right place today. I miss my family and friends, but I'm not homesick. I'm not depressed that I don't have some of the luxuries that I did back in Texas. But I'm not sad. I'm not mourning a life that I'll return to when I go home. Part of me is actually dreading the return, even though I know I won't be home for another ten months. Here there seems to be less ignorance, less assumptions. I feel as though the people know more about me than I know about myself, as well as more about the history and culture of the United States. I try my best not to make too many cultural mistakes, and my Japanese friends tell me when I'm about to make a big one, yet I take pride every time I hear a Japanese person tell me, "You're a lot like a Japanese person, you know?" To me, that is one of the best compliments I can receive. When I hear it in Japanese, I feel even better. To me, this simple statement translates into, "You respect my culture and understand what it's about."

On the more somber side of the coin, I feel a vein start to throb at the base of my jaw when I read some of the comments on my facebook, emails form friends and family, as well as the random chat message on skype from a friend back home. I can't think of a friendly or polite way to write what I want to say, but the basic concept of my thought is that ignorance is much too prevalent. I want to write back snotty messages and act like a five-year-old when I read assumptions that if I act as I would back home, it would be alright in a country where culture is different. Although Japan uses kanji in the majority of its publications, newspapers, textbooks, etc., that is not the only writing system used in this country. I cannot simply ask my landlord to store furniture in a building that is small. It's insulting.Things are done differently here. I am comfortable with a majority of the culture differences because I feel that I am prepared for them. I wish that I could cut out a chunk of the culture and display it perfectly in some virtual-reality world so that all of you could see, taste, hear, and feel it in the atmosphere, but that's impossible. Please trust my judgement.

I mention all of these things because I am writing an essay for one of my classes in English. The topic of the essay concerns our experiences in the class as well as our thoughts on culture and identity. Even though I feel like I'm home here, I can't say I understand either of these things clearly. I don't know who I am, but I really like who I am becoming.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Immortality

It's hard to believe that I was in middle school seven years ago. It seems like it was just recently that I tripped myself in Barnes and Noble to get a second look at a character of my imagination looking back at me. For the first thirty minutes of manga-browsing, my best friend, Kasey, and I thought I was just crazy. But then I picked up a book that would eventually become a topic of consideration for my thesis: Immortal Rain or メテオ・メトセラ  by Kaori Ozaki (written first name, last name).

I vaguely stated before that I was initially intrigued by one of the characters I noticed on the cover of a book. In 2004, sometime during my third year of middle school, I created a character named Kasami for one of my written role-play stories with my best friend, Colleen, but he ended up becoming one of the main, and favorite characters of a role-play written with Kasey. To describe him now, it seems as if I'm just copying Rain, the main character from Immortal Rain, but I had never seen the manga when I thought of Kasami's image. I imagined a man that was tall and slender, with long blonde hair, an amber eyes.

I originally bought the book because I thought Kaori Ozaki had been reading my role-play stories through some elaborate form of Japanese computer hacking, and stealing my characters for her story. Upon reading it, however, I was confronted with a story girly enough to win over my inner hopeless romantic, but with enough action and psychological stimulation that I found myself wanting more. I was rather shocked that I didn't like the story because Rain reminded me of Kasami. I liked it because the emotions, the scenery, even with some of its surreal plot, was very real; it still is. I think Ozaki captures the human thought process very well, and while comics are often thought of as books for children, I beg to differ.

The third volume of Immortal Rain is particularly interesting to me. At the time when I read this manga, I was still coming to terms with many aspect of myself, and becoming lost as to who I was as a person, and exactly whom or what I believed in. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I will vaguely say that this volume brings up many interesting talks of religion, life, and the purpose of the human being. I was intrigued and horrified by some of the imagery, descriptions, and overall climactic feeling of this volume. When I bought the Japanese volume upon my first visit to Japan, I found the story even more morbidly interesting. Now that I can read a bit more of the story and understand it in its original language, it hits home even more. Yet, if you want to read this volume just to know what I"m talking about, I suggest you read the first three volumes. on average, manga take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to read. if you try to read volume three on its own, a lot of the story and purpose will be missing. (However, even taken out of context, the images are disturbing. Another reason why children shouldn't read the book.)

But after being drawn in seven years ago, I finally finished the series. If I weren't in a public bus at the time I was reading it, I would have cried, smiled, and laughed. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed at the last two volumes of the series. It felt as though Ozaki was trying too hard to make the story happen and end rather than allowing it to take its own course. But after a rush to the last few scenes, the ending fell into place. Thinking about it makes me feel as if my heart is cramping, trying to stifle the tears that are growing heavy at the base of my throat.

I'm glad that it ended as it did, and I will continue reading over it until I can analyze the story in full.

I'm even happier that I read the last of the story in Japanese, in Japan, on my way home from Shamisen class in Gion.

Monday, November 7, 2011

1984

I think I've always been interested in learning, but I've never realized how I hinder myself until now.

While I don't necessarily think it's bad hindering, I've come to realize that while I absorb a majority of the information I hear, read, practice, etc., I do not necessarily accept or agree with all of it as fact. I've often wondered why I am a Literature major. It was not my first choice, but one of necessity and frustration with the bureaucracy of my home university. It's unfair for me to say that the relationship I have with my major is one of hate; there's some love (somewhere) in there, too.

But back to what I started writing about: Hinderances.

When I was in highschool, I was asked to read 1984 by George Orwell, and that novel scared the living shit out of me. Ever since then, I cannot bring myself to just accept information indifferently. I do my own research and question what I learn. With that said, I get frustrated when readings expect the audience to just accept what it has been told.

When I try to read academic texts for homework, I can't help but stop at biased sounding words. I hate when a scholar makes a statement and does not back it up with statistical information--although that's pretty biased as well--or some sort of primary research. Hypocritically, I will not give an example of this because I'm absolutely terrified of being accused of plagarism. (But that's a rant for another day when I have something to drink and some food to snack on in the middle of a typhoon.) Yet, I can say that words like, "many," "a few," and "some" do not necessarily carry the weight of an actual numerical value or measurement. If you say 75 out of 10 people like carrots over onions, then I will understand many, or 5 out of 110 a few, etc. While these vague expressions of value are easy for the reader to comprehend, I view it as lazy research, and it completely turns me off form an interesting essay. It bothers me that professional writers and researchers would use these terms when resources and research are available as back up.

About seven times out of ten, I find myself arguing with my homework. I grumble, I mark nasty things in paper, and grit my teeth the rest of the way through the reading. I can't say this never happened at home, but perhaps it's because the classes I'm taking are about culture. Bias is a difficult thing to take out of a paper, but I was taught that a good paper lacks bias. (Unless, of course, the author is aiming to persuade the audience with a biased essay--which my homework is not--then that's okay.)

Of course, I argue with myself as well. The homework that makes me so irritated is homework for the Intercultural Communication and Psychology course as well as the class for Japanese Culture. Both are taught in English with a mixture of exchange students and Japanese students. Both classes focus on discussion and controversial topics where Western and Eastern culture may collide.

Is it possible to take bias out of such classrooms?

My initial answer to this question is, "No, of course not," but there is part of me that wants to say, "Why can't we say, 'Yes?'"

Headaches

I've found myself craving low-volume music in a muted room, comfortable temperatures, and homework. About ten minutes ago, this seemed plausible: A dog in my hallway finally stopped whining after his master came home, my green tea latte cooled off to a drinkable temperature, and it was cool enough to study and stay awake. Then came the headache.

I guess that's what I get for napping on the floor earlier.


Part of me wants to make up some crazy psycho-physiological explanation as to why I get a headache every time I intend to do homework. Perhaps I get a headache only because I think I have one, or I try to find a way out of homework subconsciously, so a headache arises as a solution to my problem. It could be the weather, or it could be how I sleep at night. Whatever it is is annoying, and I want ti to stop.

Tomorrow is the first day that I will walk to school from my apartment. Depending on how that excursion goes, i will decide what will be my best mode of transportation from this point forward. I will either be walking to school on days when I get out early or the weather is good, I will bike to school every day and be a master-rider by the time I return home, or I will buy a bus pass and have unlimited access to basically all of Kyoto.

I guess it's time to do at least a little homework before I go to bed. Time to follow up on what I want to do! Serious student, here I come!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Good Food and Rainy Days

I think rain is one of the worst things for exchange students. At a school like Ritsumeikan, you don't get many days off for random holidays. Even national holidays are spent in the classroom. While it doesn't bother me too much, I feel like all of the other exchange students are bothered by this much more. Being at school usually gives me something to do, and although I enjoy sitting around, surfing the web, and spending my time relaxing, I'd much rather be at school learning something I can use.

I've found that rainy days can be quite productive. Japanese storms are much softer than the storms back home in Texas, so instead of hiding in fear of thunder, lightening, and tornadoes, I usually take a stroll outside when it rains. Today, I was fortunate enough to go with a group from school, Colorful, to make Japanese food. The day started off cloudy, but as soon as all of the exchange students and Japanese students saw each other, it seemed as if all of us were on a summer break in the middle of Autumn. It was so much fun just to relax with everyone. We shopped for groceries together, prepared the food together, and made enough that we could all take some home.


 (These pictures were taken by my friend, Laura.)

I was also relieved to finally use my Japanese again. While it's not a bad thing, I haven't been sticking to my rule about speaking in Japanese to my Japanese friends everyday. Today was motivation for me to use my second language more often, and to study a bit more seriously than I was these past two weeks. Of course, while my inner-procrastinator is telling me that this will start from tomorrow after a good night of rest, I would really like to take my studying more seriously from this point forward.

I forget how much fun I have when speaking Japanese At home, I'm hot-tempered when it comes to criticism, and I hate failure. here, failure is fun and exciting. I want to learn new things, so I smile when I'm criticized, and I find myself being unafraid to ask, "I'm sorry, could you say that again?" or, "Could you please teach me how to . . . " I want to start having food parties just so i can spend time with my friends. It's amazing how food and language can bring people of different backgrounds together.

It's even more amazing that twenty hungry college students couldn't finish all of the food that was made.

However, I'm also discovering that there is a side of me striving to be physically active. I've never really understood why people want to jog at four in the morning, run on a treadmill, or why my boyfriend was so upset when he wasn't able to find a gym. I am waling more in one day in Japan than I would have in about two days in the States. (Sad, but true.) It feels like the more I walk, the more active I want to become. I can't wait until the next Aikido Practice--although I'm very nervous--and I want to buy a bicycle so I won't have to rely on public transportation, but more so for the exercise. But even more so, I really want to run.

The only time that I can remember wanting to run was in high school. I think this was because I was finding myself, and I didn't know where to find it. Instead of looking inward, I wanted to run to a new place and discover everything that I could. But this feels different. I don't feel like this is wanderlust. I feel like this is a part of me that has been submerged. I feel like years of not playing a music instrument or participating in sports daily have finally caught up with me. I want to run and feel the wind cutting though me. I miss the metallic taste of Autumn and Winter air at six in the morning before basketball practice. I miss the weather outside. I just want to go! 

「星に願いを」

And I find myself listening to this more and more. The title "Hoshi ni Negai wo" translates to "A Wish Upon a Star." But the transition into the chorus, "Ikanakucha" translates into:

I have to go.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fear of Salesmen

When I moved to my current apartment, I didn't really think that salesmen would bother me. I skipped the step of writing my name on my mailbox, as well as placing anything that could identify my room by door. I try to make it seem like I'm never home, although I know my neighbors know that I live here, especially at night when I'm studying and they're trying to sleep.

However, on October 28th, a salesman from NHK, Nihon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), stopped by my apartment. I've been told by all of my friends to speak to these salesmen in English. Apparently, English is the answer for all situations in which a foreigner is trying to get away. The man stayed by my door for a few minutes afterwords, and came back the next day to try to sell a subscription to me. I ignored the door and have found that I am still horrified by the idea of a salesman coming to my door.

Anytime I hear a neighbor's doorbell ringing, or footsteps walking down my hallway on Fridays before I go to class, I turn off all of the possible noise-making machines in my apartment. My phones lose the ability to vibrate, ring, and I place them on my mattress so even the little bell charm can't jingle. I mute my computer and hold my breath until the footsteps fade, or the person at my door stops knocking. It's a little much, but I figure this is the only way to truly fake them out. (Although, I will say this didn't work with my previous stalker because he knew i was home already.)

I haven't spoken with my landlord yet about my previous stalker issues. I'm hoping that he may be able to alert the company that no one is allowed to come to my room, or that perhaps he can tell me a way to make it look like I'm subscribed to some sort of company. Perhaps then, this anxiety at doorbells and strange men in uniforms will go away.

Then again, there's still a part of me that just wants to yell like a maniac each time my doorbell rings. If it's a friend, perhaps they'll knock again and say something like, "Macy? Are you alright?" and if it's a salesman, I might hear, "Sumimasen . . . "

Youtube?

After a suggestion from one of my friends, I think I've decided to start a youtube channel in which I will post a new video every week or so. Don't get too excited though; it's not going to be anything fancy. I think it will only consist of short video-blogs that I take sometime in-between classes, homework, eating, and nap-time. (There is no sleeping when you're a college student.)

I never thought that I'd start a real youtube channel. Sure, I signed up years ago so I could make a playlist of all of my favorite Japanese music videos, but it's really weird to think that I'll be starting my own channel. Perhaps I'm writing this prematurely. Nothing has happened yet, and no videos have been posted, but I certainly would like to start a channel in the future.

I have to study for a short test that will be given in less than twenty-four hours. I had a lot of fun today, but I know I should have studied more, and more frequently through the week. Oh well. I guess I'll never learn.

Cheers! to procrastination!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The "Studying" Issue.

I don't know whether I have been cursed with procrastination or if it is simply how I am programmed to work.

It feels as though each time I sit down to do something productive, my body reacts negatively. Just now, I sat down with the intention of studying, and a migraine flared up. My throat is sore, and I feel as though I'm getting sick. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but these kinds of things have happened for the majority of my life.

I've found the hardest thing for me studying abroad is time management. There is so much I want to do, and I'm finding that I'm caring about my grades less and less. This does not mean that I'm not a serious student, just that I want to enjoy myself rather than slave away for hours over the same five kanji that I forget how to write during each test. The other exchange students tell me I study too much, and when I hear about some of the things the other exchange students are doing, I'm wondering where my priorities should lie if they aren't in the proper place already.

I'm thinking about buying a small whiteboard and making a schedule on my door. (OCD much?)

If you were studying abroad, how would you spend your time?

I'd like to be fluent, but I'd like to have a social life as well. I know that not everyone who becomes fluent is a serious student that wastes away in his or her dorm room, but I feel that it's very hard to find a balance between serious studying, social life, and all that lies between. Is this because I'm just bad at managing my time, or do other people feel this way as well?

The answers aren't easy, and I knew they wouldn't be. I guess I'd better be more serious than I am now, but I need to relax and enjoy myself where I can.

Well, time to endure the headache and continue studying away.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mornings

I feel as though the jet lag, time flip, or whatever you want to call it hit me recently. I've usually been pretty good about waking up in the mornings, perhaps hitting the snooze one or two times on a bad day. Recently, though, I can't bring myself to throw off the blankets, get out of bed, and get ready for school.

I'm not doing anything overly physical, and I haven't been speaking Japanese to the point where my head hurts from translating and thinking in another language. The real cause of this is probably a lack of iron. I have vitamins, but haven't been taking them for the past week or so. I'm horrible at remembering things.

So, when worst comes to worst, I find myself pouring a hot cup of water and mixing in some decent instant coffee I bought on sale. I never thought I'd enjoy espresso, but now I see its benefits.

Time for a hot cup of coffee, and homework for the rest of the day.

It's the little things that get you.

Call me crazy, but I'd like to go to Iwaki, Fukushima before I leave Japan.

Yes, I know the risks and health consequences of going there. But that doesn't change this feeling of need: I really want to see Iwaki.

Earlier this year, in June, my boyfriend looked at me and asked me if I wanted to go with him to his hometown. The look on his face at the time was one of disbelief for what he had just suggested, mixed with an ache that can't be healed with ibuprofen, Hello Kitty band-aids, or time.

My boyfriend was on the phone with his Mom when the first earthquake hit on March 11, 2012. I remember the silence after he hung up the phone and the sound of his voice when he said, "My Mom's never scared." And when I asked what was wrong, all he said was, "A really big earthquake..." Before his voice faded off as he typed quickly on the computer. His parents are lucky; they live inland and only suffered the wrath of the earthquakes. But the rest of my boyfriend's hometown was soon featured on world-wide television broadcasts.

I admired my boyfriend's determination and want to return home, especially when his parents told him to stay in the States, away from the radiation and decomposition. For months he kept saying, "I have to go home," or, "It's the last time I can see my home." While I was struck by the magnitude of the event when it first happened, it didn't fully reach me until today.

I felt this nagging tug at my heartstrings during speech class. Our teacher had asked us where would would go in Japan if we could make a trip, as well as where we'd like to go before we left. I raised my hand. She looked at me, and "Iwaki" left the room breathless.
I explained to my teacher why I wanted to go, and she asked me to talk to her after class. I knew what she would say, and it felt like my stomach fell to my knees.

It was one of the few times I had heard my teacher speak full sentences in English. Usually, she would translate an unknown vocabulary word or grammar point, but she looked me in the eyes and said, "I wouldn't recommend you going to Fukushima." I kept telling myself the equivalent of "Be patient," or "Keep going" in Japanese, but I could feel the smile twitching on my lips. I wanted to cry, and my teacher knew that what she said had upset me. I told her I knew in my head that it was bad to go there, and that everyone I told had looked at me like I was suicidal, but she understood that my heart wanted me to go.

It's a time when being an emotionally-oriented person doesn't do any good.

I'm not sure what my boyfriend would say if he were reading this. (Or what he's thinking if he is reading this, for that matter.) I'd like to guess that he'd tell me not to go there because it's dangerous and really a bad place to go. The look on his face when he talked about "home" upon his return to the States was something heart-wrenching in itself. I'm sure everyone else reading this is saying, "Don't go! Don't go! It's dangerous! Think of the radiation!"

Don't worry; I don't think I'm going to go. At least, I don't have the time or monetary funds for going anytime soon. And I highly doubt that my source of income would allow me to go.

When I first told everyone that I was going to Japan, I was asked, "But . . . is it safe?" Even now, I still feel that I mean it when I said, "Kyoto is relatively safe. The food is probably contaminated, as well as the water and air, but I want to go, despite all of the possible risks. I feel the benefits are much better."

Usually, I follow my gut. If I could follow it now, I would still go to Fukushima. It's one of the few times I wouldn't want to go somewhere alone though. I guess I'll have to wait for a day when I can return with my boyfriend. I don't know if he'll ever decide to go home, but I'd like to think that someday he'll take me there.

I want to see what happened for myself, help people where I can, and learn as much as possible while I'm in Japan.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Isshi, may you rest in peace.

I haven't written anything serious or contemplative in awhile, and I really haven't talked about many things that are important to me. While studying, I ran across some music I used to listen to when I was in high school, and it felt like someone jammed an electrical socket into my chest and started flipping electrical breakers. I forgot how much Japanese music had meant to me, and upon this realization, I recognized that it's too late to see one of my favorites in concert.

Isshi, the lead vocalist of the band Kaggra, died earlier this year on July 18th.

I had seen Kagrra in concert once before, and it was wonderful to see the members' passion for Japanese culture resonating on the stage. Traditional instruments integrated into hauntingly charismatic tones of purple and crimson; it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. while I don't believe that I am someone that can see colors in sound, Kagrra makes me experience something very similar. It's as if all of my senses are inflamed when I listen to their music, and I feel it's a shame that Japanese pop culture has lost something so beautiful. I am writing this article out of time, Kagrra disbanded in March of this year, and Isshi died shortly after. As always with important things, I realized too late how much they meant to me. As a sort of tribute, I'm going to share some of my favorites. So, please, if you're up for listening to something interesting, please click some of the links below.

While there is no official video for Murakumo, the song is frighteningly seductive. It empowers the charisma of a Japanese demon and the melody creates a trance.
Kagrra, Murakumo

Another piece of hypnotizing music: Uzu.
Kaggra, Uzu.

When I listen to Kaggra's music, I hear the essence of Kyoto. There is the new and the old, as well as the fantastical and the realistic. When listening to Kagrra, I remember temples and shrines, demons at the gates, and a vending machine next to a shrine entrance. There is a very sort of wabi-sabi undertone to their msuic. Howeve,r it's so perfect that it can never be incomplete and frail; it can never be truly old and disregarded as something ugly. Their music is colorful and insightful. It's more than my words can encapsulate. I can't do justice to my own emotional reactions, and this is why I cannot write.

Please experience it for yourself.

And Isshi, for the inspiration and pleasure, thank you. May your spirti rest in peace, wherever it lies.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coffee, Chocolate, Shinsengumi, and Pervs.

There's nothing better than procrastinating homework with cheap chocolate, instant coffee, and mac'n'cheese. Well, the mac'n'cheese isn't made yet, but it certainly sounds delicious. Say what you may about my eating habits, It's the little things that make a stressful week a bit better. Well, by the little things, I mean comfort food.

I realized today that there is a strange sadness lingering in my apartment. I'm not sure if I'm just adjusting, or if there is a legitimate reason for this sadness. There are dogs outside whining and barking, cats meowing in heat for a mate, and old people struggling to walk inch-by-inch to the nearby grocery store. Is this what life looks like everywhere, and I'm just now starting to realize it?

All I want to do is sleep.

It must be the weather. Fall is blowing in the wind and turning leaves over crimson. My clothes don't dry in thirty minutes like they did before, but the breeze feels nice when it goes right through me.

I have a Shinsengumi tour this weekend. I just spent twenty minutes on the phone with a girl struggling to speak English while I struggled in Japanese. I wish there were a way to say, "You're speaking way above my level," but no matter how you word it, it sounds as if you're giving up. I don't mind using English to coordinate plans and events, but I would like to learn how to do these in Japanese. That's why I'm here, isn't it?

I also want to learn how to say, "Watch where you're looking, geezer." I'm not bragging about my chest, but if another man gawks at me like it's the first time he's seen a woman with breasts, I'm going to smack someone. I don't know why people don't understand that it's rude to stare. Perhaps this is me being close-minded, but maybe it has something to do with Japan's history of a patriarchal society.

Oy. I'm getting grumpy waiting for my mac'n'cheese to pop out of its box. I guess I need to start doing some homework.

Cheers for crappy coffee, cold nights, and food without friends.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time-Management

I have always been terrible at managing my time. I procrastinate and multitask at times when it's terribly inconvenient. I'm not sure if I'll ever learn how to make a schedule that actually works for me. I feel like I do well with to-do lists, but when it comes to making a decision about what I have to do and something I want to do, I feel torn between myself. I feel like I'm stating the obvious. Of course there is a difference between needs and wants. (No shit, Sherlock.) But what if the wants will help you with a need?

I can't decide how to manage my time this week. There is a quiz on Thursday, one that I have not prepared myself to take, and a large test on Monday. Usually, I would only have to worry about Aikido practice on one day of the week, Saturday, but this week happens to be a day off from Shamisen due to my teacher's professional work schedule. This means I could attend the Wednesday Aikido practice AND the Saturday practice. Yet, my inner majime gakusei won't allow me the pleasure to attend one or either of these meetings. No matter what I do, I always hear a nagging in the back of my head, "School comes first!" Yet, I understand very well that school is not the only thing in life that matters.

Living alone, I find that I am more worried about myself than school. I'm worried about my safety and comfort, and emotional and physical aspects of myself and my personality. Aikido would help me find a sense of myself. It would help me achieve balance (physical and mental) as well as ensure that I could protect myself in the event of another creepy salesman incident. Yet, I want to get good grades.

Then I hear a side of me that rarely speaks: Why are grades so important? They don't matter later in life. They don't define you as a person. Why do you feel like you have to beat yourself up over a stupid number?

Am I really that competitive?

I feel like Aikido will help me learn how to hone the rather gluttonous part of myself that spoils any form of relaxation and entertainment I find. I just want to have fun. Sometimes i wonder if I should have listened to my boyfriend when he told me, "You don't have to go to school to become fluent in a language. Graduate from your American university and go to Japan afterwards. Live there. Don't study there. It's not the same." Perhaps it's the same if I had a more laid-back personality, but I'm not like everyone else. Part of me is still learnign that this is okay.

Please don't take this as me not enjoying y time here. These blogs are reflections of my life. While I would like to write and teach everyone about the things I am learning, I am not a teacher. I'm not here to instruct you how to live in Japan or answer cultural questions. Part of this blog is learning through my experiences. I want to share my thoughts and experiences with all of you. There is a rather bittersweet part of studying abroad that appears only once in awhile, but it's not a bad thing. With all good, there is also bad. You have to learn to take both of them and balance.

I think the balance is what I'm missing in my life. I want to take Aikido. I want to learn how to balance myself, so my life will fall into place where it needs to be. My voice is stronger here than it was home because I am discovering myself. But I need to learn how to control it.

I'm still not sure whether or not to go to the practice on Wednesday. Perhaps it is better to go to practice on Wednesday than Saturday. I will ask the captain which is better for me. I've never practiced before. Perhaps I can join a small dojo in the area until I am good enough to join next semester. Perhaps I can be manager, water girl, or even clean-up helper. I just want to be part of that group. A group where I felt home.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aikido and a New Apartment

Although I know it's wrong to procrastinate, it seems to be a habit I've fallen back into recently. I hate waiting to the last minute because I always feel so panicked and helpless. But alas, when I think about studying Keigo or Kanji, i don't want to do anything othe rthan sleep. Then again, it's been a long day, rather, a long weekend, so I can't blame myself for being a little human once in awhile. I'm not a superhero. (But I like to pretend I am one.)

Friday was the beginning of an insane, but rather enjoyable, weekend. It started with my waking up at one in the morning, not being able to go back to sleep, and discovering that I was not able to pay for my new apartment. That stressful snowball collided with the visit of a rather strange salesman that thought it rather interesting to look inside the crack of my door, checking my apartment, and my physique, while trying to sell me newspapers. I didn't want to completely scare him away, so I told him to come back at a time when I wouldn't be home. I took care of my apartment scare at school and in the midst of all that, I forgot about an appointment to skype with my boyfriend.

Saturday morning, I woke up at nine AM to the sound of my doorbell. I tried to roll over in bed, thinking it was the mailman, but the doorbell rang three more times in quick succession. I cocked my eyebrows and reached for my cell phone(s). I muted my alarms before they could ring and I also muted the volume on my computer. The hair on my neck started to stand when I heard my mail slot open, but not close. I held my breath until I heard it close, and then I heard knocking. I knew at this time that the salesman had decided to come early, so I tried to act like I wasn't home. (Although, I knew he probably peered down through my blocked off mail-slot to see my shoes and umbrella. Sneaky.) Because the walls of my previous apartment were pretty thin, I tried to listen for his footsteps walking down the hall. I couldn't hear anyone moving anywhere though, and that scared me. I got on skype with my exchange student and quietly typed what was going on. She told me not to worry, as Japanese salesman are much more aggressive than their American counterparts. I decided to listen to her and try to get ready for the day. I agreed to eat lunch with a friend and decided that it was best to get ready for the day and out of the apartment while the salesman wasn't around. However, as soon as I turned off the water and reached for my towel, the doorbell rang. I grabbed my phone and sent an urgent text to Ai-chan: Subject: He's back. Text: Creepy.

I waited until I couldn't hear anyone and then hurried to get dressed in my bathroom before diving onto my bed to talk with Ai-chan again. I asked her if I should call the police. She sounded more worried but told me not to worry because he hadn't actually hurt me. Then, my doorbell rang again. He had come three times within an hour, possibly an hour and a half at this point, which was rather new and disturbing to me. I told her I would get ready to leave, but I would leave when I  was sure the man wasn't at my door. We agreed that I should call Ai before I left, and talk to her in urgent-sounding English all the way out the door. As I was putting on my shoes, the man rang my doorbell. I held my breath and this was the ONLY time I heard him run to another door on my floor. He rang my neighbor's doorbell, and when I heard him talking, I raced out my door only to bump into the man. I told him there had been an accident and that I had to go. In the flustered moment, I almost forgot to lock my door. I ran back and locked it, and as I ran away, he ran after me. I started to sprint, talking to Ai-chan all the way until I reached a large road. She told me to call the police. The salesman crossed his ground and I had his business card, name, work and cell number. So, as soon as I was about ten minutes away from my apartment (about three minutes at a run), I called the police in the presence of my friend Laura. We waited in the company of a woman from a glasses shop until the police were able to meet us. Ai-chan talked with them over the phone and the policeman assured me that the man would never talk to me again. They told me, "We're going to call this man and tell him it's forbidden for him to talk to you again. Don't worry." I felt safe. They asked for my new address as well, so if they ever got a call from me again, they would know where I was.

I looked at Laura as they left and said, "Man, am I happy that I'm going to Aikido tonight." She laughed and we walked towards Ten Q to have lunch.

At 4:25 pm, I found myself leaving my house twenty minutes later than I had imagined to catch the bus for the Aikido circle meeting. One of the female members was going to meet me at a train station and take me to the club dojo. She called me after I was late, as I didn't have her number, and I apologized all over myself. She laughed and told me not to worry. Soon, I was with her, walking to a training center by Heian Shrine. Wow. Talk about intimidating.

Aikido is like nothing I have ever seen. I wanted to write about it yesterday night, but I couldn't find the energy or words to describe what I saw. Even now, it's hard to make the experience roll from my thoughts to my fingertips. I was disappointed in myself for not writing about it, but even though I didn't get the words out then, I think the things I saw will stick with me forever.

As soon as I walked in, the students stopped and stared at me. I understood why. I was a gaijin walking into traditional Japanese territory. My jeans and Dir en Grey t-shirt did nothing to help my appearance. The teacher told me to practice the basics with the group and sit and watch when things got difficult. He smiled and told me that Texas has good beer, and that he visits each time there is a conference in Dallas.

I am so sore from just stretching. Nothing we did was too severe, but I'm out of shape. I practiced basic deflections and footwork with the group and messed up on all of them. The girl training me laughed but encouraged me to keep trying. I got better and once she even said, "Wow... You're pretty good."

Then I sat down. I was scared (excuse me) shitless from the throws I saw. People sounded like they were getting hit by trucks when their bodies hit the foam tatami mats. Bodies contoured to the momentum of their opponents; it was painful. Yet, despite all of the pain, there was this beautiful sense of harmony between the thrower and the person being thrown. Everyone was relaxed despite the pain. It was beautiful. It was so beautiful. My heart kept beating faster and I found myself mesmerized by the speed and sheer strength of all of the members. I felt stronger just by watching.

After class, the members started talking to me. They teased me because I was an American girl that liked the Shinsengumi, and treated me like they would any Japaense person entering the group. I pulled my weight and helped put up tatami and training weapons. I felt so much at home in that environment. I really hope I can succeed in this.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sounds like a Typhoon.

I'm not sure if a typhoon is causing it, but it sounds like hell outside my window. No, I did not mean, "hail." I meant hell. The rain is strong and tapping at my window like acrylic nails in a classroom full of annoyed teenage girls. It'll stop every now and then and give me hope that these raindrop-girls have calmed down and started their studies, but by the time this happens, they start drumming away again.

I woke up this morning to a cloudy sky with a slight tint of gray. I was told at four in the morning that the payment for my new apartment could not transfer. The grey sky reminded me of this, and I wanted to crawl back in bed and skip class for the day. However, I went out the door and continued to school. After about an hour of craziness, I managed to secure my apartment and save myself from another IBS attack. My landlord is really kind and understands the difficulties of transferring money to and from foreign bank accounts. I was so worried that I wasn't going to have a place to live, that I really thought I was going to have to beg a friend to stay at their apartment. but once  the real estate agent told me that the landlord would rather me move in, and pay the money later in one large payment, I felt that the rain was washing away some sort of sadness and replacing it with a new one.

As I walked, I could see the streams of raindrops like whispers floating through the air. They'd trip off of my umbrella like a word would from someone's lips. It seemed sad that these teardrops weren't being received, as the ground was already soaking wet. So they became stagnant, rippling only when receiving another cold word from their brethren. I felt relieved, but a different sort of sadness replaced my feelings of anxiety. Even now, I can't quite put my finger on what is causing it, but perhaps it's something with the weather.

I move into my new apartment this Saturday, and until then, I don't want to do anything. However, I've got an appointment to watch the Aikido club tomorrow, and I've got to finish packing by noon on Sunday. It's going to be an interesting and busy weekend, and I'm not sure whether that is a good or bad thing. It's good because I will be getting out and experiencing new things, but it's bad because I am losing time to pack as well as time to catch up on sleep that I've lost this week due to stress. But it's time to be strong about it and just keep going.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Emotional Issues and Determination

I should start calling this the Frustrated Exchange Student blog.

I'm not sure where my issue lies, or where I should even begin with this post. I know it's my blog, so technically, I can say whatever I want, but I am still very conscious of how I word my thoughts, and moreover, how these thoughts relay to other individuals. With that said, however, here's my disclaimer: There will be times when these posts are not happy, exciting, or monumental in any way, shape, or form. My life isn't interesting all the time. (Sorry to break that to you.) I'm a normal human being. With all of that off of my chest now, I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings; I just need to say things every once in awhile. Writing is my therapy.

Now, to the first frustrating point:

The first thing I would like to rant about for a moment or two is relatively petty. It's more of a pet peeve than anything. However, I always find myself biting my tongue and stomping away from my computer when I see these types of instances occur on facebook. It never fails. I post something in Japanese, or in romaji (the English version of a Japanese word), and I get a comment like this, "What does [insert word/kanji/romaji here] mean?" My gut response is as follows:

There is a website called GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Use it.

That's a little strong, so I usually end up biting my tongue and typing the definition. But I'm not going to do that anymore. While I don't mind talking about Japanese culture and giving a little background on things in this experience occasionally--usually within this blog--I am not the walking encyclopedia of Japanese information. I am learning, as are many of the other exchange students studying abroad. I do not know all of the answers, nor do I know why certain things happen or exist. It doesn't take five minutes to look up a kanji on the very helpful websites jisho.org (a Japanese dictionary online/the most useful one) or  Google Translate. Please respect that my status updates on facebook are my way of giving little blurbs into my life, usually when I don't have time/am too lazy to write an in depth blog. I don't want to spend more time defining every little thing I say or type, especially not on Facebook. This issue makes me understand why teachers don't want to teach during the entirety of a class period; students will treat them as a walking encyclopedia rather than looking up the information themselves and learning on their own. While it may be expecting too much from my readers, unless it is a paragraph in Japanese, or google translate/jisho.org is not giving an comprehensible translation, please look it up yourself.

Point number two:

If you want to know about my life/experience why I am here, READ THIS BLOG. This is kind of a moot point since the people that read this typically are interested in what's going on in my time here. However, I am always happy to reply to e-mails if there are other questions about my experience as an exchange student. Which takes us to . . .

Point number three:

When on skype, I may sigh and sound annoyed at a few questions. I don't want to repeat myself very often, and when I repeat myself, I don't want to have to answer the same question twice. Many times, I have either written the answer to certain questions down, or spoken with someone (probably the person asking me) about it many times. If you feel that I  have not told you, please tell me, and I will apologize for my grumpiness, but there will be times when I just don't feel like answering the typical questions. Some examples of these questions, with my gut responses in italics, are as follows:

"How do you like Japan?"  What do you think? I've wanted to come here for seven years.
"Have you eaten dog or cat?" Are you stupid?
"Can you eat pizza in Japan?" Have you looked at my facebook photos?
"What's it like in Japan?" READ MY BLOG, LAZY [insert favorite curse word here].

I don't take ignorance very well. If you are interested in Japanese culture, research it. While wikipedia may not be a website you can cite for school papers or academic essays, it is a good place to get tidbits of information. You can also look things up on Google, or if you want to be safe, go to your local library. If you're reading these blogs and ask me these questions, I might be just a tish angry. (Unless I haven't written in awhile, then it's okay.)

Point FOUR:


Because Japan is a different country, actually, I should say, because Japan is a country that has stayed to itself for the majority of its history, it hosts a rather interesting and unique culture. So I may at times say, "You can't do something like that here." Literally, "だめだよ。" I am not saying this to be rude, I am saying this as someone that genuinely cares about Japanese culture. I also feel that as a foreigner, I have a pretty good understanding of the Japanese tatemae (public face) and honne (private face) concept. There may be times I become frustrated with my friends, family, acquaintances, etc. because they do not understand this concept. If you are planning to visit me while I am in Japan, please understand that I WILL get upset if I ask you to respect Japanese culture. I have written a few of the following down below. I want to make an instructional video about it, but knowing how I procrastinate, that won't happen.

1. Take your shoes off when you enter someone's house. It's rude to walk on the floor in "ouside" shoes. Think of it like gym class in elementary shoes.

2. If you are at a restaurant, someone's house, or in a situation where you do not like the food or drink, do not complain noisily. This is especially true of someone's house. If you have been invited, it is rude to say, "But I don't like this..." or "That's nasty..." or "EW... *Disgusted face* I am NOT gonna eat that!" (I think that if you do that at home, you didn't learn enough manners when you were little.) IT is respectful to at least try the food. There are polite ways to refuse food, and if you're interested in learning, I would be happy to teach you, but I won't do that here. Japanese people understand that the foreign palate is different, so if you at least try it, it shows that you are being respectful. Also, allergies are understood. Please don't eat something with peanuts in it just to be polite!

3. You cannot just ask somebody for a favor in Japanese as you would English, nor can you do things last minute. This has been particularly frustrating for me lately, as I am a pretty punctual person and like to plan things in advance anyway, but it's especially true with money, banks, hanging out, etc. Japanese people are VERY punctual. Just like in any country, there are certain courtesies that must be followed and obeyed when requesting a favor or duty. Of course these differ if friends are involved, but please understand this.



Man it felt good just to get those things off my chest. Again, I'm not trying to stomp on any toes, but I'm tired of holding this stuff in. I'm not going to answer posts on facebook regarding the stuff I write in my blog because I feel that if someone is really interested in my time here, they would take ten or so minutes a day to read and or check to see if I've posted.

Time to eat and maybe do some more homework. I took an eight hour nap. It's four in the morning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

All-Nighters

I think one of the first things I will buy for my new apartment is a jar of instant coffee. Any suggestions, anyone?

Lately, I haven't been sleeping as I should; I'm procrastinating all homework. I want to say that this form of procrastination isn't a problem, but it's really jeopardizing my sleep schedule. I've been napping during the day and staying up all night. I feel like a vampire, a vampire that drinks a whole lot of coffee.

I've never really liked drinking coffee. I love the smell and flavor in candies and sweets, but I've never really enjoyed drinking it until recently. I always thought coffee made me sleepy. But in Japan, I've been drinking Boss: Cafe au Lait as if it were water. I don't like the after-effects, but it tastes better than any energy drink I've ever had, and it seems to last longer as well. I feel like I'm going to the dark side: Coffee vs. Tea. Tea or Coffee? (Since when did beverages become the Matrix?)

I think I've been procrastinating (*coughhackwheeze* like I am now!) because I am dreading my decision to drop a class I know I would be getting credit for at UNT. I am taking a Japanese Society course and I absolutely dread the homework and the class. While the topic is interesting, I don't feel as though I'm benefiting from reading a 20-30 page reading each week, answering three surface questions, and comparing articles to students in the classroom to find the differences and similarities. It's a mixed class of native English speakers (A.K.A. Foreign exchange students) and Japanese speakers/non-native speakers.

Part of me wants to be a smart ass and say, "If I can't read this article and understand it in its entirety, what makes you think that a student learning English would understand this sort of thing?" However, I know that if I ask this, it seems as if I am not giving the non-native-English speakers enough credit, as many of them get their opinions across quite well in English, and I know that I have difficulty doing the same in Japanese. I also feel that by dropping the class, I am doing the students a form of disservice, as I will not be able to influence or enhance the class by giving them an opportunity to listen to a native English speaker. Yet, the whole topic is difficult, and I'm not sure what I want to do. The part of me that wants to study Japanese agrees with the lazy side: 1) You hate the structure of the class; 2) The readings take up a lot of time (That could be spent on Japanese; and 3) None of this is really useful while you're in Japan as it is a class in English, not Japanese. Yet the humanitarian/goody-two-shoes/perfectionist in me says: 1) The class is once a week. If you manage your time a bit better, it's totally do-able; 2) You know if you drop the class, you won't do anything useful with your time; 3) You will help more students and make more Japanese friends if you stay. To me, they all sound logical, and after typing the latter argument, I feel guilty for even thinking about dropping the class. Yet, I try to ask myself:

Is this really how I feel: Guilty? Or is this a habit originating from years of trying to be the "good kid" after my older brother made a few interesting choices in high school? Furthermore, I start to wonder: What exactly will it change if I drop this class? Would I just be lazy, or would I actually be proactive? Why am I taking it if I hate it? And why can't I let myself understand that I don't have to do everything that is bad for me? Yes, sometimes painful or difficult situations can make someone stronger, or at least, that's what I believe. But can someone really always think that way?

When I stop and think about it, I feel as if I'm giving up by not taking this class because I simply don't want to use the time when I don't enjoy it. I think of my best friend's Mom who, after a divorce, raised two young children practically on her own and takes every situation as a challenge. She always says, "Sometimes, you just gotta back yer ears and get it done." In order to come to Ritsumeikan, I adopted this mode of thinking, and it enabled me to succeed in making it to Japan. But isn't there some sort of balance?

I always want to relax and have a good time, but I have a really difficult time accepting the fact that, "Sometimes, it's okay to have fun." Even more so with the idea that, "Sometimes, it's okay to do things for yourself. You don't have to do everything for other people." I have thought about this issue plenty of times, as well as tried to fix it, but I do not succeed. When attempting to fix myself, I am still in the mindset of trying to be perfect rather than letting myself emerge as whom I want to be. Is it weak to stay in a class that I hate? Or is it more weak to drop it? This is something only I can decide, but I really do not know which to choose. Perhaps I will talk with the teacher about it in the morning. I feel as though he needs to know why the students are having a problem. Even more so, I feel that he deserves to know why students are dropping.

In fact, I think I will write him now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dealing with Stress and Finances

I hate to start every blog with, "I'm sorry for not writing. I was . . . ", but it's going to be another one of those weeks again. (Please bear with this lazy writing a bit longer.) I ate bad curry at the school cafeteria about the same time I started getting another cold, and I ended up with a cold and food poisoning since the beginning of October.However, after getting better and having a fantastic weekend, I am feeling better and realizing that being in Japan is serious, but it's good to have fun every now and then too.

My financial situation has caused my IBS to act up, and it took a rather nasty case of debilitating stomach cramps to make me ponder why I am here and what I want to gain from being in Japan for a year. I realized that becoming completely fluent may be a bit hard to reach, but I still want to aim for as close to fluent as possible. However, I'm going to drop one of the classes I am taking in English in order to achieve this. I can't be taking the same number of classes as I am in Japanese if I want to be fluent. I need to spend more time doing homework in Japanese, speaking Japanese, etc. if I want to be fluent. I can't use my native language while I'm here.

Although, I'm confused as to why I still continue to use English when communicating with my Japanese friends from the States. I don't understand it, but I think it's become a bit habitual. I can't let this mandate how I communicate, though, so I need to start communicating in more Japanese.

I have found a new apartment close the apartment I have now. The apartment will save me about the equivalent of $700 dollars a month, so I will be able to enjoy myself a bit more.

i'm telling myself that I'm going to learn Japanese through enjoying my time here. Perhaps when I'm at the new apartment, I won't have to worry about money as much and I can learn that it's okay to spend money once in awhile. I don't feel like I'm spending money on things that aren't necessary. I'm in a country where public transportation is very convenient, and using it is a bit costly. A bus ticket (to and from school) every day is 440 yen, about the equivalent of 5 or 6 US dollars. If I get a bus pass, it's cheaper in the long run at about $80 a month. I think I might start walking to school on days when my classes start later. I need the exercise. Perhaps I can run to school in the long run.

I'm learning to live by myself, and it's been really interesting. I kind of enjoy taking care of my own place. (I even enjoy the frustrating parts like washing and sorting the trash and keeping things clean.) I'm learning more about my honne, or true self that I don't really show to people. I'm learning that while it's okay to be very polite to people, you have to stand up ever once in awhile and say, "I'm me. Deal with it."

I love Japan. And I'm learning how to enjoy myself while I'm here.

I'm sorry for a crappy/less-thought provoking entry. I can smell some broccoli boiling and it's making me crazy hungry. I haven't eaten lots of vegetables in awhile. It might help with my stomach. :D

Friday, September 30, 2011

More Self-Discovery

It's been a long time since I've updated, but I feel like it took a whole week to come up with something interesting to write. I don't want this to serve as a diary of each individual, tedious event I experience during my stay in Japan. I'd much rather it be a topic of discussion, controversy, and overall, I want my words to spark deep contemplation of everyday matters or events that a monolingual speaker may take for granted.

After a four-day orientation for Ritsumeikan University, I was placed in the Intermediate Japanese classes. The Japanese Program Director from my home institution thought that I would have been a Lower-Intermediate student. I was really glad to hear that I made it to a harder class, but at the same time I know that means I desperately need to catch up on a lot of studying. It's interesting thinking that once all of the "difficult" parts of being an exchange student are over, it will be fine. In reality though, it's never going to be truly easy. Even if I spoke at the native level, there would still be some things that are difficult.

During my time here, I've grown. I know that much, and it has been almost three weeks since I arrived. The difficulty of every day life is something I've been fortunate enough not to experience in my home country, but I feel that every day in Japan throws a new challenge my way. Last Sunday, a man I didn't know went into grand mal on the Shinkansen. I wanted to help, but didn't know how. I found myself saying, "Train Person. Train Person." The man ended up being okay, but I can't even begin to describe how frustrated I was. I wanted to help him, but I couldn't find the words. The words for sickness, medicine, help, and man ran through my mind faster than I could say them, but none of them fit. The man eventually came out of his seisure, and he was escorted off the train at a local station to receive treatment from an ambulance. It was one of the scariest moments I've experienced in my life, but it made me understand how much I actually want to speak this language fluently.

Despite these feelings, however, I feel as though I'm losing sight of why I'm here. I am still passionate about the language I'm learning, and I'm enjoying my time here, but loneliness is the problem I'm facing. I am not homesick, and I don't feel as though I'm experiencing culture shock. I think this is more of growing up. I'm not around anyone I know very often, and while I have made some good friends speaking English, I don't want to speak my native language the majority of my time here. I want friends, and haven't (excuse me) got the balls I need to just step out and make Japanese friends. It's a really weird feeling, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I know in order to get over this feeling, I just have to do. I can't try. I just have to do. I never thought I would say that my boyfriend is right, but when I feel this annoying twang of self-pity, I can hear him say over and over, "Stop trying. Just DO it."

I need to remember the people I have supporting me rather than worry about the people I go to school with. That sounds a little insensitive (probably a lot), but I really want to make more Japanese friends. I don't want to be less than fluent by the time I leave. I want to spea like a native, and the only way to do that it is to go out and do my damnedest.

I think I will go out tomorrow morning and visit my most favorite place on earth. I'll sit down and just think for awhile and collect myself. I'll ask for guidance from an old friend and learn to control my emotions. I will e-mail a few of the circles on campus and ask to join or watch, or whether I could be a part of their group in any way. I'm going to find inventive ways to study and make a schedule and stick to it.

I've got to get better.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The First Day of Orientation

Today was difficult in a lot of ways, but easier in most than I could have imagined.

The day started off a little worse than I had expected. It was raining from the time I fell asleep until shortly before orientation ended at about 8:00 p.m. I woke up, got ready for the day, caught the bus, and made my way to school. It took about an hour to find the classroom where the placement exams would be held, but I ran into a group of English speaking students who were also lost. Together, we found our way to the classroom and took the placement exam.

First of all, I can't stress this enough: Kanji is so very important. I went in knowing that i was not prepared for the kanji portion of the exam, and I was right. Well, at least for the final part of the exam. The listening portion was way easier than I expected. Listening is the hardest part of Japanese for me because I cannot hear very well out of my left ear. Because the mouth is very relaxed when speaking Japanese, it is even harder to lip read, so I'm at a loss if I cannot hear. But when the orientation leaders gave out the second exam packet, the writing portion, they told us, "Oh, it gets progressively harder as you go along." My stomach sank. I put my mind to it that I would do my best and go as far as I could. I was fine for about seven and a half of the thirteen-page packet. We were permitted to leave after about thirty minutes, and once that time period had elapsed, about half of the room cleared. When I got to the eight page, I understood why. I could hardly read, not even understand, maybe 5% of the page, and that's saying a lot. I wrote a not at the top of the page saying, "PLEASE READ: I have no idea what I"m doing after this point in the packet, so I am just guessing." (I didn't know we were allowed to stop.) But I felt good about myself after turning in the entire packet. Even though I was guessing and trying to make grasp of unintelligible symbols, I turned in everything I had, and I was relieved. I had a headache afterward, but I felt pretty good about the test. (Knock on wood) I just hope that I can get into the class I want.

Tomorrow is the interview, and I'm a little nervous. While I made some English-speaking friends today, I also made a few Japanese speaking friends as well. At least, I think I did. I made friends with two of the SKP buddies, Eriko and Mari, as well as Natsumi, one of Mari's friends. I felt better realizing that communicating with them in Japanese was a little easier than I expected. There were a few times that I had to "cheat" and switch to English, but I tried my hardest in Japanese, and that's all that matters to me. That, and one of Mari's friends saw my Nyanpaiaa anime keychain of the Masamune Date Neko, and she started talking about Anime with me. When I said that i liked Masamune Date, she began freaking out. And when I said, "I like Basara (another anime), too," she showed me her cell phone keychain and talking to me in full on Japanese. I don't really remember her name, but she told me that it is a good thing to be interested in Japanese history. (In my head, thought: Finally! Someone that understands!)

Orientation was a little bittersweet. It means that I really will be here for a year, and that I'm not around my friends from home. I felt alone, but with other people at the same time. It made me realize that I am my own person, and ultimately, I am alone. I don't think of this as a negative thing. I feel that it means I am an individual. I realize that no one is exactly like me, and no one ever will be. I just havfe to be me. That's all that matters.

Tomorrow, I have to do my best, too. It's all I can do for myself. And it's what I owe to myself.

I'm more tired than I want to be when I have so much to write about. It's too hard to put into words, in English or Japanese. I'm not copping out. It's just, this feeling is too complex. Bittersweet. Happy. Excited. Anxious. Satisfying. Greedy. I like all of these. None of them are perfect, though.

Until next time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hamlet Situation

I've learned a lot of things today, but I think the most important lesson to remember is: Put practice ahead of everything. Don't eat. Don't sleep. Study. Oh, and practice kanji, too; it's going to be what you're doing for the rest of your life.

My orientation starts tomorrow. well, probably today looking at the clock, and I feel that I'm not for my placement exams whatsoever. I rewrote all of the kanji from Genki I that I failed to memorize/and/or/forgot how write, but did not have time to review the most recent. I should have taken my studies more seriously at UNT. However, at the same time, I want to tell my teachers: Don't simply encourage kanji! Make it mandatory or take off points when students fail to use what they've learned. Otherwise, they will be lazy and not write the kanji! I know, it's sad to believe that not all students are self-motivated, but not all students are that way! I think that I was pretty self-motivated, but I started to slack off when the class got too easy. It just made life easier at the time. I'm not saying that as an excuse; it's just what happened.

KANJI IS GOING TO KILL ME.

I know I just need to chill, but this is terrifying.

Oh, goodness. Please let me magically remember how to write all of the kanji we've learned thus far. Please. Somehow.

I'd better get to bed before everything I crammed into my head explodes all over the walls. My head feels like it's going to burst.

To study until I pass out, or to just give up? I feel that if I give up now, I'm going to wish I studied more, but if I study more, I'm going to wish I slept. Freaking crap.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Convenience Store Food

I swear I'm not complaining, I think I love Japanese convenience stores more than almost anyone I know, but I have to say:

I want to eat REAL food.

I have been sick for the past few days, so I have not felt hungry enough to eat at restaurants around my area. More than that, I also have not felt like paying for a full meal when I still have some things I need to furnish my apartment. I know that's a bit scrooge sounding, but I'm trying to focus on things I need this trip rather than things I want. (But that hasn't stopped me from making a few small pleasure purchases along the way, namely at the dollar stores.)

I bought some instant ramen for the occasion that I did get sick while in Japan. And while I was hoping this would not happen for awhile, it happened sooner rather than later and with more severity. Typically, I like to eat things that won't upset my stomach when I'm sick, and while I know ramen is not the healthiest thing to eat, it is easy on my stomach. But I caught a terrible cold, so even things that are easy to eat have no taste. There's no satisfaction in ramen because the taste is not strong enough. So now I'm left with eating

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Culture Shock and Homesickness

A lot of my friends have been asking me whether or not I am homesick or experiencing culture shock. I thought I would take some time to answer these question in more depth than my simple one or two sentence posts on facebook.

For the most part, no, I am not very homesick and I'm not experiencing any culture shock. If anything I feel that I am in the shock of living on my own in a foreign country. This is the first time I have really been independent, and even then, I can't say that because I am still receiving financial assistance from my parents and family. However, it is the first time I have truly done something without a solid support group around me, and that has been where most of the shock (or would you call it something like growing pains?) has presented itself.

In my first blog post, I had mentioned that I had been studying random parts of Japanese culture on and off for about eight years, and this is my second trip to Japan. While I researched samurai culture and Japanese music, I feel that it was for my benefit. My interest in things like Bushido and Japanese traditions has given me at least some sort of foundation before coming here, and I feel that it really gave me insight to Kyoto, where I'm staying. This city is so full of tradition in each breathing moment of the present. It's quite beautiful, and I feel that as soon as you arrive in the city, you can feel the difference. But I'm digressing.

I don't know whether my natural empathy allowed me to feel at ease here, but I feel as though I am adapting rather quickly to the Japanese lifestyle. I don't feel hindered, and I'm certainly not necessarily dumbfounded by anything I see. (That is to say,  I haven't been completely knocked off my feet just yet.) More than anything, I'm shocked by the absolute kindness in the people I see every day. I think Kyoto has affirmed my belief in humanity.


One thing that is a little difficult for me is to be around so many older people. At first, it was a bit nerve wracking, because I thought that the generation gap could cause potential problems. Yet, I was wrong. I feel that I am accepted as part of the change of time by the elderly around me. Each morning, I walk down my street and pass a woman that spins silk on this ancient looking machine. She looks out her door while tying the silk to its spool and bows politely. I can't help but smile and bow in return. At the post office, an elderly woman talked to me in Japanese as if I were a native. She laughed with me at my difficulty writing my long address in English and made me feel welcome. I think it is interesting that these people take me as one of their own, while the others fret that because of my skin color I may not be able to speak their language. I feel that a majority of younger women have panicked a bit when they see me step into their shop. This may be in my head, but I seem to be treated differently by the younger generation. This is new to me. It seems as though it's the other way around back in Texas.


As for homesickness, I do not necessarily miss home. For my family and friends reading this, please don't take this the wrong way. I miss the people at home, but I don't necessarily miss the everyday of my life there. I have to say it is lonely where I am now. I miss my support group and my family. I miss my friends. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my pets and being able to meet so many people so easily. I think skype and facebook have become an important part in my daily activities while I'm here. When it gets too quiet, I try to see if a friend wants to chat. Some might call this homesick, but I think I am just lonely. I have been by myself the majority of my time here, and I know that as the days go by, I will still be on my own. Perhaps I will have some new friends from school, but that will not change that I am essentially by myself during my time here.

I've had many people tell me that I'm brave for doing this, or they say that they're proud of me for putting everything aside and following my dream. While I thank them for their kindness, I can't say that I agree with them. It was a difficult choice for me to come here. However, I knew that this is where I needed to be. This is where I had to come to achieve my dream. I don't think I'm necessarily brave, but headstrong and stubborn. I think this is perhaps one of the most impulsive things I've ever done in my life. And I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I think I've put myself into a mindset of thinking, "This is what I have to do," all of the time. I'm not sure if I'm living in the moment or living in a dream. I don't feel settled down.

But I know I'm in Kyoto, and this is where I'll be.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Anthropology and Linguistics

I haven't been able to stop thinking today. I don't know if it's the fact that I feel better, or whether or not my being in Japan is actually starting to make sense. I'll take it as a combination of both and just accept it for what it is. I don't have time for questions.

My inner anthropologist and linguist are emerging rather suddenly, and I find myself at a loss for words when the two do decide to take hold of my thought process. For instance, the other day I realized, "In Japan, it's okay to wear socks with high heals while wearing a short dress. In fact, it's fine to wear socks with flip flops or sandals as well." While the inner diva in me was screaming, "Fashion no-no!" and trying not to vomit, the anthropologist in me took a moment to gaze (probably stare) in wonder. I asked myself: Is it the culture that lets this American/Fashion world taboo become socially acceptable? Or is it not even though as unacceptable, but natural or normal?" I took a moment to think even more and the debate kept circling in my head.

In Japan, it is customary to take off your shoes while entering a house. Unless you are entering a hotel room, public building/office, or other area where a "no shoes allowed" notice or sign is not hanging, you MUST take off your shoes. I've even been somewhat scolded for walking outside barefoot at home in Texas, even though it's quite common there, especially when you're at home, like I was. It's just something to get used to.

Taking the no-shoes policy further, I thought about how important socks or under-footwear is in Japanese society. In older homes, the tatami floor is too delicate for shoe soles, so it was very much customary to wear socks or go barefoot on the floor. I imagine that the socks were preferred because they held in the moisture of sweaty feet and the odor that accompanies them, but I can't say that for certain. If you put two and two together, it makes me believe that this everyday sight stems from that. And in that regard, I think it is quite smart and nice.

I am still getting accustomed to some of the Japanese commonalities of my apartment, but I have to say that they aren't bothersome. Sorting the trash and washing everything that can be recycled can be a bit annoying, but it makes sense. As an American, it makes me wonder why my country doesn't do the same thing. I'm not unpatriotic in the least bit, but when you think of us disposing of all sorts of garbage in the earth just because we have the room to do so, it makes us seem lazy and unappreciative of our land. I don't fully agree with the stigmas attached to the term American when used by foreigners.

The same goes with the language. While I am not fluent in the Japanese language at the slightest, I do feel that I am becoming quite accustomed to the language and how it is used as a whole. So much depth and tradition is attached to everyday words that it feels so rich to the tongue. I am understanding context and meaning, time and place, and formalities along with each term I hear and I'm happy to say it's sticking. I can't explain this very eloquently in my own language, and when I write, I feel that a lot of the meaning paired to words in English have been lost over time. It makes me want to read more Shakespeare.

I could write about this forever, but I need to finish doing my laundry. I am not sure how to make the washing machine finish its cycle . . .

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or musings on this topic. For now, that's all I have to say.