September 15, 2003
Ninjas, sitting Indian style, and a new family for Kate
Thanks to the "Respect for the Aged Day", I had a nice three daylong weekend. I didn't do too much in the way of super exciting Japanese stuff, but I did see a couple of movies. One was a Takeshi film (you maybe familiar- he has released a few films into US art houses). The movie was about a blind samurai forced to fight for reasons that remain unknown to me since I didn't understand all that much of the dialogue. It did have some pretty entertaining ninja fighting scenes that made it well worth the cost of admission and then some. I also saw Hero - a Chinese film made with a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon feel. Although it was visually gorgeous, I understood absolutely nothing about what was going on. The dialogue was in Chinese with Japanese subtitles - I sort of made up my own story as it went along.

On Sunday I had to attend a Noh performance for my Noh and Kyogen class. The performance was 6 hours long!! 6 hours of sitting on the floor that was just crowded with people - you were constantly touching someone on all sides. The show itself was perhaps one of the most boring things I have ever seen. The actors wear masks and pretty much just sit the whole time speaking really, really, slowly. The play is only 15 pages long - but it takes 2 hours to perform, come on. It was just too much for me. It was just too uncomfortable sitting Indian style in a square foot by square foot space for a period longer than ten minutes. I tried to appreciate, I really did. I was in all the high school plays, I thought the masks were cool, and clothing beautiful- but I just couldn't handle it. I ended up lasting for only twenty minutes. Pathetic I know. I just don't see how the other kids in class made it! Well, at that moment I realized that I would have to drop the Noh class, seeing as how we'd be going to these shows all the time. I am now going to take Econ. This may surprise you, but I am not left with many options. Hey, it's a good time to learn something new right? We'll see. I think I may lose some friends as I constantly hound them with questions - but this stuff just doesn't come naturally to me.

My host family situation is just no good. This Friday I am moving to a new home stay in a different part of Kyoto. I don't think Friday can come soon enough. Let me tell you about an awkward situation. My current family knows that I don't like it there and that I want to move - this creates just a bit of tension. I am eating meals and sleeping in a house with people who know I don't like them - grrreat. My new home stay sounds nice though. It is just one lady and she gives total independence to her host kids. Actually, this house is a unique situation because there will be more than one host kid; A student from Spain, and another Germany will be joining me next month. Some students don't like this scenario because you cannot form a one on one relationship with a Japanese family. Things are a little less intimate. Me? I tried the whole family bit and it just isn't my thing, so I think this situation will be good for me. I figure the house must be kind of large because each student gets her own room and the students all share a bathroom. I'm really looking forward to Friday.
September 9, 2003
I realize that I have been a bit MIA, but I thought I'd go ahead and start typing again. Although so much has happened in the last two weeks, I'll just briefly enlighten you.

Two weeks ago, I started my new school, KCJS, and I really like it. There are about 45 students from all over the US. Everyone is really nice and I cannot tell you how good it is to finally get to share this experience of living in Japan with other Americans. I had faced some pretty lonely times at Seika University, and I am happy to report that I will no longer have to deal with that. Classes are good. I ended up placing into the lowest Japanese class out of six levels, but I am happy with it. I can finally understand everything that is being said, while learning new material. Class is fairly intensive, meeting two hours a day, with quizzes and assignments due each meeting. Although it makes for a lot of work, I am excited about boosting those language skills.

While here, I am living with a host family. Although my family tries to be nice and sincerely wants me to enjoy my time - things are rough. There are a ton of nitpicky rules, such as, I am not allowed to take showers in the morning, nor after 11pm - thus a curfew is set if I want to be clean the next day. There are plenty of other daily little things that bother me immensely, but I am trying to get things sorted out. I think I'll either try to move into an apartment now, or just stick it out until the next semester when a better opportunity for an apartment arises.

And in other news: On September 11th, I am going to be on the NBC Today Show. So, if anyone is interested in catching a few moments of me with a couple of friends in Osaka, feel free to check it out. The scenario: We are in downtown Osaka just walking around when we see this advertisement. These two guys are suspended from a building playing soccer against a backdrop of a soccer field with an Adidas logo. After the add, some NBC guys stopped us. They said they were interviewing Japanese people on what they thought of the add, and that American audiences like to see fellow Americans in this type of thing. So, boom, we were briefly interviewed. Sadly I was put on the spot and sound like an idiot. Afterwards I was thinking of all the intelligent answers I should have given. Anyway, kind of neat to think I am going to be on national television simply because I happened to be at the right spot (Osaka Japan!) at the right time.

So that's the news for now. I'll start doing some more regular updates from now on.
July 24, 2003
The Gion festival
The Gion festival made for an awesome time. The first two nights were incredible. The main downtown street, Shijo, was closed off from traffic and people just filled the streets. Many women were clad in ukata, or summer kimono. I found it slightly odd that dressing in the traditional style was far less popular among the men, maybe for every ten women in kimono, one man was wearing his Japanese garb. The first night I met up with Frederikke and a couple other westerners to tour the streets. The side streets was where are the action was. Booths were set up with kids games, brightly colored toys, and some strange, but for the most part good, food. One particular delicacy that I found most interesting was this squid that was run through a press and flattened into a paper thin sheet, then rolled and eaten. It was actually incredibly salty, but not too bad. I'll admit that although carnival food is something I steer clear of in the States, the food here is good- as long as you are willing to be a bit adventurous. My favorite is yakisoba, a sort of fried noodle. They also serve up this things called takoyaki, little pan cooked balls filled with a vegetable mix and octopus. Although the first bite is creepy if you've never had octopus, the second bite is quite tasty. I think one food practice I don't care for is the wide use of mayonnaise. They put that stuff on everything, French fries, vegetables, eggs, takoyaki- I just cannot deal with all that.

Along the side streets were these huge floats that would later take part in a procession on the last day. Meanwhile, they were just hanging out on the streets with folks sitting in them singing and playing musical instruments- mighty cool to see and take pictures of.

I'd say the second night was my favorite. That night, at the Yasaka jinja shrine at the end of Shijo street, a performance was held. The show lasted about an two hours and depicted various gods and demons dueling it out. The finally was incredible featuring a battle with four huge snakes which represented an eight headed dragon legend spoke of. Man was it cool, complete with a few smoke and firework effects, the crowd was just eating it up. Me with my ninja patience and stealth like skill was able to score an awesome viewing spot after about a half hour- a mighty good thing considering how big the crowd was. After the show I ate various crazy Japanese snacks with some other westerners at the temple. Ever try a frozen, chocolate covered, sprinkled banana? not too shabby.

On the morning of the third and final day there was a huge parade. The giant floats were actually pulled by about 50 men down the streets. The floats rested on four huge wooden wheels each one being about two people high, this made for tricky turns. Only men were allowed in the parade-don't ask me why- and everyone was dressed in their traditionally. I was surprised by how many westerners I saw in the parade, maybe about ten in all. Fortunately it was sunny that morning, but super hot. The sides of the streets were just packed with people. I was surrounded mostly by little old women who have no qualms about elbowing you or stepping on your feet. The parade marked the end of the festival, however, it is really a month long event so various other happenings will go on later.
July 15, 2003
Gion Time
Today is the start of the Gion festival. What is the Gion festival you ask? Well, it is only the biggest festival in all of Japan, right here in the Gion district of Kyoto. I had read that the Gion festival goes back to some time around the 7th century (although don`t quote me on that). A terrible plague had hit Kyoto, and in efforts to appease the gods, a festival was held. Not long after, the plague ended and the tradition began. Right now some stands and floats are already set up, but tonight at seven is when the real party starts. Then, Thursday morning there is a huge parade. I am pretty geeked about going. Apparently it is going to be packed with people and many folks will be dressed in their summer kimono. On my way to the bank today I saw more people dressed in kimono than I have the whole time I`ve been here- kids, adults, elderly, everyone. Sadly, I have forgotten my camera and will have to make a trek from school back to my dorm to pick it up- but it should be worth the trip.
Needless to say I am excited.
July 14, 2003
Last week was Tanabata. Tanabata is a mini Japanese holiday on July 7th. A Chinese story says that long ago there were two star gods in the sky. One was a girl who worked as a weaver, and the other a boy who was a cattle herder. After meeting, they fell in love; however, the boy's mother was angry and seperated the two across the galaxy. Once a year, on July 7th, the stars meet. Typically, everyone writes out wishes on slips of paper and decorates a bamboo branch with little ornaments. At night, if it is clear, you have dinner outside and watch the stars. The dorm had a little celebration and everyone brought a dish from their home country. I brought cheese and crackers due to my wonderful nonexsistent cooking skills. It was pretty funny to watch people eat wheat thins with their chopsticks. I also found out that Tanabata is celebrated in many asian countries including Burma, China, Korea, and Indonesia. I have never heard of this before and I wonder if the western side of the hemipshere can even see the stars, or if I was just ignorant about the whole thing.

In other news, I am still amazed by how people approach me. Just today, on my way to school, a man on a bike stopped me and asked if I spoke English. He then offered me a job at an English school fairly close to where I live. I mean, if someone wanted to just come out here and live comfortably for a while, there would be no problem. You don't even have to have a degree to find a good job. Teaching English rakes in quite a bit of dough too. I got a job working in an English cafe. I get paid about 12 dollars an hour to sit and just talk for a few hours with Japanese folks who want to brush up on their English. Talk about the easiest money I'll ever make. Also, the going rate for English tutoring lessons is 25 dollars. Plus, it is incredibly easy to hook up with a job that will at least find you a place to live if not pay your rent. Not that teaching English as a second language is a life time career, but all you have to be is a foreigner to get yourself a good job here.
July 3, 2003
Good times, good good times
Yesterday was May's 30th birthday, but we celebrated Sunday instead on the account of her having work. That week I had said that I was taking her out and that it would be a surprise. Seeing as how May has few friends, and no family in Kyoto (just like her neigbor, aka me) it was on me to make sure she would have a good time.

After much indecision, I finally opted for the movies, all in full realization that this could be lame, and that she might be disappointed that she was spending her 30th in a theater. At any rate, I got tickets for the 5:10 showing of Charlie's Angels II. I had remembered that when we had watched the first one on tv the week before, we saw ads for the new movie and she had said that she wanted to see it. I made it back to the dorm around 4:30, and I had to make the poor woman rush out the door fifteen minutes later. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get to the theater via subway and foot; so, I grabbed her arm, hailed a taxi, and jumped in stating a destination near the theater.

The whole time she was asking me where were going, but I continued the surprise thing. In the taxi May was beaming. She said it was the first time she had been in a car since she got to Japan about three years ago! I couldn't believe it. She had also said that she had never been in a taxi and that she wouldn't forget that ride. I tell ya, if that taxi ride had costed a hundred dollars I would have paid it just to see how happy she was. In fact, she was already so happy, I was tempted to call it quits right there. Happy Birthday May, it doesn't get much better than this.

Once out of the cab, we walked to the theater. Along the way I said we were going to the museum to see the doll exhibit that was on display. She looked less than thrilled and gave me a polite smile saying "oh...this is good." But once we got to the theater and the mystery was revealed, she grabbed my arm and started jumping up and down laughing. It was the happiest I had ever seen her. As it turned out, it was only the second time May has ever been to a movie thearter in her life! She said she had always wanted to go since she got to Japan, but people were too busy to go with her. I guess May had only been one other time in Burma back in her college days with a friend. She was completely amazed. I bought us pop and popcorn (which, by the way, are completely reasonably priced here. Two medium cokes and a large popcorn, about 5 dollars. Now that's what I am talking about. 5 bucks wouldn't get you a dixie cup of cherry coke in the US), and we made it to our assigned seats just as the previews were rolling. May had told me very matter-of-factly that movies on tv just aren't the same as in the cinema - true eh?

Afterwards we went to a Thai restaurant and had a huge meal. May had said it was the best day she has had since she got to Kyoto four months ago, and I think I might have to say the same. Thankfully, my idea wasn't so lame after all and we ended up having a blast. As a side note, on her actual birthday I bought us some Haggendaz caramel icecream, and it turned out to be the first time she had ever had caramel! She held it on her little plastic spoon that they give you saying "what is this?" Here I am in Japan trying all this new stuff and having a good time, but what is possibly more fun is watching someone else try things that are completely ordinary and everyday to you. I guess that is what meeting a person from a different culture is all about.

I also want to give a shot out to my brother Andy who's birthday was on the 30th. Happy birthday Andy!
Kitty, kitty
I recently helped give a baby kitten a bath. This kitty is so tiny! It's legs are as big has my fingers, and it only takes one hand to hold it - man is it cute. Amazing how a tiny little thing like that could make a racket when it gets wet, meows like an opera singer. It belongs to a Chinese girl in the dorm here. All I can do is baby talk in English - which folks find amusing, even going so far as to imitate me, which is hilarious. Hearing Chinese girls who speak zero English, say "oh I just want to put you in my pocket" in broken baby talk English is pretty funny stuff. Makes me miss my kittens back home...
June 28, 2003
Nature and things
Yesterday, I went to Sanzen-in temple in Ohara, about an hour bus ride north from the downtown area. The temple has a 3,000 hydraenga flower garden, with many trees and waterfalls, plus a moss covered ground. The flowers only bloom for a couple of weeks during rainy season. And man-o-man they weren't kidding when they called it rainy season. It rains every single day- nice weather consists of half the day being cloudy with maybe 5 minutes of sunshine, but other than that it is constant rain in all its forms- drizzle, down pour, mist, you name it.

I thought it odd that the temple was just buzzin' with eldery folks, but no young people were in sight. I guess this sort of thing only appeals to the older generation and myself, whatever that says about me. On the walk up there were a bunch of shops selling packaged mushy looking veggies, crunchy snacks, and other typical souvenirs. I stopped at one shop to try a pickled cucumber on a stick (it really wasn't quite a pickle). The lady who sold it to me was what I invision to be the typical Japanese 50 yr old woman, if that makes sense. She kindly corrected my Japanese and then asked me a few simple questions in English. She had told me she was trying to learn English, but it was hard due to lack of practice. After I told her it was my first time there, with a big smile she gave me a map with her shop highlighted in red and pointed out various places she liked. We then promised each other that we would do our best to learn each other's languages, and I continued on my way.

The bus ride north was gorgeous. Japan is an extremely mountainous country. Some mountain sides are covered in exactly the same type of tree, making it look completely uniform, and a little strange due to its unnaturalness. I assume that after logging, they went in and planted the area with the same kind of tree. There is also more bamboo grown here than I expected. One thing I really enjoy about Japanese culture is its appreciation for nature. People may have only one square foot of land in front of their house, but it will be beautiful, full of flowers. Even if their house is just surrounded by a cement wall, potted plants will be arranged carefully. This appreciation doesn't only apply to people's homes, Seika's campus is beautiful. Set up in a mountainous area, Seika bought a lot of the landing surrounding the school just to make sure it stayed perserved. There is a little canal running through campus with a large pool that has two fountains and carp fish. There is also a peacock cage outside with about four peacocks and various other exotic looking birds. I guess when the school was first built, one of the higher-ups believed there should be animals actually in the library. Animals are supposed to help one's studies by offering relaxation and inspiration. The prospect of having monkeys and birds flying around in the stacks must not have been too appealing to the staff, so a peacock cage now exists right outside of the library.

At any rate, I think the love for nature is related to the extreme attention to detail. Making one's surroundings clean and beautiful seems to be very important to the Japanese. My guess is that's why there can be classes dedicated to the art of flower arranging, and why food is typically served in small dishes where looks are equally as important as taste.
June 20, 2003
Lithowhat? Because I sure don't know
This morning I came to the realization that I really don't understand what sensei is saying in class. Lithography is the most complicated print making method I have tried to date. There are about a gizillion steps in processing the plate. Since the class is conducted in Japanese I just write down the steps as she goes along, while not actually understanding her explanation.

Well, I went to school this morning to get some prints going when I totally destroy my plate! I don't know, I didn't move fast enough or something; at any rate, the ink stuck turning the whole plate black. This comes as a major disappointment because I thought the image I had drawn was pretty strong and it was going to turn out some good prints. Since it is Saturday there is no one to help me out, and even if there was only one sensei can speak English and let me know what I am doing wrong. FrustraTION. I really haven't produced anything I liked since I got here. This is fine with me because I am here to learn, not make "pretty" work. I can make something "pretty" at Michigan. I really don't have expectations to come back with some gallery piece, but it comes as a disappointment when I finally make something I like and end up destroying it. A talent I wish I didn't possess. And with only three weeks of class left this doesn't leave for much time. Oh well, what can ya do?
Man eating beasts of Japan
It's official, Japan has the biggest spiders I have ever seen in my life. Now, since I am the type of girl who goes running and screaming like a chumpy chump for someone to kill a spider, this is no good. In Litho class this week, sensei was giving a demonstration by the sink where everyone was gathered around. Of course, I want to get right in there so I am standing next to the edge of the sink. In the middle of her demonstration I swear to goodness the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life crawled up from behind the sink. I mean, this man eating thing was like the size of my hand and grey with brown stripes. I get the chills just thinking about it. I grab Fredricka who I happened to be standing next to and start yelling and jumping away saying "oh my god, that is huge! Oh man! ...etc." I look around and everyone is acting so casually! People aren't backing away, sensei was a little surprised, but no yelling and screaming was going on, and this is a class full of girls might I add. Instead it turned to staring at the two westerners who were completely flipping out. I couldn't help but laugh hysterically. I also thought it was one of those times when everyone understood what I was saying even though they didn't know the meaning of the words.

Well, everyone had a good laugh, mostly at my expense. And for the second half of the class you know what I spent my time doing, let's just say I wasn't watching the demonstration anymore. Fredricka and I both agreed that Japan has the biggest bugs we've ever seen. And since it is rainy season, that means rain nearly everyday of the week, I think all of the spiders are trying to come indoors. I am proud to say that I have valiantly killed some of these horrible bugs using my quick kung fu action and the help of my shoe.

Speaking of wildlife, on may way back from the grocery store today I saw a gigantic snake. First I noticed a cat who was just acting nuts, hair all puffy and huanched low to the ground. Two seconds later I see this snake, in all honesty about three feet long, right next to the cat. It was green, white, and browned striped, just slinking along on someone's driveway. I didn`t even think snakes like that really exsisted outside of the congo, especially not in a city for pete's sake! Man it gave me the willies. Needless to say I continued on my way and thought I'd let mother nature handle that little situation.
June 9, 2003
Bad boys bad boys, whatch'ya gonna do when they come for you
Saturday I am on my way to meet a few friends to go see the new Matrix movie (it just opened here over the weekend) when I get stopped by police! I am biking along when I notice a row of police on either side of the sidewalk. Realizing that it is far too late to cross the street and avoid whatever was going on, I continue on my merry way, not too worried because I know I am doing nothing wrong. I made sure not to run the light and I wasn't going too fast, but to my horror two officers stepped in front me with their hands up. My heart was thumpin'. The officers were checking out my bike to make sure I didn't steal it. Most people have some form of ID on their bike, but since I borrowed mine from the University I had nothing. And man, that was not fun to try and explain.

They first asked to see my lock and key, then my passport. Well of course I am not going to be carrying my passport around so I handed them a photocopy - I think at this point I am bright red and my heart is going a mile a minute. It was completely ridiculous. Three officers surrounded my little bike, talking into their walkie-talkies like this was some important, threat to national security matter. To make it worse, I didn't know what the heck they were saying to me half the time. Two of the officers were patient and repeated things in a simpler way with gestures. But the third guy just got fed up, grabbed my handle bars and started talking way too fast. Do I just say "yes, yes" or "sorry I don't understand". I ended up doing a little of both. On second thought, probably not such a good idea to be saying yes to a question I cannot even understand, but I just wanted to get out of there.

After twenty minutes they let me go. 20 minutes! Over nothing! I swear about hundred people on bikes passed me during this time and they didn't stop a single one. I have heard of police stopping people before to check their bikes, but come on, aren't their any bad guys to go catch or crimes to stop? Instead they`re wasting their time on some American girl who is just trying to go see a movie. One thing I can say for certain though, cops here are way less intimidating than in the US. In the US you say "yes officer, sorry officer" and be as respectful as possible (not that I've had any run-ins with the law). But here, as I was leaving the two nicer officers apologized to me! That's right, in the US I am Kate Holoka, a nice university student, here, I am wanted in three prefectures.
June 2, 2003
More daily life
I started my new print making class today; more Lithography, but we are now using plates and stone. The teacher is really nice and patient, a bonus since she cannot speak much English. Plus, Fredricka and Akari are both in the class so I am sure it will be a good time. May is doing well, she continues to be a really good friend to me. I now have a really strong desire to both go to Burma, and take her to the US and show her around. Kawai continues to be nice too. Last night she asked May and me to come outside and see the lightning bugs. It was the first time they came out this year. I think lightning bugs are a bigger deal here. I saw a lot of families walking around by the canal (which runs right in front of the dorm) marveling at the bugs even though it was pretty chilly outside. Kawai told me about a famous Japanese movie (I think it was a movie) where a family was devastated by WWII and everyone died but a daughter. While the daughter was forced to live in the woods she collected lightning bugs in her hand for light. Pretty tragic sounding. She also asked me if my country had these bugs. It was just a memorable moment.

I have noticed that farmers are now planting rice. It seems they spend about two or three days flooding their fields in about a foot of water. It's cool to watch them plant the seeds pushing loud tractors in the mud while wearing rubber boots to their knees. The farmers are super interesting to watch. The men all wear straw hats and often talk amongst neighbors at the side of their fields. The women are covered head to toe in aprons, boots, loose clothing, gloves, and bonnets - sometimes you see the traditional pointed hat or two. What gets me is that this seems to be a profession only for the eldery - at least in the area I am in. A lot of the women's backs are permanently bent in a 70,60,45 degree angle, making them about 3 feet tall. It looks truly painful. Occasionally women will be pushing carts for walkers as they stroll the sidewalks, or pulling carts of vegetables on the road. Where are the trucks for this sort of thing? I am sure their posture comes from working in the fields like they do. That saying, back breaking labor, is not just a saying, but a strong reality here.

This weekend I spent pretty much all my time at the dorm. I took a few walks to the grocery store and what not, did laundry, cleaned, watched a movie, basically normal stuff. It was some much needed down time though. I cannot begin to describe how overwhelming everything is here. To live in a culture where everything is done differently, looked at differently, thought of differently, is truly something else. My brain is always on, I am always thinking, taking things in, relating them to my life and my own culture. Being here really puts a different perspective on life. And I realize that this is Japan, this isn't a third world country where things are even more mind boggling. I cannot imagine how hard it is to live in countries like that as a foreigner. Even when I am just chillin' in my room my mind is going. Back home, I could vege out for hours in front of the TV not thinking about a darn thing (not that that is a necessarily a good thing in large quantities), but here, there is no TV for me. The only real down time I have is when I am sleeping. As silly as this may sound, I don't think I have ever thought this much about life in my life. Right now I am reading Anna Karenina during my "down time". I am in a place where reading Tolstoy is my down time! Craziness.
May 30, 2003
Say What?
Today I have been incredibly lazy. I slept about 12 hours last night, and even then fought to get out of bed. The last thing I want to do is sleep away my time here. For some reason Japan makes me really tired. I mean I am tired like 50% of the time. One thing that is just as exhausting as riding my bike all over the town is talking. If a Japanese conversation goes on longer than an hour I start to get a little worn out.

Just last night I was eating dinner with May and another girl (I served up some garlic bread - also the first time May ever had garlic bread) and I just got really tired. I even thought, "Speak English! please! Glorious English! Just for a little bit. For once I want to know everything you are saying." At this point, I'm in the putting together bits and pieces of what people are saying stage. I understand some vocab, plus hand gestures - making it really exhausting after an hour. It is crazy how much thinking and computing goes on in my head. I first translate the words I know into English, then I tend to think of when and where I learned that word (like the chapter in my textbook or who I learned the word from), then after that I do it all over again with the very next word. Plus throw in the times when I think "oh, that's a funny sounding word" and you've got a lot of lighting fast thinking that doesn't even have to do with the subject of the conversation. And that's just listening. Talking is a whole nother story.

What is most frustrating is when I mix up words because they sound similar. For example: onaka (stomach) and ongaku (music). I'll say something like- my music is hungry, or I like that stomach. Another: shumastu (weekend) and shistumon (question). Fortunately, nobody has laughed at me or anything like that when I make those mistakes. Sometimes they have to correct me, other times I catch myself. This particular problem never happened at Michigan in the classroom. I think it is having to do with the speed of forming my own sentences in such an impromtu situation- in a natural conversation. At school you knew the scenerio before you stepped foot into the classroom, that meant all you really needed to do was study the appropriate vocabulary and grammar. Obviously, actually living in the country and speaking to native speakers proves more challenging. I just wonder at what point things will become more natural for me- if they ever do.

One instance though when I take the most pride in myself is ordering. Why, just the other night I had a shining moment. I walked up to the counter at a Starbucks (I know, Starbucks? MacDonald's? Kate, come on you are in Japan. But in my defense, it is not as though Japan is known for its cafes and coffee. Cold drinks, pastries - Japan is great - a cup of latte - Japan is no better than the US. This isn't Italy. In Sacramento my brother Andy, Bree, and I went to see a comedy show. I think the comedian said it best that you know exactly what you get when you walk into a Starbucks. That Starbucks maintains a level quality whether you are in Timbuktu or Rome. Anyway...) I walk up to the counter and the lady pulls out the menu with pictures and English names, a pity menu for foreigners is how I think of it. And you know the people at the counter just dread it when a westerner comes up and orders in some hard to discern language. Well, I plop my bag right over the menu and order in Japanese! That's right. She even had a small look of surprise and a smile. It was glorious - one latte, tall, hot, for here please. It was just a small moment, but a moment nonetheless. That person could have thought I was fluent- she didn't know that was one of the few situations that I can speak competently. It is moments like those where I think "man, I'm doing it. I am living in Japan!" The moments are few and far between so they are really treasured at this point.
May 29, 2003
My advice: Don't bother with maps, just rely on the Spidey Sense
I've somehow become quite the biker. Last week I biked the length of the city, north to south. It took about 2 hours, but it was a good time. I should say that it was a good time for the most part. I was looking for a particular temple which has a flea market on the 21st of every month. The Toji temple is at the southern edge of the city (I live in the northern part of Kyoto). Kyoto has a shallow river called Kamo running through it. In the north, it splits off making a Y shape. I live in the V part. Anyway, I bike for about an hour and a half following the river all the way down. Toji was just a few streets over according to the world's worst map I was carrying. This map doesn't even have street names! What the heck is the point - and why I am I stupid enough to be using it? Anyway, I get to the part where I need to stop following the river and take side roads. Well, I am now off in some highway, railroad, constructiony area. I am lifting my bike and going down stairs and these dusty remains of what used to be parks. I cross the tracks and start biking. I then realize that I don't know where the seedy part of Kyoto is, if there even is one. But the area I'm in looks like it could be it. So, I turn around and head back.

I decided to park my bike and hop on a subway - I am determined to get to this market. I even go so far to think I am smart, and seasoned traveller. Here I am biking all over the city and taking subways and getting around on my own. Well, I get off at the station and see signs for a different temple which is in the opposite direction of where I want to go according to the world's worst map. So, I take my smart self and start walking the opposite direction. I walk and walk and then realize that I just walked myself back to my bike. Smooth one Kate. Way to waste 150 yen and about 45 minutes. At this point I am starving and it is roasting outside so I give up. Instead I found a place for lunch and chilled by the river. And the place I found for lunch... MacDonald's. I know, I know, so lame. But I just wanted some good, unquestionable food. It was my first time though I swear. Next month, the 21st, I will be at this flea market!

I made a spaghetti dinner for May not long ago and it was her first time eating spaghetti!! I couldn't believe it. I didn't even do good job of making it. The noodles weren't cooked long enough and I put too much meat in the sauce. And that was her first spaghetti dinner. Her first pasta meal should've been cooked by my Gram, not me who cannot cook worth a darn. She really liked it though- I guess it's good because she doesn't know any better; she didn't know how bad it actually was.

Speaking of May, she recently got engaged. She met him during golden week (in the beginning of May). He is also from Burma and they plan on getting married either this New Year's, or Burma's New Year's which is in April. I was stunned. I asked about him and he seems really nice. Her reply to me was "I am thrity years old, it is time for me to marry". Sounds horribly grim to me, but, I think she really is in love with him. Talk about a different culture. A couple side notes I found out about Burmese culture: women are not allowed to drink alcohol, at all. And divorce is uncommon. If it happens, men remarry but women typically do not. She says that she would never get a divorce for the sake of her children. Of course, we had this conversation earlier in the year. I am not so socially inept to bring up divorce when she is telling me she is engaged. May remains a good friend. She has this flukey talent of stopping by just when I want to talk to someone the most. Whenever I am feel particulary lonely and bummed that I cannot cook a decent meal for myself, she always knocks on my door and invites me for dinner. Her timing is almost scary - but greatly appreciated.
May 22, 2003
Art and What's at the Heart
As much as I am loving my art classes it has been really challenging. Art here is taught very differently. I look at other students work and everything is creative and straight from the imagination. I feel like students know exactly why they are here: because they love to create and they are doing what comes from their heart. US schools are different. At Michigan, all students have to take at least 4 drawing classes. I have taken 5 so far and in every one it has been about one thing: learning how to render accurately. I am taught how to draw strictly objectively. Anyone can learn how to do this. The problem is I have lost all creativity. I cannot draw anything from the imagination. I feel like art school makes the reason why you started art in the first place, disappear.

Art is still something that I love and I will continue it for the rest of my life. Right now, I am having a really hard time. I have come to the realization that I really don't have my own style. Here, you will not find a single piece of work where the student tried to draw something as realisticly as possible. Also, critiques are different. In the US you have to be able to talk about your work. If you cannot talk about why you did something, it is somehow invalid. I hate that about critiques. I don't think that what the artist had in mind is important at all. The only thing that matters is what the viewer experiences when they look at the work. In Japan, I have yet to go to a critique where the artist had to explain what they drew and why. I look at other people's work in class and it is all so creative. I find this country to be so inspiring and it is frustrating not to be able to express what I want. I want to work towards developing my own style and going beyond plain rendering.

Kyoto Seika's art program (and I hear all of Japan's schools are run the same) has some definite flaws. Students do not have much freedom when it comes to trying out different techniques. When students enter a university, they state what they want to study and that's what they stick with for four years. A printmaking student only studies printmaking - he or she doesn`t try painting, or ceramics, just printmaking. I think this has some major downsides, but at the same time the artist has a chance to develop an extensive portfolio and really get to know the workings of printmaking. In fact, students aren't even required to take a drawing class. Again this has its disadvantages, but it is interesting how different art is taught here. Akari has never taken a drawing class - but her work is amazing. It is so creative and original, and you can really see Akari in it. This is what I want to achieve. I am struggling with my work right now - trying to find some bit of style and originality that I think makes an artist an artist. I feel like the heart I put into art as a kid was lost when I went through the educational system. Sure, I can do a pretty good job making an apple look like an apple - but universities all over the US are turning out students who can do that. I want to develop my own style, a task that has been hugely frustrating and draining.

I am aware that I could come back from Japan with not one single work of art that I like, I don't care. I am not here to create beautiful works of art. I am here to learn. I am open to other ideas and criticisms and I am trying out different techniques in hopes to learn something new, to make my art truly my own. I know this is an endeavor that will take more time than I have here in Japan, I just hope to carry this determination with me back to the US and not let any negativity influence this goal. I don't want to settle for just making things pretty anymore.
Nishijin and Osaka
I had a really good weekend. On Friday night Kawai (dorm caretaker) had a party for me and another Chinese student who arrived late. Nearly everyone in the dorm came and Kawai cooked a curry rice dinner. Then she made a few cakes and everyone sang Happy Birthday in english to me and the other girl. It was really sweet. Since most girls are from China the majority of the conversation went on in Chinese - not even giving me a chance to know what was so darn funny! One girl saw that I was pretty quiet and came over to talk to me in Japanese. After the party May and I stayed in the room and watched Back to the Future - in english. I then realized that that movie is ultra hard to explain to someone who doesn`t come from the same country. A lot of those jokes are ones only Americans would catch. It is a pretty confusing movie if you haven't seen it a gizillion times.

Saturday I went on a little field trip the International Office was offering its students. There were about twelve different trips to choose from - I went to Nishijin. Nishijin is the textile portion of the city going back about 1,400 years ago. We went to the textile museum and saw a little kimono show. I also got to try my hand at some weaving. We had lunch at this little restaurant which was pretty exciting because it was my first time going out to eat. Some of the girls could speak a little English and they helped me out with the menu. During lunch, I was asked which city was better, Kyoto or Detroit. I pretty much immediately said Kyoto and everyone gave this gasp of surprise. I thought maybe I didn`t understand the question properly so I asked them to repeat it. Yup, Kyoto is better than Detroit. Because Eminem is so popular and 8 Mile just came out here, people are a little familiar with Detroit. Everyone seems to think it is a dangerous city and when I am asked what it is like, I don't know what to say. My list of Japanese adjectives isn't very long - but compared to here, it is way more dangerous that is for certain.

After lunch we went to a small loom factory where they weave parts for kimonos. This was by far my favorite part of the weekend. This shop was so neat with about 10 looms and a few people working away. This very old man had been working on a peice of a silk obi for 6 months going about 6 cm a day. It was amazing. He was really kind, and took a moment out of working to show us what he had completed thus far. Then a man talked a little bit to our group about kimono making in Nishijin; however, I couldn`t understand anything because the room was too loud. He showed us some obi that were $100,000 dollars. They were incredible, with over 4,000 different colors, everything hand made of course. Downstairs was a little shop where I bought a couple peices of "scrap" fabric that had been made right there. Afterwards we sat in a little tea room and had some interesting sweets.

What really made Saturday was that Fredricka, from Denmark, came along. This was our first opportunity to really talk and it was so nice to share our experiences. Fredricka is an older student who goes to school in Scotland. She had actually already received a degree and works in television, but she decided to go back to art school to do what she loves. Anyway, it was nice to talk about the differences in the way art is taught here and in the west.

Sunday I went to Osaka with Akari. Her favorite artist was supposed to have a show there, but her information was wrong and it won't happen until July. So we walked around the city a little bit instead. Osaka is far more modern and is just huge. Osaka is more what I pictured Japan to be- busy, full of people etc. I guess it is seen as being one of the cooler cities and a lot of young people go there to hangout. I don't know if I have ever been around so many people. The sidewalks and streets were just a sea of people in the area we were in. We primarily stayed around a huge subway station with malls and shops everywhere. Akari and I walked around a bit, ate lunch, and did a little shopping. Osaka is about an hour by train from Kyoto. We spent pretty much the whole day there and headed back to her flat to watch some movies and eat snacks. She had never had tortilla chips and salsa before so we bought some at an import shop in Osaka. We also got some Colby Jack cheese which she again had never had. What was funny to me was that she had never seen microwave popcorn before. Mom and Dad sent me a few packs in a care package and she thought it was hilarious how the bag grew in the microwave. She loved the food and thanked me a million times. She also bought Koolaid which she loves. They don't have it here in Japan, she had only had some when she stayed in America. I didn't tell her how outrageously expensive it was, 8.00 dollars for two packs! But we had a good time. We watched Meet the Parents and man o man, all humour in that movie is completey wasted here. Pretty interesting actually. She didn`t catch any of the humour and took everything very literally. She didn`t see the humour in the way Robert DeNiro's family acted. But really, why would she see those things as funny if she hasn't lived in the US and got to know the way people act. We had a really good time.
May 16, 2003
Bad words, Bad guys, Bugs, and Buns
Just spent the last five hours working in the art studio. A radio is usually playing and every once and a while an American song will come on. About 70% of the time it is Eminem. The funny part is that there is no censoring, it is complete with swear words and all. What is even more funny is when stores play rap music. There must be this one "rap for stores" tape because I have heard the same round of songs in multiple places. Well, the intro to this tape is a dialogue of these two guys just cussing each other out. Every other word is not at all appropriate for the general public. But, since no one understands the meaning, it doesn't matter. I'll be standing there looking at some mugs and bowls watching this little six year kid playing with a stuffed animal while words not even fit to type are blaring on the radio.

May had her bike stolen last night. The sad part is that she left her keys (house and bike) in the lock and ran off to class. Well ofcourse the bike and keys were gone, but the thief had enough courtesy to remove her raincoat from the front basket and leave it for her - it was raining after all. I feel for May. She is in the process of trying to find a job and doesn't have the money to get a new bike yet. Back at the dorm, Kawai (the caretaker) informed everyone to not keep the house and bike keys on the same chain. She then posted signs on the doors: Dog, and Beware of Dog. All this in hopes to scare off the thief who has May's keys. I just thought that was really funny. These little hand made signs on the front door windows. The dorm is surrounded by a wall, but it is low enough to climb. And the front door lock could be easily opened with a paperclip. If someone wanted to get in, they wouldn't need a key to do it. Also, this dog is perhaps the least intimidating dog in the world. It is all fluffy and cute- noisy like nobody's business, but completely harmless.

The dorm isn't bad - nothing like US dorms though. The only really bad thing is the bug problem - cockroaches and crazy beetles I've never seen before. Last night I found a slug on my floor- how does a slug get in the house? Earlier there was a grasshopper (maybe?) about the size of two of my fingers on top of the shoe cubby. Yes, there is a shoe cubby. There is one washer that is automatic and one manual. I don't think I'll ever bother with the manual one, I have no clue how it works, not to mention I have never seen one before. There are no dryers, everything is clothe lined. This is a scary game. With the weather so rainy, clothes don't dry at all unless it is a sunny day. This means that everyone does their luandry on sunny days- I'm sure you can see the problem. The kitchen? Just a fridge, four sinks, and some burners. No oven, NO MICROWAVE!! I really, really should've learned how to cook before I came here. I have already made a few meals which I actually had to throw away because they were completely unedible! Other than that, my room is small but nice. I recently painted and throughly cleaned so it is pretty comfortable. All very traditional Japanese. Though it may sound bad- other than the bugs, and me not eating a decent meal everynight- I really like it. Plus it is crazy cheap- a mere 94$ a month! In Japan, that is pennies.

I don't know if I am ready to make this a full on claim yet, but Japan might possibly have a better junk food selection than the US. First, there are lattes here like you wouldn't believe! Cold lattes are available on every corner- whether in vending machines or convenient stores or the school shop. You can even buy them in the half gallon next to the juice in the supermarket for $1.60! Japan is just light years ahead in the beverage industry. They also have these milk-tea drinks which are really tasty. What I love are these bakeries that are everywhere. They are set up in a little buffet style- countless tasty treats no more than a buck fifty lined up in rows for your choosing. You get tongs and a tray and pick away! Even here at school above the cafeteria is a little mini bakery with fresh (often Japanese and French) pastries baked every morning. At the supermarket, if you go at the end of the day the baked goods (which are not stale at all) are marked down to a quarter! Japan is really big on putting things such as, cheese, potatoes, and meat (hot dogs and ham) in their breads. I haven't ventured into those much, especially the green ones. I cannot tell if they are green tea or sea weed or what. But the cream cheese pastries are to die for! At stores there is always an aisle for packaged bread/bun/pastry filled thingies. Hostess really pales in comparison. Add a creamcheese bun to a little cold latte and you got good (and maybe an extra five pounds after a month).

PS The space bar on this keyboard is literally two regular letter keys long! Two- that`s like the size of my thumb. The scary thing is that the buttons next to it change the font into Japanese and I don't know how to change it back without rebooting everything, thus losing what I wrote. I am living on the edge over here man!
May 13, 2003
Daily Life
Well, things are pretty much settling down to slightly status quo. I really love school. People are all nice and helpful and I am learning a lot of new printmaking techniques. Right now I am studying Waterless Lithography and Etching. The lithography teacher speaks perfect English so that is nice. A graduate student is helping me out with the Etching. However, this is little hard because he speaks zero English, and my small Japanese vocabulary does not include any printmaking jargon - but we get by. I just had a meeting with two of the print making professors today. They wanted to check up on the western students work (there are three of us) and see how we are coming along. I was extremely nervous - but all worked out just fine. I actually only have class on Monday and Tuesday, the etching is done at any random time during the week. This schedule is really nice, leaving me plenty of time to divide between work and exploring the city. My daily schedule looks a little something like this:

Weekdays I am up around nine. I usually clean up my room and then head for school. The bike ride takes about a half an hour. Scenery along the way is gorgeous. I found a newer, much safer route, and am really liking it. I go through this little "suburb" that backs up to some woods which has a little shrine and cemetery. There are also small farm fields and in the mornings I can see the farmers working. I even see rice paddies along the way. I follow a river that also takes me by a little park. I typically reach school by eleven and then head off for lunch. Lunch is always good, consisting of stir fry, rice, fruit salad, noodles, and the like. At noon I either head to the studio or the library to check email. Between 1-5ish I am working in the studio. 5ish I head back to the library to do a little work on the computer and watch a movie. 8:30 the school closes and I bike back to the dorm. 9 o'clock I make dinner, often times eating with my neighbor May. After that I either play Tetris on my gameboy, read, or study Japanese. I'm usually asleep midnightish.

Weekends I sleep in. I might go to school on Saturday if I have work to catch up on. Otherwise I spend the weekend exploring and hangout with some friends. I am still at the point where I can spend an hour alone just in the grocery store.

All and all I'm having a good time. Things are settling in more and more and I am getting way more familiar with my surroundings which is nice. Although the homesickness is better, it isn't hard to get lonely simply because I have such a hard time talking to people. Although I am around folks, I don't have too many real conversations. Hopefully in time, my Japanese will get better and this problem will no longer exist. For now, real conversations only take place when I am talking to Mom and Dad on the ol' telephone. Since these little talks cost about 25 bucks an hour, I better get to learning Japanese real quick like.
May 8, 2003
Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes, Big Nose, White Skin
It is a strange experience to be living in a place where I am in the minority - by a lot. It is interesting to see what is considered beautiful here, some things the same, some aren't. Unlike America, everyone wants to have white skin. Some girls go great lengths to avoid the sun, such as carrying umbrellas on sunny days, wearing long sleeves when it is 75 degrees out, or just avoid going out at all during peak sun times. I'd also say that about 70% of people dye their hair, boys and girls alike. Like I mentioned before, comments are constantly made about my eye and hair color, even my nose and skin. I once got asked if eveyone in my family had blue eyes. If I am talking to a girl for more than 15 minutes the question "do you have a boyfriend?" always comes up. After I reply no, the typical response is a gasp and "why not? You are so pretty". In fact, I get that a quite a bit, being told I'm pretty. It is actual discomforting. In the US I just blend in with the crowd, I wouldn't say I'm ugly, but not pretty either, just me. But here I stand out, and apparently people think I am pretty. I'll quickly reply "no no". But I realize that it is just a difference in the definition of what is beautiful. And just as a side note, here my hair is blonde. In reality it is just plain brown - but compared to others here, it is blonde. Just wierd I guess.

I had perhaps the strangest experience in my life the other day on the subway. I am heading back from downtown Kyoto travelling on a packed subway car. In the car is a school of about forty kids all sitting down. As passengers get off, the car clears and I am able to sit down. At this very moment the kids see me and I cannot tell you how strange it was. It seemed as though every kid in that car turned to look at me. The boys in front of me were saying "foreigner" and laughing hysterically while all the girls just stared. Kids were actually pointing, pointing at me, and trying to get me attention. I turn my head and the kids in the next row are pointing too. I really did not know how to react. It was surreal. Should I smile? But, I definitely was not comfortable. I pretty much avoided eye contact until the kids started to file off at their stop. Two boys came up to me shyly and started to laugh. I gave them the a smile and one boy touched my hand and then ran off. They were all really cute kids, ages 6 or 7 maybe. And it didn't seem as though they were just straight laughing AT me perse. I think it was innocent. But I just did not know what to make of it. I didn`t know what the kids were thinking. Was my presence there just a mere curiosity? Surely there are stereotypes attached to my appearence, I just don`t know what they are yet. I was thinking if that happened in the US and those were white kids pointing and laughing at a person of a different race it would be considered ignorant if not racist. Yes, they are just kids, but it is a reflection of their parents teachings and society as a whole. That person who was singled out would not be expected to smile, but would have every right to be angry. At least, this is what I think. Anyhow, it was an incredibly strange experience that I won't be forgetting any time soon.
Golden Week
Last weekend was golden week (the first week in May there are a bunch of holidays in a row so peolpe get time off) and I had a blast. Fortunately the whole weekend was warm and sunny. Friday I went to Nara with a friend, Akari, who by the way is completely interested in all things American. Her plan is to learn English, go to an art school in the US, and marry an American - by this she means a blonde hair, blue eyed guy. She could not be a nicer person. Nara is about an hour train ride outside of Kyoto. It is full of parks and temples and is famous for its crazy deer population. Wild deer are everywhere, and fearless. Don't even bother hiding your food because if they see you, they are coming right up to you - nudging you even! Nara also has Japan's largest wooden temple. Inside is Japan`s largest statue of Budda - also wood. These were both constructed in the 8th century. It was really beautiful. Inside the temple is a pretty amusing attraction. One of the beams that runs floor to ceiling has a hole the size of Buddha's nostril cut into it. It was hilarious watching children crawl through it over and over with their parents taking pictures. It was believed that if you went through the hole you would go to heaven when you die.

On Saturday I decided I would head downtown. The coolest thing about Kyoto, and this holds true for other foreign places, is that all one has to do is walk around and you will run into something cool. Saturday I started out at the Kyoto train station which is about 25 minutes south by subway. All I did was walk out and decided to turn right. I walk down the street for about a mile just enjoying Japan. I wandered into this old residential area, though not scenic, more seedy. The key to this type of travelling: head to where the people are. I see a crowd of people down the road and I join up. It was actually the museum. I chunked some change into a machine and got to see a special exhibit. It was a show displaying peices of Buddhist art from a holy moutain - Koya. The only downside was that it was just packed with people constantly touching and pushing. Across the street from the museum is the Sanjusengendo temple. This place is incredible. Inside are 1,001 life sized, gold leafed statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon. In the center is a giant statue of him and in front of the whole line up are 28 attendant statues. It was really amazing, I was just dying to talk to someone and share all the coolness I was seeing.

Sunday I headed to a different part of town, Shijo street, the commerical, modern city area. At the end of the street is a large temple with an outdoor park. Little street venders are set up along the way selling various things such as charms, beads, and jewelry. The park is gorgeous with flowers, a creek, trees, benches, and a few outdoor performers. It was a really nice surprise, a little natural haven from the bustling city sidewalks.

While I was at the track waiting for my subway to come a European couple walk up to me and frantically ask if I know where I was going. They tell me they need to go north but don't know which train to ride. I ask what station they are looking for and it just so happens I know exactly where they need to be!! A strange twist of events, for it was not even three weeks ago that I got on a train simply because it was green. Now I'm Ms. Japan, rescuing foreigners! As the couple were getting off at their stop they thanked me and I wished them a good trip. It was then I realized that that was the first time in three weeks that I helped someone. I felt normal for a minute. I have been nothing but a burden to so many people here - it was a nice change, even if it only lasted a second, and probably won`t happen again anytime soon as I continue to be a bother to those around me.

Monday I went to Kinkakuji with two Korean girls from my dorm. Kinkakuji is a two story gold temple. Ofcourse beautiful, but very crowded with tourists. We biked over there. I must say I think I am getting the hang of this whole biking business. I was weaving in and out, dodging pedestrians, speeding right along. I am not ready to hold any umbrellas yet, but I'm on my way.

I also took on the project of painting my room this weekend. This ended up being a much bigger project than anticipated. The walls had not been white in years. This I don't understand. How do walls get dirty? by the ceiling? A previous tennant had actually tapped green paper to the wall-but not everywhere, just sections. Well, needless to say I wasn`t liking it, so I painted the walls a light green. The problem is that my room is in the traditional Japanese style. The walls are divded into mulitple sections by wood beams - all of which need to be taped and painted around. Plus, Japan is incredibly humid so the tape (the cheapest tape I could find, ended up being not the best idea) continued to peel off the wall while I was painting! And I accidently poked a couple holes in the paper window "blinds". Anyway, all turned out well. I bought a new lamp and some cloth to cover the floor. The room is much more comfortable now.
May 1, 2003
Being American
Things were pretty rough in the beginning, mostly with homesickness. Everything in Japan is different...EVERYTHING. But that's why I came here, it's the whole reason for studying abroad. The thing is, when you are homesick and experiencing major culture shock you cannot find anything that makes you comfortable. My room is different than western rooms. The whole look of it, the furniture. I don't have a desk, but a table that I sit on the floor with. I cannot walk into a room without changing my slippers. It is the little daily things that you don't think about that has the greatest impact. So, when you feel a little, strike that, a lot homesick, there is nothing that is familiar - making the homesickness worse. Thankfully, as each day passes things get a little easier and more comfortable as a routine is set. I'm happy to say that I am really enjoying my time here. When I do start to miss home, I try to remember that I am here to learn, that's all. My time here is really short, and I am tremendously lucky to even have this opportunity.

One thing that I find the most interesting and peculiar are the reactions of other people towards me. The staring has become really old. That American "what the hell are you looking at?" mentality pops up every now and then. On campus, the looking isn't too bad. It is when I'm out on the street when people stare. Interesting though, anytime I pass a westerner eye contact is always made, and maybe half the time a smile and nod follow. Sort of a mutual recognition in a country where you really could not stand out more.

Meeting people at school is incredibly easy. Sometimes this is great. For example in my Waterless Lithography class I met a girl named Akari. She studied for a bit in the US and the UK - so her English is really good. Tomorrow we have off of school and Akari invited me to hangout with her. We will be taking the train to a city called Nara (about an hour away) where there is a famous giant statue of Buddha. If I understood her correctly, you can walk into its nose. Anyway, it is really nice to have met her. But the strange part is that she only talked to me because I am American. This is a common phenomenon. Many people just come up and say hello, introduce themselves, laugh at my Japanese, and walk away. Sometimes, it is just shouts of Hello (in Japanese) in the cafeteria. Many people come up just to talk to an American. Nearly 90% of those I meet make a comment about my eyes, 50% about my hair. And I have gotten some interesting questions: "Do you like war too?" or "Are you an American?" "yes" "No, a real American? Not someone who moved there." The last thing I can do is explain what it means to be an American - so I give a short "yes" answer. Or even "Is your hair really black?" Sometimes it is annoying, but if it wasn't for this phenomenon I wouldn`t meet anybody. It is a strange mixed emotion thing and I don't know if I am being clear. It is just weird to have people talk to you ONLY because you are American. To have people want to be your friend, exchange phone numbers and email, ONLY because you are American. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, just... interesting.

And there is one huge unfair disadvantge - I don't know if I have met someone before or not. Not to be rude, but people generally look the same. They have Japanese names which can be hard to pronounce let alone remember. I hate it when someone knows my name and I don't know theirs. But here, it is 10x worse because I cannot keep saying "Sorry, what is your name again" five times to a person. My name is short: Kato. Kato is a word for yarn. Pretty simple. But I can never remember a person's face, let alone name - making for some very awkward interactions. I have to be careful not to ask the same basic questions like what are you studying etc...
April 24, 2003
Planes, Trains, and Bikes
Today I decided to venture to school on my own, sadly, I wandered around for about an hour trying to find the subway. During this "nice walk" (as I was telling a few people) I ran into the caretaker, of the dorm, Kawai, and she kindly showed me the way. I felt horrible because it was in the total opposite direction of where ever she was headed. After her help I made it just fine. I did my school thing and returned to the dorm later that night to find May in some distress. She was very worried about me after talking with the caretaker (by the way, Kawai actually called the school to see if I made it OK). Well, it was all very embarassing. As I wander around I try to act like I belong, blend in. This is a country where that is just not going to happen. Everyone is Japanese, I could not stick out any more than I already do! That night, May had cooked me dinner. I think I have eaten more Burmese food than Japanese. One of May's friends, Dinyi, stopped by and the three of us talked for about two hours, flipping between English and Japanese. Dinyi thought my Japanese was hilarious, mostly because it is so formal. At school, they teach you how to talk to the emperor, but when it comes to my neighbors it`s a no go. Now, my formality being funny is understandable, but what I don't get is when I get laughed at for saying things which are perfectly normal. For example, I said "jaa mata" (see you later) to a kid in school and he just bursts out laughing saying "cute cute". I really don`t see the humor. See you later--- ha ha ha ha. Nope, just don't get it.

Today I rode my bike. Let me tell you this was the most harrowing experience of my life! Streets are just ridiculously small. Literally, one lane of traffic stops, so the other lane can go through. And not only are the streets narrow, but hilly, and curvey. Fortunately a little transportation hierarchy exists between people, bikes, and cars. Cars are responsible if they hit a bike no matter what, and bikers are responsible if they hit a person. This is not to say I'll be riding out in front of cars anytime soon, but it's just nice to know. And with my riding there is a lot of wobbling and (for those of you who know me well) eeeeeeeeing going on. The bike route takes about twenty minutes, and I could not have been more relieved to reach school.

I started classes today. I followed around a print making class and learned a little lithography. Sadly, I cannot use the more involved machines because the insturctions are in Japanese, but one day... My professor set me up with a GSI to start dry point. I was assigned a little work space and began right away. My GSI does not know English, so it makes for some interesting times. Lots of hand gestures and drawing little pictures.

May waited after class to ride home with me. Seriously, just when I think things couldn't be worse, it rains! Now, the experienced biker, i.e. everyone but me, can ride holding an umbrella. I need both my hands if I'm going to live, so I end up getting completely soaked. And dear May, not wanting to make me feel bad I suspect, also rode without an umbrella and also got soaked! I swear, God most have sent May to be my neighbor because if it wasn`t for her, I'd be totally lost. Well, we made it back safely and again I went to bed at about 8 feeling totally exhausted.

This morning I woke up to ride to school with May again because I still wasn`t sure of my way. This ride went a little smoother I can happily say. Getting to school early, I had time to go to the coffee shop in the Union type building. Food and drinks are still undiscernable to me. I recognized the Minute Maid and juices with fruit on the box, but if there is no picture, I don't know what I'm getting. One drink is just orange with a smiley face on it.

The library here is just awesome. What I find pretty funny is that a manga section (a whole section!) which is right in front of the entrance, is packed with people. The aisles are full of students hunched over on stools reading... all the time. Downstairs is an AV room with a section of just TVs and VCRs. The video collection is pretty big with many English movies. In fact, I watched a movie today just for a little normalcy.

the place is closing... continue later
April 23, 2003
Subways...not the easiest way to travel
DAY 3* Monday

After Ken Rodgers picked me up this morning we headed to school where I got a mini tour. The school is a ways from the city, surrounded by mountains and greenery. The school itself is pretty new, many buildings haven been designed by the architecture department. After the tour, I met a few of my professors, all of which speak a little English. One Professor inparticular though was either A: extremely nervous, or 2: wasn't comfortable speaking English... at all. After every few words he would say "eeeeetoooo (ummmmm) ya ya ya ya ya ya yaya yaya ya ok ok ok ok". All you could do was smile and nod.

There is a seperate building for each department. The printmaking building is awesome with a staggering three floors all to itself. Michigan has a single printmaking ROOM. One can only imagine the cool stuff going down here.

Next off I needed to get an Alien Registration Card, so Ken and I went to downtown Kyoto. Again, all I can do is marvel at the crazy traffic, Japanese style buildings, and about a million people riding around on bikes.
Back at school, I headed to the cafeteria for lunch. Not much was discernable, but my meal was pretty good. After lunch, I wandered the classrooms a little more before heading home. In comes one of the scariest moments of my life.

To set the scene:
I have gotten lost in foreign cities before, however, all had the roman alphabet. Also, there was always at least one point I could get back from. Hail a taxi, ask for the museum (which I had undoubtly walked to earlier) and everything was fine. Japan, not so much. I was told to take the shuttle and get off at the subway station. Go one stop, then walk down the street until I see the dorm. Simple enough? I get to the shuttle, get into the station, no problem. Then, how the heck do I buy a ticket? Everything is written in Japanese, of which I have zero understanding. To top it off, I don`t know the stop, nor the line I should be on. So, I chunk some change into the machine, press the bottoms that light up, and proceed to the platform. Once I get downstairs, I see two subway trains, one green and one red. For lack of a better reason, I choose the green train because it is my favorite color. This is not a good situation. As the subway pulls away, I'm thinking "oh please oh please oh please". I have no one to call if I get lost, no one. I get off at the next stop and things appear to be okay. I then follow a random person down a few streets until I find the canal. This canal that runs through my neighbor runs right next to my dorm, so follow the canal and it will take you home...eventually. Well, everything was okay! I couldn't believe it, nor could I have been happier. By the time I got home it was 5:30, and I just went straight to bed, totally exhausted.
April 22, 2003
Hajimatei (Beginning)
For a quick catch up on past events:

Day One* Saturday:
Going through immigration at the Kansai airport was uneventful. I noticed a large number of people wearing surgical masks, no doubt because of SARS. It was pretty exciting to put my Japanese skills to use for the first time.

After 22 hours of travel, I finally arrrive at the Shimogamo Dorm, my new digs for this summer. Shimogamo is a dorm for International students. There are about twenty residents, all Chinese except for my neighbor and myself. Immediately I am introduced to May. May is 29 years old from Burma and speaks a little English. She has been incredibly helpful, showing me around the dorm, cooking a couple meals for me, and taking me to the grocery store. After I met May, about ten other girls came to meet me. Now, I have been up for about the last 28 hours. There is no way I'm going to remember everyone's names, let alone stammer out some Japanese. At this point all I want to do is sleep. It wasn't long before Ken Rodgers (my contact at the Univeristy here) showed up. He took me to the International Office where I was able to call the folks assuring them all was well. After that I went back to the dorm and hit the hay.

Day 2* Sunday:
Today was spent mostly in shock. May took me to the grocery store, which contains not more the two discernable items. First off we got breakfast in bakery inside of the store. After grabbing a tray, an array of baked goods is set up for the choosing. I only recognized the cinnamon donut, but after that I was clueless. I grab some bun looking thing and I still don't have a clue what was in it, even after eating it. Something yellow... I notice English signs every where, most not making sense. The English is actually more of a style, and the average Japanese person cannot actually understand what it says. I noticed one shirt that read: "Happiness comes for cotent ment". May also took me to the 100 Yen shop where about other items like chopsticks, garbage can, etc.

Sunday was a rainy day and after the store May and I went back to the dorm. I slept most of Sunday away, being exhausted from both travelling and the grocery store. Later that night May made me dinner. I had Japanese radish for my first time as well as gohan. Gohan is rice but here is the difference: rice = loose grains, served on a plate, eaten with a fork. Gohan = very sticky rice, served in a bowl, eaten with chopsticks, about a 10x times better than rice. May and I talked a lot, half in English, half in Japanese. We mainly talked about our families and our home countries. It was really interesting to hear what a Burmese person knew about America and certain stereotypes. After dinner I headed straight for bed.

Day 3* Monday:
Today I went to school with Ken Rodgers as my tour guide. I met my professors and was set up with a desk and locker in the printmaking building. A couple.

A Few Daily Differences:
Everything in Japan is different, I mean EVERYTHING. First off, I really am tall here. Being a mere 5'5", it is neat to tower over other girls for once. Everytime you enter a room you must put on a new pair of shoes. When you first enter a house you must take off your shoes and leave the in the genkan (entrance way), putting on a pair of slippers. When you enter your rooom you take off your slippers. When you enter the bathroom there are community slippers you must put on. When you enter the kitchen, sink room, shower (of course), and laundry area, you change into a different pair of slippers. Here is where my giantness becomes a problem, my foot is about 5 sizes too big for any of the slippers.

Traffic lights are horizontal and read right to left. Road signs are all different. People drive on the opposite side of the streets. Most cars are about the size of mini mini vans. Not as big as American cars, but larger than the ones in Europe. Streets in Kyoto are incredibly narrow. On some streets only one car can go through while the other car waits for his turn. Everyone, EVERYONE, rides a bike. With the combination of narrow streets, different traffic patterns, and that I haven't riden a bike since I was 12, I'm a little hesitant to hop on.

Subways, buses, and streets are extremely nice and clean. Every other house is built in the traditional Japanese style, with tiled roofs and all. It is interesting to see the juxtaposition of the old and the new in the city. Japan is very mountainous, Kyoto is surrounded by beautiful forested moutains.

I'm getting kicked out, I'll check SP later.
April 17, 2003
Pre-Japan Day