Wednesday, January 30

January 30th

In Grade One, when a child gets taught to read, they become a walking-talking-reading machine. Or at least some do – I’m sure I did. Advertisement, signs, posters, brochures, billboards – all these things become objects of intense fascination and scrutiny. Lines and squiggles become letters, and letters – which can be slowly sounded out – become words; words, when repeated once or twice, make sense! The process is slow and painful; each letter to each word to a whole sentence, but it elicits a big smile and perhaps a laugh when the phrase finally provides some information that is understandable. I have taken a trip back in time to the Grade One Era. My studying is paying off and I can remember the majority of the 52 characters in the Katakana & Hiragana alphabets. I can distinguish them from Kanji (which I can’t read), and know enough to go through the slow and painful process of trying to read the characters in front me. Often, it doesn’t make sense, but just the ability to sound out the letters and pronounce an unknown word is considered a victory. When the word is part of the vocabulary I do know, not only is it a victory, but one worth celebrating! Today I read ‘Hair Salon’ (which isn’t spelled like that, but sounded close enough that I knew what it was) on the way to work, and it put a smile on my face for the entirety of the next train ride. It’s encouraging to know I am beginning to be able to read, because my ability to understand Japanese conversation is still hiding around the corner, waiting for me to learn more vocabulary. I plan to reach the corner as soon as possible.
I had my second Japanese lesson today – it consisted of money, numbers, and basic grammer. I already knew most of it, but hadn’t memorized all of it and it was a good review. I also have a friend in my Japanese Sensei who said I could ask her if I need help with anything. I did ask her if one day she would teach me how to cook a Japanese meal – and she said she would, sometime before I go. I also found out that I have to keep practicing my Japanese introduction, as I will be introducing myself on February 5th in front of all the researchers in my building/area – about 50 people! Scary.
I saw an advertisement on a train (several days ago) for the ‘Super Dream Circus’. The only thing I could read on the poster was the web address (most web addresses are in English letters). I asked my boss to take a look at it and tell me when and where it was, because I’d like to go! I got the information and put out an email to see if any other coops want to join me. Even if they don’t, I’m still going to go. I was thinking about my situation today, and I decided that even if other people don’t want to do things, or specific things, I’m going to do them anyways. I’m sure that for the most part, there will be other coops in the area available that want to do some sightseeing and tourist and cultural things, but even if they don’t, I’m going to! I also thought, though – what I wouldn’t give to have a friend here with me! I’ll make new friends, sure, but I would love to have a close friend here to do things with. I would also love to have a close girlfriend here! I love my guy friends, but it’s different to have a girlfriend around, too. I think there are two other girl coops in Japan right now. I’m sure I’ll meet them and get to know them, but as I’m getting used to, most of my company will be guys. Please understand that I’m not complaining, and I hope none of my guy friends are offended, but sometimes a girlfriend is an essential. Back to the circus – it sounds like some people are interested, and we may end up going this weekend! I also have to do some shopping this weekend: attachable spikes for my hiking shoes and some good gloves. I also have been wanting to buy an iPod, but I want to wait until I know my bank account and paycheques are sorted out and coming. An iPod would be nice to have on the long train rides, and to listen to my Japanese CDs with! And on that note – once again, it’s late (I wish it didn’t keep going that – getting late, I mean! :-P )… G’nite.

January 29th

Everything in Japan is small and cute. That includes cups, bowls, food portions, notebooks, shoes (I tried on a size large boot…too small!). It’s cute, but somewhat frustrating. Small bowl = less food. Small mug = almost no tea. Small food portions = I’m usually hungry. Small notebooks = I can’t find a notebook with more than 60 pages!! I would like to have my massive Disneyland cup, a huge and deep bowl, and a 300 page notebook.
I spent my day today learning how to use Visual Basic (fyi…Visual Basic is a Windows application used to design user interfaces and implement associated programming code). I will be using it to collect data in one of my projects. We have an old version of a VBA textbook, and my boss let me pick a new one off of Amazon and ordered it for me. He also ordered a Programming in C textbook that I wanted to have for the project. I enjoyed the day…I like learning new programs. Basically, they’re paying me to improve my skills, resume, and experience with important programs. This isn’t just learning for free, this is getting paid to learn! How’s that for a good deal? I also tried to go buy my gym pass, but when I got there, I managed to figure out that they close at 7…so I’ll have to get there asap after work on Thursday and hope I make it before 7 – if not, I’ll wait until the weekend.
I now have two firm trips planned and am hoping to plan another event weekend. Next weekend (Feb 9), I am going hiking with some coworkers, to Takamiyama (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the previous blog…you really should read them in order, you know! ;) ). I am also going on an overnight ski trip with some other coworkers and people from my dorm. We will take a bus at 10pm on Friday night (Feb 22) to a ski resort near Kobe (a city south of Osaka). We will spend the day skiing/snowboarding, and then take the bus back home overnight. We sleep on the bus – I wasn’t sure how I feel about sleeping all night on a bus and then trying to snowboard all day, but I think it will be a fun trip! Some of the coops also have a ski weekend planned; unfortunately it’s on the same week. I decided to go with the people from work, since I already told them I was really excited to go, and I will probably have less chances to hang out with them. I asked Yoda-San (he’s planning the ski trip) how much it would be. I need to rent equipment, and Satomi does as well…I think everyone else has equipment. He said it would probably cost 2000 Yen…for everything – bus ticket, lift ticket, and rentals. That works out to about $20. I was blown away. I asked again what it included, just to make sure. I still think we had some sort of miscommunication, though! I told him that in Canada that would be closer to 15000 Yen ($150), depending on where you went. He was blown away at that. If the weekend turns out to be a 2000 Yen weekend, I will be beyond impressed. Can you imagine taking the bus to the ski hill, buying a lift pass, and renting equipment for $20!?!? I can’t, really. The third event I’m hoping to plan is some sumo watching. There’s a tournament in Osaka in March, so I sent out a note to see if any of the other coops are interested in going. Tickets range from $30 to a couple hundred. It’s an all day event, with several rounds and ceremonies. I think it would be so neat to go see! We’ll see how that works out.
I have a new method to help me learn Katakana & Hiragana… I found some old Japanese stories online, and they’re in Hiragana. I’m translating them into Romaji (helps me to learn the Hiragana characters) and then translation the Romaji to English (helps me to learn some vocab). I’d like to find some stories in Katakana, too. I only found them today, but I’ve done some and it definitely helps me learn the characters. Sometimes I’m super motivated to learn Japanese, and other days I think, “I’ll never learn enough to be fluent anyways, and when they talk it’s just gibberish, so what’s the point?” But I’m trying to lean towards the motivated learning, because I think it will definitely make a different. I think you only get out of an experience what you’re willing to put into it…I want to get a lot out of this, so I’m going to put in as much as I can! On that note, so I can put anything into it tomorrow, I should get some sleep! (New word…nemuru = to sleep).

Tuesday, January 29

January 28th

Today after work was a welcome party for myself and one other relatively new person. We all left work together and trained to the restaurant. It seemed pretty fance….nice stonework and a pond with goldfish in the lobby. We took off our shoes (anytime you’re in a restaurant and you sit down at the table, you take off your shoes before entering the table area), and headed to a nice Japanese-style ‘booth’. There were about 20 people, at two tables. It was so much fun! We had a full-course meal…appetizers, first, which was a piece of shrimp, a seaweed roll, and something that I didn’t know what it was. I asked, and they didn’t really know either, but it was really good! Then they brought out sashimi (raw fish). Next came ‘nabe’. There were burners on the table, and they brought out a low pot of soup stuff, a platter of raw chicken, and a platter of assorted vegetables. We let the soup heat up and then put everything in it for 10 minutes or so. It was so good! Then they brought out ‘udon’, a thick Japanese noodle which we also put in the soup and let heat up. They also brought out cheese fondue, meat shishkibobs, and a cheesy pasta. Dessert was a jello-type thing with cream on top. We also got infinite drinks, so I tried Japanese beer, a couple cocktails, and some Jikaze – Japanese sake/wine. What I read about Japanese dinner customs was correct – everyone was always offering more drinks, or filling up your beer cup. And, I noticed – if someone wanted more to drink themselves, they rarely just poured it. Instead, they offered it to everyone around them until someone caught on and took the bottle and offered them some. I spent half of my time trying to follow their conversations, and half the time having half-English & half-Japanese conversations with them. I also had to give a small ‘speech’, so I did – but in English. And – it was Hicky’s birthday, so I convinced a guy to sing Happy Birthday to him. This guy had had a reasonable amount to drink, so he stood up and sang it nice and loud. It was very funny. After the dinner, everyone stood up, someone said something special, and everyone clapped together, once. It’s a custom that wishes good health upon everyone at the dinner. It was a great evening. Then we all took the train again, and everyone got off at random stops. Everytime someone left, everyone bowed and alternately repeated ‘Doumo’ (thank you) and something else that I think means ‘Good Night’. I had a great time!! If you had asked me last week if I would do this again, my (honest) answer would have been “No”. But now, it’s “Yes”, and I think that eventually it will be “Yes – in a second!”. I am going tomorrow after work to buy a pass so I can start going a couple times a week. I’m pretty excited for that, too. I also found out more about this hike that I’m going on….I need to buy spikes for my shoes and there will probably be 10 cm of snow! I saw some pictures of the mountain…it looks beautiful, but definitely snowy. We all meet at a train station in the morning, shop for lunch supplies, and take a bus to the bottom of the mountain. It’s only 2 hours to the top (which doesn’t sound like too much to me, but I guess it depends on the terrain!), and then have lunch. We hike back down, bathe at the onsen (spa), and take a bus back to the train station. I think it will be a lot of fun! That’s it for my adventures today…I’m sure there will be more tomorrow!

Monday, January 28

January 27th

Yesterday, I had my first Japanese ‘going-out-for-a-night-on-the-town’ experience. In the morning, after meeting JP and having some internet access, I headed out to Kyoto to meet some other coop students. It takes about an hour and three quarters to get to Kyoto from my place, if you get the Rapid train. At Kyoto station, after giving myself a pat on the back for a successful trip, I met up with Terry, a coop from UVic. We walked to downtown Kyoto. Kyoto is a pretty big tourist destination and has a lot of old architecture, temples, etc. I’d like to plan a day to go see it all! We walked by one neat temple-looking thing, so I figured I’d be touristy and take a picture. I also snapped a picture of the Kyoto Tower, which is on top of the Kyoto Hotel – also pretty neat. Once we go to downtown Kyoto, we met up with Matt, another coop. The three of us wandered for a bit and ended up having a pre-dinner snack at A-bar. A-bar was a really neat place. It’s this little hippie-Japanese bar…it has mostly-somewhat-obscene saying scribbled all over the walls and tables in black felt pen – I think that the thing to do is leave a note behind. I don’t know if they know what half of it says. It was a neat little place, though. I didn’t take any pictures, but I’m sure we’ll go back there and I will. When you order food in Japanese bars, you don’t eat order something, you order a couple things, and you share them all. We had some gyoza, fried cheese, tortilla chips, pork something, and chicken something. After A-bar, we met up with a couple more coops, Tony and Eric. Eric lives in the Osaka region, close to JP – about an hour from me, by train. We all went for dinner at a hamburger place – named Donkey something…I can’t remember – but Japanese hamburgers aren’t the same as Canadian hamburgers. They don’t have a bun. I know what you’re thinking – how can it be a hamburger without a bun!? It’s just the patty, with cheese, or pineapple, or curry sauce on it, or other things. It was very good. After dinner, we collected Chris, who had come to meet us too. We went to Round 1, which is like a massive arcade/bowling/billards/karaoke/gambling sports amusement place. We wandered around and played some games, then decided to do some karaoke (at another place) before we hit up the club. It was so much fun! You get a room to yourself, with the TV, microphones, and a big phonebook-style book with tons of songs in it. You can pay a little extra to get unlimited alcohol, but you can each only have one drink at a time, and they’re pretty weak drinks. We had a lot of fun, though, singing to all the songs and laughing at song choices. Karaoke is pretty popular in Japan, and I can see why! Apparently there’s similar karaoke places in Vancouver (Richmond, specifically) – and I’m definitely planning a karaoke night when I’m back in Vancouver. (PS – Jeff, they played the I-got-it-from-my-momma song, and I thought of you and had to laugh.  ) After karaoke, we headed to World, one of Kyoto’s two clubs. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was pretty similar to a Canadian club. They actually played a lot of English songs, too. We had a lot of fun there, and got these funky neon-flashing rings. In Canada, clubs & bars close at 2 or 4, depending on where you’re at. In Japan, they close at 5. We hung out until 4, then went to McDonalds for a snack. Trains in Japan only run until 11 or 12 or so, then start up again at 5 or 6, depending on where you’re going. We hung out in McDonalds until 5:30, then headed out to catch our trains. I rode back on the subway to Kyobashi with Eric, then headed home. I was definitely exhausted when I got home, but the all-nighter was worth it. It was so much fun to have some friends to hang out with and to go out and do something fun – and to be able to speak English! Oo – and Chris can do magic tricks. He makes coins disappear and stuff…I’m still trying to figure one of them out. It’s pretty good. That entertained me for a quite a while, when we were waiting for our karaoke room. All-in-all, it was a very good first going out experience in Japan. I slept a bit when I got home, then called home in Kelowna and talked to Mom & Joanna. I like calling home, but it makes me a bit more homesick, because I realize how much I miss everyone and everything there. I’ve been trying not to be annoying about getting internet, but I’m going to ask again, because I want to be able to talk on MSN & Skype and email everyone! I’m off to make some food and head on another adventure to try and find a gym…I’ll let you know how that goes, tomorrow! 

What a successful day! I didn’t feel like going out to try and find the gym, but in the end (as usual!), I was glad I did! I headed to Yao station and decided to check out iPod prices, first. I’m going to buy one, but I’m not sure which one… and I want to wait until I get my first paycheque, anyways. I also managed to find some shoes for the gym – I didn’t bring any running shoes. I got some nice Rebok shoes for 2900 Yen, which is around $25 – a good deal! I managed to find the gym, too, without too much difficulty. I was given a tour and a brochure with the prices. A membership is expensive (7350 Yen/month ~ $70), but I think it will be worth it. Then – here’s the good part – I came back to the dorm and cooked myself the most amazing meal. I had carrots and potatoes and an onion and some kind of random meet (Pork? Chicken? Antelope (you never know)?) I threw it all in a frying pan and tossed it around…it took forever to cook, but was so good. I even had enough left over to freeze for another that I don’t want to cook. The internet process is going to get started tomorrow (finally!), and I have tentative plans to go hiking and skiing twice, with three different groups of people! When I think that I have stuff to do and people to do it with, it’s a huge encouragement. I’ve also gained a bit more confidence in myself: my navigation skills, my ability to deal with a problem should it arise, and my Japanese! I’m also excited about my gym pass…I find the gym really rewarding – sometimes I don’t feel like going, but when I’m done, I feel better about myself and I feel like I accomplished something. I’ve also discovered it’s a great place to teach myself discipline and endurance, and it definitely helps me sort out all the thoughts in my head, while I’m swimming afterwards! They also have classes at the gym; I didn’t ask for what, but they have some. Depending on how busy I am and when they are, I might try to join one of those too. Between being able to connect to Canada on Saturday (borrowed internet!), a night out with some friends, future plans, and a gym membership, I’m feeling very optimistic and looking forward to the next couple weeks! Take care, and keep emailing me! I appreciate all the emails I get from everyone – they’re a huge part of the encouragement I find in many things.

-Kyoto Hotel

-Japanese arcade...infinite games like this!!

-Reminds me of Scandia!

-My first karaoke experience, and it was so much fun! My Vancouver friends, will be subjected to this experience when I get back!

All in was a great time! It was nice to meet some people and make some new friends and have some fun, but at the same time, it made me miss my friends from Ktown, Vancouver, and Sparlem so much more!

Sunday, January 27

Short term internet access, finally!!

Hi! I finally have some internet access and have posted all my blogs since I got's a lot of reading! There are som e pictures in it too, though. I'm borrowing the internet of another coop student - I am sooo happy to finally have met someone else from Canada who I can have English conversations with! He lives 45 mins or so away by train, and another coop is 5 minutes from him.

Tonight, I'm going to Kyoto (~ an hour away by train) to meet up with 6 more coop students! We're going to go out for dinner and then to a club called 'World'. I'm so excited to finally get to do something!

I'm out for now, I need some lunch! I still don't have internet, so it may be a while until the next blog posts go up!

Hopefully talk to you soon!

Friday, January 25

January 24th

I saw another white person today. 3, actually! That makes 5, so far. I saw the first white person earlier this week. It shocked me, then I thought…”No…I must have seen a white person since I got here.” But I realized I hadn’t. Mid-week I saw one more, and today I saw three. I think it was because I was in Kyoto, though, which is more tourist-y. 5 white people in two weeks. Now you understand why I feel out of place. Actually, the only people who stare at me are occasional small children. I’m not actually that different looking, other than not being Asian. I went to Kyoto today with Takemori-San to see the chemical heat pump that is one of my projects, sort of – I’m ‘providing assistance’ to other members of the team. We took a train, and it was a 30 minute trip for 540 Yen – about $5. I had to pay. I think that if I’m going somewhere for work, with work, they should pay! But I’m in Japan, and I don’t know how these things work, so I figure that if they were going to pay, he would have paid! We went to Kyoto University, which was neat. It’s not so different than UBC…it has old and sketchy engineering buildings, a clock tower, and a big fancy entrance to the library. We got there at around 2:30 and stayed until 6:00. They were chattering in Japanese the whole time, and I was staring at the system trying to figure out how it works. Thermodynamics is not exactly my strongest subject. It was in a graduate lab which wasn’t heated, and the door was wide open. On the bright side, I did get to watch the large snowflakes fall for part of the time, and it made me miss snow. Tomorrow is my presentation, and I should be practicing right now, but I’m practiced out.
I had an up and down day today…partially excited that I’m in Japan, and partially super homesick again. The homesickness is always there, but some days it’s harder to deal with. Fortunately – this weekend I may get some friends! I’m meeting up with JP (another coop student in Osaka) on Saturday morning. It sounds like the group of Co-ops in the area aren’t exactly the ambitious and planning type. I’m going to meet JP at the train station near his apartment and hang out there and use the internet for a while. I’m excited!!! I’ll get to post all these blogs, email people back, and check my Facebook. I can check email at work, but use it minimally – I think I have 30 or so Facebook emails to deal with. Yay – somebodies love me! :)
I found out today that miso soup and rice are part of every meal in Japan. Yes, every meal. I make my own breakfasts, so today I asked what a ‘Japanese breakfast’ would be. Guess what. Yep – it includes rice and miso soup. Breakfast, Lunch, and Supper all include a bowl of rice and a bowl of miso soup. Interesting…I told my friends at work that to eat the same thing, every day, three times a day – in Canada, this would be very strange. I also had a heckuva time trying to explain oatmeal to them. The closest things we came up with were cornflakes and flour. I printed a picture later to show them tomorrow. It’s weird to think someone doesn’t know what oatmeal is.
Osaka is a large city, and I’m not sure what the rest of Japan is like, but don’t think I could live here long term. It’s not the big-city-ness, I love Vancouver. I realized today, watching fields fly by between Osaka and Kyoto, that within Osaka, itself, green space is rare. Vancouver has lots of parks and trees and green areas. Osaka doesn’t, at least not that I’ve seen. It does, however, along with the Pachinko & Slot and vending machines, have hair salons around every corner. Everywhere. The Japanese must love their hair!
I’m going to bed early – I got caught up studying last night and went to bed late…I hate being tired in the mornings. Goodnight – I miss Kelowna and Vancouver and Sparwood and Canada and my stuff and my bed and my friends and my other friends and my family and English signs and English food and cheese and Swedish Berries and Smarties and hugs. Especially hugs. Especially hugs.

Thursday, January 24

January 23rd

I had my first Japanese lesson today, with Ego-San. Oh, speaking of names…the guy who I called ‘M’ is actually Yoda-San (I don’t know his first name, it might start with M). The other friend I go to work wit his Maurita-San. I don’t know if I’m spelling their names right, I’m just spelling them how they sound to me. Ego-San (Nihongo Sensei, Japanese Teacher) edited my Japanese introduction for my presentation on Friday. I was surprised – there were relatively few and minor changes, and she said it was very good. I’m better at writing in Japanese than I thought! The hardest part of learning a new language is recognizing it when other people say it. I can learn to write it and to say it, but when people speak, everyone speaks in different tones and speeds, so words sound very different from one person to another. That will take the most practice. I think my 3 minute Japanese intro will be shorter than 3 minutes, but I’m not about to try and change it now. I’m just going to work on perfect pronunciation of what I have, speak slowly, and enunciate.
There are a couple things that are everywhere, in Japan. And by everywhere, I mean within 100 metres of each other. These things are: drink vending machines, cigarette vending machines, and ‘Pachinko & Slot’ facilities. The legal age for cigarettes is 18 or 20 or something like that, but the vending machines are everywhere, with no restrictions. Apparently Japanese kids aren’t rebellious and don’t buy things they’re not supposed to… The number of Pachinko & Slot (gambling places) makes me wonder how anyone in Japan has any money. They’re everywhere! That’s it for Japan details today…I got caught up in studying again, and I should have been in bed 10 minutes ago. Speaking of studying – I’m learning! I can recognize most Hiragana & Katakana characters. Now I just have to learn the words…when I recognize the characters, I can put a word together, for instance: ‘mi-ru-ku’. But then I need to remember that miruku is ‘milk’ in Japanese. So it’s still difficult to read. Oh!! Also…I got my ‘inkan’ today! Inkan is a small stamp that is equal to a signature. Mine has three Kanji (Japanese Chinese characters) on it – for ‘Su-Te-Hane’…the translation of my name. The characters mean ‘Red-Heaven-Feather’. It’s so neat! It comes in a little case with it’s own small stamp pad. It will be one of my favorite souvenirs from Japan, I think. That’s it for now…good night! :)

Wednesday, January 23

January 22nd

For some reason I’m very upbeat today – not that I’m complaining! Perhaps it’s the covert emails from friends and families, the completed task at work, the wonderful ringo (apple) I had after work, the yummy supper, or my new ability to recognize some Japanese letters. Either way, upbeat! It was rainy today, too – I like rain. Work is going well – I find that I am able to recognize a few more Japanese words every once in a while, I finally figured out the food ticket machine, and I have interesting work to do. It takes me 3 trains, 1 bus, and an hour & twenty minutes to get to work in the morning. The train station is only a 5 minute walk from my dormitory – I leave the dorm around 7:10am. I generally get a seat on the first train, sometimes the second train, and never the third train. From the last train station, I walk around the corner and get on the bus. It stops across the street from work. I have an ID card, which I use for everything. That includes getting into work, logging into my computer, and getting into my dorm. I have a in/out magnet at work – red is out, white is in. When I get in in the morning (around 8:30am), I flip my tag then head back outside to another building to change. I wear a jacket and pants as a uniform – and I have a warmer jacket for when it’s cold. Which is practically all the time. From the changeroom, I head back to the first building to my work area. I share my workspace with my boss, Takemori-San, and another lady, whos name I can’t remember. I’m usually the first person into work, so I grab the key to unlock the office. Because I’m a keener, I usually start working almost right away. Lunch is at 12. I’m generally starving by time lunch rolls around. I wait for Takemori-San, who likes to wait five minutes to avoid the rush, then we walk to the cafeteria building. Examples of all the meals are set out on the table, and I buy tickets depending on what I want. I usually pay 500 Yen (slightly less than $5), and for that I get a main dish (rice and fish/meat or ramen noodes, similar to Mr. Noodles), a salad-type thing, miso soup, and gohan (rice). I’ve discovered that in Japan, a lot depends on your boss. It would be very rude of me to leave for lunch without waiting for him, and it would be disrespectful not to sit with him (especially if he then ended up sitting by himself). Sometimes we sit with three other people who work in our department. I’m very bad with Japanese names, but there are to men and one young woman. She’s pretty quiet. The two men know some English and are a lot of fun. One of them often tucks his chin into his chest and giggles – it’s the cutest thing ever. I don’t typically refer to men as ‘cute’, but this guy is definitely cute when he giggles. There’s always lots of laughing at lunch as we try to communicate. Everyone at the table waits until everyone else at the table is finished eating, then when there’s an awkward pause, someone (then everyone else) kind of bows, then starts to get up. We drop off our dishes and head back to work. I finish work at 5:40, but generally end up staying a few or many minutes late, depending on what I’m working on and what I do (or don’t, as the case usually is) have to do after work. I change again, and wait at the sidewalk for the bus. When I get home, I’m usually starving again, so I eat supper right away. I don’t know if it’s because it’s less food, a different eating schedule, I don’t drink enough water, or I just always feel slightly bored, but I always feel hungry! I’m still trying to find a reasonably cheap and healthy Japanese snack food. After supper I usually hang out in my room and study my Japanese. At least for now. Hopefully I’ll get a life and some internet, soon. I’m starting to feel settled here…maybe I can survive the seven months, after all.  My nails have gotten long very quickly…I have the feeling it’s all the rice I’m eating. Lunch and supper always include rice – at least a fist-sized (my fist, not yours) amount, sometimes more. I think that when I go back to Canada, I will have to buy and cook a lot of rice, or my body will go into shock. I don’t mind, though, it’s very good. I’m definitely a fan of sticky rice (all rice in Japan is sticky) over loose rice. I’ll have to learn to make it, but I think it’s just the addition of rice vinegar or something. Well, that’s it for today! I’ll try to take some more pictures (like of me in my work uniform…hehe) to post with this, when I finally get internet! PS – I’d like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support while I’m here…the first week was really hard, but it was a lot easier knowing people back home were thinking of me (or at least I was pretending they were), and it’s only going to go up from here! Ja matta….

Tuesday, January 22

January 21st

I got so caught up in learning Japanese, it’s bedtime and I forgot to blog! I also realized, on my adventure home today, that I’ve been writing mostly about how I’m feeling instead of what it’s like here. It would probably be a lot more interesting to read about Japan, instead of the ramblings of Stephanie’s mind and heart. So here goes…details! But first, my adventure home…all went well until Tsurahashi, when I got on the wrong train – I just walked to the wrong platform because I wasn’t paying attention. It took me several stations to realize that none of the names sounded familiar. So I asked a woman, in broken Japanese, if this train was going to Yao station. My heart (and stomach) dropped when she started chattering in Japanese but was pointing back the way we came. I realized that – yes – I had gotten on the wrong train. I thanked her (that’s one thing I can and do quite proficiently) and got off at the next station. After another broken conversation with a man on a train, I found my way to the platform I needed to be at. I recognized a station name and knew I could go back to there and find my way from that point. Yay! The adventure ended well.
I live in a company dormitory – everyone who live here works for Osaka Gas. Osaka Gas is something like Terasen Gas – there are buildings and centers and labs all over the city. There is a woman’s section and men’s section, and the opposite sex is not allowed in the other section, at all. There are four other women in the dormitory – we are all on the same floor – the 3rd one. At the end of our floor is a bathroom (sinks & toilets). I think there’s another floor up above us that is empty. On the second floor is a TV room, a kitchen area with North American style tables, a bathroom/shower, a kitchen area with Japanese style tables, a bigger shower room, and laundry. On the main floor is the lobby area, the cafeteria, and the mysterious hallway leading to the men’s section of the dormitory. There are 95 men in the dormitory. Yoshida-san and (I think?) his wife run the dormitory. They’re a very kind couple that doesn’t speak English, but we make do between their random English words and my busted up Japanese. My room is a decent size – about the size of my room in Sparwood. I have a cot-type bed, a small shelving unit, a desk with a chair, two closets, and my own little entryway with some shoe shelves. There are also two overhead storage areas. The dormitory is right beside the road, and it’s very loud! I’m used to it now, but at first it drove me nuts. You can hear all the cars going by and everything that’s happening outside. The lobby area has a reception area, and the shoe area. When you enter the dormitory (or any Japanese home), you remove your shoes and put on slippers. There’s a compartment for each person to keep their shoes on. There’s also a message board (which I can’t read), but I did notice a sign that said ‘Welcome’ on it, with my name in Japanese, below. I get suppers at the cafeteria, on weekdays. On weekends and for mornings, I’m on my own. Usually, supper consists of a vegetable-type thing, a salad-type thing, a fish-type thing, rice, and miso soup. It’s all very good and I’m always starving when I get home from work. On weekends, I cook for myself, but I miss the Japanese dinners (they’re pretty yummy). For breakfast, I have toast with butter & tomato slices, a glass of milk, and yoghurt. The bread, milk, and yoghurt are slightly more expensive than I’m used to, but it’s worth it! The train station (Takayasu) is about a 5 minute walk from my house. From there, I can get anywhere in Japan, pretty much. There is a decent-sized grocery store within a 15 minute walk from my house, and several within 30 minutes. I’ve discovered that maps are infinitely useful and provide a universal language. I got Yoshida-san to draw me a map to a swimming pool. I think I found it, but you couldn’t see inside and it looked…special. It was all wooden and Japanese-looking (most things in the city aren’t actually what you would picture Japanese buildings looking like). I didn’t feel like trying to venture inside (it looked very closed), so I figured I’d leave it at that for the day. I’ll put some pictures up of my dormitory, to add to my brief descriptions. I’m off to bed now, more details will have to wait until tomorrow! Oh – and my presentation is now on Friday – ahhh!!

-Photos (in order):
*My dorm room - from the entrance and from the opposite side of the room.
*The main kitchen area I use...
*The Japanese-style table
*Bathroom area - you can't really tell, but the sinks are light pink! Cute.

Monday, January 21

January 20th

Well it turns out that I have to wait a month to get a phone but should be able to get internet pretty quickly. That’s okay because I’d take internet over a phone, anyways. I’m not entirely sure, though – I’m going to ask again tomorrow to clarify. I went for a long walk today and tried to find the pool. I got a map, and I think I found it, but it obviously doesn’t look like a North American pool-building, and I’m not sure what it is (you can’t see inside). I was going to follow the signs to ‘Yao City Gymnasium’, but it was cold and wet and I didn’t feel like it. I got to thinking, as I was walking – moving to a new country wouldn’t be so bad if I could read and write the language. I know that’s fairly obvious, but it would definitely make this a lot easier. I’m kind of just zoned out on my bed, right now, with my Japanese CD’s playing in the background, but I’m not really paying attention to them…maybe they’ll still filter into my head. Am I supposed to blog less about what I do and more about how I’m feeling? Or the other way around. I suppose it’s my blog and I can do what I want with it. I’ve had a rollercoaster week, but I keep reminding myself that it’s only the first week, of 28 weeks. I’m looking forward to meeting the other coop students and doing some sightseeing. Kind of wish I had internet. Kind of feeling random right now. This isn’t a very good blog post, so I’m going to stop writing now. You’re probably tired of hearing my over-emotional ramblings. The blog will get more interesting once I do some travelling, probably. Oh well. Jaa matta (see you later).

Sunday, January 20

January 19th

The only reason I’m blogging right now is because I promised at the beginning of my blog that I would do my best to be honest, and it would be dishonest to leave this part out. I had such a good day (more about it later), but right now, I’m sitting on my bed, crying and thinking that I’d give the world to be home right now. I’m alone, I rarely see any of the friends I made on the first day, I haven’t had a real English conversation in a week, and I want my bed and my internet and my phone and my room and my stuff and my friends and my family. I was so excited about the great opportunity to go on an adventure to Japan. I always say that nothing ever really scares me or deters me, and that I can do anything. I’m not sure I can do this. I’m sure that I’ll meet more people, I’ll learn more Japanese, and things will get better, but right now, I just want to go home. I want a hug from my Mommy. I want someone, anyone, to put their arms around me and tell me (in perfect English) that it’s okay to cry and everything’s going to be okay because we’re going to be home in a couple hours. I don’t want to do this anymore. I hate it, because I act like/tell myself that I can handle anything. But right now, I’m not handling. I don’t want to be a grownup anymore, I want to be two years old – I want my only cares to be which candy I pick and whether I want to have apple or orange juice. I can’t give up – I won’t give up, I will not give up. But I really really really want to. I want to change my mind and go home. I don’t want anymore adventures or challenges or opportunities to grow as a person. I’m done travelling the world and seeing new things and experiencing new things. I’ve had my fill, I’ve had enough. I’ve seen Japan, now I want to go home. I’m not confident, I’m not brave, I’m not strong. I thought I was, but I’m not.

I was going to watch a movie - well, my movie didn’t work, but I did manage to stop the never-ending flow of despair. I am now an expert at Minesweeper and Pinball and Spider Solitaire. I also have some hope because I asked one of the girls if her or the other girls had internet at the dormitory, and she said, ‘Yes’. Her English is minimal and she seemed like she was in a hurry, so I’m going to ask another one of the girls tomorrow, hopefully. They’re never home! I’m not surprised, I was rarely home in Canada. Now I’m always ‘home’ if I’m not at work. That’s not entirely true, I do some exploring on my own. Today I ventured onto the train and to Yao Station. I explored Seibu and Ario – malls. Whoever told me that I wouldn’t be able to buy anything I was used to in Japan was definitely wrong. Anything you could ever hope to find in Canada, I found in both these malls. The clothes are styled a little differently, and I tried on a pair of ‘Large’ boots that were too small, but other than that, it’s basically the same. Oh, and the Japanese characters everywhere accompanied by a definite lack of English characters. The first store I saw when I walked in was….The Body Shop! I was so thrilled, I almost jumped. I may have been a little bouncy. I also managed to find a craft store that seemed like it did lessons or some kind of group (maybe I’ll join it, if I can figure out what it is). The store had beads and yarn and cross stiching and buttons and fabric – everything! I’m trying to figure out what project I’d like to start with, and if as soon as I do, I’ll suddenly become too busy to work on it (too busy seems pretty unimaginable, at this point). I found McDonalds, KFC, even a Denny’s! McDonalds was definitely not worth it. The burger was even smaller than Canada’s (imagine that), and it had some kind of weird sauce on it that gave it a decisively Asian flavor. However, finding where McDonalds was is an interesting story. Having finished exploring Seibu, I was wandering somewhat aimlessly to try to find Ario or McDonalds. A random guy stopped me, and I thought he was talking English, but wasn’t sure. He was, and he wanted to know if he could talk to me for a few minutes….okay….I was thinking, “Maybe this is a survey? He certainly picked the wrong person for it.” Turns out, he just wanted to talk. He actually wanted me to go to a coffee shop with him and talk…hm…sketchy. So I told him that I was looking for McDonalds, and maybe he could tell me where it was. He started to, then said he would take me there. I know what you’re thinking. Going with a strange person = not a very good idea. Going with a strange person in a strange city = bad idea. Going with a strange person in a strange country = very bad idea. But the area was very public and I made up my mind not to go anywhere without lots of people, and I did want McDonalds. He spoke decent English and asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Japan. I told him I was from Vancouver in Canada (he said he had two friends there and had heard it was a nice city). I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell him that I was from Kelowna – I know, it’s literally half-a-world away, but why not play it super safe. I also told him I was working in Japan, and he asked if I was teaching English. I told him I was doing engineering (he said I was a smart woman), but when he asked what company I worked for, I was definitely sure that I didn’t want to tell him that. So I lied (I felt bad) and told him I couldn’t remember the name because it was a Japanese name which is hard to remember (it’s true that Japanese names are hard to remember). He asked if I missed my friends and family, etc, and then we saw McDonalds. He shook my hand and told me that it was nice to meet met and maybe he would see me again. And I went for lunch. It was very strange…I wasn’t sure why he wanted to talk to me. His English was strange, even for Japanese English, and he was kind of…not creepy or sketchy, just…weird. It was definitely an adventure for the books. Or the blog. After lunch, I explored Ario and bought groceries, then went home. Buying groceries is very difficult. I ended up buying spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, apples, bread, tomatoes, and yoghurt. It’s hard to figure out what to buy that I can actually use for cooking (my Asian cooking skills are limited) and that won’t cost me a fortune. The remainder of my day has been spent sitting in my room listening to music and playing games. Hopefully after tomorrow, when I get a phone, I can find a life, too. I hope whoever reads these blog posts isn’t bored by the end of them, I’ve realized how long some of them are. Oh well. I always was a wordy person. I’m going to go to bed so I don’t go to the corner store and buy the chocolate that I’m craving. G’nite!

PS - In the photos with this post, notice all the bicycles, outside the mall! This is outside Ario - a shopping center. There's rows and rows and rows of them, everywhere! The other photo is a train map in one of the stations.

Saturday, January 19

January 18th

I forgot to blog yesterday! I thought about it, decided to leave it until later, then forgot. My Japanese bath was a success…but short. It’s like a hottub with no chlorine. I couldn’t say in too long without feeling like I was boiling for miso soup. I wish I had a bathtub that big, though! Yesterday went okay – they tell you when you enter the program that six weeks in you’ll be homesick and tired of it and want to go home. I think that I was there the first week, and I’m starting to get over it. I still am homesick and kind of want to go home, but I feel less inclined to hop on a train to the airport. Hopefully once I learn more Japanese, get a phone and internet, and meet some other coops students, I’ll feel more at home. It strange, though, because usually I feel at home within a couple days when I move somewhere new. Although this is a bit more of an adjustment than Kelowna-Vancouver or Vancouver-Sparwood. A lady at work offered to teach me Japanese, once a week, for an hour. I think that will make a huge difference. Right now, I do a lot of smiling, bowing, bobbing my head, and tilting my head. It’s automatic now though, so I must be getting used to something. . It’s difficult to feel a part of the conversation when you don’t understand what’s being said – especially when it seems they’re talking about you! I have to give a presentation at the end of the month at work. There has to be a 3 minute introduction to myself in Japanese, then twelve minutes of discussing the research I will be doing while I’m here. Theoretically, I give a fully-Japanese presentation at the end of my term. My goal is to be able to do that. I have to head off to work…bye!

Are my blog posts sounding cheerier? Because I am definitely feeling more positive! I had an epiphany today. I was on a train on my way to work, sitting beside two guys who live in the dormitory and work at the same place I do. We were having a wonderful time trying to talk about music and where I could buy an iPod. They were laughing at me, and I was laughing at me, and they were laughing at themselves. It was a lot of fun! That’s when the epiphany occurred. I realized that this week, the best parts of every day have been at lunch – when I’m having half or eighth conversations with people. The rest of my week has been practically devoid of human interaction. Lightbulb!! I am a people person. I need human interaction. That’s why my week has been so crappy – I’ve been alone, doing everything alone, and having no one to talk to, all week. The rest of my day was very good – all because it started out with a half an hour of hanging out with some friends. The six people in my dormitory that I know all get home much later than me. Usually, when I get home at 7:30 ish, I’m starving, so I eat dinner right away (alone). Based on my epiphany, I am going to wait tonight and see if I can catch someone I know at dinner. So I’m killing time until 9pm. Dinner at 9pm. Wow.
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I got my bank card in the mail today and I will be getting a cellphone on Sunday. Hicky (I told him that his name was very funny in Canada) is going to help me on Sunday. Once I have a cellphone, I will be capable of contacting the other coop students in Osaka and in Japan. Yay for more friends…more interaction…more English!! The bad news is that to get internet, I need to have my alien registration card. My alien registration card will be ready on February 14th. Eww. A month without internet? When I heard that, I partially panicked. I’ve been so set on getting it this weekend. I have been emailing randomly from work, and I am going to ask Takemori-san on Monday if I can use the computer for internet before or after work until I get my own internet. I also might ask how much it would be to get internet on my phone, even just for the month. Then I could at least msn to people back in Canada. Can you Skype on a cellphone? I’d think so. Fyi…none of my posts will be edited after the day they’re written, so I’m sure when I actually get internet and get to post them, some of what I wrote will be very redundant or seem silly. So here I am, waiting for an hour to have dinner. At 9pm. Strange. In general, I’m feeling a lot more confident in my ability to survive 7 months in Japan, and overall feeling a lot more capable. My goal right now is to learn as much Japanese as I can. The people I interact with are practicing their limited English a lot, which means I don’t practice my limited Japanese as much as I should. On that note, I’m signing off to learn some Nihongo! :) Oo look at that. A smiley face. It just came out of my fingers – I must be feeling happier!!

Thursday, January 17

January 16th

It has occurred to me that jumping into a new city, culture, and language is similar to becoming 1 year old again. You have to be taught everything. How to eat, how to use the bathroom, how to get around, what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do – everything! Someone shows you or tells you, once, perhaps when you’ve done it wrong or you don’t know how. Sometimes you remember, sometimes you have to ask again. But little by little, in baby steps, you start to be able to take care of yourself, without everyone’s help. If this analogy holds true, I took another tiny step today! I got myself home from work without getting lost or getting on the wrong train, or standing in one place looking like a hikachi (idiot). I went with a friend to work (Hicky), and did get lost trying to find my way to the changerooms. Takemori-san was away this morning, so at lunch time (my first lunch at work), three people I met yesterday came to get me. The showed me where the cafeteria was, and how to pick my food and get it. As usual, their English was just okay, and my Nihongo was terrible. But we had such a fun meal! We talked about the different foods in Japan and Canada. I told them about Canadian sushi and they asked questions about different pasta noodles and a dish that I don’t think we have. There was lots of laughing and giggling (some Japanese men like to giggle - it’s the cutest thing, ever!) and smiling and shrugs. After work, I got myself home and stopped by the Supermarket. I didn’t really feel like it, again, but when I got there, I was glad I did. It was like finding a little slice of heaven down the road and around the corner. There was fruit, vegetables, bread, butter, cheese, sliced meat! I haven’t had any fruit since I got here, no vegetables that haven’t been deep fried or cooked with many other things, or bread and butter, etc. I bought bread to make toast for breakfast (I wish it was breakfast, already), tomatoes for my toast, and – apples! I think the apples excited me the most. I didn’t realize how much I missed fruit. It’s funny how much we take for granted. I’m going to have to make myself a grocery budget so I don’t buy the store out of fruit and raw vegetables. I floated home and managed to get my supper (another baby step) by myself. I’ve also discovered that I’m not too bad at eating with chopsticks, and improving, fast! Now here I am – revived. There were a couple times today when I wanted to scream “I want to go home!”, but between my encouraging baby steps and the Supermarket, I’m almost ready to tackle another day in Nihon. But it’s only 8pm, so I think I’m going to go attempt my first Japanese-style bath. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 16

January 15th

I have discovered that it is entirely possible to think and feel two completely different things in the same moment.
1) “What have I got myself into!?” accompanied by the desire to either curl up in a dark corner and cry, or jump on the nearest and soonest plane to something – anything – familiar.
2) The notion of how much I have accomplished so far and a fierce sense of determination to not only survive the next 7 months, but impress the socks off my boss and learn enough Japanese to conduct myself in a normal conversation.
My day today was filled with the sensation of containing both these mindsets in my head.

The most frustrating thing I’ve found so far is the inability to communicate. I like to talk. I like to be a part of the action that’s taking place around me. However - it has also hit me how important being able to communicate with words, or very few words, is. I am slowly (half-life of chromium slowly) learning Japanese, but I do my best to use the few words that I have. Hand motions and pictures are also infinitely useful. I think that the ability to communicate so easily is something we often take for granted – I know I do, at least. I never realized how essential and desirable it is.

I successfully used the train by myself to meet my boss at Yao station, this morning. We travelled from there to register me as an alien (yes, I am green and I will definitely suck your brains out and cattle prod you), and open a bank account (yay!). I get a pretty green ATM card that I can use at any ATM in the country, for free (take note, Canada - free). Next we travelled to Sumitomo Precision Products. Fortunately, I had worn business-wear because it was my first day at work, but nobody told me that I would be in a lunch business meeting and meet some important people! I met the Manager and General Manager of Sumitomo, two students working with them, and the President of Functional Fluids (FF). We had lunch (my first official Japanese lunch), for which I took all the clues on how to eat politely I could get from everyone else. Surprisingly, there were only one or two things that I didn’t quite like, but nothing that made me want to gag. There was a leg of something with many suction cups on it (all about a half to one centimeter in diameter), which took an interesting trip around my mouth. All in all, everything was ‘oishii’ (delicious). Then we proceeded to a small project room and I got to help build the graphite trays for a heat exchanger. I ended up cutting wire lengths for the two students and trying to use my minimal Japanese to communicate. The President of FF spoke some English and she was very nice to me. Then we got a tour of the plant and factory at Sumitomo. I was beyond impressed! Sumitomo makes a variety of products from landing gear for airplanes (F-2 support fighter, T-4 trainer, etc), propellers (eg. P-3C anti-submarine patrol plane, etc), a variety of other heat-related systems for aircrafts; heat exchangers used around the world (eg. Shinkansen (bullet trains) cooling systems); ozone generators; semiconductors; motion sensors – this includes 3-axis accelerometers and vibrating structure gyroscopes, used in projects such as anti-lock braking systems, mobile dish antennas, bipedal robots, radio-controlled helicopters, and those little electronic puppies that you can buy for your children. It was quite amazing to see some of the parts being put together and how they progressed throughout the factory. I believe I managed to make it through the afternoon without being rude or making a fool of myself. Then we went to Osaka Gas – where I will be working. I was introduced to many people and was able to use my carefully practiced Japanese introduction. I also noticed something very neat and kind of amusing about the Japanese people. You bow a lot – when you say hello, goodbye, sorry, thank you, etc. If I bow, they bowed. And if I bowed again (trying to be super polite), they bowed again. I caught myself wondering how many times they would bow if I kept bowing. Bad Stephanie. They were all very nice and friendly, though. I got my work uniform which consists of pants and a jacket, and some nice new safety shoes. I get a desk and a computer and for the last hour or so used it to start learning about heat pumps, heat exchangers, and write down the Laws of Thermodynamics (heaven forbid, I have forgotten. But I will be needing them, so I thought it best to brush up on them). I stayed a little late because Takemori-san was still working and I had no idea how to get home from where we were. At 6:30 we left and took a shuttle to the train station. Takemori-san rode 2 trains with me then gave me instructions on how to get home. I left praying I wouldn’t get lost, because that would be a terrible mess. I did make it home safely, however, and ventured into the cafeteria where the cafeteria lady showed me how to get my supper (you would think that would be easy, but it’s not). And here I am! I should probably go to the supamaketo (supermarket) and buy some tabemono (food) for asa gohan (breakfast), but it’s dark and samui (cold) and I don’t feel like it, so I’m having noodles in a cup for asa gohan! :) And that’s a wrap on Day 2 of a so-far-successful Japanese adventure.

Tuesday, January 15

January 14th - 2

I’ve survived my first day in Nihon (Japan), and am feeling a little more capable and excited about the first 7 months. However, I’ve discovered that everything is a challenge. That includes making the bed, using the toilet, using the shower, and I haven’t tried the laundry yet! Everything is in Japanese. You would think that a bed would be easy to make – but there isn’t really sheets, and there was 1 cover, two blankets… You would also think that a toilet is pretty basic – but there’s several buttons, all labeled in Japanese.

-Pictures: Western-style toilet, Japanese-style toilet, toilet options!! (hehe)

Fortunately, there are pictures as well. The shower took a while to figure out, but that was just because the hot water takes a while to come, but I didn’t know if I was doing it right. Also – it shuts off every minute or two and you have to put it on again. As far as food goes, I asked the lady at the front desk (I still haven’t figured out her name), in very broken Japanese, where I could buy food. She drew me a map to the ‘ampm’, which is something like a 7-11. I bought some food, came back to the dorm, and heated it up. After that, I decided to be brave and venture a little further.

-Pictures: I was walking down the street, and I though, " couldn't be, could it!?" But it was! A Century 21 sign! You wouldn't believe how happy I was to see something familiar, even that!

I walked for an hour or so and found the train station, a Shoppers-Drug Mart type store, a 100-Yen (~dollar) store, and a Bargain Shop-type store. I bought some hangers, a laundry basket, some notepads, and some tea. It was a very successful trip. Later in the evening, I was taken out to dinner. The four girls in the dormitory and two guys who live in the dormitory took me out to a Japanese bar. Yuko, Sadomi, My, Mya, Hicky, and M (still haven’t asked his name again). It was a lot of fun! They ordered all kinds of food and drinks and let me try them. There was nothing I didn’t like. There was a Korean dish of raw beef with a raw egg yolk on top. Surprisingly, it was one of my favorite! The guys were very fun and always making jokes. Sadomi studied at UBC for a year and has very good English. Yuko’s English is also very good, and both of the guys can speak a decent amount of English, too. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got invited to their ski trip on February 20th! Very excited about that. The bar wasn’t anything like a Canadian bar. The tables were low with cushions and it was all in tables. We took a picture of my very first Japanese dinner. It was so much fun! Tomorrow I will take the train to meet Takemori-san and register as an alien, open a bank account, buy a commuter pass, etc. The next day I will go with Hicky to work – he works in the same department as me. He’s very funny and a little crazy. We will leave the dormitory at 7:10 and arrive at work at 8:30. I’m excited about work – I will be working on a heat pump and probably a grill of some sort. Oh – I also bought a phone card and called home. It took quite a while to figure out how to use the phone card, but the lady at the ampm was very helpful! We stopped by the ampm on the way back from dinner, and she was telling my new friends how she helped me. She also said she would love to help me again if I need it, and suggested I buy a phone card with more minutes, because she was afraid that it wasn’t enough. That’s it for my adventures today…but I’m looking forward to many more!

PS - Picture below (Dinner out): Front right - Hicky, Front left - M, In the back, L-R: Yuko, Sadomi, Mya.

Monday, January 14

January 14th

My clock tells me it’s 4:30am Nihon (Japan) time, on Monday morning – but my head tells me it’s 1:30pm on Sunday.
Throughout my seventeen hours of travel (both flying and waiting included), my head carefully controlled a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I arrived at YVR just after 5am, and soon had to say goodbye to my parents before entering the ‘Passengers Only’ area. I’ll be honest – as I said goodbye to my parents, my only thoughts were those of blind panic. I have flown on my own before, and I have travelled to a different country before. But I have never flown on my own to a different country, where I will live for 7 months, on my own! Fortunately, I had a decent handle on my panic and focused on getting through the customs & security checkpoints and checking my baggage.
Once I hit the terminal, I still had two hours to wait – my flight was delayed by half an hour. I took a nap, got some breakfast, and purchased some ‘Canadian’ chocolates for my Japanese supervisor & coworkers. Once my flight finally boarded, we had to wait another half hour. Due to bad weather at San Francisco, my first destination, they were requesting that all flights delay takeoff. I had my own personal TV which provided me with a variety of music, movie, and TV options, so I listened to some country and watched some Grey’s Anatomy and Without a Trace. According to my itinerary, I had an hour and a half in the San Francisco airport, but due to the flight delay, I knew it would be tight to get to my connecting flight. The thought of having to deal with finding the next flight to Osaka (which I think was the next day, at the same time), did not thrill me. Fortunately, once we got close to San Fran, they announced that an agent would escort the five people who were heading to Osaka to their flight. This ended up being myself, one other guy, and a family with two small children, running through the airport, following an agent through back doors and onto shuttles. We did arrive in time; there was even still a lineup to board when we arrived. Even though it wasn’t my doing that I got there on time, I felt a sort of accomplishment, having got this far on my trip by myself.
The flight to Osaka was also delayed while they cleared some debris off of the runway. We left almost 45 minutes late. I was sitting in the middle seat. To my right was an Asian guy who slept the entire flight (and I do mean almost the entire flight – I don’t know how he did it!). To my left was a guy named Scott who I chatted with a bit. For this 11 hour flight (as opposed to the 2.5 hour flight to San Fran), I did not have a personal TV. I was also starving, since I hadn’t had a chance to pick up some lunch in San Francisco as I planned. An hour into the flight, they served a meal. Between the meal, cat naps, magazines, and a book, I wasn’t too bored for the first half of the flight. At one point, Scott opened the window and tapped my leg and pointed outside. It was beautiful! You could see the ocean below with some small islands or perhaps just collections of dirt created by waves, and a quilt of clouds that never ended. I remember thinking that it reminded me of Saskatchewan, because it just went on and on until the earth dropped off. It made me want to jump out of the plane and go bounce from one to another. It was an amazing sight. The second half of the flight, I alternated between being nervous about my new experience, very excited about my new experience, and wondering if I was going to go insane from sitting so long. If you know me at all, you probably know that I don’t do well with that. I watched a movie, read some more, dropped my boxes of chocolates on some poor man in front of me when I opened the overhead bin (oops! Scott thought that was pretty funny). Finally, we reached Osaka – an hour late, which isn’t too bad, I suppose. I collected my things and deplaned into the Great Unknown…

When I finally got through Immigration, Security, Customs, and picked up my baggage, Takemori-san found me immediately. He helped me carry my suitcase (which, by the way, was very heavy), and said we would be taking the train to my dormitory. Once we boarded the first train, there were several awkward conversations where he tried to say something in Nihongo (Japanese), and I replied with ‘Wakarimasen’, which means, “I don’t understand”. So he would go through it word by word, some of which I did understand. I was carrying my laptop case, purse, and hiking backpack. He was dragging my suitcase and smaller carryon suitcase. We went from that train, to another, to another, and then to a fourth train. I found myself wondering how I could possibly need enough stuff to make my bags as heavy as they were. I got to purchase a train ticket, and received my first Nihon change. Someone (I can’t remember who) asked if it had holes in it – yes it does.  Takemori-san and I continued to have random awkward conversations. When we finally got off the last train (about an hour and a half after leaving the airport), he showed me where I would meet him on Tuesday morning. Then we left the building (me hoping that I could remember how to get to where I had to meet him)….he had said something earlier about a 5-6 minute walk from the dorm, so I figured this was it. Lo and behold, no, it wasn’t. We walked a bit longer, and I thought I was going to die. It was about 2am my time, I had been up since 3:30am my time, I hadn’t eaten as much as I wanted, and what I was carrying was heavy. Finally we stopped at a taxi stand and got in. I tried to pay attention the where we were going, as I thought I would have to walk from our destination back to the train station. I soon figured out that couldn’t be true, it would have been a long walk! Takemori-san told me a little bit about the dorm. There is a woman’s only section, which houses 4 other women, and a men’s section which houses 95 men. One of the women was an exchange student at UBC for a year, and speaks English. I didn’t realize until later how happy that made me.
We arrived at the dorm and a lady came to meet us. We removed our shoes and put on slippers that she gave us. Then the dorm manager came out as well. Me, Takemori-san, and the dorm manager (Yoshida-san), lugged my luggage up a flight and a half of stairs to my room. My room is larger than I expected, and has lots of closet space. Then I got the tour…the bathroom at the end of the hall, and then down a flight to a kitchen area with tatami mats and a low table, another kitchen area with two North-American style tables, another kitchen area with no tables, an area with a TV and couches, a laundry room (all in Japanese…I may ruin my clothes trying to use it!  ), and a bath area, which was very pretty with a pink curtain and big tub. All the areas were common areas that I share with the other women. Then we went downstairs and I was shown the cafeteria that is shared by the men and the women. If I won’t be eating here, I stamp a card and leave it in the cafeteria. The tour was winding up, and I met a guy who works in R&D at Osaka Gas (where I will be working). I didn’t catch his name (he said it too fast. But I think it started with an M.). I bowed and he bowed and we both kind of laughed. We were standing near the entrance (me, Takemori-san, Yoshida-san, the woman, and M). They were having a conversation, I was doing the ‘smile-and-nod’. Takemori-san threw bits of information my way, but mostly, I was just completely lost as to what was going on. I realized how little Japanese I understand, and how out of place a person feels when they don’t understand what the conversation around them is, especially when you think it’s about you! Takemori-san asked if I was tired (yes!!), or hungry (no). Takemori-san left after some awkward bowing (I do know how to say thank you – “arigato” – and I said it a lot and bowed a lot). Then I stood for a minute with the lady Yoshida-san, and M before bowing and saying ‘arigato’ and motioning back towards the women’s dorm to indicate that I was going to go to bed. None of the three spoke English, and I had no idea what they were talking about, or if it was rude for me to leave. I got back up to my room, pulled out my sleeping bag, put the sheets and blankets on the floor, unrolled the sleeping bag, and climbed into bed, thrilled to rest my head on the nice, puffy, soft…beanbag pillow. Not so soft, not so puffy. Literally a nice, pretty hard beanbag pillow. But I didn’t care, and once I managed to quell the infinite thoughts running through my tired mind, I was out. Until now, 4:30am, when I am wide awake. However, the best antidote for jet lag is keeping the new schedule, so I am going to head back to my beanbag pillow and sleeping bag, and try to sleep for at least another four hours or so. I need to be well-rested for my party tomorrow. I forgot to mention that – they’re throwing me a welcome party tomorrow. Very nice, kind of exciting, but I’ll definitely have to learn as much Nihongo tomorrow before the party as I can. So goodnight, and arigato!

-Picture: This is the welcome sign the posted in the lobby for me...I have no idea what it says except I know that the first line of blue writing is my name. :)

Friday, January 11

All set!

48 hours from now, I will be on a plane on my way to Osaka, Japan. My flight is booked, I have my visa, and I think I'm ready to go!

I had my orientation yesterday and got the chance to speak to a student who previously worked for the same company as me. I got a lot more information about what to expect...

I will be staying in a women's dormitory approximately 1 hour by train from where I work. Breakfast & supper will be provided on weekdays - I'm on my own for lunches and weekends. My dorm will probably have a curfew - either I will need a key card after a certain time, or I'll be locked out. Being locked out isn't too much of a problem, though, because you can sleep in cafes or restaurants for a small fee (whaatt?!?!?!). I will have to get internet set up in my dorm, unless I can find another resident who is willing to share.

There are many other international students in Japan, three of them in Osaka. The coop students get together and travel and sightsee together, so I don't have to worry about finding someone to travel with! Every year, they also usually get together and climb Mt Fuji, so I'm definitely bringing my hiking shoes!

I take the train to work, and will be working on small steam product design projects. I work mostly on my own and in conjunction with my supervisor. I work from 9-5:40, with an hour lunch. There is a cafeteria in the building. My supervisor speaks very good English, but most other people at the office don't speak much English.

That's it for now.... :)

Monday, January 7

T minus 9 days...

I don't have my visa. My flight isn't booked. I'm not completely packed.

Stress? What stress? Actually, it's not all that bad. I am mostly packed, I just have to clean up and pack away what I'm not bringing. The visa and the flight may be causing a small amount of anxiety, though.

I went to Vancouver on Wednesday of last week to apply for my visa. I picked up what I needed from the coop office on Wednesday, but didn't have time to get to the Japanese Consulate. That's okay, though, because I was planning to stay the night anyway. In the morning, I got to the Japanese Consulate only to discover that it was very closed. Apparently the 2nd and 3rd are national holidays in Japan. So my trip to Vancouver was extended by a day. I was more than a little frustrated and stressed out, so I found a downtown coffee shop and made a list of the infinite things I had to do, and picked out which I could do in Vancouver. I spent a lovely four hours at Metrotown, shopping and picking things up. It was actually quite successful, and I accomplished a lot. The next morning, I applied for my visa with no problems. It should be ready to pick up on Tuesday.

My flight is an entirely different matter. The 14th is also a holiday in Japan. (I'm quite excited about the amount of holidays they seem to!!). My coop coordinator wants to check with my supervisor which day (13th, 14th, 15th) is best for him to pick me up and for me to get to the dormitory. Unfortunately, Japan is a day ahead, so this has to wait until Sunday night (Monday's work day in Japan). As soon as I hear from my supervisor, I am going to book my flight. I also still need to get health insurance, which I plan to do tomorrow.

All in all, things are coming together, but there's still a lot to be worked out. I am sad about leaving Canada & everyone I know here, but I'm not nervous about Japan (is that wierd?) - just excited. Thanks to anyone & everyone who keeps reading my ramblings... I'll post again when I have a flight and a visa!