Friday, February 29

Hard Work Pays Off & Bizarre Situations

I had a very interesting time at the gym, yesterday!

First of all, I was very proud of myself and felt awesome when I was done. I did my weight workout, 20 minutes of cardio, then went to the Street Dancing class! That last part was pretty depressing, since most people in the class have been there for several weeks already. I'm just starting, and let me tell you, I was terrible. But my gym-employee friend (can't remember his name...I'm REALLY bad with Japanese names) assured me that after a couple times, I'll catch onto the steps. When I left the gym I was sore and exhausted, but felt amazing. This morning, I was sore, too - and that rarely happens, no matter how hard I try to push myself in my workout. The effort I put into my workout is very rewarding in that I feel like I accomplished something afterwards!

I was doing my weight routine when a guy who I see there often came over and started talking to me. He spoke a few words of English, and I used my few words of Japanese. He asked where I was from and how long I had been coming to Cospa (the gym center). He also asked how old I was, and I found out he was 38. Can't remember his name, either. I really have to get better with names. We muddled our way through the conversation, said the nice-to-meet-you's, and he left.

A few minutes later, he came back over with someone else - who spoke English (yay!). Can't remember his name either. Guy#2 was a lot younger and is from California. He's half-Japanese and learned Japanese in kindergarten (lucky guy). He came to Japan for 3 years to play baseball (super intense schedule!) while he goes to school, and he's done 2 of those 3 years. We chatted a bit, and Guy#1 interjected a few times with some translation help from Guy#2. He also asked many questions: how long was I staying in Japan; what do I do here; what area of Osaka do I live in; did I drink a lot; do I have a boyfriend; what if I meet someone in Japan and want to marry them, would I stay in Japan? That one made me laugh, and I didn't really know what to say to it. I said I had to go back to school to finish my degree, but I supposed I could come back to Japan after that. It was a very funny conversation. Guy#2 and I chatted for a while more...he seemed very timid, and is still in highschool (I think). There were several awkward moments where no one said anything and I slowly drank water from my waterbottle to avoid staring into space. Finally, after several awkward times and bits of conversations, Guy#2 had to go, so we said our I'm-sure-I'll-see-you-again & nice-to-finally-speak-English-again 's, and he left. All in all, it was a very bizarre situation.

It was a strange evening, but the gym workout part was very rewarding, and I guess I have another couple friends at the gym - which is good! And an English will be nice to have more English conversations!

That was my adventure of the week...we'll see what this weekend brings!

Thursday, February 28

Appreciation & Budding Flowers

My time in Japan so far has given me a greater appreciation for several things – these are just a couple.

1) The most important thing I’ve come to appreciate more is connection with other people, specifically friends and family, but also just people in general! I never realized how difficult life can be without someone to connect to. Everyone needs someone to talk to and spend time with, and I think I’ll view people in a different light, now – with that in mind. I think the worst kind of lonliness is being surrounded by people every day, but not connecting with any of them.

2) I’ve also come to appreciate my family and friends more – “You don’t know what you got ‘ til it’s gone”. I was never one to miss my family much – I’ve always been pretty independent and unreliant on them. I’ve figured out, though, that independence doesn’t mean you don’t still need your family! I’ve definitely needed my family and their support while I’ve been here, and I miss them more than I ever thought I would! I’m proud of my family and who each of them are, and I love them a lot (and I’m not really a lovey-dovey person, so that’s weird for me to just say).

3) Self-strength is a huge thing for me now, too – to get through the difficult days without giving up. It’s hard to push yourself when you feel lonely and depressed, and don’t really want to do anything. But endurance and perseverance are something I’m learning and trying to implement, even when I just want to curl up in a ball on my bed with a big tub of chocolate ice cream (or rice, because you can’t buy tubs of ice cream here).

I think it will be interesting to look back to January from August and see what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. I was looking forward to this experience as ‘an opportunity for personal growth’. In the first month or so, I definitely wasn’t feeling personal growth, just loneliness and homesickness. My Mom (being the sweet mommy that she is) told me that I was like a flower (hehe), and you can’t always tell that flowers are starting to bloom and change, but when you look at them later, there’s been change and they’re beautiful. So – I’m a flower, and I’m going to learn and grow while I’m here. When I come back in August, I will be a better flower!

Sunday, February 24

Wonderful Trip + Awful Pain = Good Mood

Friday after work I met up with Yoda & Mya in the cafeteria and we headed off to Gifu, by train (met up with Satomi), and then by night bus (met up with Yamachung and Hira, friends of Yoda). By time we got on the night bus and started on our way, it was almost midnight. We chatted for a bit then slept until 6am, when we arrived in Gifu! The ski lodge was somewhat similar to Canadian ones, and it was packed! We changed in the dressing room and got our rentals, and were on the hill by 7am! Now that's what I call efficiency....I do things fast and efficiently, but often trips or days with several people involved take a while to get off the ground, by time everyone gets organized. Not this time!

Sometimes I forget how much I love the mountains, the snow, and being up on the hill, but as soon as we stepped outside, I couldn't keep a smile off my face. I was thrilled to be there! Avril Lavigne's 'Girlfriend' was blasting over the loudspeakers (they're all about the North American music), and I couldn't help but sing to it and bounce/dance around - it was great! It snowed all day, beautiful snow, and was pretty windy for part of the day, but it wasn't too cold.

We spent the day doing Green runs b/c Satomi had never boarded before. Since my own boarding skills leave much to be desired, it was a great chance to practice. Last time I went boarding I was trying to learn to impress, but this time taught me how much rewarding it is to accomplish something for yourself, instead of trying to show off to someone else! I was pretty proud of my improvement over the course of the day - I can spin my board, both ways! and carve much better than before. We were up on the hill until 2pm, then quickly changed and grabbed some lunch before jumping back on the bus. We were all pretty exhausted and slept part of the way back. We arrived back at Sannomiya station around 7:30, then Satomi, Yoda, Mya and I split to go back to the dormitory.

We stopped for supper on the way, which was yummy (as always). (blog detour->->) I think I am a great source of entertainment for my Japanese friends, especially when it comes to food! We stopped at a convenience store before getting on the night bus the first time, and I was looking at all the snacks. There was several kinds of something that looked like beef jerky, except it was fish jerky. That was fine...what really threw me off was the (whole) dried and squished squid!! I thought it was pretty strange, and my friends thought I was pretty funny. (<-<-back on track) At supper, I (again) entertained them by sounding out things on the menu and asking what all the characters were, and looking suspiciously at some interesting dishes (like deep fried minnow-like fish..eyes included!) It was a great night. When I finally hit the pillow after midnight, I was exhausted.

I don't normally get sore after a day of snowboarding, even if I haven't been in a while, but today, I was in pain! I opened my eyes and was impressed at the lack of pain...then I tried to move! I don't think I've ever been so stiff and sore in my life. When I finish this blog post, I'm off to the gym to work and swim away the soreness.

I'm hoping to get to Nagano next weekend for another day or two of skiing! Being up on the hill again and hanging out with some friends made for a great weekend!

Friday, February 22

Traditional Asakusa

On Sunday morning, I got up early and met Keith at Asakusa Station. I watched volunteers set up for the Toyko Marathon while I waited for him! Asakusa is a more traditional area and is also called 'low town'. Once he came, we walked a ways to the Shopping Streets. They were incredible! It was like a big long market street, with everything! I had to resist buying anything...we decided to do the temples first and come back to the shopping streets. It was neat to see the architecture and think of the history and culture behind the temples.

We visited Sensoji Temple, a temple built in the 7th century! In front of the temple is an incense stand, with several incense sticks burning. You are wave the smoke onto yourself, and you will be lucky wherever the smoke reaches you. I wondered how many people actually believe it, and how many people do it out of tradition. After you make yourself lucky, you go to the fountain and wash your face, then your left hand, then your right hand, before entering the temple. The temple was beautiful with ornate architecture and shrines. There was a large pit covered in grating for prayers. You throw in some coins, clap twice, bow your head and say a prayer to the ancestors, then clap twice again and bow. It was interesting to watch everyone go through the ritual. After Sensoji Temple, we visited some other small shrines and temples in the area, and took a look at the 5 story Pagoda and Dempoin Temple. Dempoin Temple is off-limits to visitors which is unfortunate because it includes a large beautiful garden. We stopped for a snack and had some chocolate bananas, something that is sort of symbolic of Tokyo.

We went back to hit up the shopping It was quite the mix of things! Some stores had little junky toys that were 'Made In China', and others had beautiful silk robes and hair combs and fans. I didn't buy anything because I'm still here for 6 more months and will have lots of chances, but it was difficult not to! We also visited Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate), a large entrance gate leading to Sensoji Temple. There were massive red lanterns and some statues on it, and it's more than 1000 years old! We had a great time perusing the shops and stands, tried some Japanese treats, and visited the drum museum.

We also visited a miniature amusement park! I was impressed by how much they fit into such a small space. It was a lot of fun, and the rides were surprisingly good! We went on the Rollercoaster and Space Shot. We didn't expect much because they were short and small, but they were great and had us laughing and screaming.

After we finished hanging out in most of Asakusa, we threaded our way through the marathon crowds and took the train to meet Thomas in Akihabara - a large electronics district. I was pretty tired, so after a bit of walking and a crepe, I decided to head home. I managed (proud of myself!) to find my Shinkansen train and get on in time, even a few minutes early!!

Overall, it was an awesome weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I can't wait for the next one...

Monday, February 18

Roppongi & Tokyo Tower

Once we got back to Hinode on the SeaBus, we subway'd ourselves to Roppongi - a 'nightlife' and shopping area. We were exhausted and starving, so we had a wonderful supper, then took off for the Tokyo Tower. It was dark and chilly but we decided to walk. It took about 20 minutes to get there. We bought our tickets, got a picture with the pink & blue 'Tokyo Tower', and went up to the top! The view was amazing, with all the lights and towers. We walked the entire top to get the panoramic view. The lights went on and on forever, into the distance.

After crusin' the souvenir shop (but deciding nothing was worth buying), making fun of the pink Towers (why pink!? It looks like a stick of bubblegum or a crayon!), we were craving some crepes. We found the crepe shop and indulged in some amazing crepes. Times like this make me wish I had my kitchen so I could make a crepe-meal! Rosa went to hang out with a friend, and Keith and I decided to call it a night. We were exhausted and our feet hurt, and we wanted to be well-rested for the next day of sightseeing!

We split up at the subway station and I got myself back to Oshiage Station, then started walking to Kenga's apartment. I'm generally pretty good with directions and remember details. I don't know if I was tired or just wasn't paying attention the night before, but I couldn't find the door into the apartment! I knew I was in the right area, and I knew it had to be one of a few streets, but I was also completely lost. After berating myself for not paying more attention the night before, wandering around the same couple blocks several times, and considering hanging out in the train station until morning, I finally found it. I went inside and crashed instantly - sleep is good, my friends...sleep is good.

Beautiful Odaiba

I half-awoke to the sound of someone rustling around and moving in and out of and around the room - Kenga had to work on Saturday, so Rosa and I were left to sleep in - which was wonderful. We had to hang around his place for a while anyways - someone was coming to check the gas lines and we were letting him in. We chose not to set an alarm, because we figured that we would be up bright and early - since we are both used to waking up for work. The next time I awoke, however, it was to a 'ding ding'! Rosa and I both bolted out of bed, and I ran to the door - it was 10am!! and the gas man had arrived. Once he did his thing and we showered, etc, we took off for the train station to meet Keith at Shimbashi Station. From Shimbashi, we took the same beautiful train ride I had taken the day before, to the Odaiba area. When we got off, I spotted a fun-looking spiral thing, and had to get a picture - Keith and Rosa thought I was pretty strange, but I thought it was neat! There were also some colored archways that warranted a couple pictures!

From the archways, we wandered down to the waterfront. It was a chilly day and a bit windy, but the sky was clear and it was bright and sunny. I didn't realize how much I missed both the sunshine, the beach, and the water until I was standing on the walkway, feeling completely content and thoroughly happy! We took pictures in front of the Rainbow bridge, and walked along the wooden walkway following the shoreline. It was incredible to have the beautiful ocean on one side, and the tall architecture and buildings of Odaiba on the other. The building with the big round part is the Fuji TV's the headquarters of Fuji TV, one of Japan's largest nationwide TV stations.

Near the end of the walkway was a Statue of Liberty! I'm not a big history buff, but I did ponder, for a couple minutes, how much history there was behind the Statue, and how deep a meaning it really holds (I know, I know - sappy moment). Keith (brilliant man) carries a Canadian flag around with him - so we had to incorporate that into the photos! My first visit to a Statue of Liberty - in Tokyo!

We left the shoreline (much as I hated to leave it, I was excited to see the rest of Odaiba!), and headed back towards the shopping and tourist areas. We visited a Aquacity (a mall), then made our way to Palatte Town - Palatte town consists of several things. Our first stop (after some pictures of the Teleport bridge) was VenusPort. I knew it was a shopping mall, but I thought that was all it was - I was so wrong! VenusPort is a shopping mall fashioned after Venice - and it was gorgeous! The architecture and decorations were breathtaking.

I could have spent forever in there, wandering around. The ceiling was sky-blue, and you could almost imagine you were actually in Venice. There was a beautiful fountain with angels, lace and flowers, and incredible structures. There was also the Happy Flower Chair, with a sign that promised if you "Sit in this chair and enjoy taking pictures - you will be surrounded by happiness!". After a minute of relaxing and some photos in the Happy Chair, I did indeed feel very happy.

After I purchased an awesome hat, and Rosa bought a jacket, we found ourselves in the History Museum - of cars! There were old cars, neat cars, cars from movies. It was neat to see!
After the History Museum and a little bit more of VenusPort, we went back outside and across the veranda to MegaWeb - a Toyota showroom. We also went on the ride they had, which was a Daytona-style race with moving seats - it was pretty fun for a short (& free!) ride!

After a brief look around MegaWeb, it was getting late and we wanted to take the SeaBus back, instead of the Train. We arrived just in time and bought our tickets and got right on the boat. The sun was going down and it was a beautiful ride back to Hinode. We passed under the Rainbow Bridge and waved goodbye to Odaiba as it faded into the distance.

There are many more pictures from these adventures - you can find them at ...
Shibuya -
Odaiba -

Sunday, February 17

Friday Night Lights...

On Friday night I spent the evening at Shibuya, one of Tokyo's minor 'downtown' areas.The streets were amazing - a miniature Vegas with flashing lights, large lit up signs, and infinite shops and stores!

When Keith was done work, I met him and Thomas at Shibuya station. I got a picture at Shibuya's famous intersection (a scene from Lost In Translation was filmed here), and we explored the area. We found an 'Outback Steakhouse', and Keith was craving steak, so after some exploring we decided to have dinner there.

I have to admit - I was skeptical. Everything in Japan is so small, especially food portions! I figured that any dish we ordered would be miniature as well! Fortunately, I was wrong! Kenga & Rosabel, two other coop students were going to meet us for dinner, so once we got our seat we ordered a Typhoon Bloom - an onion ring appetizer. It was nice to hang out with some other students from Canada and have some English conversation. We also got to compare notes on what's different here and getting used to the different lifestyle and culture. Our Typhoon Bloom was delicious! It was not Japan-sized, and it was delicious - just like back home! I was starving and throughly enjoyed both it's size and how good it was! Once Kenga and Rosa arrived, we ordered our meals. I got a pasta dish, and again was pleasantly surprised to see it wasn't Japan-sized!

After some awesome food and good conversation, we went our seperate ways for the evening. Unfortunately, Kenga and Rosa and I missed the last train to his place (where Rosa and I were staying for the weekend). We got on the subway and thought we could get close enough, then found out we had gotten on the wrong one! We got as close as we could and planned to take a taxi the rest of the way. There was a long lineup at the taxi stand, so I suggested we start walking and at least be on our way. We walked for fifteen minutes or so then jumped in a taxi. It was still quite a long drive, so Rosa and I were glad we hadn't decided to walk the whole way!

Kenga has a small Japanese-style apartment. It has two rooms with a sliding divider between them and a tatami mat floor in his bedroom. There's a small toilet stall and a 'dungeon with a hose' (the shower). Once Rosa and I made up some beds, we crashed - it was late!

The next day was awesome - my favorite day of the weekend! But I'm tired and still have stuff to do tonight, so I'll write about it tomorrow evening! I'll post pictures with these, too, once I get them uploaded and emailed from Keith!

Infinite Innovative Inventions, anyone!?

Friday morning I woke up much too early to be leaving my dorm at 6am. I train'd my way to Shin-Osaka and got onto my Shinkansen train (bullet train). It was a beautiful sunny morning, but still fairly chilly out - I was thrilled to see the sunshine, though - it's been a little dreary around here lately! I slept most of the way to Tokyo, waking up once or twice. I woke up the final time to "This train is out of service", and sat up shocked - my boss was sitting beside me looking at me strangely - I think he was trying to decide how to wake me up! We got off the train and found our way to some more trains - to Tokyo Big Sight! The train ride to the Big Sight was through the Odaiba area, and it was beautiful! It was right on the bay and there were docks and ships everywhere! It was a sunny and clear day, and I couldn't keep a smile off my face, or a little bounce away...

The Tokyo Big Sight was amazing, as well! The first thing that caught my eye was the large saw sticking into the ground, outside. I'm not sure what it was, but it was neat! There were several conferences going on at the same time - HVAC, R, Nanotech, and another one. We spent the day walking around the trade show - it was incredible! My boss spoke to the exhibitors and asked questions - I read what I could, asked a few questions, and studied each display. Most of what we looked at were chemical heat pumps - one of our major current projects. My boss was hiding his name tag for several of the exhibits...some of our competitors were there, and most of the researchers in the business know his name, and he didn't want it to affect their answers to his questions! :) Below was one one of the fun things I saw - silly, but fun! Each little disk pops from one side of the wire to the other. One of the end pads is heated, and each disk is made up of two kinds of metal with different heat expansion coefficients. When it heats up, it pops to the other side, and once it's cooled down, it pops back!

By the end of the day, my feet were sore and I was exhausted, but it was fantastic to attend the trade show and see all the technology. Once it was over, we took another beautiful train ride through Odaiba, and my boss took the Shinkansen back to Osaka. I hung out at Shimbashi station, waiting for Keith (another coop student) to finish work. And Tokyo exploring began...

Thursday, February 14

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day!

Valentines Day in Japan is pretty different from Valentines Day in Canada. There are two types of chocolate that can be given - 'Giri Choko' or 'Honmei Choko'. Giri Choko is an oligatory gift to male supervisors/coworkers. Honmei Choko is a gift to a loved one. Valentine's Day is generally women giving chocolate to men, as well. In March, there is 'White Day', when men give chocolate to women. When in Japan, do as the Japanese do! I purchased Giri Choko for my boss and two male coworkers that I ride the train with in the morning. I made sure to say 'Giri Choko desu', so they didn't think I was trying to startup a relationship...that could definitely make things awkward! They seemed surprised but happy to get boss seemed especially surprised, though (he made the surprised noise)- which made me wonder if I had actually followed the Japanese Valentines Day tradition, or just bought my boss a random present!

There are a couple things that I've noticed Japanese people say very often.

'Ahh - so desu ka...' = Oh...Really...I see...

'So desu ne!' = Yes, that is true... or Yes, isn't it.

'So ka!?' = Really!?

'' = It's more of a noise than word. I'm not really sure what this means...I think it's just a sign that they are listening to whoever's talking.

'eughh!!!???' = This is by far the funniest noise...I had to get used to it and not laugh when I heard it. It seems to be a noise of great surprise and is generally accompanied by leaning back and opening their eyes wide.

'sllll' = I have no idea how to write this. It's more of a slurpring noise accompanied by squinting eyes and a grimace smile - it seems to be when they aren't sure of something or have to think for a minute about the answer.

Some of these are very funny to listen to as part of a conversation, and I'm trying to integrate them into mine to sound more-Japanese-ish (minus the slurping), but I'm sure I just sound ridiculous!

Tomorrow I'm off to the big city - Tokyo! I have to get up early and catch the train then the Shinkansen (bullet train). I will be attending an HVAC&R (Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration) trade show. I'm very excited to go - both to Tokyo and the trade show! I'll let you in on my adventures next time!!

Monday, February 11

Quiet Day

Today was a quiet day...
I slept in a bit and Skype'd my family, which was awesome! My Mom sent me a card a week or so ago, and when I checked my mail, it was there too! :) It was nice to have some connection with home, but I definitely felt the homesickness!

I knew I couldn't spend the whole day in my dorm room, even though I didn't feel like going out. At some urging, I went for a walk. There's some pictures below of some different things I saw. It was nice to get outside, and it was even sunny today! I also managed to convince myself to go to the gym, just for a short cardio trip - but when I got there, I ended up doing my whole weight routine and some cardio - I was pretty proud of myself and felt really good afterwards. I relaxed for a bit in the hottub in the women's changeroom (I'm getting used to not wearing anything around other women), and headed home, feeling like a million bucks! Supper was yummy, and here I am!

Left - My Japanese Sensei, Ago-San
Below - A shrine in front of a house that I saw on my walk. It had incense on it, too.

Above - a Japanese truck! Put that next to a Ford 350 or a Toyota Tundra...

Above - Vending machines that are everywhere! Some of them have more vending machines in a small covered area behind them (like this one). I ventured inside, today - but only for a second! They were porn vending machines! Shocked, I quickly left and contemplated how quickly that would be removed in Canada, but I see them everywhere, here!

Right - There are many of these fields/gardens beside houses that I saw on my walk.
Below Right - A 'cool' car that I saw - this picture's for you, Mark! :)

Mt. Takamiyama

Yesterday I hiked Mt. Takamiyama in Nara. It was wonderful to get outside again, in the trees and the fresh air, and the snow! - And to get some exercise. I went in a group of nine. There were six men I work with, one man's wife, one man's daughter, and myself. I bought eisen (ice spikes) for my hiking shoes as instructed, and bought some gloves while I was at it (I've never really had a good pair of gloves). We all met at Haibara Station (35 minutes by train from my station). Hanaka (sp?), Yamaguchi-San's daughter was adorable. She had practiced the night before how to say, "My name is Hanaka" in English. At first she was a bit shy, but she quickly warmed up to me. From Haibara station, we took a bus for 40 minutes to the mountain. It was quite busy - apparently it's a popular destination.

It took us about 3 hours to get to the top, with a stop for lunch partway. The scenery was beautiful - despite the fog. At the top was a shrine. The lady who came with us clapped and bowed to it - I believe it was a tribute to ancestors. Just past the top were the ice trees. The pictures below are not sideways and it was not incredibly windy. The ice forms on the trees this way - it has something to do with how the branches vibrate. It was incredible and so beautiful!

The trip down took about 2 1/2 hours. One of the men who came (Hisuzumi-San) had a problem with his leg and had to take it slow. There was a 700 year old tree on the way - it was pretty neat. I wanted to get a tree-hugging picture, but there was a fence around it. :)

When we got down the mountain, we caught the last bus back to Haibara and taxied to an onsen. It was my first visit to a Japanese onsen! I was charged with care of Hanaka (she's only 8). The mens and women's onsens were seperate. We bought tickets from the machine and traded them in for a locker key. I was greatly relieved that the onsen was gender segregated. You are expected to enjoy an onsen minus clothing or a bathing suit - and I believe some onsens are not gender segregated. Being from conservative BC, I am not completely comfortable taking my clothes off in front of a bunch of old ladies, let alone men that I work with!!

Before you enter the onsen you are required to shower and use the provided soap and shampoo, and rinse all the suds away. Hanaka and I enjoyed the warm water of the onsen (which is like a large hottub), then blowdried out hair and met the men outside. Then we went for dinner upstairs. It was a great dinner - instead of everyone ordering a meal, often they just order a bunch of appetizer-type things and everyone shares. At the end of the meal, I asked how much it was and they wouldn't let me pay! I asked if they were sure and they told me I was a guest. I was very grateful and also relieved - I haven't received a paycheque yet, and my funds are running low - I think it was a pretty expensive dinner, too!

It was an awesome day - the scenery, the company, and the exercise. Yamaguchi-San said we would go hiking a time or two again, before I leave in August - and I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, February 8

Victory, but not without cost.

Today, I conquered the gym.

It was a long, fierce, and bloody battle with but one casualty - my Pride. With the loss of this great leader, the troops faltered and almost failed; but in memory of their fallen leader rallied together to finish the battle victoriously.

I managed to get changed and shower off without causing any chaos. I made my way down to the pool area, walked through the random shower mini-hallway, and made a beeline for the hottub to sit for a minute and take stock of the pool area. Then I picked a lane (signs with pictures are helpful) and started swimming. After two laps, a very nice staff member came over and said, 'Excuse me...', so I sat on the edge of the pool. He told me in mostly English and with the help of a picture, that my two piece bathing suit was not allowed, and I needed to have a one piece bathing suit. He said it was okay for this time, but next time I needed to get a one piece. I almost got out and went home right there, but I figured - everyone in the pool area already knows I don't know what I'm doing, so why give up now? I did my swimming (which was wonderful!!) and then booked it back to the changeroom. There are hottubs in the main pool area, the women's changeroom, and the men's changeroom. I found out last time that I need a towel in the steam room (which I didn't have with me), so I thought I'd try the hottub.
Important Note: Almost every woman in the changeroom and shower/hottub/steam room area was naked, or had a mini-towel covering select things. Since I grew up in Conservative BC, I'm would prefer to have my bathing suit on...
I slipped into the hottub, sat for a while, took a quick shower, and got changed again. When I got back down to the front desk, I decided I should check - so using pictures from brochures and my bits of Japanese, I asked about bathing suits and the hottub - guesssss what!? Not allowed. I gave a big sigh of understanding and thanked the girl and headed home.

I think the problem is that people look at me funny - and I'm not sure if it's because I'm the only Caucasian in the facility, or if it's because I'm doing something wrong! However, I am now confident that with the purchase of another bathing suit and a little bit more comfort with my not-clothed body, I can make my next trip to the pool a mistake free one! I'll tackle a mistake-free gym visit another day...

Thursday, February 7

Connection Is A Wonderful Thing

Today was subarashii (superb)! I stopped in the morning to pick up my Alien Registration card, then met my boss at Osaka Station. We got me a phone which took a while, but we got 'er done! I have a fancy new phone (photos below...) I can even watch TV on it! I did some more 'food' experiments, then sat through a meeting about the chemical heat pump. It was both a little bit boring and a little bit frustrating - the first part was in English (for my benefit), but the discussion was all in Japanese. I can generally tell the topic of conversation, but not what they're saying about it. After work, I headed home to see...and...

YES!!! I have internet! I was so happy - I couldn't believe it finally happened. Now I'm busy catching up on the news, emailing and Facebooking people, doing some research! It's great to be connected to the world again - both through the internet and the phone.

I was asked today what the most difficult thing to deal with has been. There are two - one has been lonliness, and the other has been how difficult it is to communicate! It's great to be able to use the internet and phone to facilitate that communication again!

Wednesday, February 6

Tomorrow's D-Day...connection!

Today passed quickly and with little excitement (nothing compared to yesterday’s pandemonium), but it was an interesting and positive day all the same. I spent the entire day cooking (what a job!) different kinds of meats in the grill and recording the conditions and temperatures as they changed. I even ended up working a little bit late to finish my experiments. I ran to my Japanese lesson, which ended up going late, but was great! We went over counting again (I only made one mistake – yay!) and started learning particles….particles are confusing. The same particle has many uses and applications. Ago-San offered to do another lesson tomorrow, so we could finish up the particles – we only got halfway through. I jumped at the chance, and we will meet again tomorrow after work. I left super motivated to study Japanese, and that’s what I’ve spent my evening doing!
At the Bible Study I went to last week, we talked briefly about how many people we see in a day but don’t really notice – I was reminded and surprised at how true it was on my way home from work. A lovely lady stopped me in the train and asked, if I didn’t mind, if she could introduce herself. She works in the same building as me, and said she sees me often at lunch or around work. She had heard that the woman who held my position before me frequently had trouble reading and understanding the Japanese workplace. She offered to help me anytime I need it or to answer any questions. Typically, Japanese English isn’t English, it’s Japanese English – just like my Japanese won’t be Japanese, it will be English Japanese…but her English was perfect. You would never know it was her second language, and she has never studied outside of Japan! She was very kind and we chatted a bit about being new to Japan and work, etc. I realized that I’ve probably seen her dozens of times, but her face didn’t look at all familiar – a testament to how many people we do ‘see’ in a day but don’t actually see. I am looking forward to seeing her again at work – she’s one of those people who makes you instantly feel warm and comfortable.
Tomorrow is a big day – I am supposed to get internet, my alien registration card, and a mobile phone! I hope nothing goes awry and all my plans come to be…if so, expect me to be online tomorrow night! (Which is actually your super-early morning, so you probably won’t be…) It will be amazing to have internet and access to the world, again!

Tuesday, February 5


Today, I spent most of my workday cooking. The remainder was spent putting out fires and giving speeches…ha – caught your attention, didn’t I! No – I’m not as flashy and important as that sounds, but today was – as usual, an adventure!
In working with a grill, I also get to work with food – and cook it to get data and information that we require. My boss asked me to write up a procedure, so I set it up like a lab that we have to do in class… (see, I did learn something in school!) I set up a procedure and a list of required materials, and made a data sheet to fill out for each one – to keep it organized. Then we cooked for the morning, right up until lunch. There’s a picture of me below (from the other day) setting up the data acquisition system we use.
After lunch, there was a meeting of all the researchers at our facility (~50 people). It caught me off-guard when my boss asked if I was ready to go, because I thought it was tomorrow! I had to introduce myself in front of everyone in Japanese. I had to stand up at a podium on a small stage, in front of everyone! I have to admit: I was scared out of my mind. It reminded me of Grade 9 French class when we had to give presentations and didn’t quite understand what we were saying or how to pronounce it – this case was worse, though, because everyone spoke fluently the language I was attempting not to butcher! It went well, though, I think. After that we headed back to keep cooking up a storm. Having trouble keeping the thermocouples where they were supposed to be, I suggested we use a small block of wood to hold them in place (drill holes, put them through, etc). It sounded like a good idea, so we made one up, and it worked wonderfully! We started up the grill and sat back to watch the temperatures rise slowly on the computer screen in front of us. This was the third experiment of the day, and the first two had given varied results, but nothing solid like we were hoping for. This third one was working perfectly and seemed to be in synch with what we were expecting. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of light, and the grill chamber seemed to have new life, in the form of flames! I said, “Uh – it’s on fire!” and my boss said, “Should I turn it off?” I tried not to laugh, because it seemed to me that the first thing to do would be to shut off the heat source… We tried to blow it out, but it was still producing pretty red and orange flickers. I’m sure my boss thought I was an idiot, because I was laughing pretty hard. Nothing was really in danger, except our food, and I thought it was kind of a funny situation. I suggested water, but he said that would be a last resort. We kept blowing but nothing was happening…there was a minute or so of sitting and watching it and looking around the room for something that might help put it out. I was still laughing, but trying to make sure my boss knew I understood that this was not a good thing. I blew again, and it finally went out. The food was fine – cooked to perfection, I thought! The block of wood didn’t fare so well and was more of a crumbly charcoal chunk. I was shocked that it had lit on fire – I would have thought the food would light on fire before the wood! We did get enough data to make it useful, however. Takemori-San said he would look into getting a chunk of aluminum to re-create the block with. We cleaned up and had some experimentally cooked tempura, then called it a day.
Another day, another adventure…tomorrow will also be an adventure (I’m sure) as I attempt the mysterious gym & pool again – wish me luck!


I'm getting sick (yuck). There's a couple funny (funny as in different from Canada) things in Japan about being sick! One is the masks - when someone has a cold or is coughing, etc, they wear a mask, similar to a dentist's. Everywhere you go (trains, supermarkets, shopping malls) there are people wearing these white masks. My boss was wearing one when he picked me up at the airport, and I couldn't figure it out! I wondered if it was because I smelled funny (11 hours on a plane might do that to you), or if he was sick, or if it was to shield him from pollution! I finally asked Satomi a couple days later and she told me. The second funny thing is the washclothes. It really makes more sense than Canada's methods, I think. If someone is sneezing a lot or has a runny nose, they carry a washcloth with them and sneeze into it or wipe their nose with it. In Canada, I suppose we do this but with Kleenex - a washcloth seems like a more comfortable and efficient solution. I'm getting sick (not sick enough to warrant a mask or a washcloth), but I don't think I'd participate if I do get that sick. I was also told that highschool-age kids are starting to rebel against traditions and not wear maybe I'll go with the rebellious group! :)

Monday, February 4

A Magnificent & Disasterous Day

Today was both great and bad!

Work was awesome... my project is starting to get off the ground, and hopefully tomorrow I will get to cook some meat (mmm yummy) as part of it. On Friday, a coworker set up some programs and systems on my computer to read the data from thermocouples...but we didn't have all the equipment, and my computer is in my office. Today, my boss and I went to set it up on the computer in the project room, with more of the equipment. Unfortunately, it wouldn't connect. I couldn't figure out why! The programs use VBA, C, Dos, IP Addresses, Commports...none of which I really have experience with, except watching my coworker use it for a half an hour, the other day! I tried several things, repeated what he had done, and it still wouldn't work. To make things worse, the computers are all in Japanese (mine included), so error messages, etc are useless to me! My boss didn't really know what was going on with it either - he's never used this stuff before. I was frustrated and ready to quit, but I wasn't about to tell him that it wasn't working and I had no idea how to fix it, so I kept fiddling. Finally, I figured it out! I was thrilled and very proud of myself, especially since I understood what the problem had been and how I fixed it! We also had some trouble getting the rest of the system to work, but I troubleshot for a while and managed to figure that out, too. All in all, it was quite a rewarding day!

After work, I headed to the gym for the first time. This, unfortunately, turned out to be a disaster. A gym is a gym and a pool is a pool - Japan or Canada. However - there are small things and rules that are different, which are probably posted on signs and posters...which I can't I don't know... yeah. There was one neat thing - they did a complete body analysis of me on this machine, and I get it done again in 3 months, to tell how my body has changed. Other than that - the gym was very busy, and I was trying not to look like an idiot, so I wandered a bit and did some of my routine. Then I thought I'd go swimming...I think I also broke some rules there (no one was rude about it, they just looked at me strange and one lady told me I had to have a towel in the steam room, which I'm sure was posted on a sign somewhere...). In fear of making more mistakes, hungry, and feeling rather frustrated, I gave up and went home (without swimming). I was mad at myself for giving up, but also feeling pretty self-conscious about not understanding what was going on. However - on Wednesday, I'm going back again! I will swim, this time.

T minus two days until internet...yay! I'm pretty excited about that.

PS - Sorry there's no pictures from the last couple posts...the server says it's busy when I try to upload them, but I'll keep trying!!

Sunday, February 3

February 3rd

Today was a bit of a personal rollercoaster – I’m not sure why today was different, as opposed to any other day. I got up early (for a Sunday!) and went to Osaka International Church (OIC). I went to a Bible Study and then the Church service. The Bible Study was lead by a lady named Georgia and there were five other women. Georgia and her friend Beth (50’s ish) have been teaching at girl’s school’s in Japan for over 30 years! They were both American. There was another lady named Rosemary who was also American, and two Japanese women. There was also a girl named Shauna who I think was a bit younger than me. She’s Japanese American. The study was in English, but I think they all knew fluent Japanese except me. The church service was in English with Japanese translation available on a headset. Everyone was very friendly and I sat with Shauna – she introduced me to several people. A guy named Billy introduced himself to me – he was very funny and very chatty! He reminded me of the lady on The Incredibles – the one who makes the costumes for the Incredible Family. As a matter of fact, he was almost exactly like her – I think it’s possible that her character was modeled from him. He was a little short, had glasses just like her, and sounded exactly like her! He talked a lot and fast, and was a little bit difficult to understand, but mostly I was able to catch what he was saying. When I say he sounded exactly like her, though, I’m not exaggerating at all. Watch the movie. I also met a couple guys who have been in Japan for several years but are Filipino. Them, me, and Billy had a long and varied conversation about engineering and related things. People typically ask ‘What are you doing in Japan – teaching?’ because most North Americans come over and teach English. When I tell them that I am an intern, they seem surprised and impressed. When they ask if it’s in teaching or nursing or something, and I tell them I’m a Mechanical Engineering student, they almost always widen their eyes and take a little jump or step back, and make some comment about how I must be a smart woman. Then they proceed to ask about the lack of women in Engineering. It’s kind of funny – I know I’m in a respected field and am a minority in the field at that, but I always have to laugh at people’s reactions. Being in Church, hearing familiar songs, and feeling the warmth and camaraderie around me made me really homesick, though. To be honest, I’m not really a ‘cry-y’ person. I don’t really cry much. But since I’ve got to Japan, there’s definitely been more of that. I was close to tears several times today and was feeling extra homesick and lonely. After Church I hung around for some snacks and conversation, then took off to run some errands. I got to call home again, which was nice, then I went to get a gym pass at Cospa. That, it turns out, was quite the ordeal! Fortunately for me, most Japanese phones have Japanese-English dictionaries in them. The poor guy at Cospa (who was very patient, friendly, and helpful) spent two hours going through the application, rules, etc with me. He used his phone a lot, and pictures helped a lot. He didn’t seem particularly tortured by the task of helping me – we both laughed a lot throughout it – but I still felt sorry for him. Turns out that because I work for Osaka Gas (major company in Japan and the Osaka area), I actually get a better membership for cheaper! I was planning on getting a Monday-Friday evenings membership for 7350 Yen/month, but I actually get an any-day-any-time-any-class membership worth 9450 for 6300! I was pretty happy with that. I can’t wait to start getting regular exercise again. If I can figure out how to translate the class schedule, I may join some kind of class, too, it looks like they have quite the variety. After subjecting that poor guy to two hours of trying to speak English, I went to get some dinner. All in all, my day was successful – I went to Church, met some new people, and got a gym pass. I’m feeling a bit better as I write this, but am still quite homesick and kind of lonely. Lonely is a new thing for me – I am usually quite busy and generally in the company of at least one person, if not with a group of friends. I get internet on Friday and can’t wait! It will be great to be able to connect with everyone at home easier. I know this is a long post, but just quickly! I’d like to thank everyone again for reading my blog and sending the emails and notes of encouragement that you do. I rely on it a lot, and thoroughly enjoy and appreciate each one!

Saturday, February 2

February 2nd

I am currently enjoying something that must have been made by angels – it’s an amazing chocolate ice cream popsicle…no, it’s not really ‘Japanese’, but it’s so good!
Today was circus day! Takemori-San mentioned (on Thursday), at lunch to Moriya-San (the girl in the trio I usually eat lunch with) that I was going to the circus and asked if she wanted to go. She did, so I let her know what station to meet me at, etc. She’s kind of shy and speaks minimal English, so I was a bit worried about how we’d do spending time together. One of the coops came, too – Kelvin. He was a bit late, so Moriya and I hung out and talked a bit. Between my Japanese and her English, we made it work. Kelvin speaks decent Japanese, so he kind of translated for the rest of the day. The circus was so much fun! It wasn’t too big and extravagant of an affair, but I thought it was fascinating and a lot of fun. It was an acrobatic circus – there’s some pictures below. There were people balancing all over a bike, twirling plates, trapeze artists, balancing acts! There was a girl who flipped a bunch of dishes up onto her head – that was pretty cool. There was also an ultra-efficient use of a bike…there were so many people on it! There was a funny clown, who was very good. There were some crazy guys in hamster wheels. It was a small circus tent, but the lights and colors definitely added atmosphere. The costumes were beautiful – my favorite was one that the girls wore, with long veils off the back of their heads. They were flowy and gorgeous. Most of the participants were pretty young – some of the girls who did amazing things on the trapeze were only 13! I had some popcorn and tried a Japanese thing – a ball of mushed rice rolled in brown-sugar-like stuff. It was pretty good. After the circus, we went to Namba – a major shopping destination in Osaka. There’s infinite stores and places to eat. Each street and branch is like a smaller version of the pictures you see of Las Vegas. There’s signs and flashing lights everywhere…people stand outside the stores and yell and talk to you and try to get you to come in. They’re not market-like stores, though…they’re mostly miniature mall-like shops – except very thin (like 10 or 15 feet wide). I should have taken a picture – I will next time. There’s a picture below of me in front of one of the famous places, halfway across a bridge in the area. We walked around, Kelvin got a haircut (which was decidedly Asian, but he’s Asian, so it fit – it looked good. I pictured it on Mark or Matt or someone and had to laugh.  )

Then I had an exquisite Osaka dining experience. We went to one of the many restaurants for Okonomiyaki. Osaka is famous for it’s Okonomiyaki. It’s kind of like an omelette except with noodles and cabbage and meat or seafood and other assorted vegetables. It was delicious. Osaka is also famous for another food that I will have to try – I forget what it’s called. After dinner, Kelvin went to Den Den Town, which is a very well-known electronics place – it’s several floors. I’d like to go, but I was getting tired and still had to pick up groceries. I had another wonderful grocery shopping experience – I tried a new store and loved it! There was way more selection than anywhere else I’ve been! I came home, had that wonderful ice cream bar, and here I am! That’s it for tonight…more tomorrow!!