Wednesday, April 30

Creeper Alert

I got off work early and was excited to have some extra time to swim at the gym, without being home too late. I was standing in the bright sunshine and the warm breeze, waiting for the shuttle bus. A little white hatchbacked car pulled over to the curb, just in front of me. After the traffic passed by, a man got out, came around the back of the car, and approached me. He was probably in his early 30's, and was wearing glasses and a button-up collared burgendy shirt. At first, I thought he was going to tell me that the buses weren't running on the regular schedule - because it's Golden Week. But our conversation went something like this:

Him: Nihongo hanashimasu? (Do you speak Japanese?)
Me: Chotto (A little bit)
Him: Doko made ikimasu ka? (Where are you heading?)
Me: Ajikawaguchi (A train station)

He motioned towards the car, and said, "Drive? I drive you?"
My parents always told me never to accept a ride with a stranger, and I figured now was a good time to recall that advice; so I politely told him "Daijobi desu ka...basu kimasu." (It's okay, a bus is coming.)

Him: Doko...go? Live?
Me: Yao sundemasu. ('I live in Yao.' Which I don't, really.)
Him: No, no, I drive.
Me: Daijobi desu...arigato gozaimashita! (It's okay...thank you!)

All well and good, until now.

Him: Ahh. Boyfriend? Have?
Me: boyfriend.
Him: Me, I be your boyfriend.
Me: (awkward laugh) No, no..daijobi desu ka. I don't want a boyfriend.
Him: Yes, yes, I be boyfriend.
Me: No, no...really. Daijobi desu. Don't want boyfriend.
Him: Where from?
Me: Canada kara desu.
Him: Oohh. long, Japan?
Me: Hachi-gatsu made...ichi-gatsu made hachi-gatsu (Until August - January to August)
Him: I drive...I take you...(motioning towards car)

At this point, I was thinking/feeling a couple things.
1) What is wrong with you - what makes you think I would actually accept your offer to be my boyfriend?
2) When is someone else going to come outside...I'm not scared of him, and we're right beside a busy road, but I would be more comfortable if someone else was here.
3) Go away.

Me: No, no, thank you.

He finally headed back towards his car, with some more motioning to indicate he was still willing to drive me - but I just waved...and he drove off.

It creeped me out, to say the least...and made me uncomfortable. If he hadn't left, I would have excused myself and headed back into the lockable office building. Fortunately, he finally took a hint.


In other news...
I went for a walk today, at lunch. It was warm and sunny, and the fish were jumping again. My Mom is coming on Friday. I visited a beautiful castle yesterday. (I'll blog about it soon, I promise.) I felt light, like I could fly; or at least come flying out of the water for a moment like the silver fish. It was one of those moments where you know that everything will work out, despite how low you feel in dark moments. I walk along a beautiful rock wall, beside a wide river feeding into the ocean, with a bridge across the horizon. It always makes me feel better to walk along the wall, beside the water...I've found a happy place at work.

Monday, April 28

Awajishima (Awaji Island)

I didn't want to go, and I wasn't going to go. But what else was I going to do? Have a quiet weekend to myself? Like I don't get enough of those!

Saturday, 6:30am - Bright and early (too early) morning....

I met up with Satomi & Mai in the hallway, and once we woke up Myu (who slept in), we left the dormitory. I am a planning person. When I go on a trip, I have maps and itineraries and directions... but this trip was a complete unknown to me. I didn't know where we were going, who we were meeting, when or where we were meeting them, what we would eat - nothing! Not knowing any of this, I didn't have to worry about being late or getting lost or getting hungry or forgetting something; I just followed Satomi & Mai.

We met up with four other people at Osaka Station - and Myu came a bit later. From Osaka Station, we started driving (in 2 vehicles). I didn't realize until we started going that I haven't been in a vehicle for 4 months! We drove for quite a while, amidst random kind-of-awkward conversations. They were very friendly towards me and eager to ask questions, and spoke pretty good English if they realized I didn't understand what they were saying in Japanese (although, I have to say - my comprehension is improving!).

We drove through Kobe and Himeji, and then crossed Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge - the world's longest suspension bridge at 1991 meters. Looking out the window, all I could see for miles and miles was the ocean - it was beautiful! I love the city, but being outdoors and near the water, especially the infinite ocean was incredible!

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge

We stopped for lunch once we got on Awajishima - it was delicious, but disconcerting. We had the season special - a certain kind of fish. It all looked great and delicious...but when I picked up my chopsticks to try some of the fish, I realized it was still a whole fish - face, lips, gills, eyeballs and all! That threw me off a bit... but the fish was delicious. Until the part where I was searching for some more fish meat off the bones and found the trying to move it to the side, I punctured it and it squirted fish-eyeball-juice all over the rest of the fish! I am not a squeamish food person. And I will generally try anything once. But just recalling the juice squirting from the eyeball, and into my food makes my stomach turn over! After I made a face and tried to remove the eyeball, Daigon picked it up, asked if I wanted it (, and ATE IT! Ew. Ew, ew, ew! That is the first food thing here that has actually made my stomach feel wierd.

Lunch - notice the big lips and eyeball. Yummy...?

After lunch, we headed to our campsite - Mongolian hut style! We hauled everything in, and after a brief trip to the onsen (hot spring) for a shower, we cooked up a wonderful barbeque.

It was delicious! Canadian barbeques generally consist of hamburgers, hotdogs, chips, and potato salad. Japanese barbeques consist of raw chicken, beef, and other random animal parts, along with potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, cabbage...all bbq'd over the flame. And then yakisoba to finish it all off! So yummy!

Japanese barbeque...

Marshmellows for dessert and then...another adventure! Octopus. Stretched over a wooden frame and dried...warm it up over the fire, and have a leg! Strange...but yummy.

Octopus, anyone?

We hung out in our hut for a while, laughing and talking and playing random drinking games (like Ping-Pong-Pang); we were all exhausted, though and eventually went to bed. a Mongolian Hut!

Quiet weekend to myself? Who needs it!

More Pictures...

Friday, April 25

Life Plans, or Lack Thereof

Today was a great encouragement to me...

Note: As I wrote this post, more and more thoughts came to my head, so I apologize if it's jumbled and hard to follow. And I think it ended up more personal than I intended.


A little background...
I used to have a plan - a life plan. I knew when I would graduate, where I would probably live, what kind of job I would have, who I was going to marry and when, how many kids I would have, and the shape my life would take for...well, the rest of it. For various reasons, the plan changed. The plan changed to 'no plan'.

Engineering, and specifically Mechanical Engineering, is a very diverse field. There are infinite opportunities for the up-and-coming Engineer, in all capacities, industries, and places. My parents have always told me that I can go wherever and do whatever I want - and I appreciate that, and I believe it (most of the time). But that presents a problem. Assuming I can shoot for the stars and any opportunity I want, I have to pick which star to shoot at.

I've recently discovered that I am interested in a lot more things than I thought - outside of Engineering. At first, I considered switching career paths (after my degree) to something completely different. But I've realized I do like Engineering, and the other things I am interested in can be integrated into my Engineering career (Engineering being so diverse and all). But the problem remains - what will I do, in 2 years, when I graduate, and have the whole world ahead of me.

The No-Plan Plan allows freedom - complete freedom. Freedom to do what I want, when I want, how I want - I get to choose, and I get to screw up, and I get to learn from it. I'm in charge of my life. What I do affects me - when I screw up, it affects me.
(Note - I know it affects the people around me, and my family, too; but for the most part, the major decisions I make in the No-Plan Plan only have a major influence on me.)

But - What if I choose the wrong opportunity? What if I miss out on the best opportunity? What if I turn down a job offer that I should have taken? What if I don't apply for a job that I should have? What if I accept a job I shouldn't have?

So - I've been putting pressure on myself to decide what I want to do with my life; what I want to be when I grow up. And I want to have a plan - so I don't miss out on getting to where I'm going.


Today I had a great conversation that provided great personal encouragement to me - in that I don't have to have my career picked out now.

I got a chance to talk to Avrom Salsberg; BC's Trade Representative to Japan. (He and the Osaka Gas Tokyo Office General Manager came for a tour of our lab and to see the projects we're working on). I was fortunate enough to have a couple minutes to ask him some questions, and I asked him about his career, and how he got to where he is now - was it what he planned on, or did it just evolve into what it is? He told me that he didn't plan on it, at all - it just kind of happened. One job led to the next, and that to the next - all opportunities. He kept doors open, and this is where he ended up. He took a degree and ended up doing something else completely different - but he mentioned that he still appreciates the fact that he has the degree, because it provides a background and some knowledge for understanding certain aspects of other things.

I guess I found the conversation encouraging because it assured me that I don't have to have my career picked out now. And if I pick a job after I graduate, and then move on from that to something else - that's okay. Who knows where I'll end up? And that's okay too. And if that place happens to be outside of Engineering, that's also okay.

I also found our conversation encouraging because it made me feel capable and intelligent again. My projects can be frustrating because I find them difficult to understand, sometimes, and while my supervisors are very good and patient at explaining things to me, the language barrier still makes it difficult to understand. Coupled with a lack of conversation in general, I haven't felt all that smart or capable lately. In my conversation with Mr. Salsberg (short as it was), I was able to discuss ideas, express opinions, and exchange thoughts. I feel reassured that I am a capable person, with some form of intelligence, who has something to offer to the world in general. It reassured me that I am still capable of communicating properly. I know what you're thinking - all that, out of a short and not so deep conversation? Yep. :)


Anyone who knows me knows that I need a plan. I am a planning person. I plan. It's what I do. To be honest, not having a plan scares me. It scares me because I don't know what will happen, and I don't know what I might be missing out on, because I'm not ready for it.

But do you ever just feel like you need to flounder a bit? To figure out where you are, before you can tell anyone else how to find you - how to get there? To learn how to tread water, before you decide which way to move? (Even if you know which way you want to go). I guess that's how I'm feeling.


I'm not sure what this post turned into, but it is what it is. And it's late (or early), and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow I am going on an impromptu camping trip...I was invited, but I found out about an hour ago (it's 11pm) that we're leaving tomorrow morning at 7am, and all I was told was that it's for one night and I need a blanket. Sigh. Language barriers make for adventures and surprises. Oh welll...I'm off for an adventure - tell you about it when I get back!

Wednesday, April 23

So long...farewell....*giggle*

My initial method of dealing with the unknown Japanese phrases offered to me at the end of the work day was to mumble something like this: "---esss". Japanese verbs, conjugated in the positive present (and polite) form all end in an 's' sound, and besides - that was all I could understand of what they were saying! When I passed someone in the hallway at the end of the workday, or on the way out to the shuttle bus, I received a nod and this mysterious phrase. I figured that as long as I nodded and "--esss"d back to them, I wouldn't come off as rude.

Fortunately, about the same time I switched to a more populated office, I finally learned what it was and meant. "Otsu kare sama desu" - meaning, "You have done your work well." or "Thank you for your work." Said quickly and without pronounciation, the person on the receiving end (me) hears, "sama dess". But - now I can say it myself, properly! This poses another problem, however.

The majority of the people in my office work later than me - so at the end of the day I say, "Otsu kare sama desu" as I leave my desk. They respond (politely) with a: "saammaa desss". These sounds (I can hardly call them words) come all at the same time, in low monotones. Every day - every single day - I say my politeness, and when the politeness is returned, I have to quickly turn the corner, lest I - heaven forbid - giggle. Or laugh outright. I'm not sure why it's so funny to me, but I have to stiffle the giggle that bubbles up, and quickly run away to laugh about it to myself in the hallway. It's difficult to describe properly, but I assure you - it's funny. If you're really nice to me, perhaps I'll do an impression for you.

Another interesting thing I noticed is the tone I take. I am not a quiet person, I am rarely a shy person, and I am not usually a reserved person when I speak. However - when I say "Otsu kare sama desu", I sound like a mouse.I speak softly, gently, and very quietly. I'm not sure why - it's a strange sensation to hear myself speaking like that, especially to the extent I do. Self-analysis required!

T minus 8 days until Mom comes to visit! I am so excited - for so many things! I think it will be a wonderful 5 days, but it will be really really hard to see her go. I did tell her, though, to bring two suitcases - so perhaps I can squeeze myself into one and get back to Canada! :)

I was asked to write a short article about my coop work experiences for the Coop Connections newsletter, by the end of the month. I realized today that I haven't even thought about it. Shoot.
3 posts in one day. Overkill? Maybe. But really - the other two were my last night, and this one is my 'the next day'. So there's not 3 in one day, you're just in the wrong timezone.

It's 9:40am. I started working at 9:00am. Will this day ever end!?!? Oh wait, it's only been 40 minutes.

I am frustrated, pissed off, want to go home, and want to throw or smash something. I have been working with Solidworks for 3 days. I say I have been working, because it hasn't. It has some major issues (that apparently weren't solved by purchasing a new computer for me to use), and I don't understand why. Help has been slow in coming, so I'm just dealing with it. I need one of those squeezy stress balls. Or a baseball bat. Or Friday 5:41pm. Blogging my insane frustration is slightly helping, but I know that when I stop blogging on work time, Solidworks will be right there, waiting to welcome me with a memory error and the loss of my carefully calculated changes.

Misery loves company (and believe me, I am currently miserable) - what's your 'worst-day-at-work' (or school) story? Do share...comment!

Tuesday, April 22

Kyoto Sightseeing

Sunday morning, bright and early (kind of) at 10am, we headed off to Kyoto. The 45 minute train ride went by quickly in good company, and we chatted up religion, beliefs, reading, books, etc. We had some lunch (yummy!) and then explored Eastern Kyoto. You can find all my photos here.

We visited Yasaka Shrine (the same one I went to last week, when I dressed up as a Geisha/Maiko with Satomi and Mai). We wandered through and past Yasaka, and into a beautiful Sakura (Cherry Tree) area - and it still had some beautiful blossoms! We spent a few minutes there snapping photos of all kinds before moving on.

We visited several temples and shrines with some beautiful history and architecture. I find it all fascinating - I suppose partially because it's new to me, and partially because there is so much about the history, traditions, and culture that I don't understand. The prayers to the ancestors, the washing in the fountains, the shrines, incense,'s all outside of my world.

At Ryozen Kwannon - a memorial to the soldiers who died in World War II, there is a 24m statue, and Japan's largest stone footprint of Buddha. When you pay the fee to enter the memorial area, you are given incense to place in a large pot. Ceremonies are performed four times each day in memory of the two million Japanese who died in the war. There are several shrines, including those to the gods of wind and thunder. Beside the massive statue are the footprints - that people throw coins onto for good luck. Inside the statue is another series of shrines - 12 for the signs, and some other Buddhas.

We wandered to Kiyomizu Temple, but didn't stay long - we were running out of time. The streets on the way there were filled with shops and such - infinite things to look at! We decided to leave Kiyomizu for another day (so we could properly visit and explore it), and made our way back down into Kyoto. We met up with Eric & JP for a nabe dinner, and then train'd back home. It was a great day - the weather was beautiful. Although - we got just a hint of the Japanese summer in the afternoon, and it was HOT! And from what I'm told...that's nothing. The summer should be a fun adventure. There's so much more I could write and describe, but I could probably describe forever! Check out the pictures (once again - here), and come visit me if you really want to see! Hehe.

PS - We also saw this little guy - adorable!

Mmmm Pizza!

Saturday morning, I met several coop students for another 'Going Away' party. Some students are gone, but there were a few who couldn't make it to the first dinner - and why not have another? We met at Namba for lunch at an authentic Italian restaurant - certified by an Italian organization to have authentic Italian pizza. It - was - amazing. I rarely eat cheese here (and I thought cheese was expensive in Canada! More later...), so the cheese on the pizza was like heaven - and the pizza overall was like heaven x 10. It was very well priced, too - I will definitely be going back there!

After pizza, we split up to do some errands and shopping. Keith and I went on a mission to get his phone charged, and find shoes. I discovered, once and for all, that I will not find shoes that fit me, here. The Japanese 'LL' size is the equivalent of 24.5 centimeters. My feet fit a 25.5. I did find one small rack of shoes labelled 'Model Size' that were 25, $250, and not attractive. I have officially given up on finding shoes.

We all met up again for dinner - Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba, and then went for some Perfect Parfait yummy. I headed home after that. Keith, Thomas, and I planned to go to Kyoto the next day...

Thursday, April 17

Rainy Days

While checking out The Happiness Project for my Wednesday Tips, I came across this Bembo's Zoo site.

This morning is pouring rain (kind of like in the movies, when you know they're faking it because it very rarely actually rains that hard). I love rain, but it generally puts me in a pretty mellow's almost 10am, and I haven't spoken a word, today. No particular reason, I just have no reason to speak.

Anyways...this site brought a smile to my face and brightened the rainy morning just a bit - I thought it might make you smile, too!

Wednesday, April 16

Random Facts & Bookworm-ness

Today is: 5 Random Japan Facts Day...

1.) Taxi doors open by themselves when the driver pushes a button. That's right - you don't have to open or close the door, you just hop in and out. Super efficient.

2.) Bloodtype supposedly tells what your character is like - so everyone knows theirs. My friends at work were shocked that I didn't remember mine. (Find out your personality here. I'm O...judge the accuracy for yourself.)

3.) When someone sneezes, nothing happens or is said. I'm used to Britt saying 'Bless You' every time someone the silence after the sneeze always strikes me as odd. (Miss you, Britt!!)

4.) During political campaigns, the candidate will stand outside a train station with a van with a loudspeaker and promote themselves and their platform; and, people walk around the streets wearing matching outfits, carrying signs, and chanting something or other for their candidate. I think they'd probably get arrested in Canada for public harrassment, disturbance, or something.

5.) Drinking in public is perfectly legal, and beer can be found in any vending machine or convenience store that you see (tall cans = $300). Come on, Canada. Get in touch with the times, already.

I finished A Study In Scarlet today. I thoroughly enjoyed Sir Arthur's writing style - two stories in one. First the mystery is presented, and Sherlock Holmes solves it. Then he told the story of the culprit, and how the mysterious murder came about. At the end (and I breathed a sigh of relief at this), Sherlock Holmes explains how he solved the mystery. If there had been no explanation, I know I would have thought for hours to figure out how he did it. Turns out - his methods are quite usual, and his clues quite obvious - for someone who has trained themselves to be as observant and thorough as him. Next on the list - The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Followup: (to this)
Imagining is a lot harder than you would think! I tried to imagine on the walk to the train station, this morning. I kept getting distracted by the things and people around me. So I closed my eyes. Dangerous. I opened my eyes. I ended up 'imagining' that I was about 1.5 inches high and was hangin' out on a flower having a conversation about how complicated life is, with an aphid (who was about 0.5 inches big). I also found myself having the conversation outloud - yes, both characters. I stopped, for a minute, but decided I was determind not to be "clapped into jail by [my] consciousness". I tried imagining on the train on the way to work, but was too distracted. I tried again to imagine on my lunch time walk, and this time found myself a fish in the sea who leapt out of the water with all my might, and then found a large metal structure and gathered the other fishes for a day of olympics. This adventure included me doing cartwheels on the path beside the road...which earned me some strange looks. And I have no doubt that as you read this you may wonder if I may have started to lose any sense that I had...but! as I said, I was determind to not be constrained by my worry of other people's opinion. Having said that, I think I will try to imagine a bit more often.

However, I did realize while reading my book on the way home, that I do have a good imagination when reading. When I read a book, I get lost in the world it portrays. I can see around me, in detail - the colors, the textures, the faces, the furniture, the emotion on the character's faces. It's all in my head as I read. So I'm not too worried about losing my imagination.

Tuesday, April 15

Where Does The Wonder Go?

I finished Alice In Wonderland this morning...she's quite a peculiar girl. She has an incredible imagination (as I suppose most children do), but she's also very argumentative and impertinent. Granted, the creatures she's interacting with are also very argumentative and I can emphathize with her occasional frustration, but nonetheless, she's an interesting little girl. Her adventures in Wonderland made me wonder what happens to our imagination as we get older. As children, we can have hours of fun with a couple friends and a front lawn, on a playground, or in a sandpit - even without trucks and buckets. But as we get older, it seems to me that adults need constant stimulation or entertainment, and there is certainly a lack of 'play'.

In his essay Self-Reliance, Emerson writes,
What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text, in the face and behaviour of children, babes, and even brutes! That divided and rebel mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has computed the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have not....But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account.

Children play and act freely, without regard for consequences or the opinions of others. As we get older, we allow the opinions of others to rule our actions - to a point that is detrimental, I think. We learn 'proper' behavior - what is appropriate or not, what is regarded as strange or wierd; and we live our lives by these rules.

I decided to cruise the net for some more thoughts, and came upon this article. The author provides this possible explanation: (I encourage you to read the whole article - it's both interesting and thought provoking)
Still, we might ask, why do children explore the far and fantastic possible words instead of the close-by sensible ones? The difference between adults and children is that for most adults, most of the time, imagination is constrained by probability and practicality. When we adults use our everyday theories to create possible worlds, we restrict ourselves to the worlds that are likely and the worlds that are useful. When we adults create a possible world, we are usually considering whether we should move in there and figuring out how we can drag all our furniture with us.

But for human children, those practical requirements are suspended, just as the jungle laws of tooth and claw are suspended for young wolves. Children are as free to consider the very low-probability world of Narnia as the much higher-probability world of next Wednesday's meeting—as free to explore unlikely Middle-earth as the much more predictable park next door.

What would it take to break free of the constraints of the practical and think in the realms of the possible, despite a lack of practicality; or even the impossible - what can it hurt? Thoughts? Comments?

Goal for Wednesday: Spend the train ride to work just imagining...all things possible and impossible.

PS - Having finished Alice In Wonderland, I started into A Study In Scarlet on the way home. Please excuse me if my tone and style of blogging changes as I read through different books...I have a tendancy to pick up and adapt to the writing style I am immersed in as I experience it.

Monday, April 14

Hopin' & Wishin'

Today was a bad work day - not for any big reasons, it just was. I was incredibly frustrated and couldn't wait for it to be over. Even the sunshine peeking through the clouds didn't help my mood. Fortunately, it all disappeared when I jumped back into Alice In Wonderland, and followed her on her adventures...and my mood picked up, even once I climbed back out of the rabbit hole for the day.

Yesterday I promised to talk a bit about the temple I visited in Kyoto. We went to Yasaka Temple - one of Kyoto's main temples. The front gate was guarded by two Shishi - protectors of the gods. There was a small marketplace inside the gate and up the paths into the main temple area - jewelry, snacks, food, knick-knacks. The main area had a big pavilion, and the main shrine. At each shrine, there is a big thick cord with a sort-of bell at the top. It is customary to throw some coins in the space behind the cord, bow twice, clap twice, make a wish/request, and then bow again.

We looked around and went to a couple of the smaller shrine - one of the shrines is quite famous for beauty, and Japanese women come to make their wish to be beautiful.

For 200Yen ($2.00), you could get your fortune. Either your 'love fortune' or your 'normal fortune'. Being 3 single girls, we opted for the 'love fortune'. You pick a wooden box, and shake it until a stick slides out the end. The number on the stick corresponds to your fortune; when you give your Y200, you get it. After reading it, you can tie it onto the string grid by a shrine, or keep it.

We walked around and saw some other shrines - art, health, friendship, love. I asked Satomi about the general view of Japanese people towards their religion. Visiting shrines and making wishes is customary, but there are very few Japanese people who follow traditional religious or Buddhist ways.

After the temple, we wandered around the marketplace and down Kyoto's main street. We stopped for an amazing dessert - with brown sugar sauce and jello, matcha ice cream, parfait cake, and whipped yummy (PS - Mom, we're going to have one when we visit Kyoto!!!). After some more wandering, we headed home - and we all slept on the 30 minute trip back...

Sunday, April 13

Geisha For A Day

Today I visited Kyoto with Satomi & Mai to dress up as Geisha!

We arrived early, and started the long process of being Geisha-ized. Actually, we dressed up as Maiko - Geisha in training. The difference (for us) was the price and the way we dressed. We changed out of our clothes and into the Kimono underwear - a thin, light pink housecoat-style garment. We went upstairs to choose our kimonoes. They were beautiful! I chose a beautiful red kimono with gold and colored drawing. Then we got painted white! The white went all over our faces, around our necks and the tops of our chests, and down our backs, with an unpainted w-shape. We had red lips painted on, and black and pink coloring around our eyes. After the makeup, we moved to the hair room and got our hair. Most of our hair was put into a net, and a big heavy wig was tied onto our heads. Our hair was combed into the wig to make it look natural - but it looked a bit strange on me, since the wig was black and my hair is not! We needed help getting dressed, and it involved a lot of layers, sashes and ribbons - and it was quite heavy! We got a few minutes to take photos in a room with some props, in the front entryway, and then we got to venture out into the street and take a photo in front of a shrine gate. Walking down the street, men looked at me funny, and older women commented on how great it was that I was dressed up as a geisha! It was a lot of fun! Pretty neat, huh?

It's a common belief that Geisha are prostitutes, but that's not true. True Geisha do not provide sexual favors to their customers, but are traditional entertainers, using music, dance, and art. There is a branch of Geishas that are prostitutes - true Geisha wear their obi (the large bundle of fabric) in the back, and require assistance and at least an hour to dress. Oiran (geisha-style prostitutes) wore their obi in the front, so it could easily be taken off and on.

There are still Geisha in Japan, and they live in geisha houses called okiya. To be a full fledged Geisha, women go through much training. The first stage of training is called 'shikomi'. Young girls work as maids in the okiya - intentionally difficult to make or break the girls. The girls also attend school - once they can pass a final dance exam, they are promoted to the 'minarai' stage. No more housekeeping - they get training and are allowed to participate in ceremonies in minor rolls. After this stage (approximately a month), they become maiko (generally teenaged girls). They learn the rest of what they need to know by shadowing their onee-san (older sister). This stage lasts from 6 months to 5 years, and charge full price for their time, until they retire.

After our Geisha experience, we had some lunch and did some sightseeing in the area. We visited a temple and the market street. Since this post is getting long, I'll talk about the temple next time!

A few more photos... Geisha Day

Saturday, April 12

A Watery Grave

Friday morning I spent working with coworkers on the Chemical Heat Pump. We were checking lines and pressures and fixing leaks, and we finally had it ready to run. We started running tests. It was a mix of interesting and boring - waiting around, but I am finally starting to understand the system and how it works, and the thermodynamics behind it.

We left for lunch at noon, and stopped by the office to check email, etc, before heading back to the lab. I was trying to print something when cell phones started ringing, and a couple people ran out of the room. I thought they just didn't want to be late to start again after lunch, but when I was walking up the stairs, I noticed that the ceiling was dripping and there was a puddle...never a good thing!

When I got up to our floor, I stopped short of walking right into a big puddle! The water source to our project wasn't attached properly, and flooded the entire floor! So I spent the afternoon pushing water around to the drain, and mopping up. There was several inches of water over a very large floor section, and around quite a bit of electrical equipment. Fortunately, I don't think anything was ruined. It was quite the surprise, though! Now the project is delayed for a couple weeks while all the safety reports and precautions, etc are taken care of. Oh well!! :)


There is a new member to our team and one is leaving, so yesterday my 'team' went for dinner after work! It was a lot of to hang out with everyone. I believe I provide a lot of entertainment at such dinners, for a couple reasons. 1) I try to speak Japanese, which in and of itself must be pretty amusing; 2) I ask, "Kore wa nan desu ka?" (What is this?) a lot, which is generally followed by a discussion and my coworkers trying to explain something Japanese to me in English; 3) I have interesting reactions to some of the food...

I don't put wasabi (the green stuff) in my soya sauce when I have sushi - it's pretty strong tasting, and I'm not a big fan. BUT! At dinner yesterday, there was wasabi in the rice, hiding under the sashimi! When I ate it, it was super strong, and it shocked me a bit. They laughed at that. The other things we ate were all delicious, save one - but I kept that under wraps. One of the dishes served was two small, whole fish (heads and eyes included). It looked...interesting...and still had all the bones in it. Some people didn't eat the head - I ate one, but not the other. The fish were cooked long enough that the bones were pretty soft and edible, but I didn't like them - so I picked a bit. Overall - dinner was delicious!

I convinced everyone to go for an hour of karaoke, after dinner - and I asked/insisted in Japanese. I think they only said that they'd come because they felt sorry for me - the poor white English girl trying to speak Japanese; we'd better just go. :) Half kidding! It was a lot of fun!! We sang about half English and half Japanese - most Japanese people know some of the more popular English songs. I sang to Karen Carpenter with one of the girls, and to Simon & Garfunkle's 'Let It Be' with my boss! Did I mention I have a pretty sweet boss? Between dinner and karaoke, it was a great evening.

It's late and I'm tired, so I'm jumping into bed! Tomorrow I'm going with some girls from the dorm to Kyoto to dress up as Geisha! I'll hopefully post some pictures and some Geisha info tomorrow.....

Friday, April 11

Nap Time

The curtain slowly falls, your world becomes dark, and you slip into a land of peace and quiet...

Until you wake up with a jolt and realize you were almost sleeping on the stranger's shoulder next to you. Yes folks, you are on the train. How embarassing!

Often, I see people use the lean-and-jolt nap method on the train, and I'll admit I've done it myself (completely unintentionally!) But today (as someone lean-and-jolted onto me) I wondered what a persons reaction would be. So, I've decided to start a train experiment, and the next time I find myself falling asleep on the train, I'm going to let myself fall asleep on the person next to me's shoulder. Unless I know them. I figure - if there's any time to do such an experiment, it's across the world and in a different country! We'll see what happens...

Thursday, April 10

Rain, Plant Life, & Shoes!

Note: I wrote this a couple days ago, and thought I had posted it - but evidently I hit the wrong button and only saved it. Sorry! Cherry blossom picture to make up for it...

Shoes, shoes, shoes...
I love heels. I love shoes, in general, but I have discovered I especially love heels. At Yao station, near my dormitory, there is a Shoe Outlet store. It always has a sale on, and has some awesome & amazing shoes for around $20. Unfortunately, I am a giant. Well, not really. Their LL shoes generally are a little too large for me, though. How depressing is that?! It's frustrating, because I often see shoes that I really like, during my Osaka travels (which is often, because Japan is all about the footwear & footclothing), but they rarely fit. I've almost stopped trying them on, now. Sigh. Wish I could find a pair of heels here that would fit me.

My rainy adventure...
Yesterday I biked to the gym after work to swim. I've been in Japan for a couple months now, and you would think I would have learned - but I didn't bring an umbrella. When I came out of the gym, the first thing I saw was wet - everywhere. I though, "Oh - it's been raining!" Then I stepped off the sidewalk and out from under the cover.... it was pouring rain.

20 minute bike ride + pouring rain - umbrella = absolutely soaking wet

My dorm manager laughed a little when I came in, and I told him that it was pouring rain and I hadn't brought an umbrella! Oh was fun?

Plant Life
I stopped by the dollar store (when I don't want to go to the gym, I stop at the dollar store first to procrastinate). They had plants! I'm a fan of little cute plants and of pseudo-bamboo plants, so I bought 3. I figured it would be nice to have a little more life and color in my room! Meet my plants. I haven't named them yet, but I will.

Speaking of plant life...I bought a daikon last weekend - daikon are of the same family of radishes, and are usually about the size of 2 large carrots combined. However. This one was HUGE! I couldn't believe how big it was, so I took a picture.

And on another random note - I dropped a glass tube at work today and broke it. Good job, me. Fortunately, my boss just wanted to know that I was alright, and said we'd order another one.

Wednesday, April 9

Blogs & Rabbit Trails

This week, I discovered the world of Blogs. I know - I've been part of it for several months now. However, I never realized the large number and variety of blogs there are! If you're interested in something or want to know more about it, there's 101,000 blogs about it. Technology, biology, psychology, humor, cartoons, comics, beauty, fashion, religion, fitness, diet, health, weight name it, it exists. Even if you can't name it, it probably exists.

The only problem with the infinite amount of blogs that my computer provides me access to is time. I could spend hours reading them. And each blog has a 'blogroll' which leads to more blogs. I've listed a couple of my favorite blogs below, for your perusal (haha - Jeff word). But beware. If you're not careful, they may take over your life.

I wrote this post because it was on my mind, but I realized that my blog is titled 'Memoirs of a Gaijin', and the majority of my posts should probably have something to do with me and my life in Japan. So I apologize for the many rabbit trails I have taken my blog to, and will make an effort to talk more about Japan & my life here. Content suggestions, requests, comments, advice, etc. is more than welcome! Just leave me a comment on this post....(oh, and I promise to reply to comments now, too!)

Back to work; another day another dollar - and all that stuff!


Clicking on any of the links below may lead to massive amounts of your life and/or time being spent reading and surfing blogs. The author of this blog post does not take any responibility for any adverse affects this newfound addiction may have on your life.

Indexed - Life Explained in terms of Venn Diagrams
Interesting - Random interesting articles on just about everything
Cocktail Party Physics - For the Engineer in me. Explanations of physics and related things.
Cranky Fitness - Fitness from a not-so-optimistic view (great entertainment & good tips in one!)
Happiness Project - One woman's goal to find happiness (by trying all means)
Zen Habits - Tips and thoughts for living a simple and content life

Tuesday, April 8

Work, work, work...

I guess it's time for a little update on the Engineering side...

Yesterday I got to play with 800℃ ovens, and expansion graphite! :-D One of my projects is a Chemical Heat Pump - a device that takes waste heat from something else (like an engine) and uses it to produce more useful heat (hot water, etc). The expansion graphite, when mixed with a couple other things, promotes heat transfer inside the system. My boss and I expanded the graphite, and then sent it off to another company to do the washing and mixing.

We put just a couple teaspoons-full of the graphite into ceramic bowls (about the size of a small-medium mixing bowl). The graphite just looked like you took out your pencil lead and crushed it. Then we put the bowls into the 800℃ oven for about 10 minutes. When we took it out, the graphite was overflowing from the bowl! It was incredibly light, though...half a cubic foot of it, or so, weighed only about 25g.

Aside from playing with ridiculously hot ovens, I am also analyzing data that was recorded during a test run of the chemical heat pump. Pressure, temperatures, flow rates...all to figure out how much energy we can get out of the system, and how to maximize it!

My other project is the Top Runner Grill - a fish grill that we are analyzing and trying to maximize efficiency for. It's kind of on hold right now...but I think we're doing a demonstration of the new combi-cooking system in a couple weeks.

There is a product available that cooks food using only superheated steam. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to heat up and be ready to operate, so Osaka Gas is developing a combi-cooking grill. A combination of natural gas burners, and steam. Cooking with steam has great health benefits - When the steam enters the cooking chamber, and comes into contact with the cold food, it condenses onto the outside of the food. The food gains the heat that the steam had, which is what heats and cooks it. But when the steam condenses, it pulls out extra fat, grease, and salt. Then as it drips off the food into the tray below, it takes that with it. However, the steam doesn't pull out (and may even lock in) Vitamin C, and the coenzyme Q10, among other things. I've seen some pretty neat results from tests comparing the grill method, the steam method, and the combination method.

Speaking of work, it's starting now...but there's a little update as to what I do all day, every day!

Sunday, April 6

Another White Dash...Away, Away

I didn't go swimming at all, last week - for various reasons; none of which make any sense now. Swimming laps works as therapy for me. I often find my head full, confused, and muddled with infinite thoughts.

When I swim, sometimes I keep thinking - and I sort out my thoughts and my problems. I swim until everything is swept up, organized, and I can move through it all without tripping or catching the corner of something. Sometimes, I don't think. I just swim. As I focus on the rhythm of my strokes and watch the pale blue tiles sashay under my body and into the past, all the confusion leaves my head and flows with the water, and away with the tiles. I swim until my head is empty, and my body feels light enough to float out of the pool.

When I don't go swimming, it's usually because I am too tired, or overwhelmed, or don't feel like putting in the effort to get there. But when I do, especially when I don't want to, I leave relaxed and upbeat. All my problems just go away.

Catch up!

I apologize for not blogging again, sooner! I keep meaning to, but then I get caught up in something or other and forget.

Last week I switched offices - upstairs with the rest of my research 'team'. I am in an office area with several other people that I kind of know. They don't talk much (everyone works pretty hard), but it's nice just to be in the company of other people.

On Friday I attended the yearly meeting of all the researchers - it was long and pretty boring, because I didn't understand much of it. I think it would have been pretty interesting if I had understood it. :-P When we were leaving, there were a bunch of guys loading recycling out of the building and onto a truck. When I walked by, I smiled at one, and one of them said, "Stephanie!". It was strange to have a random person know my name...

This weekend has been pretty productive. Yesterday I spent the morning biking and doing errands. The weather is beautiful - sunny and warm. The roadway/walkway from my dorm down towards Yamamoto & Yao stations and the grocery store is along a river and lined with cherry trees. The walkway is very busy, and biking is slow and has to be careful!

I spent the afternoon browsing heavin in Osaka! I found ABC Craft - a 4 floor craft store! I spent a couple hours and could have spent several hours and hundreds of dollars there...fortunately, I restrained myself. Today, I slept in and was super productive cleaning my room - completely! Swept, organized, and all. I'm planning on going to the gym this evening, and then it's into another week...

Thursday, April 3

Motivation Musings

The past couple days I've been pondering where a person's motivation comes from - because some days, I definitely lack it. I came to the conclusion that it comes from the people around us, and inside ourselves. Simple enough... we are motivated by the people we love, the people we want to impress, the people we want to show up. We do things to better their lives or change their opinion of us. But where does self motivation come from? What motivates us to do things for ourselves? Some days, I wake up ready to go, hit up the day, be the best me that I can be, etc, etc. Other days, I just don't care. I suppose that self-motivation comes from a sense of pride in who we are and what we can accomplish, or have accomplished. But how do you find that, on the days when you just don't want to get out of your nice, warm bed? I had more thoughts on this, but they got muddled in my head. Oh, I've also determined that sleep has a lot to do with motivation.

rabbit trail---> Speaking of sleep, did you know that regularly getting less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours of sleep can cause you to gain weight? Interesting, hey? Random fact of the day. <---end of rabbit trail

I think that a large part of the reason I often don't feel motivated to do certain things, here, is because there aren't people I know in my day-to-day face-to-face life. I have great connections and communication with home (which plays a huge role in my motivation, I think) - but as far as face-to-face interaction, on a daily basis, it's pretty limited. So that leaves a lot up to self-motivation. I've never needed to motivate myself before, I am usually just motivated.

Well I'm off to work...feeling half motivated, today. :) We'll see what I can accomplish! I think this post was a little strange and ramble-y, but I'll post it anyways. Sometimes rambling is good?

Wednesday, April 2


My dorm has been taken over!! Last week was graduation for Japanese Universities, which means this week, everyone starts their new jobs! My company has several new staff members, fresh out of school. Which means my dormitory does, too! I rarely saw anyone, before. Now, when I go to the lobby, there's usually a couple guys standing around. Dinner, in the cafeteria hall, most of the tables have guys at them! It's wierd to see it so 'busy'.

Well, this was going to be a longer post, but I got distracted and now work is starting. So I'll edit and finish it later! I didn't even get to the motivation part.