Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A collection of thoughts

Today was amazing.

I want to apologize for my slowness, lack of updates, lack of photos... I'm not a particularly skilled writer by any means, but...

Anyway. I've been watching the election since yesterday, totally on the edge of my seat. I was in the library, tracking the electoral votes coming in between classes. I was watching the 20 second count down to the west coast ending their voting on CNN with my friend Moririn, explaining some American politics or some such. It hadn't occurred to me when I saw the numbers changing that it would happen so quicky, but in that instant, in that glorious instant when the countdown was finished, Obama was decladed the winner. "Katta!!" I cried, in my stupid lazy broken Japanese.

I swelled with pride. I swelled with that resolute satisfaction that you only get once in your life. Maybe I'm in another country, but I was watching that moment live. Electricity shot through me, and I have never been more proud in my life.

I watched more, and maybe I'm just a big sap, but I started to cry. I just kept thinking of how the past 8 years have led our country into shame. How other countries have looked at us like this big stupid raging animal, this mentally disabled powerhouse. All of that is washed away. All that shame, gone.

And I thought of my best friend's great-grandmother. 108 years old, how proud she must be. How far she must've come in her life. Everything she saw. And how amazing that Obama mentioned her in his speech. Tears welled up. I'm just so proud. I'm so proud that it's my generation, my life, so historic. The first black president. I finally feel like I'm not living in a broken down country anymore.

I thought back to high school, sitting in that auditorium with michael, shooting the breeze. Thinking about michael mentioning obama for the first time. thinking back to how I said, "he has a winning smile."

I've been at low points in my life where I felt like everything was out of my hands, I have no control, I have no confidence. I look back, and that place in my life is so far away.

Somehow, the future's a little brighter. I don't know if I can express how I feel so transformed, and so freed... how I can say, "Yeah, I'm American!" in another country without that equating to stupid.

yay. :)

Monday, October 27, 2008


At the moment, I'm waiting for my rice to cook in my rice cooker and taking a small break from studying. Tomorrow is the midterm, and I'd like to do relatively well. I don't know how my credits are going to transfer, but it doesn't really matter. I wish I had more opportunities to speak the kind of Japanese we're learning. We're doing keigo, or polite language, which seems to be mostly used in business situations. We studied it a little bit last year, but I didn't memorize it enough to have it stick. I'm afraid this will be a repeat of that. The good thing is at least my casual Japanese has gotten good enough to get the basic idea across, but in many ways I still feel like a neanderthal.

I admit I still spend more time with Americans than anyone Japanese, but I don't feel like speaking English during the day is hindering me necessarily. I'm still improving, slowly but surely, by talking with teacher and so on. Despite it feeling more and more like I've been here a longer time, I still have a long ways to go. Hopefully by doing volunteer work and helping those in the library at school, I'll be able to brush up on a little more polite Japanese. While I probably won't gain any kind of fluency by being here, it's opening the door for me. It's making me question what I want to do in the future, and if I really want to be here forever. I don't know if I'm just having a bout of homesickness or what, exactly. Maybe it's just a temporary feeling. I think it's always easy to get down mid-semester, as the excitement has cooled off and now it's just the grind. I think I'm getting sick of Nagoya and the school's bureaucracy.

Anyway, despite all the negativity I'm feeling in this tiny window of time, I'm also having a lot of fun. I don't have any regrets about being here at all, and I feel close to the people here. Saturday was my birthday, and because we had gone out many times before I decided to just take it easy. I made hot wings and spaghetti, and thought about my favorite places back home. Sigh. D-bos. My friend TJ found me a delicious chocolate and strawberry cake from some place that is comprable to the French Bakery I work at back home. I got a lot of adorable stuffed animals and little sweets, and two of my Japanese friends got me a body pillow. Happyfacegoeshere.

Next month I plan on going to Osaka to see my friend who studied at my school last year, and to get out of this place. Others here have already gone to Tokyo and Kyoto on the weekends, but I've been tied to things there. What I'm really looking forward to is when my sister comes into town during Christmas break and we can travel. Free time in Japan is what I'm hurting for.

This weekend I'm going to Shiho's to bake a cake and just hang around her house. Sadly, that's the furthest I've been away from the dorm on my own. Soon, I will go out and see the world more.

Nagoya itself isn't that impressive, but I guess big cities don't necessarily do much for me. We went down the port either last week or the week before, and it was really nice. I love seeing the water. It was super windy and chilly, but we hilariously ate at Red Lobster then went to a tiny amusement park. We went through a very cheap looking haunted house, rode around on these crazy animatronic bears that were half-dying, and then went up on a ferris wheel and got a beautiful skyline view of Nagoya at night. I plan on going earlier in the day next time so I can go to the aquarium and go to this dog-petting place. Typical Japan.

We went on a school fieldtrip up to Gifu prefecture at the beginning of this month. I actually really enjoyed it despite other people thinking it was boring maybe. The bus ride was long and ridiculous, but it was nice to get out. We went to this special tiny town, Shirakawago, in the mountains that had these complicatedly thatched roofs. I like historical stuff like that, especially in a country with such a rich history. The best part was that we got to stay in a pretty nice Ryokan. They served awesome traditional food, and I got to go to a really nice onsen. It was pretty embarrassing, me being a silly American with lots of other silly Americans, naked together. Despite that, it was really relaxing and we got to sit outside in the bath next to a river flowing through the mountains.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


It's been a long time. Sorry for the infrequency, but there really isn't much time to be alone with your own thoughts here. It seems like there's always so much to do on my plate as I still get settled in. Classes have started, and I have to cram in my responsibilities and exploring the city in with that. I finally got a bicycle to explore the city on, but I'll have to show everyone in my next post. It's been a bit rainy so it just hasn't been the right setting for awesome bike pictures. Now the weather has finally changed and it's cooled off... I hope it's not just a cool front, and I am still unable to ask that properly to Japanese people.

Okay, from where I left off last time. I've been going out more with my tutor and she's been helping me immensely. I admit the only time I think to take pictures is when I've just received some awesome masterpiece of food. Shiho and I went to this little cafe in a mall that sells parfaits. Let me tell you that was another one of my silly Japanese food fantasies... they're just so gorgeous here! They blow TCBY dinky parfaits out of the water.


A tiramisu parfait.


yay! Shiho.

Actually, I do lot of cooking. Every few days a couple of us will cook for a bunch of us in the dorm. I've been getting bento supplies to make, but I've only made one for my roommate so far. Hopefully when I get a little more adjusted I can make them for myself. Groceries are pretty expensive here though, and I find myself eating out a lot.

We went out as a big group for one of the tutor's birthdays out to a Japanese style bar which was really cool. A lot of things seem like straight out of movies to me. I keep thinking about how when my sister or parents come to visit me, they're going to love going here and there.




TJ, myself, my roommate, and one of her friends went to the popular yakitori place. Basically you cook your own food, and we ate a lot and drank a lot and we were merry. My roommate and her friend wanted to keep shopping afterwards and asked me and TJ if we were okay getting back by ourselves. We both emphatically said we'd be totally fine, but as soon as they were out of our sight we turned to each other and panicked. "We are so screwed" practically came out of our mouths at the same time. Despite our slightly inebriated states, we actually got back and figured out the subway no problem. That somehow seemed like a huge triumph for us. There've been a lot of shenanigans like this, and a lot of laughs. Everyone is pretty funny, but I guess a lot of it is "you've had to been there" moments.

Here goes a difficult story. Tony. Tony is hilarious. He came from MTSU, and he is this short, buff, asian guy who makes expressions like a five year old.

Japan wackiness: there are these crazy erasers that have a face on them and have a strong mint smell.

Everyday in class, Tony holds the eraser up to his nose and answers questions, or takes his test... probably for maybe 40 minutes out of an hour and a half class. I don't know if I can explain the hilarity in turning back to see him always holding that erasers to his face and never taking it down even when answering questions.

There are many of these moments.

I love everyone here. :)


Yon Joo and Hanna, two Korean exchange students.


Ebi derishusness.

The other day we went to Atsuta Shrine, and that's the first time I had really been to anything like that. We went as a big group so I didn't get as much out of it as I had hoped. Despite that, it was very peaceful and beautiful. I said a prayer, made an offering, and picked up some charms. It was really awesome to see the priests and priestesses walking around. I'm going to go again soon and hopefully it'll be a little more serene. The only really disappointing thing was that the legendary sword was not available for viewing. ( ) I guess I should've done more research. Dang. Still, it was really cool.



Yasuko and Dustin.

I leave you with this thought: Everyday they play "Auld Lang Syne" somewhere, and I can hear it in my apartment.



Friday, September 12, 2008


This week has been so jampacked and exhausting. I feel like I'm training for a marathon. Surely within 3 weeks I'll be able to massacre every person in America with my sheer muscle strength from walking so much. I'll be able to roundhouse kick everyone and jettison them into space. It's definitely been a tripple hitter, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Not in any sort of bad way though, I just feel really tired. I've been out exploring with others, shopping and having a lot of fun. We're out at least once a day, and even going to the grocery store is an adventure. One morning Lachelle and I went out for a walk to see the city, and we said, "Ohayo Gozaimasu!" (Good morning), to every person we went past. Most looked a little shocked then said it back. The city is really new and interesting. It's very different from how the US looks, but it's a lot of little subtleties that are hard to describe. For instance, it took me a minute to realize that houses were houses. There are literally no yards, just little gated areas with potted plants in the front. I guess in that sense, it's a very concrete place. Then again, I live right next to a huge park, river, and garden. It feels very serene here, despite all the hustle and bustle.


The park view from my window.

The entrance exam kicked my ass because they didn't ask me anything on what I'm good at. There wasn't a vocab section on the test at all, just grammar and kanji. I don't really want to dwell on it though because at least the people who I like will be in my class. And if it's easy, then maybe I can move up quicker and have time to do things that I want to do. No big deal, I guess.

One thing that seems different than previous groups that have been there is that ALL the exchange students get along. I love hanging out with the Koreans. It's hard because their Japanese is like perfect and all the Americans' suck in comparison, but... they're so nice and fun. Two nights ago we went over to Yamato's apartment to make okonomiyaki. It's like batter and cabbage and then whatever you want. Dad (I know you're reading), you fry it and like then cover it with those same fish flakes that were on your crazy dish that you ate. Plus okomiyaki sauce and sometimes mayo.


This is Lisa's photo. Here's the gang. I helped chopped and there were various comments about women being able to cook or some nonsense. Anyway it was fun. Hi-chan, one of the Koreans who isn't in that photo, helped translate my horoscope in a magazine in very slow easy japanese with lots of hand motions. Sometimes I feel stupid but that's okay.

Anyway, after the interview section of the test, we were all waiting around in a class room. I don't know how I managed to do it, but I slammed hardcore into a desk at like fullspeed. Now I have a giantic bruise on my leg. I fell to the ground and wallowed for a moment, looking like a Grade A dumbass.

So yesterday morning at Orientation I bought accident insurance. Haha. Not really, it's because I'm getting a bicycle soon. I still haven't had time to get one yet. The orientation has been so painfully boring. They give you a packet with the information in Japanese and English, THEN READ EVERY PAGE IN JAPANESE THEN IN ENGLISH. Wow. It took forever. And teachers walked around and made sure you were looking at the right page at the right time.

We went over the Seminar House rules, more of the same. Shibata sensei paused in the middle of one section to say that he was going to extra extra explain in English because it was so important (about how if you do things wrong, you get naughty points. and 4 points and you get sent home). Anyway, it got to the point where he was like "if you do this, DAME (bad/useless/don't do it)." And went on a shpiel about how a guy brought a girlfriend home, and his roommate couldn't communicate with him. So there was confusion. and it made him confused. and that created more confusion. It sort of became a running joke after the orientation. Eliza, (the asian-looking one at the bottom of the picture) was so irritated by the end of the day that she just sort of let loose with the DAMEs and cause confusions. Usually if a person says "dame" in japanese, they cross their arms in front of them like an X. Eliza took it a step further and did the finger across the neck, like you will die if you do this and said daaaaaammmeeeee very slowly and intensely. We had to do about 5 introductions over the course of three days, and it was kind of ridiculous.

Earlier in the day yesterday, we went to the big nice garden next to the school. It was very beautiful, but we were bitten by mosquitos like I never have been in my life. (That added to Eliza's bad mood as she got bit on the face.) I couldn't listen anymore, I was so miserable. Scratching and hopping. We must've looked really really stupid. I'll go back again when it's not mosquito season.



Finally there was the welcome party with another speech by everyone. The food was yummy, the company was good, and everyone mood was a little lifted. After that, we went bowling. I am so bad at bowling it's just stupid. I got a 34. Enough said.




The Horikawa at night.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My life goal

It's been a few days now since I've been here, and I feel like I'm starting to adjust. It's hard to stop and realize I have a whole year to do things because I'm so used to having to rush. Everyday we do so much from morning to night just getting settled. I've been doing a lot of shopping, getting the basics for living. I bought a rice cooker, went grocery shopping, and explored the city with the other exchange students. Going out into Japan is just like how you would imagine. Or, I guess I should say, how I imagined. This brings me back to a point about the exchange students who live here. It seems like we all have a common thread for coming to Japan... well, I should say, from the Western countries. I was surprised to find out there are no Australians or British people, but there are a couple Canadians. There are a lot of Koreans and a couple of Chinese. But anyway I digress, It seems like a lot of what first exposed us to Japan was anime. TJ and I were talking a little bit about this earlier yesterday. He said that he understood now how anime came about here. The people here sort of exaggerate their reactions/expressions, and of course TV shows usually already exaggerate that... so that anime is this really crazy exagerration. Anyway, what's really cool to me is that I really feel like I'm in those settings that I remember from my childhood. The parfaits are huge and gorgeous with fruit and things sticking out of them. Yesterday, oh god, I fulfilled my dream. This is stepping into secret silly desire territory.

We went to a huge shopping mall, JUSCO, which some of you may know. It's really interesting. It's all very separated by floor. Anyway, we went to the food floor due to clammoring from a few of us (mainly me and another exchange student, a Korean girl named Hanna).

I did it. I ate awesomely delicious ramen in Japan. I was so happy I thought I was going to cry. I don't know if I can properly explain what I'm talking about so I'm just going to have to give a shout to people who know. The noodles were firm and smooth. The broth was miso-based, and it was little different from Edo's. The pork was a little dry, but very delicious. The bamboo shoots were a little sweeter, but soooo gooood ohhhh goddddd... ahem. Moving on.

The view out my window.

The adorable Shiho-chan.

Friday, September 5, 2008

by the skin of my teeth

I made it. I'm finally here. I got in last night, and it's just been a whirlwind. My body has been a lot more shaken up from my nerves and the flight rather than my mind. I didn't sleep very well, but just laying down and resting did a lot. My room is awesome. I'm staying in the international seminar house, and it's really nice. I got a desk, a bed, and our room has access to a balcony. I have one roommate from China and our rooms are separated by a folding screen. We have a kitchen and our own bathroom. I feel great! I get a little lost because my Japanese isn't up to snuff, but it makes me feel confident that I'll learn it quick. I don't even know where to begin, there's so much stuff constantly going on and I haven't even been here 24 hours. My language partner, Shiho, is on her way to my room now and we're going to go shopping. I have so much stuff to do, and I'm so excited. I feel so caught up in it that I don't think it's hit me yet. I have a lot of confidence that I'm going to have fun and find my own way here. People were popping into our room all last night saying Hi and getting us set up. Everyone's speaking Japanese to me though, and a lot of times I just have to smile and nod. There's a lot of guesswork, but maybe I'll do well. My view out the window is a soccer field and a park. There's convenience stores close by, and I feel excited and at ease. This will easily become my home away from home. It still feels surreal. I stopped by the convenience store and got a bento and the cashiere asked me if I wanted it heated up in Japanese. I have no idea how to say that, but she kind of said it slowly a couple of times and pointed and I finally got it. I feel like a toddler seeing the world. It's new, it's exciting, and I feel stupid. haha.

The flight was so long and boring. I sat next to a Japanese woman and the chair between us was empty so it wasn't too cramped. I just watched movies and anxiously waited. I got through customs fine and they didn't check my stuff at all. It went rather quickly, looking back on it.

The biggest problem I'm facing now is getting a 3-prong to 2-prong thing for my computer. I'm running on battery power now. As far as problems go, that is pretty mild. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 25, 2008

My nerves

Hi, everyone. I haven't posted in quite a while and summer has been chugging by slowly. I didn't feel the need to post on DC right after I went and came back because of some ill feelings I had, and I'd hate to get in trouble for it. However, in retrospect I can look back on some things fondly.

I met quite a few cool people when I was there, and not one of them was going to Japan. They also came from all over the US, making me feel at ease. Sometimes it's easy to get disconcerted over making friends in a new environment when no one knows each other, but this trip gave me new confidence. A lot of us just sort of clicked even though we were only there for a couple days. There was Matt and George, heading off to China. Luckily they had both traveled around asia before and knew a bit of Japanese that transformed into a couple running jokes as we traversed DC. Then there was Megan who was going to Morocco. She definitely lit up the trip a bit with her go-getting personality. They were all well-spoken intellectual people around the same age which restores a little bit of my faith in humanity and my generation. While not one of them was going to the same place I was, it was easy to hang back and enjoy our little mini trip together as NSEP awardees. Matt suggested this awesomely fantastic restaurant in DC, and if I can recall the name of it then I will definitely mention it here. We all went out to dinner and ordered a bunch of the cheaper entries to split. "Cheaper" is a sort of misnomer because it was all gourmet and delicious. In particular, the cheese and bread platter and the roasted chicken stood out. Really awesome. If any of you guys are reading this, I hope you're all doing well and enjoying your study abroad!

I don't leave until next Thursday.

So now I have to get all my prepping done starting today. I'm getting increasingly nervous over it no matter what I tell myself. I'm about to venture and try to pick up a few things that I need today, but I also need to send out for my visa and call the Japanese airport about medicine I need to bring. I tried doing that last night, but I guess I can't call out of the country on my home phone? So I'm going to buy an asia calling card. It probably won't be more than like a five minute call, but whatever.

I've been trying to make mental lists as well as physical ones on what to do and what to bring, but I still feel like I'm not ready. All the advice and all the information I've looked up seems to just be a disembodied cloud of nonsense to me right about now. Who can tell me which t-shirts to bring? Haha. I'm overthinking it to the max, I know, but that's just my style.

So here I am, looking out on the horizon. Hi, Nagoya, here I come.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Here's my first post. I know it's waaaay waaaay early, but I thought I'd start with all my preparations for going to Nagoya. Hopefully it'll be helpful for some people. I know a lot of you already know this information, but I'm a second year student at the University of Memphis, and I am headed to Nagoya Gakuin University in September. I was Japanese Culture Club President this past year, and have completed the 300 level of Japanese at my school. I have been interested in Japan since elementary school, and now I finally get to go. I've only have ever been to Canada, so this is kind of a big deal for me. I don't think I'm going into it naively, and I have politely taken the same advice over and over again from people. Let's just cross our fingers.
I got my passport finally, and I heard back about a few of my scholarships. I applied U of M's study abroad scholarship, the Freeman-Asia, the Bridging, and the NSEP Boren scholarship. I got 6k from my school and I got an unofficial acceptance email for the NSEP. My parents were biting their fingernails and asking me every other day when I was going to find out about thie NSEP, and I finally heard back yesterday. I also attended my school's study abroad orientation.
The video that they showed was interesting. A lot of it was common sense, but of course as a precaution they have to tell everybody. Keep your hands and arms inside at all times, look before you leap, and stop doing cocaine. Actually, there was an obscene amount of drugs in that video. Not like a voice over about marijuana and smoke wavering up, but people cutting white powder with razors and heroin bubbling in a spoon over a flame. DON'T HAVE SEX WITH THE LOCALS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, and if you do, wear a condom. sound advice. I'd like to think that we don't need these kinds of things, but I glanced across the table at the guy going to costa rica and changed my mind.
Actually, one thing that made me go, "hmm good point" was the fact of be prepared for natural disasters. oh yeah, earthquakes. gosh, I did kind of forget about it. Also, having an open mind doesn't mean putting yourself in an unsafe situation. Just a good "duh" moment for me.
NSEP requires me to go to an orientation in June, so of course I'll update with info on that. I don't really know what to expect.
I went to the bookstore today to grab some thank you cards, and flipped through a travel journal. I'll pass on the advice printed one of the pages to you, my darlings,"bring a gluestick for impromptu collages."