Monthly Archives: January 2013

Julia’s ‘Stumbled Upon’ Adventures

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Last weekend, I came home and, due to the cold, decided to walk through La La Port. While walking through I saw a great deal of people surrounding the little amphitheater outside. When I walk outside I was met with the whooping of boys and men (young adults) coinciding with music. As I get closer I see that there is what looks to be a girl band singing and dancing. They had to be junior high aged girls, and the audience was predominately male. This was quite the spectacle to me, where in the US the audience would most likely be all girls. There was even a poster with each of the girls’ faces on it so that you could pick your favorite member.
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This weekend I had a field trip to an art exhibit. I left with lots of extra time because I had gotten lost on my way to the MOT last weekend. I was getting off from a different subway line to where we were going to meet and just had to walk a few blocks. However, I was not quite sure which direction to take. So I first went the wrong way (don’t worry I did end up on time to our meeting spot). While walking this direction I found myself in Harajuku. I have been in Harajuku before (2011), but not since I arrived in Japan. I also found myself passing Omotesando Hills. I had thought this a location, but it is in fact a shopping center. I was very excited by this newfound location. You see, I had read in a blog that in Omotesando Hills there is a café called “Forbidden Fruit Café.” If one walks into the café, goes to the back, and goes down stairs into what seems to be the basement, you will find yourself in “Bed Rock” boutique. This boutique does not advertise itself in magazines or showcase their clothes. You have to know about it through someone to know how to get there. It seemed so mysterious online, and it was on my bucket list of places I wanted to go while in Japan. However, it was not as I expected. It wasn’t as dark as the blog had described it. There was taxidermies and skulls decorated with jewelry, yes, but the atmosphere was not dark. The clothes were very expensive, but super hip and chic. They varied from knits to leathers on racks. The sales personal were really nice, and I had a fun conversation with the lady who had to follow me. It amazes me how I found the shop without really looking for it!

you can't take pictures inside Bed Rock, but this is Forbidden Fruits Cafe from the outside!!!

you can’t take pictures inside Bed Rock, but this is Forbidden Fruits Cafe from the outside 🙂

Nihonga shop!!!!

Nihonga shop!!!!

I interned for an artist in New York who does Nihonga, traditional Japanese painting. In this technique you use minerals mixed with a natural glue to create pigment. My artist drew me a map of his favorite place to go get these pigments. I left with a plan, all my subway stops written down, but left without my map made by him. So when I got off my stop, I didn’t know which way to turn. I asked someone which direction was Tokyo School of Art, because I knew it was close to there, but otherwise was lost. Somehow I was really close. And passed by the shop relatively quickly. I really had thought I was on a totally different street to where I actually was. However I made it, and it was amazing. The pigments ranged all over. Also there was advertisements for different exhibits at the store. I picked up one for the graduate class at the Tokyo School of Art exhibition. The opening was actually that day! So, I went! I wish I would have talked to more people there, but there was so much art to enjoy and absorb! Wow the talent was incredible.
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Graduate Art work

Graduate Art work

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Rules of the Road

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So I have been biking for over a week now to my classes and I do have to say, it is exciting and thrilling to bike in Tokyo. I am not much of a biker. In fact I do not have much balance. I think with the combination of these two facts I feel very accomplished every day I return home, alive. Now, I don’t think a lot of what I am going to say in this post will relate solely to Tokyo, but instead to big cities in general. However, there might be some things here that you will not see in other cities.

First I would like to share some typical cyclists I have seen in the streets of Tokyo. There are of course the salary men, wearing suits and riding their bikes to work. There are the mothers who can carry up to three children on a bike, but more typically one or two. They do this by having their children in the front basket, in the child seat behind, and sometimes on their laps. I consider the mothers with more then one child on a bike, supermoms. Many students ride to school in the morning. There are the ‘cyclists’ who are usually the only ones who wear helmets in addition to all their bike gear. These people only ride on the roads, and compete with the speed capabilities of a car. There are the deliverymen. I think lots of deliverymen have motorbikes, but some ride a bicycle. I have even seen men carrying open trays of food in ceramic bowls with only plastic wrap covering them while weaving through crowds of people (on a bicycle). These men have become my epitome of skill. Finally, there are the grandparents. Oh, and now me!

Since I have started to ride a bike I have learned through others and observations the rules of the road. First off you have to ride a registered bike, and if you are borrowing a bike you need a note saying that you are allowed to ride it. I am told that foreigners usually are asked for their bike registration by policemen. However, I have not been asked. All the other rules center around this golden rule; maneuver around everyone. Sidewalks are pretty spacious and have some space for bikes, but there are a lot of people in Tokyo. Usually people walk the same as traffic passing on the left, however this also varies. So, sometimes it is best to ride on the street. I usually try to ride on the left side of the road, even if I am riding sidewalks so that I can easily ride on the road if it gets too crowded on a sidewalk. Even if there is not a huge crowd you should know, pedestrians might chose to not move out of your way. They might chose to move out of the way for the bike in front of you, and then walk straight into you. Terrible I know, and it was probably my fault for not noticing how close they were to me, but I have clipped a person. I assumed they saw me and I was passing another person from behind, while following another bike, and crossing a bridge.

All in all though, if you fall just get back up! And avoid birds too, they will fly up into your face and you can lose your balance.

P.S. I love commuting on bike!

I get to pass by the Tokyo Tower twice a day!

I get to pass by the Tokyo Tower twice a day!

Shinjuku Shenanigans

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Started my week with an adventure to Shinjuku with two friends, because myself and another girl needed to stop at Sakeido for art supplies. The funky open-mouthed Mona Lisa shown here is the store's logo, and I dug the the Valentine's window display she was featured in.

Started my week with an adventure to Shinjuku with two friends, because myself and another girl needed to stop at Sakeido for art supplies. The funky open-mouthed Mona Lisa shown here is the store’s logo, and I dug the the Valentine’s window display she was featured in.

We stumbled upon a movie theater and my friends spotted this poster for "One Piece Film Z and were really excited about it so we bought tickets and killed some time until the movie started.

We stumbled upon a movie theater and my friends spotted this poster for One Piece Film Z and were really excited about it so we bought tickets and killed some time until the movie started.

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On the hunt for something delicious to fill our bellies with while we waited for our movie, we stumbled upon Aaliya’s Cafe and came to discover that they exclusively sell coffee, tea, smoothies – and french toast. We pointed at the picture with three pieces of french toast and three toppings (apple cinnamon, vanilla ice cream with blueberry sauce, and whipped cream with caramel, in case you were wondering) and shared it amongst ourselves. It was already looking to be a pretty successful day.

We ventured into an arcade and this crane machine was full of red panda plush toys. I exercised an impressive amount of restraint by not trying to win all of them, if we're being honest with ourselves. It's hard thing to walk away from.

We ventured into an arcade and this crane machine was full of red panda plush toys. I exercised an impressive amount of restraint by not trying to win all of them, if we’re being honest with ourselves. It’s hard thing to walk away from.

This guy tried (unsuccessfully to win some One Piece merch for his girl. Points for trying, guy.

This guy tried (unsuccessfully to win some One Piece merch for his girl. Points for trying, guy.

And then it was movie time.

And then it was movie time.

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I can’t really express how much I wish more movie theaters were like this one. Words elude me.

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This was the view from the escalator – the theater was on the 11th floor and my companions humored me and let me take the escalator all the way to the top of the building and back down as we tried to get shots of the city streets through the window. It’s hard to focus and compose a shot well when you are on an escalator. Just so you know.

Street view of Shinjuku at night.

Street view of Shinjuku at night.

I'm not going to pretend to understand what this was all about.

I’m not going to pretend to understand what this was all about.

I spotted Elmo in this shop, he was just plopped down for a bit to take a breather after a big day exploring Shinjuku. I know that feel.

I spotted Elmo in this shop, he was just plopped down for a bit to take a breather after spending a big day exploring Shinjuku. I know that feel.

Just barely missed this train, but getting home a few minutes later is worth it if it means you have more time to take more pictures with which to educate the masses. Masses, this is a train at Shinjuku Station. That I almost made it onto. But. Didn't.

Just barely missed this train, but getting home a few minutes later is worth it if it means you have more time to take more pictures with which to educate the masses. Masses, this is a train at Shinjuku Station. That I almost made it onto. But. Didn’t.

From Shibuya to Traditional Dance Lessons.

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This past weekend was the most fun I have had in Japan so far!

On Friday I went to my cousin’s girlfriend’s (who is Japanese) band’s performance. Sorry, if that is a little hard to follow. But anyhow, I went to this small venue where everyone knew everyone located in Shibuya. Yucca (the band) will have played together for ten years come May. They were awesome! It was so much fun to be in a place that you kind of have to know someone to find yourself there. I was with some friends from TUJ there and we just had a blast trying to communicate with everyone and listening to the show. I was able to have this great conversation with my cousin’s girl friend about working in Japan. She works part-time jobs, because of her commitment to her music. She even explained that she worked part-time for one financing company for 12 years. Now she works for different companies for short periods of time. When she joined the work force this is what she thought would be best for her, but now that she is getting older she is worried about not having a stable job. I was really hit with the reality of the Japanese work force. Not everyone is a salary-man.(Check out Yucca!http://www.yucca-sounds.com/)
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They next day I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art for a class field trip for the annual 2012 exhibit. Some of the Artists exhibited used a lot of Japanese in their work and made it difficult for me to understand, but over all I was really impressed with the show and the museum in general. It is laid out very well and well organized. They had papers for foreigners to read too which helped inform the viewer. Plus the art was incredible. Japan is known for its animation art and manga, but there is really more than that here. The fine arts that come from Japan are something to really look into. They really inform a lot about the culture, and the huge changes that have taken place in Japan since WWII. I feel like art really speaks about history in an interactive way.

On Sunday I was able to go with my host family to their Japanese dance class. This was amazing. I found myself in a traditional Japanese house, bowing politely, and drinking real green tea. The teacher was an older woman who teaches individuals or families, and is a huge part of their lives. She has worked with the Yamada family since Sakura (10) was just a baby. After the dance lesson the teacher let me try on her silk kimono, and taught me some dance poses. I even did a few of their drills with a fan. It was an amazing experience. The teacher kept trying to say things to me in English and was so excited that I was there. I felt so special. At the same time she was very precise on how things were supposed to be done. She made sure I bowed and repeated the polite expressions when meeting everyone. She herself had been apart of kabuki plays and showed me pictures from performances. The costumes and make-up made her unrecognizable. We also shared a love of different styles of kimonos and the fabric that makes kimonos. I can’t wait to go back again and sit in on another class. I feel as if I learned so much in just one afternoon.
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Asakusa, Bananas, and Really Warm Trains

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This past Saturday over breakfast, my host mother asked me what my plans were for the day. Even though I didn’t have any, a few days earlier she had gone out of her way to make a list of all the places she said I just HAD to visit in Tokyo, so I told her that I was thinking about going to one of the places she mentioned. She got really excited about this, and, long story short, within a half hour I was ushered out of the house and on my way to Asakusa, Tokyo.

Along the way I was able to contact a friend to accompany me. Neither of us had visited Asakusa before, and though we both knew that the area was constantly referred to as the “old” Tokyo, I think it’s fair to say that we were both surprised by what we found. A strip of countless shops packed with people led the way to humongous shrines where people took pictures, prayed, and made wishes. I attempted to make a wish, but concentrated too hard on trying to do it right and actually never got around to actually wishing for anything…

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Everyone making their wishes.

From there we came upon an adorable park and then I ate a chocolate covered banana (which was delicious).

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Oishii choco banana.

We only had to walk about a block away from the shrines and temples to be reminded again of the modern Tokyo. We came upon many street performers, who did everything from painting, to yo-yoing, to pretending to be a silent Bond-esque hero who saves a damsel in distress.  Shortly after this we got pretty lost meandering the small shops that branched off from the center of Asakusa in every direction.

For a day in Tokyo that I had not planned or expected at all, it was incredible. I got a taste of the country’s history that sparked my interest in the culture, and was also introduced to an idea that I had yet to experience myself: Tokyo really isn’t that different. Needless to say, you don’t come across many shrines or temples where I come from in Philadelphia, and people tend to be less antisocial in public here than I am used to, but while I was in Asakusa I didn’t necessarily feel like the people around me were that much different from me.

Since coming to Japan the most frequently asked question I have got is, “So how is Japan different than what you thought it would be?” The first response I have been giving is “the trains.” And the trains are certainly different from what I’m used to in Philadelphia. For one, everyone minds his or her own business and does nothing that may be bothersome to another person. Secondly, people aren’t afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with others when the trains get crowded, which is the complete opposite of what I’ve experienced in the states; And third, the trains are heated and I have yet to find a comfortable medium of dressing so that I’m warm outside but not overheating once I sit on a train.

Regardless of that, however, I’m already beginning to notice things that this city

has in common with the one that I’m from. I’m already starting to feel like I’m not really in a foreign country, and simply in a different city. To go from speaking strictly Japanese at home, to being able to speak English at school at times feels awkward, and when I find myself being stared at in public, it is almost always by another foreigner than by a native. It is difficult for me to put this feeling into words, but I imagine it will become easier in time.

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Subways; From NYC to Tokyo

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I studied in New York this past semester, and it amazes me the differences between the two cities. Although there are lots of similarities because they are both global cities, the differences are noticeable. What first caught my attention was the difference between the subways, aka the trains, the fares, the stations themselves.
In New York the subways are gross to say the least. There are a few lines that are in good condition, but mostly they are rundown. The platforms are covered with gum and cockroaches. The tracks have their famous large rats. There are music performers and beggars on the platforms and in the trains themselves. However, Tokyo is entirely different.
Although the trains can be uncomfortably packed, they are of a higher quality. The train cars have cushioned seats. There are heaters under the seats to keep you from getting cold, without making the car stuffy. Everything is bright, clean, and welcoming (excluding the kanji). However, It is not because the cars and stations are newer, but because they are well kept. The platforms and tunnels are cleaned regularly. The sides of the hallways have drains for the regular cleaning. I have even seen people scrubbing the tactile paving on the platform, so it gleamed bright yellow. There is no gum on the ground, there isn’t trash lying around, it is kept clean. Why? I am no expert, but I believe it is for the well-being of those who use the train. Japanese culture is very keen on community. It would be culturally incorrect to trash a publicly used area or allow it to become undesirable.
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In addition, many people wear masks on the train. Many where masks in general, but I have noticed it becomes more common than not when on the train. This is for personal preservation and as to not share whatever cold you might have caught while sitting in such close proximity to another. It is polite, and another reflection on how they are aware of eachother’s personal space in public areas.
In addition trains are mostly quite. You would never have break dancers barge in with boom-boxes to preform. That would be disruptive to everyone sitting in the car. In Japan conversations are minimal, and spoken quietly again out of respect for those sitting next to you.
The one thing you have to be careful of is rush hour. I have ridden in rush hour in New York and it was very uncomfortable, however Japan is worse. I am not sure how people do it, but there is no room to breathe when in a car during rush hour. I even found myself lifted when people were leaving before my stop. There are train cars reserved for only women in the rush hour, and if I find myself again riding at this time, I will make use of these cars.
Also, New York’s trains are fairly easy to navigate; they run parallel to each other, following the main avenues. The trains are owned by the same company, and each fare is the same price no matter how far you go, $2.25. If you get a month pass you can travel any where in New York without worrying about fares. Japan has many different lines and prices vary depending on how far you go. You can get a commuting pass, but it only covers from the two stations, which you use from home to work.
All in all there are some benefits to each cities’ subway system. However, since living in New York and now commuting in Tokyo I have decided to ride a bike. I do not want my mornings spent underground. We will see what observations I make from this experience. I am not an experienced biker, but I am a runner. Hopefully this helps.がんばります!

Glimpses of life in Tokyo

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Sushi! The two pieces that are most likely unfamiliar for westerners but common options in Japan are ikura gukan (salmon roe) and, behind that, tamagoyaki (fried egg).

Sake, maguro and unagi nigiri - sushi pieces with salmon, tuna and eel at a restaurant in Itabashi.

Sake, maguro and unagi nigiri – sushi pieces with salmon, tuna and eel at a restaurant in Itabashi.

Chef preparing sushi at a restaurant in Itabashi.

Every time I pass by these little guys, I want one. They just make me laugh. A vendor on a street in Itabashi sells them.

Every time I pass by these little guys, I want one. They just make me laugh. A vendor on a street in Itabashi sells them.

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Charms for sale at a shrine we stumbled upon in Itabashi.

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Went with fellow Kitazano girls to this wonderful ramen place after exploring Itabashi and surrounding areas for a bit - it was incredible.

Went with fellow Kitazano girls to this wonderful ramen place after exploring Itabashi and surrounding areas for a bit – so delicious!

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TUJ OSS Student Activities organized an event where students made mochi.

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Even the bears in this city dress better than I do. This was in a store in Shibuya.

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I’ll be honest, I regret that I don’t own this shirt.

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Street performers outside of the Shibuya train station.

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Lanterns beautify the entrance of the Itabashi train station

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In Japan, many people can be seen in public wearing face masks. This is considered the polite thing to do if a person is sick, to prevent them from transmitting germs and diseases to others. This panda is encouraging the practice on the streets of Ontakesan.

In Japan, many people can be seen in public wearing face masks. This is considered the polite thing to do if a person is sick, to prevent them from transmitting germs and diseases to others. This panda is encouraging the practice on the streets of Ontakesan.

Very polite cheese snack

Very polite cheese snack

There is a corner bakery on the way home from the train station and it has delicious giant loaves of bread and an adorable sweet woman for a cashier.

There is a corner bakery on the way home from the train station and it has delicious giant loaves of bread and an adorable sweet woman for a cashier.

Surprise snow storm in Tokyo!

These bunnies sit atop an arch on a main road in Itabashi, and on this day they were bravely weathering a surprising snow storm that hit Tokyo.

I found this snowman when I wandered through Itabashi during the snow.

Morning after snowfall in Tokyo.

Host Family Tadaima!

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Konichiwa minnasan! Hello everyone!

My name is Julia! This is my first post for this lovely new semester! I am from Ohio and go to Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am a Studio Art and Japanese double Major. I found Temple’s Abroad Program online my freshman year in college. It was exactly what I was looking for in an abroad program. So,  two years later I find myself in Japan studying at Temple Japan Campus!!!

I am living with a host family here in Japan. The Yamada family is a family of four, there is the mother, father, and two little girls. The little girls are Sakura (cherry blossom) who is ten, and Kokoro (heart) who is eight. The father actually works in Sendai, and comes home for vacations. We live in a high rise in Toyosu. Toyosu is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay and about 35 to 40 minutes from campus by subway. Toyosu is mostly known for its large shopping center called La La Port. It even has a sports center. This shopping center is on the waterfront and happens to be my neighbor. There is even a connecting tunnel from the apartment to La La Port. On top of that my apartment has a convenience store inside it. The location is amazing, and not as crowded as other places in Tokyo.

Living with a host family has so far been a lot of fun, but I do feel stretched. I do not speak Japanese well, and my family speaks very little English. My host father can speak some English, but he is only here this weekend because it is a holiday this Monday. However, even with the confusion my family has been very gracious. We have had a lot of fun too. I taught my family how to crochet Thursday night. When I got home Friday my host mother had made a hair scrunchy!

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Friday night Kokoro started to really feel comfortable around me too. Now she takes my hand and tells me to come here. She then proceeds to take me to my room. She stops at the door and knocks. After I tell her it is okay to go in, she rushes in and goes to my jewelry and hair things. She likes to wear all of my bows at once. On Saturday my host father came home and we went out for soba in La La Port. We went to the arcade too. We played a drum game and we took a pikura. Pikura is a photo booth that enhances your features and you can add little icons and write messages on them to be printed out. It is a lot of fun and can turn into a ridiculous picture.

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I have nephews and nieces back home, and so I love having Sakura and Kokoro pulling me around everywhere. There are so many decisions I have been asked to make since arriving here. Having little Kokoro picking out her favorite first helps me feel less as a guest and more like family. It has not been all perfect though. On Friday night I was locked out for about an hour. I still don’t know what happened, but my host mother wasn’t home at 4:30 like we planned. I ended up walking around La La Port which was fine, but it was nerve-wracking to not have a phone yet. (I will get my phone this week). All in all even with the clumsy mistakes that I have made since arriving and my lack of Japanese I really enjoy living with a host family. Also, I know I will grow a lot in my ability to speak Japanese because of their help! Ganbarimasu!

p.s. My host mother is an amazing cook!  They are masterpieces!

Aside

The events of the past five days have been so overwhelming I’ve rewritten this sentence about five times in an attempt to find one that can do justice to what I intend to write about. Needless to say, I can’t, so I’ll just start from the beginning.

The flight here was the longest of my life. Mostly because until this point I had never been farther from Pennsylvania than Florida, but also because it took me longer than it should have to decide to watch movies instead of insisting on sleep. I was lucky enough to have my first what I’ll call “foreign experience” within the first hour of my arrival to Tokyo, before I had yet to even leave the airport, when I was approached by three people with a video camera who proceeded to interview me about myself and my intentions in Japan. I was already so overwhelmed to be in Japan that I was very taken aback and relied heavily on the help of one of them translating to answer their questions. Afterwards, I was told by another person that the people I had spoken to interview people for a TV show that he said a lot of people watch, and that I’ll be on TV. My first question was whether or not they were going to make fun of me, to which he responded, “probably.” Welcome to Japan, right? I don’t think I could have imagined a more unexpected or perfect way to start off my trip.

Upon meeting my host family I did not have the help of a translator, as my family speaks little to no English and I’m forced to try to communicate to them with my broken Japanese. However, in just the past few days I have noticed myself adapting to the language barrier in that it has become much more easy for me to memorize vocabulary, which has always been a weakness of mine. My first night trying to talk to my family I would blank on everything from basic phrases to everyday nouns, and I worried that I was going to quickly become frustrated with what felt like inadequacy, but my family has been extremely understanding and helpful and everyday I find it easier to talk to them. It’s kind of amazing how you can find a way to communicate a thought to someone who speaks a completely different language when you have to.

Anyway, my host family consists of my host mother and father, as well as my two younger sisters, Aina (5) and Mizuki (2). Aina has already become comfortable enough around me that she’ll follow me around and ask me questions in such rapid Japanese it is often difficult for me to understand her, but it doesn’t seem to bother her that half the time she speaks all I can say in response is, “Wakaranai.” (I don’t understand.)

Today my host parents took me to the center of Machida, the district of Tokyo that we live in. It’s a pretty bustling area, with countless stores and restaurants, and we happened to come upon a taiko performance and a group of people making mochi. Taiko is an art form of ensemble drumming, and mochi is a rice cake that is made out of pounded rice, a very old custom in Japan. I was lucky enough to take a shot at both of these, as my host mother has been very enthusiastic about getting me involved in the culture and asked if I could participate. Everyone was really excited to show me the ropes, and even asked me questions about myself. So far, everyone I have spoken with has been very polite, as well as forgiving if I don’t understand.

Demonstrating my lack of hand-eye coordination.

Demonstrating my lack of hand-eye coordination.

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Just pounding some rice.

To end the day, my host mother’s parents treated us to sushi, and insisted I try just about every type I could before getting too full (but even then they insisted I get dessert!). My most daring choice was definitely tako!

Tako! (Octopus!)

Tako! (Octopus!)

Welcome to Japan!