Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today was my first day to go to Labo Center alone, and wouldn't you know it, the route we took yesterday was blocked off by construction. I got around ok, but pushed the clock a little more than I would have liked.

Ono, my scheduler, was out on a business trip today. The other coworkers helped me out a bit, but for the most part I simply went through my desk. There are tons of folders and papers, documenting interns at least as long ago as 1997. Pretty interesting to go through, there is a lot of history behind this desk.

I bought a nice box of anko-mochi sweets at the shrine yesterday, and I brought it in and gave it to the office. From what I understand, employees do this kind of thing a lot in Japanese offices.

One of sempais (I'm working on everyone's names, not quite there yet. I think her nickname is Ponko? Ponda? I know it's not Ponyo.) showed me a good place to get food for lunch, a sort of conglomeration of bakeries and take-out shops across the street. At an onigiri shop, she asked which one I was going to get. Not knowing any better, I answered, and she bought it for me before I realized what was happening. I tried to pay her back (I even had exact change already in my hand), but she wasn't having any of that. I'm still getting used to this whole gift culture, it does catch me off guard sometimes. The only problem with participating in such a culture is that you need to give back appropriately or the system breaks down. If you do it wrong, you run the risk of appearing moochy, cheap, rich, or sending a message completely different than what you meant. Anyways, the rice ball was delicious.

On the way out I stopped in the bookstore at the bottom of the building. I bought the second volume of that kanji mnemonic handbook, and almost bought a Tintin book for my host sister (they had a bunch of them in hardcover, even the color Congo one, the old Soviet one, and Alph-Art, which hasn't been released afaik in the US). She's about to turn seven, which is I think the birthday I got my first Tintin book. I just haven't seen her reading a lot, so I wonder if she'd actually give it a shot. I'll probably get it for her anyways.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I rode in on the subway to the Labo Center in Sakae. It's a waaay shorter commute than the one I had in Tokyo, glad about that.

I met my coordinator and the rest of the office, it was a rather formal introduction. My coordinator is a pretty cool dude, can't be a whole lot older than I am. After the introductions, he gave us some money and instructions to get a commuter pass, and gave me the rest of the day off.

Ms. Nakatani took me to the Atsuta Jingu, the second-biggest shrine in Japan. She bought me a health charm, a little zodiac dragon. I'm not sure if I'm really a bunny or a dragon; I grew up thinking that 1988=dragon, but some sites on the intarwebs tell me my birthday was before the Chinese new year. This not being China, both my host mom and the shrine maiden selling the charms agreed I was a dragon, at least by their terms. I'm still not convinced, but maybe I can compromise and at least be that bunny-dragon thing from monty python.

We ate lunch at a sorta western-style restaurant near the shrine. They had some gashapon machines up at the front, I bought a pokemon one while waiting for the food. I got lucky, pikachu.

It's been getting cooler and raining a lot. I hear word of another typhoon maybe coming, wonder if it'll be as devastatingly pleasant as the last one.

We were discussing my picky eating habits at dinner. My host mother has really taken to it, and has been trying this vegetarian thing out herself for the last few days (she's apparently into dieting). This is much to the chagrin of my host dad, who has been caught up as an innocent bystander in the whole thing (in Japanese households, the mom decides what's on the menu). Coming to terms with the idea that I haven't eaten any meat since I was four years old, my host dad asked, with a completely straight face, what I had eaten to get so big. As my host mother (who is a little bit more in-touch with western culture) facepalmed, he went on to ask my weight. I managed to tell him without cracking up too hard. I could see her face getting red as he got up from the table and went to fetch a reference book to translate the pound figure I had given into meaningful terms. After a little head math, he proudly announced his resulting figure to the dinner table, then did a double take and said, looking me over, "is that all?" Poor Ms. Nakatani... we got a good laugh out of it, at least.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I pretty much hung out with the Nakatani kids all day in the house. Watched a movie (Nemo in Japanese!), built legos and a marble structure, juggled, etc. That and did a bit of internet catching up, I actually have a connection here.

Bleah, don't feel like writing much atm. First day at the Nagoya Labo Center tomorrow, looking forward to it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I left Matsudo, Ms. Yokoo accompanied me to Tokyo Station. We visited a bookstore for about an hour, then had lunch at a little Italian pasta shop. She saw me onto the train and I introduced her to Katie... they seemed to hit it off pretty well, but the train wasn't gonna wait for us so we had to say goodbye. I've had to say goodbye a lot in the past couple days, goodbyes suck.

This was the first time I've ridden a Shinkansen, I was on the Nozomi line. As we went through Tokyo it just sort puttered along at normal train speed, but after we stopped at Shinyokohama and picked Coral up the train sped up a bit. It was awesome. The most apt way of describing it is to imagine being in an airplane that stays near the ground. Most of the route is pretty urban, so you're seeing houses go by at hundreds of kilometers per hour, right outside the window. It was a really surreal feeling, one that I'd had hundreds of times in my dreams, but this was the first time I felt it while fully conscious. And I was only on the medium-speed Shinkansen, I wonder what the fastest one is like.

Unfortunately that kind of speed meant that my trip was over pretty fast. My new host mother, Ms. Nakatani, was waiting for me as I stepped off the train.

When I arrived at the Nakatani home (a sizable 8th floor apartment just a block away from the train station), I was greeted by approximately eight kids, all very eager to get to know me. I'm not exactly how many there were as they were moving too fast to count, but from what I understand three of them are my host siblings, the rest being members of Ms. Nakatani's Labo party.

They ranged in age from about two to six, and had a ton of energy. They started by dumping out a big bucket of Legos. I built a six-sided color spiral cylinder out of 4x2 bricks, they liked that. I taught my 6y/o host sister, Leona, how to build the structure, she was really into it.

The mothers were all there too. I presented my album, that went over well. From what I understand, Ms. Nakatani lived in the SF Bay Area for a couple years before she lived here.

We had negi-okonomiyaki for dinner, watched 101 dalmatians, did some other stuff, but I'm really tired. I've got an elevated bed here, can't wait to test it out.

Ishida House, Matsudo

This is my last night with the Ishida family, they've been fantastic hosts. Tomorrow I get on the Shinkansen and zoom off to Nagoya.

Today the four of us new interns went to Kawamura-sensei's Labo parties, somewhere in western Tokyo. The first was a kindergarten party, it was a "demonstration" party with mostly non-Labo members. It went pretty well. Japanese kindergartens are awesome btw, or at least this one was.

The second party was a normal elementary school level party. It went alright for the most part, but there was a two-year-old there who decided she didn't really like me, I think it was because I took my hat off.

In any case, I'm really tired. Goodnight.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we wrote letters to ourselves, the idea being that in a year we'll open the envelopes and laugh at our naivete. My letter was fairly concise, mostly "now you're even older" stuff and asking for lotto numbers. Coral's went on for pages, I wonder what she was saying. Emma pulled out some art pens and we decorated the envelopes, too.

We had a test and speech instead of class today. I got 33 out of 41, which isn't so bad considering I didn't study for the test at all. If I can do that well on the JLPT4 in december (of which this test is supposed to be the same level) I'll pass by a good margin. I spectacularly fumbled my speech, tripping up on a word I learned two minutes before I gave it. That, and my speech was kinda dry to start with. Guess I'm not cut out to be a Japanese politician after all.

Today was likely the last time the six of us interns would be hanging out together, as the two Aussies are leaving in January. We went to the Italian place on the ground floor of the building, but only for forty-five minutes or so. Most of us had to return home to pack (we ship our suitcases tomorrow morning), including me.

Ishida House, Matsudo

This morning we set up our bank accounts. We don't have our ATM cards yet, but we do have these nifty little balance books. You can put them in the machine at the post office and it'll let you access your account, and it'll print the transaction in the appropriate line for you. It took me all of five minutes to jam the machine, but everything worked out ok. Eventually.

In the afternoon we went up to Amanuma-sensei's house in Saitama for a tea ceremony. It was a lot less formal than the one I did two years ago, and more enjoyable because she didn't make us sit on our legs. I got to actually try my hand at making the tea this time, also. Amanuma-sensei's husband is a record company exec, so she has a really nice house and garden. She was very eager to show it all to us, it was pretty nice.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we went up to Saitama to this traditional Japanese house/resort/restaurant and made udon. We all had our own stations and everything, it was like an udon class or something. After we made it, we got to eat it in this really nice traditional tatami room with a garden outside and everything. We even got to take some home with us.

Afterwards, we headed to Shibuya. Got to see the statue of Hachiko the dog, that was cool. Crossed the busiest intersection in the world, good heavens it was huge, lots of people. Went shopping at 109, although I pretty much just tagged along. Fashion, I think I've seen enough of that for one lifetime.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Tomorrow is a national holiday, but our day off got moved ahead to today. I first went to Matsudo to get my gaigokujin card, that went ok, no nasty surprises. It's nice and shiny and holographic and all that jazz, and it'll pretty much serve as my identification card for the next year.

After that, I headed off to spend the rest of the day at Akihabara. I had a few things in mind to get, none of which I ended up finding. I walked through dozens of stores over the span of about 7 hours, and did find a some cool stuff. The Haruhi and Naruto PSP games, a few really cheap PS1 games, and some gashapon figures.

Early day tomorrow, at least the trains shouldn't be too full.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Yuto's school sports day was today. It was supposed to be yesterday, but they postponed in because of the typhoon. I think they might have been better off leaving it as it was; it started raining intermittently an hour or so into the event, and it got worse and worse as the day progressed. The kids didn't seem to be deterred by a little wetness, though.

A Japanese sports day is pretty impressive. There are different "classes" (in this case three of them) competing in various events for points (sort of like the houses in Harry Potter). It's really more of a performance than a tournament, though. The kids had clearly been practicing for this for weeks, half the events were rehearsed dances, and there were plenty of ouendan doing performances between events. It's a pretty big deal for all the families too, everyone comes. Naota left at five in the morning to go reserve us a little patch of ground to watch from, and there were already more than thirty people there. Tomoko's parents and her brother and sister (as they were introduced to me, I think one of them she meant to say in-law) and their kids all came. One of her nephews was a cute little guy maybe a year old. He all but jumped into my arms from his dad's, didn't seem to mind one bit that I wasn't Japanese.

At about 2:00 Ms. Yokoo picked me up to go to her Labo BBQ at a park. It was fun, but we were huddled under the structure from the rain for a good portion of it. Got to eat soumen, an interesting sort of party noodle. What they do is set up a long trough (traditionally it's made from bamboo split down the middle, but we had a plastic one), and run water down it. Anyone hungry stands near the trough with a cup of soy sauce and a pair of chopsticks at the ready. Someone at the top then sends down soumen noodles (wheat noodles sort of like angel hair), tomatoes, and other goodies down the trough, and everyone goes to town with their chopsticks. There's a colander at the end to recycle missed food. It's pretty fun, and kinda competitive until everyone in front of you gets full.

The rain was sort of ambient for most of the time. After the food was done, Ms. Yokoo asked me to show my album to everyone. As this was the first time I had an audience containing younger kids, I was anxious to see how it would work. However, Zeus wasn't having any of that; the minute everyone quieted down and I started on my first page, there was a crack of thunder and the rain came down so hard that it was difficult to talk, much less hear anyone. We went through the album anyways, pretty pictures etc., but I got through it as fast as I could as it was clear that people were wanting to go home. Still, everyone stuck around to make sure everything got put away.

Fun day, but I'll still be drying off into next week.

Ishida House, Matsudo

The typhoon was a joke by the time it arrived, it hardly even rained. Oh well, I guess I'd rather it was too weak than too strong.

This morning I played soccer with Naota and some of the neighborhood kids.

Other than that, not a lot happened today. I spent some time fussing around with my ballot, geez there is alot of stuff on it. I wonder if it's always like this in California.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we went to the Jindaiji Temple, in Chufu. Nice place, we had lunch there too.

I went to withdraw some money from my bank account today, the one back in the US. Apparently the markets pulled some kinda Titanic last weekend, and dollar dropped by like 20% against the yen. I wish I'd made this withdrawal last week, but I should consider myself lucky that I didn't have more savings than I do in dollars. I hope everyone gets through this thing ok.

In the evening I met up with Yokoo Kouki (my old host dad) and went to his company's Seiji Touho (?) museum, the one with Van Gogh, Monet, and Gaugin. It was supposed to be a trip with all the interns, but everyone else had better things to do. The current exhibit was Giotto and some other Italian Renaissance stuff.

The typhoon is supposed to hit tomorrow. That should be fun.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Something happened on the Joban train line this morning. I got to the station, and while it was the most crowded I'd ever seen it, everyone was very quiet and somber save for a few crying children. There weren't any trains, and every few minutes the stationmaster gave an announcement over the intercom. He was saying some things regarding other stations, and he kept saying "terrible." After a while, a train came, and it was so packed that not everyone could get on it, which is saying a lot when you consider how much people can get on a Tokyo commuter train. This was an hour or so after rush hour, too. I managed to get on the second train that came, although it too was ridiculously full.

I arrived at our meeting place in Shinjuku Station about 15 minutes late, but I wasn't the last one there. Emma (who also uses the Joban line) was on the train until 45 after. She said that whatever happened probably happened at her station (Kameari), judging by all the cop cars she saw.

Today was our "introduction to the train system," although in practice it was more like a race. We split into two groups and took opposite directions around a five line loop. Coral, Simon, and I lost by a couple minutes.

On the way back home I got an email from Tomoko, saying there wasn't gonna be anyone in the house until 7:30 because they were at a Labo party. It being 5:30, I got out at Ikebukuro and explored a bit. I like to think of Ikebukuro as the "expensive" district, maybe in a vegas sort of way. There are tons of panchinko parlors, gaming arcades (mostly consisting of those crane games), movie theaters, restaurants, and entertainment shops (music, movies, games, electronics, etc.). There are some dollar store type places too, although I wouldn't exactly consider their stocks "bargains." I guess you could consider the place a good date spot, assuming your date doesn't mind the seizure-inducing electric signage all over the place.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I remembered that we were going to the Edo-Tokyo museum today, and to meet in Shinjuku station instead of the Mitsui Building. The museum was awesome, but we only had about two hours, so we missed a few floors.

We tried to set up our bank accounts during lunch, but they needed our gaigokujin cards, the one I can't pick up until next week.

Emma recommended that I try the HMV in Takashimiya Times Square for the single I was looking for. As I walked in, the rfid detectors beeped at me. A few people looked up, but no one said anything. I walked back through it, and it didn't go off again. I found the J-pop section, the band, and finally the single. It was thirteen bucks. For one song? Screw that. The detector beeped again as I left, but no one seemed to notice. That or they weren't up for approaching a big, annoyed-looking gaijin.

When I got home, I got online and checked iTunes. Not there, of course. I switched to the Japanese iTunes, but they didn't even have the artist, much less the song. I gave up and did it the easy way. The song isn't really as good as I remember, anyways. I guess jet engines do sort of cloud one's audible judgement.

Ishida House, Matsudo

The weather was nice today. It was raining this morning, so I had to use an umbrella to get to the station. Apparently there's a typhoon down south making trouble, this is probably remnants of that. Everything cleared up back to normal by the time evening came around, though.

On the way home I walked over to this building in east shinjuku with a used music shop on the seventh floor. I was looking for this Puffy song that's been stuck in my head since I heard it on the airplane, but they only had it on an album for $15 bucks. That seemed a little tall for one song, so I tried Bic Camera. They didn't have the single either, so I gave up and went home.

In shinjuku station the neatest thing happened. Let me preface by noting that Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world. The only thing more striking than how big it is is the fact that all that space is crammed full of people walking one way or another, twenty-four seven. I don't know the actual numbers (no internet...), but it wouldn't surprise me if close to a million people walk through it every day.

As I approached the gates, I extracted my train pass and my DS from my backpack. Ebbing with the flow of people, I made my way to my train. I thought to myself, "Oh shoot, I meant to buy a new stylus for my DS back at the store, my old one is getting a bit worn out. Oh well." Just as I reached the stairs to the platform, I glanced down and noticed that I had been clutching my DS in such a fashion that oriented the stylus slot downward, and there was no stylus to speak of. I stopped abruptly, and after getting my back to a wall so I wouldn't disrupt the foot traffic too much, I looked around. Back the way I had come, I could hardly see the floor through all the people, much less a little white bit of plastic on it. I craned my neck a bit, but it was painfully clear that I would never see my stylus again. Even if I had dropped it only twenty seconds earlier, it probably would have been stomped or kicked into an oblivion by now.

Resigned, I moped slowly up the stairs, as dozens of annoyed Japanese commuters swarmed past me. It was only an old bit of plastic, but my game system felt naked without it. I assured myself that I could just buy a new one tomorrow, and that it wasn't really a big deal. Nevertheless, I was really thinking I needed some cheering up right about then. No sooner had I thought that when I saw something glisten on the stair I had just climbed. I looked over, trying to define the small black object on the black step. Had I been a few feet to the right, I would have stepped on it. Forgetting about annoying commuters, I hesitantly approached the object; it looked sort of like a small pen. My mind had at that point been preoccupied with a certain similarly sized object, so I understood that what I thought I saw was probably too good to be true. I blinked, and reached down and picked up what I confirmed was an honest-to-goodness DS lite stylus. I looked around for anyone else who might be looking for something, but there wasn't a soul who didn't seem to have a desperately important appointment to get to.

I examined the prize as I started climbing the rest of the stairs, marveling at my bizarre fortune. It couldn't have been on that step for too long, because it still seemed to be in pretty good shape. It had clearly been trodden on a few times, but a few wipes and the scuffs all but disappeared. I slipped it into my DS, and it clicked snugly as if it had come in the same box. The color was different from my old one, a dark navy instead of white, but I was ready for a change of pace in that respect anyways. As I got to the platform, my train pulled up. Before I boarded, I gave a moment to whoever lost they're stylus for me, and hoped that they would find mine, wherever it may be. It was all I could do to resist giving a whoop and fist pump as I stepped aboard.

Life can be pretty nifty sometimes. That is the most happiness I ever imagined that two cents of plastic could provide me.

Ishida House, Matsudo

After breakfast we watched some TV. It was a broadcast of a play/musical, starring mostly kids that looked less than 12 years old. They were pretty good, it would be nice to be that talented.

We went to a huge park near a lake, the second biggest body of water in Japan. There was a roller-slide that looked almost a hundred meters long, a huge play structure shaped like a zeppelin (apparently a zeppelin stopped by here about 70 years ago), a nature center, a water system powered by a windmill, and lots of grass. We did a lot of hacky-sack and other stuff, really tired ourselves out.

The car ride home took a bit longer, we didn't use the expressway and there was plenty of traffic. I learned the word for "traffic," conderu. It sounds quite similar to the Japanese pronunciation of my name.

Naoto's Parent's House, Tsukuba, Ibaraki-ken

Today (well, tonight really) is a holiday in Japan, called Otsukimi (お月見, nice easy kanji). Something about a giant rabbit making mochi on the moon, and a moon princess visiting earth.

After lunch we all hopped in the car for a road trip. On the way out of Matsudo, we stopped at the UniQlo and visited Yukiko. She was surprised to see me, and we didn't hang around for very long, as she seemed sorta busy. Still, it was nice to see her again.

Driving north from Chiba-ken to Ibaraki-ken was a bit different from the Tokyo cityscape I've been experiencing the last few weeks. Lots of green trees, there was even a portion of highway that reminded me a little of the Sacramento causeway bridge.

Naota's parents live in a relatively quiet little corner of Tsukuba, with a nice big yard/driveway. Today is his mom's birthday, and a lot of the family came over to visit. His uncle is a soba-maker, and he taught Yuto and I how to make soba. Lotsa fun, glad I didn't screw up. Aside from making soba, he was eager to exercise his English skills and taught me about moon-rabbits (among other things).

Naota's parents gave me some nice presents, including a set of those really nice hand-towels. Thank you!

Ishida House, Matsudo

I slept in, didn't really do much today. I cleaned up my room a bit, although there wasn't much to clean. Played hacky-sack with Yuto for a while. Still coughing.

After dinner, I went over my album with my host family again. Come to think of it, I haven't really introduced them yet.

My host father is Ishida Naoto, a pretty cool dude. He works really long days, leaving at about 7:30 in the morning and not getting home until 9:00 or 10:00, so I don't see a whole lot of him during the week. I think he works as a salesman, though I'm not sure of what.

My host mother, Ishida Tomoko, is a pretty nice lady. Aside from all that mom stuff, she's a pianist (she teaches both her kids every day) and she likes Nodame Cantabile. Both parents are very polite and thoughtful, and they both know just enough English to (usually) meet me halfway in communication.

Yuto, my host brother, is eight years old. He's generally pretty quiet, but maybe that's only in comparison to his sister. He likes hacky-sacking, Tintin, piano, and Labo.

My five-year-old (her birthday was last week) host sister is Mayuko, although we usually just call her Mayu. I guess she prefers that; on the first day, I called her, and she responded with "Mayuko who?" She talks a lot, sometimes to no one in particular. It's nice, because she doesn't really care whether I understand what she says, she'll just keep talking to me. Usually, though, I do understand most of what she says because she doesn't use a lot of difficult words. It's interesting to think that one can learn as much Japanese though a persistent kindergartner as you can through some professional teachers.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Cripes it's late. More typing tomorrow.


In the morning we did a songbird workshop with Kate and Simon. Two solid hours of songbirds, that was something of a workout.

During class, we composed five week-long "tours" of North America. We wrote the out in Japanese, and presented them to some very patient teachers at the Nihongo Institute.

After class, all of us interns went out to East Shinjuku. We got some puri-kuri (those weird sparkly photo booths, at least that's what I think they're called), played some arcade games, and went out to dinner. They all went off to Roppongi to pull an all-nighter clubbing, but I figured that wouldn't be the best thing for me to do to stop being sick. It still took me until after midnight to get home, I think I got the last train.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Not better yet. At least it doesn't seem to be getting any worse.

Today we did an orientation for Labo Camp, which I'll be attending in December. You know you're gonna have a good time when your schedule gives you a generous estimate of 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night.

There was apparently a big earthquake up in Hokkaido this morning, a 7.0 from what I hear. I didn't feel anything, but I did get some mail from people wanting to know that I was alright. It's nice to know that someone is looking out for me.

I got some stuff in the mail! The mail-ballot for the general election, glad that worked. A jacket and pants that grandma sent me, they're really nice. The jacket is really lightweight but at the same time really warm, exactly what I need.

After class, I went up to Zaidan and printed off my album. Then I rushed home to go to Yokoo's Labo party. I got to see a bunch of people I remember from two years ago, it was pretty fun. I showed my work-in-progress album by spreading the pages all over the floor, that went over well. We did a couple songbirds and some theme activities. I did my best, but it was my first time for all of them.

After that, I went to Yokoo's house for dinner. Got to hang out with Hirokazu for a while.

I think today was supposed to be the first experiments at the LHC in CERN. I wonder how they went? I do so wish I had net.

Rainy day.

Ishida House, Matsudo

This morning we got to do calligraphy. I'm not sure what was wrong with me, but I was royally sucking at it. Two years ago I did fine, but today I just wasn't able to get it down. I went through almost two dozen tries before I tossed in the towel. Maybe it was the brush I used? Blech.

After class Harioka-sensei helped edit my album comments, so now I've just got to format and print it. I stopped by the bookstore on the way home and picked up a kanji mnemonic handbook.

Poor Mayuko has been trying to play her dog game for a few days now, but the stupid dog won't remember its name. She goes through the naming process, entering the name and everything, and then the dog just plays around for five minutes. Then the dog forgets the name, and she has to go through it all over again. The game won't let her do anything else until the dog gets its name down, it's really frustrating. I don't remember having this problem with my dog game at all.

I'm still sick, although I've been slamming echinacea and cough drops for days. No headaches, just an occasional hack and cough. My host mother is starting to worry about it, and so will I if I don't feel better soon. I've heard tales of Lee (a previous intern) being sick for much of his time in Japan, and another girl even having to return home because it was so bad. I'm probably blowing this way out of proportion because of such worries, but this never happened to me two years ago.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today we did a "Language Acquisition Workshop" with Lance today. I went out with Coral, Kate, and Simon after class to a little tea shop and hung out for a while.

I've been feeling kinda crappy for a while now, because I think I'm a little bit sick, and some other stuff. My nose stopped running, but I've still got a bit of a cough. Gonna keep trying to sleep it off.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I woke up with a lovely sore throat today. I've been feeling a little iffy for a few days, but I hadn't yet mentioned it to anyone for fear of being dragged off to the hospital. I'm gonna try to get some extra sleep to help get better, so this might be brief.

We did an album workshop with Kate and Simon today. They liked my album so far, especially Snowy the tiger.

It's Mayu's birthday, so on the way home I stopped at Akihabara and picked up a copy of Nintendogs for her. She's been in love with mine since I showed it to her last week, so maybe this will be something tangible she can remember me by. I got home late, so she hasn't had a chance to play it yet, but she likes the box at least.

The bath water was green again today. I stuck with a shower.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Got an early start, at least compared to yesterday. Today was the day I was supposed to go on a bus tour with the other interns, but somehow through several levels of miscommunication my schedule got changed. Instead, my host family took me around to see some of the sights ourselves.

First we went to *oh crap I don't remember the name atm oh well I'll look it up later*, a nice area on the waterfront. We had a wonderful view of the Rainbow Bridge (a big suspension bridge that looks sort of like the Bay Bridge in SF). There was a boat dock, a sightseeing/ferry service up the river to Asakusa. In the waiting room they had sort of a jet engine with mist nozzles, blasting across the room. Really, it would be futile to try and describe its presence with just words, but I got some pictures of it at least.

We caught a boat and took a nice leisurely cruise. There a lot of bridges across that river, we must have gone under a dozen of them in less than half an hour.

Asakusa was a lot more crowded than I remember it being two years ago, although that's probably just because today is a weekend. We did the whole song and dance, walking under the giant lantern, through the bazaar, and to the humungous temple. Off to the side, we found some people doing a show with trained monkeys. Then we had udon for lunch and headed home (I'd forgotten how good that stuff is cold).

We stopped at Kita-Kogane and picked up a cake for Mayuko. It's her fifth birthday tomorrow, but we're celebrating today. We had croquettes and a "sushi cake" for dinner, a cake that Mayu's mom made out of rice, eggs and vegetables. We sung happy birthday (accompanied by piano!) and Tomoko did a wonderful mock "interview" for the camcorder. I think Mayu had a good time, although everyone was pretty tired by the end of the day.

EDIT 11/24/08: Blogger ate some of the post. Restored now.

Ishida House, Matsudo

It's a weekend! I got to sleep in today, although I really shouldn't have. After I got up and ate, I commandeered the family's internet for a few hours. I set up the journal website so that it doesn't look quite so naked anymore, and added in the journal I kept two years ago. I even got a chance to video chat with mom, Clay and Bill to introduce them to the Ishida family.

After that, Yuto, Naoto and I went outside to play hacky-sack. Despite Mayuko and a few friends doing their best to get their heads knocked off (by randomly running, biking even, through the circle), we had fun. Once Naota understood the goal, he didn't want to go inside until we pulled off another double hack. We stayed out there for at least an hour.

While we were playing, at about 5:00 I heard a loudspeaker play some music through the neighborhood. I asked what it was, and Naota explained that it meant that children's playtime was over. They've got a communal playtime, I was wondering why there were so many other kids running around.

We had dinner, tempura, and afterwards Yokoo-sensei (my old host mother) came over and we all walked to Kita-Kogane for the festival. I took lots of pictures with my fancy phone, but most of them are kinda dark without any flash. I even took a few movies. Once I figure out how to get them onto my computer, I'll upload them.

After we got back home, somehow classical music came up in conversation. I couldn't remember what the piece I was thinking of was, so I pulled out my Nodame Cantabile game and showed them (it was Carmen Fantasy, by Sarasate). All of them like classical music to some degree, and the kids were especially interested in the game. Great fun.

One of the most striking things I remember about being in Japan is the rate at which you learn the language. Having been here a week, I can affirm that the head rush is even more ludicrous than I remember. I'm just hearing so much, all the time, that it's impossible not to understand some of it. The weird thing is that I'm understanding more and more of it. The more I know, the faster I learn, so the data flow is growing exponentially. I've had to remind myself that something I was listening to was in Japanese, because I understood it so fluidly. I'm actually constructing sentences in real time, even though I hardly spoke Japanese at all the last time I was here. I find myself participating in conversations instead of just observing them. This is awesome. The task of learning an entirely new language is seeming far less daunting than it did a week ago.

I've added a few more entries, and a few more features.

I added all the entries from my 2006 journal, including some that hadn't yet been posted online.

There are a few extra sections now including a contact page.

Speaking of contact, please comment on any entries you find interesting (or don't). Feedback is good. And I've got a cell phone now, so please send me email as well. Those train rides are pretty lonely, despite being so crowded.

~Cordell Newmiller

Ishida House, Matsudo

I stopped by Yodobashi Camera this morning and bought a microSD card for my camera phone. Now I'll be able to take as many photos and movies as I want without having to worry about running out of space, I hope.

Hirano-san spent the morning explaining the Labo organization to us from a Japanese perspective. Most of it wasn't that exciting, but he did have an interesting way of describing the differences between western and Japanese socialization. He drew two sets of circles; one had a thick inner circle and a thin outer circle, the other vice versa. The circle with the thin outer "shell" represented a westerner: generally outgoing and easy to make friends with, but always maintaining a strong personal zone of privacy. Japanese people tend to be more shy, but because space restraints in Japan make personal space hard to come by, their culture has adapted. Once you really succeed in befriending a Japanese person, your bond is close and there is not as much privacy expected.

After class, all of us interns went out for the evening. We stopped by Shinjuku station and found the Shinjuku Eye, and neat sculpture thing. Then we went and found what is apparently one of the only Mexican restaurants in Japan. It wasn't quite Mexican how I know it, but it was more Mexican than the Italian restaurants are Italian. We played some games (I'm Tupac) and told scary stories, fun times. I didn't get home until almost 11.

My phone is pretty nifty. I've been playing with it and attempting to familiarize myself with it over the last few days, and I've figured out most of the basic stuff. I set it up so it'll work with my gmail (that is, I set gmail to forward to the phone). After sending a few messages, I've found that despite my native language, it's way easier to text in Japanese than it is in English. Part of it is how good the predictive text software is (it regularly correctly predicts words before you even enter one character, based on learned context), part of it is how much better the Japanese alphabet is suited to the keypad, and part of it is that words generally have less characters (even just four or five kana is a long word in Japanese). All that and it plays tennis!

Ishida House, Matsudo

This morning we were to meet in Shinjuku station, and I arrived forty minutes early. I wandered around the station, looking at shops while I waited. I found a nifty little place selling umeboshi-onigiri, so I bought one and stuffed it in my backpack. I was looking for an umbrella, but most of the shops were food oriented, and the ones that did have umbrellas had the long sort that doesn't fit in my backpack.

After we all met, we went on a walking tour of Shinjuku. We saw Yodobashi Camera, a few restaurants, and the only Krispy Kreme in Japan. It's apparently a popular attraction, because they had a permanent line set up like an amusement park ride. When Ariel saw that it was only ten minutes long, she said she couldn't pass it up and sent us off to a bookstore with Kate and Simon. After she caught up with us, we went around Takashimiya times square and eastern shinjuku, and back to Labo through i-Land.

We had lunch with a bunch of folks from Labo, a pizza party. The president of Labo (I forgot his name) sat next to me, and I had a few conversations with him before we did formal introductions and I found out who he was. The pizza itself was pretty good, I wonder if Dominoes has ever considered selling eggplant, corn, and mayonnaise on pizzas in the US as well.

For class, we had Kurosaki-sensei, the head teacher at the Nihongo Institute. He was really good, I finally understand the difference between wa and ga now. We learned a bit about the US and Canada as well, as we explained things about our homes.

After the train, I stopped at the SATO in kita-kogane. They had a few lego sets, but it seems that lego didn't get a patent soon enough in Japan either, as there were several knockoffs. One of the knockoffs was really prominent, and featured the badge "made in Japan!" I almost bought I set of legos just to spite it. I should have.

There were banks upon banks of gashapon, but most of them weren't of any interest. They're getting pretty expensive, many were 200yen a pop, and a few were 300. There was a Lucky Star one I wanted, but I didn't want it 300yen bad. Of course, now that I don' t have it, I do sorta wish I'd gone for it. Oh well, maybe later.

I found a vending machine on the way home that was selling CC Lemon for 120yen. It normally goes for 150, so I bought it. I put in 150 yen (100 coin and 50 coin), and it spit out 70yen back at me, plus the drink. It's possible that I accidentally put in two 100 coins, but I'm pretty sure I didn't. I think what happened is that the machine ran out of 10yen coins after dispensing two, so it dropped a 50yen coin (the next highest denomination, the machine doesn't take 5yen coins and there is no japanese quarter). Lucky me!

Ishida House, Matsudo

This is gonna be a short entry, it's really late and I'm really tired. My Suica card threw kind've a fit at Shinjuku, but the staff fixed it in a matter of seconds.

We did a "Japanese Culture Workshop" with Ariel today. We went over some basic Japanese values, customs, etc. The idea is that even though we don't have the cultural experience to fit in, we can at least have some context as to why we don't fit in.

As for class, it went ok. We went over to the nihongo institute to "interview" some innocent staff. I learned that if it goes in an office tool, it's called しん. Pencil lead, staples, even ink cartridges. Fun stuff.

On the way home, Emma, Katie, and I stopped at the Bic Camera. They bought some adaptors to remove their ground plugs, and I picked up a cell phone. It's green, and does everything you can imagine save for having english menus. There are a lot of options and menus to get through on a phone that has everything. The manual is bigger than some schoolbooks I've had, full of kanji. There are two pages of english that explain that to make a call I need to punch in the numbers and hit the button.

Ishida House, Matsudo

Today was my first full day at Labo. I left early so as not to be late, so I got to hang around the Labo offices for a good 45 minutes. The four of us new interns met with Ariel to go over the program guidelines, thirteen pages of technicalities and common sense ("no stealing"). It took from 10:00 all the way to 1:00, but at least it's over with. Labo owns my soul for the next 12 months.

We had lunch together out on the courtyard. Coral has a college degree in Japanese, so she's in the nihongo institute classes, which start at 1:30. Emma, Katie and I are doing lessons with a teacher in our own beginner's class, it doesn't start until 2:00.

Our "class" is pretty much starting from the beginning, mostly for Katie's benefit. I spent most of the class trying to convince the teacher (Harioka-sensei, one of my teachers from two years ago) that I already know hiragana, and helping/distracting Emma and Katie. I did learn a few new words, (みかん=orange, ふね=boat, among others), and had a good time (Harioka-sensei is a fun teacher), but I hope I get to move on to kanji soon.

During a break, I went out to the hall to buy a drink. There was a man messing with the vending machine, trying to get a stuck drink out the dispenser. He asked me if I could give it a shot, so I got it out for him. He thanked me and asked for my name, so I introduced myself. He replied with his own introduction; he was the director of Labo, definitely someone I would want to have a good impression of me.

After class, Coral had something to take care of with Ariel, and the rest of the interns went to Nishi-shinjuku station. I stopped at i-Land and picked up a notebook and a nice pencil, then went to Bic Camera to try to buy a phone. I spent two hours with an AU-KDDI lady trying to figure everything out. At first it seemed like there wouldn't be any way to get a one-year plan, all the contracts were at least two years. However, they had a one-day deal where if you bought a certain phone, signed up for the contract, and were under 22 years old, they would give you 10000 cash back on the spot. Since the contract cancellation fee is 9975 yen, they figured everything worked out. The only catch is that the phone in the deal doesn't have an english option, so I'm going to be experiencing the Japanese Phone in all its original glory.

The forms (oh, always with the forms) were all in Japanese, but the lady walked me through it. There was some kind of rule dictating that I needed to be the one making the pen marks, so I had to put down my host family's address. I had the address, but it was in Japanese. The thing about Japanese proper nouns is that they are in Kanji. Creative kanji, sometimes so much so that literate Japanese adults can't read them. The thing about Japanese addresses is that they are long. So I had to copy down this dozen character address, each character being about a dozen strokes, from a twelve-point font printout. At first I stopped dead, thinking I would need to stop and come back with someone who knew what they were doing. After taking a longer look at the address, I found that I actually could identify the stroke order, and did a legible job of transferring the address to the form. They didn't actually have the phone in stock, so I'll have to come back tomorrow to pick it up.

It was dark by the time I got out of the store, so I figured I needed to call my host family to let them know where I was. I had a telephone card, but I couldn't find a telephone in the station. I ended up asking some policemen, and they showed me to a hidden bank of camouflaged phones, four feet tall, in a dank corner under some stairs.

Got kinda smooshed in trains today. I'll have to get used to that.

After I got home, the opportunity presented itself to use the net for a little while, so I launched my journal. Hope that goes well.

I finally got a chance to get online! I'll update when I can, although that may be somewhat random until I figure things out connectivity-wise.

I've modified post times to be chronologically correct from when they were written, not posted.

My email is Justme8800 at gmail dot com, at the moment it's the best way to get in touch with me.


Ishida House, Matsudo

I'm sure that some people may have noticed that I haven't yet posted anything online... or at least, I hope they would have... hi, mom.

I haven't really had a chance to get online at all since I left, my host family doesn't have wireless. They don't have broadband, either. What they have, for whenever they need something online, is a little modem that they string across the living room and plug into the fax machine's line. I haven't yet summed up the gall to ask that they let me take over their living room in such a way. Open wifi points are myth here, it seems that wireless hubs come default with random passwords. An opportunity hasn't yet presented itself from LABO, either. Maybe tomorrow. It's strange to not so much as have checked my email for however long it's been since Wednesday, but I comfort myself in knowing that I'm still doing better than some unnamed family members of mine might in my place. That is, I haven't recessed into a catatonic shock withdrawal. Yet.

This morning, my host mother took me to get my gaigokoujin (sp?) card. The first government office we went to turned out to be the wrong one, but they pointed us in the right direction, three train stops away. I filled out some forms, including one to let me get a cell phone.

As we were walking out of the building down the front steps, a lady looked up at me like I had eaten her dog. With a positively mortified expression, she climbed the stairs. Not taking her eyes off me, she muttered something as she passed. I caught the words "gaijinsan," but my host mother either didn't notice or pretended not to notice. I don't know what the lady said, but from the tone of the words it sounded like something along the lines of "I can't believe that a foreigner...(is here)." The word "gaijin" does have a somewhat negative connotation, but "san" conveys respect.

I split up with my host mother and went to Shinjuku. I stopped in at the Bic Camera store to check out their cell phones, and got a multilingual pamphlet explaining plans. I stopped by the AMPM at the foot of the Mitsui building for lunch before heading up to the Labo offices. When I arrived, Simon, Kate, and Coral were already waiting. Katie and Emma showed up, and then we all went back to a convenience store for more food. Later, we took a placement test, I think I did ok on the interview part. blah tired.

During dinner, my host mother's parents paid a visit. Nice folks, I've never seen someone so impressed by proper use of chopsticks. After my host father arrived home, I went over the cell phone plans with him. Here, the data transfer measure is in "packets," which, even after two hours of broken conversation, we still don't know how much are in meaningful units like bytes or characters. Oh well.