Sunday, September 24

Archives: Observations

Things I've noticed about:

-Weirdo traffic light system
-People eat less fish than I imaginged
-People are less formal and strict as I imagined
-People like assuming I'm Japanese
-People are way too conservative
-Ovens are rare
-Washing machines use cold water only
-Climate is a mess, you only have to go a few hours to be in a different weather zone
-Circle K, Lawsons and Family Mart are generally better than Timely and Seven Eleven (rival convenience stores)
-There are too many shops selling the same thing
-International public phone calls are ****ing expensive
-Most people use mobile phones, few houses have home phones
-This place isn't as internet reliant than I figured it would be
-Cars here are ridiculously small
-Everything here typically has a Japan-only variant which is cheaper, better built and just generally better

-Weather is crazy
-Theres a lot to do when you look
-People remember who you are
-Bikes and cars have equal priority on roads
-Retarded layout ie. rice fields randomly all over the place
-It's almost joined to the other towns nearby cause it's so spread out
-Too many festivals in this area
-They serve vinegar as alcoholic drinks here (and no, it wasn't remotely nice) along with many other weird drinks like alcoholic royal milk tea and pretty much anything, with added alcohol
-There's a local dialect (which I'm trying to learn)

-I'm so behind on everything, eg. new albums from my favourite artist and I had no idea
-People are disappearing to Uni and I'm not there to see them off
-I'm eating junk food everyday
-I have no idea where my money is coming from but I keep spending stupid amounts and I still have loads left (I hope this lasts)
-I keep visiting the local electronics store too often
-My previously planned activies are actually gonna fall through cause I didn't take into account the snow
-Because of the above, it seems I'll be taking up ice skating, skiing, snowboarding and indoor sports instead
-I keep spilling drinks and food onto my bedsheets
-One of the hospital staff assigned to looking after us usually doesn't understand a word we say, and as a result she typically nods and smiles as if she understands eg. a question, and then just walks off
-Going to the local gym is a pain
-Doing anything here is a pain, like sorting my trash into 5 bags

Archives: Kitsune Matsuri

Kitsune Matsuri, Furukawa (Fox Festival)

Okay so I've been slacking with entries, but I figured most people were too busy to read them these days so I'll wait till theres interesting stuff to read about before putting them up.

Right, so earlier today we went to the fox festival thing in a nearby town (about an hour away). There were way more people than we expected, and we ended up following them around cause they seemed to know the festival route (had to follow the festival to different places all over town), guess they must be locals. There was the long walking parade at first, with people dressed up and carrying flame torches etc.
Main segment of the parade was the cart thing that had the fox maiden in it. The part was being played by a young girl and I felt sorry for her cause I noticed how she was squinting cause of how many people were blinding her with flashes from their cameras. She was being pulled around for almost 2 hours and there must have been over 1000 flashes going off in her eyes. Oh well.
While chasing the parade around, some paths people took were incredibly narrow and lined by weird fish canals all over the place. One guy fell in, it was awesome. Then again I almost broke my camera taking a shortcut. It involved jumping off a high wall. Whatever.
Afterwards we visited the stalls while the parade made itself to the stage.
At the stage they played out the traditional story which involved some pipe fox thing fighting the fox king or w/e, who was defending the fox maiden. This was after some marriage between the king and the maiden.
Lots of dancing and fancy lights, was good but we were at the back and couldn't see much, let alone take decent photos.
At some point during the night we got our faces painted, and cause Helen pestered I went back to get my camera before taking the bus. Photos will be up when I can be bothered, theres hundreds to sort through.

Thursday, September 14

Archives: Treasure Hunting

Nah, we didn't go on a treasure hunt.
I just got bored and decided to root through one of the drawers in the back of the cupboard in my apartment. Sure was a treasure trove in there. I had a quick look before and took a few useful things, but after going through it properly (and noticing how far in the drawers go) I found a ton of stuff:

Stationary (books, paper, markers, pens, wrapping paper, gift wrap string, glue, scissors, rulers, rubbers, pencils, drawing pads)
Guide Books (too many to list, recent and useful ones, about 15 of them)
Japanese text books (the same ones they teach us with, theres a stack in here)
CDs (compilations made by previous volunteers, and some random cds as well as a suspicious looking music cd with a naked woman on the front)
CD player
Travel adapters
Another hairdryer
A volunteer written guidebook to life in Takayama, with loads of photos, maps and teaching us how to use stuff in the apartment and how to get to places + a few other things. Wish we found this earlier.
Bags and bags full of books
2 electric blankets
3 duvets
2 huge blankets (ok, it gets cold here, we get the idea)
2 hot water bottles (...)
Spare pillow (w00t, it's now been demoted to my foot rest)
DVD player + various DVDs
Snow gear, and I mean heavy snow gear involving hooks and all sorts
Other random crap I can't identify
Various photos taken by previous gap people

In other news, had a medical check up today.
Blood tests and the such.

Japanese lessons still going well.

Also had a taste of what some of the more tedious tasks here will be like, ie. changing sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases around the hospital.
This hospital has 500 beds, go figure.

Went over to my partner's apartment earlier for food and to hang out. Had some pasta (his family is italian, so he's a good pasta chef), and alcohol. Usual stuffs.
Played checkers (got owned), chess (close win) and darts (another close win).

Throwing away rubbish here is the most tedious thing ever. There are 5 categories of trash, and you have to separate everything. Recyclable things need to be washed out thoroughly before being thrown away. Bottle caps go in a diff category to the bottles, and too much packaging here is all fancy with half plastic, half paper and a bit of metal, so you end up sitting there and disassembling stuff.
So far I've just put stuff into 2 bags (combustable and non-combustable), and I haven't cleaned out or taken anything apart *cackles*
I wonder if they'll moan at me when they come to collect it (theres also a complicated timetable describing what days they collect what bags, and you have to label the transparent bags with some stickers they handed us at the city hall).

If anyone wants a good idea of what it's like here (the atmosphere and feel, as well as what it looks like), then watch Beyond the Clouds (Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho). This place is really similar to the one in the movie, only slightly less rural. You'll know what I mean by the sky feeling high up and what not.

Wednesday, September 13

Archives: Two weeks later

So, it's been 2 weeks since we touched down at Narita.

Weather's taken a sudden dip - instead of the heat that greeted us when we first arrived, it's now almost uncomfortably cold (especially during the night) and with constant rain.
Gonna go out for drinks later, maybe if we're lucky the rain will take a break. It's been raining non-stop for more than 2 days now.

Got lost again the other night, wasn't a bright idea going into an unfamiliar part of the city in the middle of the night while holding an umbrella which obscured my sight. Dunno why I even took the umbrella since I managed to get soaked anyway.
All that just to buy a new frying pan and cleaning stuff.
*shrug* found where all the schools here are at least.

We were told the other day by one of the hospital staff that the temperature difference between night and day can be desert-like during the winter, with 15 celsius during the day, and minus 15 at night. He also mentioned how snow sometimes reaches shoulder height. Sounds fun.
Japanese lessons are going well, some teachers push you quite hard but that's a good thing.

There's something I've noticed while I've been here, it's been on the edge of my mind since I first arrived and I've only really just put my finger on it.
I'm not killing time. (gasp)
Back in the UK, everyday just seemed like a wait for something more important or more interesting. I spent my time each day waiting for the next time I had something planned on the calender - going out with friends, college, holidays and other events. All I was really doing was trying to find a way to make my wait a little less boring.
While I have stuff planned on the calender over here (too much if you ask me), each event is more of a stepping stone rather than a milestone in the horizon.
No more trouble sleeping, cause I'm actually tired by the end of the day.
Nightly bike rides around the vast surroundings after the daily 8.30am to 4.00pm schedule keep me occupied while almost all the people here are friendly and likeable... it feels as though I'm actually living life rather than walking past it.

Well it all sounds kinda weird but hey, I could get used to this.

Tuesday, September 12

Archives: Hospital Japanese Lessons

This time I really can't be bothered to write a proper entry.

The teachers are random hospital staff, each one teaches completely differently. Some hardly speak English, some conduct lessons entirely in English, others just sit there pointing at words and translating them.
Lessons start at 8.30 every morning in the hospital library, and end at 4pm with a 2 hour lunch break inbetween. Picking up loads, although so far we're just sifting through the basics and I'm just refreshing my memory. I want to start studying it properly in the apartment so it's easier to do stuff.
Gonna find a gym and some local clubs to join. Want to pick up aikido again, and karate as well as some random cultural crap like tea ceremony lessons to make the most of it.
Cycling last night = getting lost. Spent about 6 hours on my bike in the dark going around creepy looking rural areas. Also went in a straight line out of town at about 10pm to see how far I could get. Got to a petrol station in the middle of nowhere at about 11 and decided to head back.
The 3rd teacher we had was cool. Most of the lesson was just chatting in English, he wants to introduce us to a lot of girls around our age and he was talking about how he liked girls with big racks. No comment.
Anyway I stayed quiet *cough* - although he did say that getting a Japanese girlfriend is the best way to learn the language by far. I don't like the idea, and besides I'm only here for 6 months.
We gave him our emails and he's gonna contact us for nights out and joining some local sports clubs.
Apparently he knows a lot of single good looking girls. Hmm.
Raining right now, want to out again when it stops so I can buy an electronic translator and some other junk.
Gonna try and go out to the local bars and stuff more, and head to the cinema later to see what's on.
Oh and if you're wondering why I'm making so many entries, I wanna get stuff out of the way before I forget about them.

Monday, September 11

Archives: Takayama Red Cross

Quick update, too lazy to make it a proper entry.

We did some administration work this morning, registered for alien identity cards etc.
Got ourselves some local library cards, but unfortunately, the libraries look pretty crap. Maybe if I'm desperate for something to do I'll rent out some Japanese manga which I can't read, or some of the small collection of English novels. At least theres net there if for any reason I have to stop thieving from my current source.
Went to a really really cool traditional Japanese tea place. The whole place was made out of Japanese cherry oak, had tatami mats and an awful lot of artwork and decorations. Each room had a view of the central oriental garden - should have taken my camera. Had some green tea ice cream which was surprisingly nice.

Noticed how there really aren't many people who speak any English whatsoever. Your typical Japanese person knows about 5 words, and a few of them know 1 or 2 phrases. I think I've seen 4 people altogether that are fluent, one being in Tokyo, the rest being hospital staff. About 10 people know some phrases, and the rest... well nevermind.

Afterwards we were taken on a tour around the hospital, given some name tags and such, introduced to some people and then promptly pwned when they told us we were to attend a board meeting and introduce ourselves with a speech.

Well actually, while I hate speeches with a passion (or anything that involves standing up infront of an audience), I was sorta looking forward to it as a means to make use of my Japanese.
My partner was a bit apprehensive, but he wrote a fairly good one using textbooks.
The speeches were met with a fairly load clapping so I guess we did ok. We had the option to do all or bits of it in English, but that's for lame people.
Here's my final speech if anyone's interested (I had a rough draft which I went through with Mei beforehand):

Konnichi wa minna-sama
Hajime mashite
[insert bow here]
Watashi no namae wa Yin desu
Jyuu hachi sai desu
Watashi wa Igirisu kara kimashita
Ima wa kagaku o benkyo shiteimasu
Shashin to dokusho ga suki desu
Sore ni, supotsu o suru no ga suki desu
Budo to badomintonu ga suki, saikuringu ga daisuki
Takayama wa totemo ii tokoro desu
Sugoku kirei desu
Ima wa kono basho ga sugoku tanoshii desu
Eto, minna sama dozo yoroshiku onegai shimasu
[insert longer bow here]

I don't think it's too bad for something I pulled out of my head almost entirely (Mei helped with a few bits). Well, if you ignore how disjointed it is (I mean, count the desu's lol).
We didn't know it was gonna be a massive executive board meeting though, otherwise we wouldn't have put our interests and hobbies in such detail *cough*

That reminds me too, I have to write my name as "in", cause since it's a foreign name, it has to be written entirely in katakana, and there isn't anything in the katakana "alphabet" that allows me to write it properly.
There's also the problem with people pronouncing my name. Never thought it was so hard to say Yin Lee - Indee isn't quite right, and neither is Winry.
Shut up.
What's prolly worse is, the nurses seem to have taken to calling me In-chan (they don't call my partner weird things, goddamnit, I blame you, whoever you are reading this).


I'm starting to get along with my partner pretty well, and he's learnt a bit of the hirigana/katakana so it works pretty well in that I can only speak it and can't read anything, while his speaking and pronounciation is a bit off but at least he can read signs and stuff.

Oh and I've finally seen a proper Japanese toilet. It's somewhat disturbing in that it appears to just be a hole in the floor with water running through it.
Now I know why they specifically mentioned how we had western toilets in our apartment.

We also got paid today (paid for nothing mind you), 50,000 yen a month, which is pretty good since we don't need to pay for much aside from 2 meals a day and general living equipment. Also changed over the rest of my money into yen, which brought me up to 69,000 (about £350) in total as far as my funds for Japan are concerned.

Was slightly cooler today, so me and my partner decided to go on our bikes down to the nearest "home center" for some stuff (maybe it also had something to do with the fact we got paid today, hmm). Ended up buying a bathroom mat, disposable gloves, giant cushion for sitting on and some other stuff.
Found that one of the local shopping centers houses a McDonalds (this must be one of the rare large places in the world where McDonalds hasn't taken over)
There's also a coffee shop here called Mr. Donut.
No comment.

Funny enough, the main shopping street in the city (looks like any other street, but whatever) has jpop playing constantly throughout the day, and since it's also sheltered, it's become a frequent part of my cycling route. Just gotta dodge the people, but the school students seem to frequent it a lot, and there are tourists around which I can actually speak in English with.

Damn, ended up being a proper entry after all.

Next weekend we've been invited to go to Shizuoka to watch the Red Cross Baseball finals, which is where hospital baseball teams around Japan compete against each other, and our local hospital is a finalist. We aren't really interested in the baseball, but Shizuoka is a fair distance away and we get a free trip + a nights stay, so hey, why not. The guy who invited us hates baseball, but he goes with the team to get drunk lol
I like him.

In other news, my wifi signal seems to be much stronger today for some reason or other, so less cutting out.
Must be the weather.

Oh and it turns out this "Pink House" I'm staying at is aptly named, cause, aside from the walls, it's originally meant to be an apartment block for female nurses.
Well I'm not complaining too much *cough*

Looks like the rest of this week and the next consists of mostly Japanese lessons (4 subjects a day with different hospital staff each session).

My room's also descended into an incredible mess already, hope no one pays me a surprise visit. Right now the floor is a mess of books, towels, cushions, clothing, boxes, empty plastic bags, random bits of rubbish, papers, documents, speakers, camera bits, some random boxes, random food, used wrappers, envelopes, remote controls, stray luggage, my bag and etc. I think I actually like it like this, makes the room an awful lot more cozy and welcoming - a lot more like a home if you know what I mean.

Trying to get photos back up, should be there by the time you're reading this, but who knows.

Saturday, September 9

Archives: Japan, stuff

I had a lot to say, but then it took so long to get on the net that I forgot almost everything.
So anyway, if I disappeared randomly on msn before, it's cause I ran out of 100 yen coins and the machine booted me with a 60 sec warning message that locked the computer pestering you to add more if you want to continue the session.
I need a mobile phone but getting one is a pain, using public phones is just as bad cause I have to dial a load of prefixes and it costs loads, I think 100 yen lasts for around 20 secs, 100 yen being around 50p.

I'm in Takayama at the moment, living in an apartment called the 'pink house' (quiet) cause of the colour of the apartment. It's fairly nice, has everything I need etc
I quite like it, it's small but feels like a home rather than a hotel room.

A lot of people mistake me for being Japanese, and while it's nice to fit in, I don't like how they give me "are you retarded" looks when they say something and I dunno how to reply

Weather's really hot and humid, but it's gradually getting cooler, looking forward to the heavy snow and such.
Dug up some snow gear in the cupboard, I wonder if it really gets that bad
There always seems to be a moody looking cluster of clouds around in the sky too, which is great as far as my photos are concerned, if I don't melt first
I'm taking 2-4 showers a day just cause the sun freakin cooks you when you go outside during the day
Night time isn't so bad

TV kinda sucks, most the shows are either really weird or really boring.
Cars here are tiny, it's just weird looking at these little box shaped things all over the place, and all of them are either white, black or red.
There are vending machines all over the place, some of them talk to you, and you can get by using nothing but vending machines.
They aren't too expensive and you can get everything from hot meals, iced coffee to batteries and towels.
We went to a lot of traditional bars and stuff, which are really cool. The attendants and barkeep are always really friendly and polite, and they actually use the traditional accents and such.
I can see myself going to the 100 yen shops often.

Hmm let's see... the journey to Takayama was pretty good, it was just a 5 hour coach ride but it was pretty scenic. Went round mountains, gorges, valleys, lakes, cliff edges and all sorts to get to where I am.
Takayama is awesome though, it's just the kind of place that I'd like.
They gave us a pair of bikes to go around on, and cycling around here is nice. There's random photos of the place on flickr, most of which were taken on my bike so they're probably pretty badly framed.
This place is huge, it's more of a big town than a city though. There aren't any skyscrapers whatsoever, and everything's really spread out and far apart.

The hospital staff are really nice and friendly, they took us out for a sorta welcome party thing, with an 8 course meal and lots of alcohol. They'll be taking us sightseeing and teaching us Japanese before I start work on the 25th.
Oh and my mobile phone has no signal here, so don't bother.

Me and my placement partner have to cook and buy food ourselves, wash up and clean etc, so we really are living by ourselves (well, apart from that we've agreed to share everything we have between us). It's kinda weird but I'm really loving the freedom. As long as I'm not working, I can do whatever the heck I want whenever I want to.
To be honest, I've never really had to do ALL of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, dishwashing, clothes washing, keeping things tidy etc. ALL of the time.
Call me spoilt, but I can't see myself being the same person when I get back. I dunno, I think I'll miss being lazy.

I was tempted to go ride off out of town, cause this place is surrounded by mountains, fields, rivers and such, and I could prolly get quite a few photos in. I'll probably do it at some point before it gets too cold.
Speaking of which, I think I'll buy a bike cause the one they supplied me with is kinda falling apart. It's not too bad but I don't think it's good for regular use - grocery shopping and whatever.
There are a few small department store style shopping centers dotted around, so at least I won't have a shortage of places to buy stuff I need. The 24hr convenience stores are useful, and the layout of the town makes it pretty easy to get around despite how big the place is.

I'm on my laptop at the moment, sorta huddled in the corner trying to make the most of this useless signal (yeah, I'm stealing someone else's internet, sue me).
I dunno how long I can leech off this network for, but for now I'm gonna end this entry cause I'm in an akward position.

I think one problem that's already popping up is after my exploring, I've realised how little there is to do here.
My spare time will probably be spent on bike rides, TV or just sitting here listening to music or the sound of kids playing down the road for the next 6 months, with the occasional going out for drinks. There are night clubs and stuff, but neither of us are really interested (although I guess it's fine when you're drunk, and there are quite a few Japanese people that go to them - maybe later)
I wouldn't mind living here, but when I'm old, grumpy and half dead (fine, grumpier, and more dead), but right now it's way too idyllic for me.

Theres also a morning market every morning, where hundreds of people set up stalls along the river and sell their junk. Pretty good for gifts I think, might take a proper look down there when I can be bothered.

Todo list:
-Buy washing up liquid, cooking oil, fan, wifi signal booster
-Work out how to send mail back to the UK
-Exchange rest of my UK currency

I wonder how long my stolen internet will hold out, before they notice me
Photos may take a while to get back up, cause I keep losing my connection to the net halfway through uploading (cursed wifi signal, at least have a better transmitter so it's easier to steal access, darn Japanese people)

Friday, September 8

Archives: Japan, Tokyo

Japan: Tokyo

Sep. 8th, 2006 | 03:26 am

This sucks, I'm typing with a keyboard where the apostophe is Shift + 7, and the spacebar is the same size as a normal letter key. Had trouble logging in cause my username had an underscore in it and it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Go figure.

Anyway as of now, this as of now is gonna have crap punctuation, cause i:m on a timer

Let:s start from the top

Leaving (god damn it can:t even find the damn hyphen) -

buggered off at 7;30 in the morning to head off to the airport
got there and was exhausted
what was waiting for me was the following;
- searching for my partner and checking in (time taken; 40mins)
- my hand luggage getting refused cause my camera was too big, so they gave me a carrier and i repacked (time taken; 20mins)
- requeuing up for check in (time taken; 30mins)
- queuing up for 1st security check (time taken; 50mins)
- finding people again (time taken; 10mins)
- boarding but getting stopped by more security and crap (time taken; 45mins)
- sitting on the plane like an idiot for the duration of the flight cause some dude had the need to turn his light on and off when it was sleeping period (time taken; 11 hours 20mins)
+ additionally, i almost died trying to eat the crap they were feeding us on the plane, and no one sat next to me on either side so i actually had room for once

- arrived in tokyo narita + security + etc + meeting up (time taken: 1 hour 30mins)

we headed off to the youth hostel in iidabashi in a coach, at which point i was about ready to collapse as i was tired by the time i arrived at heathrow and hadn:t actually slept since

guess what, it was 9am in tokyo and we had a full day ahead

check ins at youth hostel, running around, eating a crap lunch, going to akihabara and then collapsing was what followed

youth hostel was pretty nice though, all things considered
i mean, it:s still a youth hostel but hey
food sucks, beds suck but at least theres a really really good view as we:re on the 18th floor

just noticed that i have 4mins left and i:m out of 100 yen coins
curse you, you stupid machine that only takes 100yens

anyway today i went to uh shibuya, shinjuku, some meiji shrine, tokyo city etc
most of which i had to do alone cause my fellow volunteers like lazing around in the youth hostel
surprised i made it back considering how everything is overly complicated and large
oh and shibuya rocks, it:s like walking through up a pinball machine when you:re there at night, cause of all the lights
just minus the pinballs maybe

there was also this awesome traditional bar where it was very ... traditional
dunno how else to describe it but if you watch a lot of anime you:ll prolly know what i mean

weather blows, it:s hot and humid in tokyo like it was in hong kong
it:ll be a lot nicer at my placement apparently, but we:ll see

gah 1 min left, guess i:ll cut it off there for now
leaving for takayama at 8am tomorrow, 5 hour bus for takayama from shinjuku
i:ll see if i can get back on the net at some point