Friday, August 13, 2010

So Long And Thanks For All the Fish.

Well, I'm back home in Pittsburgh and it's definitely been a summer to remember. Thank you for your support and letting me share a bit of my summer with you all! By no means does the journey end here - there's still quite a lot of adventure to be had in the 'burgh.

If you're interested for whatever reason in keeping up to date with the happenings in the world of Kristin you can check out the blog I'm starting over here.

Much love,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

alternatively titled: The Giant Emotional Sum Up Post Where I Reflect On My Experiences and Reconfigure My Future Accordingly.

I preface the starting of this post by saying that I retyped this probably 3 or 4 times. There really just isn't any clear cut way to sum up this whole experience. There was a lot of good and a lot of not so good, but overall it was quite an experience and that is something I'll always hold onto. What's important is that I know where Kristin stands in relation to the world now. Well, at least a little better, anyway.

Let me start by saying that I am exceptionally grateful to have had the chance to come to Japan period. Going to Japan was a dream I've had since I first remember seeing Sailor Moon on Toonami after elementary school. My dreams have changed quite a bit since then, but all the same, I still wanted to come to Japan, albeit for much different reasons. Now that I was there I've realized my dreams had and are changing once again. But no matter what direction I head in I will always looks back and, yes, there were some stressful times and some slightly depressing times, but when I do look back 1, 5, 25 years from now I"m betting I'm not going to remember the day where I cursed all the way up hachimanzaka slope for it being humid and commuting up a mountain. I'm going to remember the good and the great and the splendid things.

That's not to say there weren't ugly parts, just as there is to anything in life. So let's take some quality time to reflect on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. And in rewriting this again, I've realized that each element is equal parts bad and good and to classify them all would just divert focus from their actual importance,

  • I met a lot of amazing people from all walks of life. Some Ivy Leaguers, a fellow Pitt female computer engineer, men who get shirts custom tailored from Brooks Brothers, Harvard PhD students, married grad students from Germany, a dear friend with a built in musical ensemble, and a contact in Hawaii (how lucky is she!). Everyone I've met here has been amazing and entertaining and supportive in more ways than I could possibly have imagined. Thanks for being awesome and keeping us all sane. Ish.
  • I just managed to survive 8 weeks in a completely foreign country with a completely foreign alphabet. Granted, I did have a head start having actually studied the language prior to coming for 3 years, but I'll be damned if I didn't have my share of rough days and days still where I felt like I couldn't communicate even the most basic desire in Japanese. Or English for that matter.
  • I just managed to get credit for my final year of advanced language study at Pitt. That means I'm one step closer to my Japanese degree! And I got it by studying, working hard, and eating lots of kaitenzushi. A lesson to all!
  • I feel like I'm going to be off to a good start once I get back to the States in terms of nutrition. Since I've been here I've definitely found a greater love for fruit and less of an opportunity for Mac & Cheese. Granted there are foods here I'm not fond of and even foods I am fond of but just can't afford to import to Pittsburgh, but I feel like once I'm home I'll have a clean slate to work with in regard to getting a more balanced diet.

  • On that note, I've also walked a consistent 3 miles a day, including stairs and up-mountain. I know it's not much, but my calves are already kicked back into shape.

  • I definitely have come to appreciate my own family. There was a point in time where, like any good rebellious teenage girl, I didn't get along with my Mum terribly well and though it was clearly a phase, I can especially say now how great of friends we are on top of it all. I really missed having her to talk to and bitch to and laugh with and teach things to and learn things to and I'm going to cut the sap now before it gets outta control.

  • Can you say cold tea? Mmm, delish.

  • I'm really excited to have made friends with the baker down the street. I went there literally every morning and even though there's only been time enough for a little chat it made for a nice morning. And delish orange glazed bread. Not to mention I ran into him at the supermarket every now and then and he'd remember me and stop to chat! Granted, I'm kind of hard to miss...
  • I just spent the past 8 weeks squatting over the equivalent of a urinal in the ground to pee. Do I need to say more?

  • After being the 8-year old who couldn't handle a sleepover with her friends 3 blocks away without feeling homesick, I managed to stay with a completely foreign family for 8 weeks. Then again, I didn't really have the option for Mum to come pick me up at 2am but that's besides the point. I wasn't homesick but I did have my moments where all I wanted was to go home to my family and love and friends and curl up on the couch and shoot zombies.

  • Not having a dryer sucks. My clothes are stiff. Sometimes the low power washer doesn't even get all the soap off of them. And then they hang indoors and musk. I can't wait to get home and wash my clothes like a lazy and not energy-efficient person.

  • I've had quite a few interesting moments with my family. Namely my host father's impatient mumbling in the local dialect which, after 8 weeks I still don't understand, my host sister's bringing home a boy in secret, and my family's lovely habit of walking around the house in their underwear. My host sister playing footsies with me over the limited space at the dining table and her almost narcoleptic tendencies to nap in my bed and subsequently destroy it. I'm an only child. I'm used to putting up with about 2 people's daily habits. 8 weeks was not enough to be thrown into another family's ways in such a personal way. School, public, work - fine. At home? What is no.
The Moral of the Story
Japan is a wonderful country, I stayed with a wonderful family and had wonderful connections and opportunities through class. Japan has its downsides, there are things I'm not used to, my host family has their annoying quirks and the program wasn't up to my academic expectations but nothing so far as to call it "ugly". I've definitely had a life changing experience, though not in the way I originally thought or planned.

Once upon a time, coming to Japan was all I dreamt about. Just thinking about coming here, anywhere, even for a day was enough to make this fascination well up inside of me. Even when I got wait-listed for the program I felt my dream take a crushing blow. I got in, I prepared and one day in June I got on a plane after almost 12 years of dreaming. I got here and waited but I never felt that magic. But after about a week I realized why I didn't feel the same captivation like when I went to Boston, for instance; the magic just simply wasn't there. There was nothing wrong with Japan, there is nothing wrong with Japan, all I can say, even now, is that it's lacking that magic that I once associated with it. I couldn't tell you why.

In a sense I feel it's because the point where I'm at in life has changed without a doubt. When you're in college or almost 20 you go abroad or off on your own to "find yourself". A few months ago I seriously considered that I needed to do some of this so-called finding and naturally this would happen in Japan. But almost as soon as I stepped off the plane I knew that I was here for a very different reason than most of these people. I know who I am. I have for the past few months, even when I thought I didn't. I didn't need to establish my identity or search for my true self. I already know that Kristin. Yes I came to experience the world and a different culture and I'm grateful I have done just that, but frankly, after realizing where I stood in life, with myself, I couldn't wait to get back and finally put that Kristin to work.

I'm not particularly proud of this, but my study abroad became a largely academic-oriented goal. Not in the sense that all I did was study - I definitely got out to experience Hakodate and I'm glad I did. But ultimately, I wasn't here to explore anymore. I was here to come back with a slip of paper saying that I was one class closer to being done with this major.

To try and put this simply, in the past 8 weeks I've reevaluated where I am and where I'm going with my life. I am the one person who will come home from this treating it as a process of elimination experience. I realize now that though I would be ok with living in Japan, I no longer want to. I could never suck up my creativity and ambition and work for a Japanese company where women are still largely just office secretaries. I don't even think I have the patience to devote even 3 more years to what I think is "perfecting" my Japanese only to realize that I stilldon't have the proficiency to be an interpreter. Learning Japanese has largely become a personal goal and personal endeavor. I'd like to keep it up, though I've made the conscious decision that it's not what I want to pursue as a career. Can I speak it? Yes. Would I like to deal with a Japanese company? Sure! But I'm more excited to dive into the field of computers than risk a stable future with translation or something. That's something I'm not geared for. Computers is where my career interests lie and I'm excited to delve into that once I get home.

I learned a lot. About Japan, Japanese culture, the world. I achieved more proficiency in the language, I learned about my interests. I met wonderful friends and saw brilliant cities. I know what home feels like and I know what adventure feels like. I know that I made dreams a reality and that new dreams blossomed and that's perfectly okay. I know that I did what I set out to do and learned where my own heart lies. I have made myself a better person in my experiences.

I successfully completed studying abroad in Japan :)

Monday, August 9, 2010


A brief update:

Sunday was Tokyo Disney - magical, no doubt.

Today I navigated to Shinjuku on my own and spent the day walking through Akihabara (the electronics district) and Harajuku, only getting slightly lost.

I managed to avoid the Nigerian pimps on Takeshita Doori, went to a maid cafe in Akiba where they put a magical oishii spell on my cake to make it delicious, and realized that my hotel is in the middle of Host Club central.

My feet hurt.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


港まつり and the イカ踊り are big to-do's here in Hakodate. In fact, aside from the local fish market I remember those being two of the first and most famous events I remember hearing about in connection with Hakodate.

港まつり has taken place most of this week, kicking off with the big firework show on Sunday night and going until tomorrow. It's pretty much like your local fireman's fair (is that just a PA thing? Now I'm curious...) just on a grander scale. There's vendors with cotton candy and yakitori, slushies and crepes and lollipop shaped sausage-pops (I kid you not), your good reliable fish catching game - with real fish. And turtles. And games and beer and concerts and just a general good time. Not to mention the fireworks on Sunday were amazing; Pittsburgh really enjoys it's firework shows but it's got nothing on Japan. There were even Hello Kitty shaped fireworks. I rest my case.

The イカ踊り - or squid dance - is basically a two day long parade of townspeople paying homage to their mascot and relatively delicious local catch. Which is quite a strange combination, come to think of it. There are local bands and floats, taiko groups and school kids as well as regular townsfolk who join in the parade, doing the squid dance all the way (actually for a total of about 1 1/2 hours each night). I couldn't justify doing the squid dance for almost 2 hours, but the HIF students joined in for a bit and ikaodori-ed our way down the closed off streets.

Not to mention that prior to the squid dance starting there was a group of zombie attired Japanese parade-goers doing the Thriller dance down the parade route. I think it's actually a requirement to live in Japan that you must know Michael Jackson's entire discography and pack in some of his signature dance moves. My kind of country.

Today was our last day of class and we finish up tomorrow with our final exam. It's strange to think it's over - 8 weeks went so fast and yet so slow at times. We have a small farewell party on Friday at the hotel and then I pack up, ship my luggage to the airport and spend some time on my own in Tokyo before getting on my plane. This is definitely not the end of Japan, though it probably will be the end of my adventures in Hakodate. Well, provided I can secure a spot on the train on Saturday; that's currently a bit of a komaru.

イカ踊り - knicked from Youtube:

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Japan and Health

I could sit here and tell you all how Japan has the highest life expentancy in the world. Or how the rice they eat with every meal is empty calories. Or how, yes, I have seen a $50 watermelon here. But if we're going to talk nutrition let's be serious.

In June, when I first arrived in Hakodate, my host mother asked me if I was ok with drinking orange juice, to which I responded, "Yes, I love orange juice!". It was no lie or embellishment or anything, but when one proclaims that they enjoy orange juice they don't expect to get served OJ everyday for the next 7 weeks.

That's right, I've had orange juice with every meal (save for maybe 2 occassions, when we were out) daily, for the past 2 months straight. At least we know I'm getting enough vitamin C with this diet.

I also have decided to save a daily $5 by walking from the station to class and back rather than take the tram, which, if my calculations are right, also equals a daily 3km walk just in the city. Not to mention that schoolis already halfway up the mountain, classrooms are on the 5th floor of the building. And that I live on the 4th floor of an elevator-less apartment building, so I get my fair share of stairs and gluteal workouts.

To top it off, we recently started doing some radio taiso during first period. Now, apparently, if a native Japanese just hears the radio taiso theme, they can do the set exercises on cue. Needless to say, I haven't tried that out just yet...

So if you need a little phsyical warmup before you start your day, I have the first video for you - enjoy :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Saturday was one of our last exciting activities as HIF 留学生 (and yes, I just figured out how to change the language on this Netbook. I haven't touched a PC since XP. Don't judge. And for some reason my house wasn't having the language change) and we headed over to the cooking school for a Japanese sweets, or wagashi, making lesson.

First, we made manju, which is a mochi-like sweet consisting of 70% sugar. Ironically, the Japanese think it suitable to emphasize how healthy this candy is for your cholesterol while trying to get you to ignore the fact that it is almost pure sugar. Goodbye cholesterol, hello diabetes.

To make manju you basically make a eggless cookie batter of baking powder, sugar and water, and eventually some flour to give it, and I quote, an "earlobe" consistency. I must write that one down. "Earlobe" is a very concise consistency and leaves little room for interpretation. We were all put to shame when asked if there was any particular word in English for this. A room full of 61 exchange students from Yale and UPenn can't find one, however, if you do, let me know. Then the "batter" is molded around balls of an, or red bean paste, put in a wooden vat-like thing and steamed for 8 minutes. Warm manju? Absolutely delish.

Then we made nerikiri, which is very similar to manju, just with a different Sculpey-like outer dough which can be dyed and molded into various shapes.
We tried our hand at morning glories, and though they didn't turn out nearly as gorgeous as the head chef's, it was definitely fun to play with our hot pink food. To get the particular shape of this nerikiri, after the dough is rolled around the bean paste the whole thing is gathered up in a wet cloth and twisted to give it the flower shape.

And then there's the amazingly detailed nerikiri the chef made that put ours to shame (picture nabbed from Veronica over at June, July, Japan ):

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Take note

I hate to be a Negative Nancy but please, Japan, and I can't stress it more...


Mayonnaise is not an acceptable pasta sauce. It just isn't. It's just, just no. Stop.

On a better note, attempting to explain the history of the YMCA when your host father sings it at karaoke is a more difficult task than you think. Singing Lady Gaga at karaoke though will undoubtedly wow your Japanese family.

(Why didn't I start a tag for 'mayo' sooner? It seems to be the most recurring topic on here, sadly)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


It's not uncommon to be walking down the street in Hakodate, or anywhere for that matter, and hearing a gaggle of school children shout "Gaijin!" and stare at you in various forms of awe as you pass.

It's also not uncommon to be asked for directions to some place in town even though, regarding the fact that you can indeed speak Japanese, frankly just don't know where that place is, let alone are able to give directions to it.

And most of the time, people automatically try to speak to you in English, or worse off, just run away if you try to speak to them in what is obviously Japanese in the first place.

It's definitely a change, being the minority. There's lots of being stared at. There's lots of dumbing down (thank you host father, I do indeed know the word "obaasan" ><; I don't however know the word for state highway toll) and a lot of assuming you have no clue as to anything in Japanese, even though you're clearly in Hakodate for a reason.

It's a huge bizarre, black-hole feeling when you realize you can't express anything more complex than telling your host family what you did in class today, and sometimes you can barely get that out. Every day, at least at this level, becomes this very rudimentary thing where you have the linguistic capability of a 5 year old but can't even understand them because of their using da-tai or mumbling or simply knowing more vocabulary than you. I miss having stimulating conversations with people and being able to actually express my opinions instead of turning to the weather when the conversation starts to lull.

There's definitely a hump to get over, but I'm slowly realizing how impossible that seems. Of course, I could devote myself to Japanese study, locking myself in a room and being fed cheese and bread under the door to perfect my language understanding but who wants to live like that? I've only spent two and a half years studying Japanese and am obviously not fluent, but felt like I had a relatively good grasp on some things. After sitting through a lecture in which I didn't understand a single word the feeling of discouragement was so heavy on my mind and I still can't possibly fathom all of the years and years and years of advanced study that would have to go in to becoming a professional translator.

It's not so much a discouragement as it is a wakeup call. Translation is really not my niche...

Sushi Faux Paus

I'm wary about sharing this because I'm sure this will result in an abundance of terribly misinformed Japanophiles running around but it's too hilarious to not. If you know anything about sushi or Japanese culture or Japan, you will find this hilariously entertaining. If not, uh, only reference this at your own risk.

nabbed from Veronica !

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I couldn't think of an appropriate title for this if I tried.

Just to sum up my weekend:

Friday night there was a 2 hour lecture by former HIF grads, talking about their experiences and how we can strive to be just that. Except that the whole thing was in Japanese. As in, everyone in attendance was Japanese. Fluent. Japanese. Adult. Speakers. After deeming it impossible to comprehend and realizing that our means of escape were slim if we actually went, we ducked out last minute and opted instead for kaitenzushi and an evening of understanding what in the world was going on.

Saturday was another lecture. I actually went to this one with my host mother. There's a big difference between sitting in a boring lecture and tuning out and sitting for 2 hours listening to something you legitimately didn't understand a single word of and having your brain turn off. Guess which one happened?

So after this my host mother insisted on bringing me to her parents'/sister's house in the country for some more bilingual brain grilling. Naturally, since we'll be on the road for an hour, the appropriate answer to lunch is donuts. Yes, we stopped at MisDo (read: Mister Donuts for all you non-Japanese abbriviation savvy folks) for donuts to eat then, donuts to eat later, donuts to take with us and donuts to bring back. Hooray, donuts!

Drove to the countryside with Mama and Risa, watched the Madagascar penguins followed by a synopsis from a 7-year old boy obsessed with quoting Tom & Jerry...

And then it gets better.

I feel like I should preface this by talking a little about my host family, since I don't believe I have yet done so. I'm staying with a family of three: Papa, Masako, works at a Honda dealership. He likes to mumble and walk around the house in his underwear (but you all alreayd know that), play Othello and generally be the "fun parent" of the house. Mama, Emiko, is equally lovable but actually acts like a woman in her mid-forties. She's a social worker and also manages to lift the couch up every weekend when she speed-cleans the house. They're relatively young it seems in comparison to everyone else's host parents, who seem to be in their 50's/60's or upwards, sometimes even living with Grandma and Pa too. Risa's a second year Jr. High student, 13 and the acquisition of her first boyfriend happened to coincide with my stay here. Overall, they're a relatively young and normal family.

Back to Saturday night. Papa's friends were having a BBQ so we all piled in the taxi and headed over to their place. At this point I knew nothing except there was a BBQ somewhere and unspokenly, thanks to the taxi, I knew that Mama and Papa were planning on getting fairly drunk. Now, they are completely responsible and most definitely allowed to have a few beers at their friend's summer BBQ, but I knew as soon as we got in the cab that this was going to be pretty entertaining.

The BBQ was at a tire shop. Like a legit, sitting in the bay area of a tireshop eating yakitori and yakisoba and drinking all under the watchful eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio (who happens to be doing a CM campaign for something to do with tires over here at the moment). This led to going above the shop into the house to play Smash Brothers with the kids and be compeltely baffled by the banter going on between Risa and the housewives of Hakodate. That's one thing they don't prepare you for in your Japanese program - listening to dating and marriage advice from Japanese stay home moms in their 40's. Japan - 1.

They also don't prepare you for the slur of words that your host father spills out which are infused not only with his usual mumble but he's now reduced to thinking your fluent in Japanese and simplifies his expressions down to a single, mumbled word. Japan - 2.

We head home, Papa stops the cab for an ice cream drill at the local combini, rush back in, get's home and he proceeds to run around the house in his underwear with a plastic bag over his head pretending to be a super hero. Mama is all hugs at this point and keeps trying to sneak Risa's onigiri for herself. They then decide that we are going to play the most complicated board game ever. Which I understood nothing of but still managed to win 2 of 3 games before needing to go to my room and laugh hysterically at the night's events.

Oh, Japan.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Japan is full of quirky little things...

  • My host father has quite the collection of absurd boxer briefs. How do I know this? Every morning (okay, and evening. And pretty much whenever he feels like it) Papa wakes up and parades around the house in his pajamas, which consist of usually a white undershirt and neon orange boxer briefs. It doesn't bother me, I'll say that first. I walk around my house in my underwear too. I just wasn't expecting the rigid and private nihonjin to be so not-private about this. Now, I don't blame him, their room is so small and the bed literally takes up all of the floor space save for maybe a square two feet, so I see the need to get dressed in the dining room daily. And besides, I'd hate to interrupt the daily flow of things in the Ohashi household, and if that means referee striped boxer breifs so be it.

  • Also, my host father likes to mumble. He has a deep voice to begin with that makes him a little difficult to hear but he thinks it's absolutely hilarious when he asks me something and I have to cross the entire room just to try and make out what he's slurring together. And sometimes he'll do the helpful thing of trying to use the English word when he can, thinking that what he's saying is a difficult concept for me. Actually Papa, I've known what the word "michi" means for some time now. However, how about try explaining the word for national highway toll instead of assuming I can rattle that one off. Hooray listening comprehension!

  • Once again, and I can't stress it enough: Stop putting mayo on every thing you eat, Japan. There is a time and a place for mayonaise and on my mashed potato-salad concoction is not it.

  • The cafeteria at school had a pretty boss Engrish menu at the start of the summer. Though I suppose they overheard us talking about the "large height of rice" and managed to fix their poor English and reprint the menus :)

  • So, one day my host sister Risa, who's 13, plops down on my bed, wait, I should preface this. Sometimes I' m sitting at the desk in my room doing homework when Risa just waltzes in and lays down on my bed. This is normally when I'm 10 seconds away from going to sleep myself or just coming out of the shower and need to get dressed. And she just lays there. Doesn't talk. Doesn't really do anything but text people for a good 30 minutes. Yeah, a little awkward in the sense that how do you respond to that? Okay, so one day she waltzes in and plops down on my bed like is more common that you'd think. Though this time, after about 10 minutes she speaks up and starts telling me about these problems she's having with her best friend Saya. Turns out, Risa likes Saya's ex-boyfriend/on-again off-again boy thing Masa. Masa is two years their senpai. Risa's in a rut about this and all worked up because Masa really likes Risa and Risa doesn't want to confront her best friend ever until after their big volleyball tournament. Lo and behold, I wake up one morning and no one's home until Risa come's home from practice. With Masa. And proceeds to tell me not to tell host Mom while she giggles madly. It gets better. Soon after the doorbell rings, in which Risa proceeds to freak out, throw the boy and his belongings on the back patio and pray for her life. It's Saya. What the hell that was really about I'll never know, but a few minutes later and Saya's gone and everything's back to being awkward. Then Mom comes home and it goes from there. I had no idea I'd be a live studio participant of Maury in Japan. I'm curious to see how the rest of this turns out.

  • I've been basically walking around Hakodate with a bag full of trash for 3 days now. It's nearly impossible to find a trash recepticle and when you do, deciding which box that banana peel should go into is harder than you think. I was under the impression that everything as basically covered by the "burnable" and "non-burnable" categories alone.

Monday, July 12, 2010


When I first got to Hakodate I remember thinking that a 4-day "mid-term break" was a silly idea, after all, we're only here for 8 weeks total.

I was unmistakeably incorrect.

Hakodate is a nice town. Sapporo is a nice city. Big difference. And after all of the mountains and mountains of homework and kanji and tests it was a much welcomed change of pace. The drive there was a bit long, mainly due to our detour for a scenic trip, but incredibly gorgeous. The entire drive was a mix of being along the coastline or nestled between the mountains.

Friday night was spent exploring the city, listening to street performers, finding a nice and relatively quaint Irish pub -here is where I plug St. John's Wood if you're ever in Sapporo - to hang out in for a bit in between walking past huge depaato and covered shopping arcades.

Saturday was the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters game that we bought tickets to. It really wasn't that expensive for great seats (3rd base for 2300 yen) and it was a blast! I highly recommend seeing a baseball game if you're ever in Japan. It may seem like a stupid thing to do - why go to Japan to watch the "American pastime" - but even if you're stubborn like that or don't really like baseball, GO! From what I could tell (I admit, I basically only go to ball games at home because PNC Park is so nice. The Pirates are nothing to write home about, though I would like to get into it more. If anyone would like to treat me to tickets for the further development of my baseball education, be my guest!) the game is basically the same. The fans are where it gets ridiculous. It's almost like being at a college sporting event, with so much cheering and a mini band and noisemakers galore!

Sunday Heather, Veronica and I went and rode the amazing (though most likely intended for small children) zoo train to Asahiyama Zoo. As nice as Sapporo is it's just like any other city and I only want to spend so much time (and money) shopping and eating. The zoo train itself was pretty epic; all the cars were animal themed with animal seat covers and giant stuffed animal like seats in the back of each car! It was about an hour long, fun-filled ride (the girl dressed as a polar bear mascot was super cute. If she weren't Japanese it'd probably be creepy xD) til we reached Asahikawa, then a bus transfer and it was zoo time! Things were basically the same - we saw penguins, which were by far the best exhibit, with an underwater tunnel too, and the usual zoo animals. The most bizarre thing was the squirrel exhibit. Apparently, they're relatively rare here. In America, squirrels aren't part of the zoo, they just live there anyway. Since our sensei is originally from Asahikawa, she was nice enough to put together not just a map but a stapled packet of her hometown and so we visited her recommended ramen-ya for lunch and it was the best ramen I've ever had. No joke. Aoba, I think the place was called. And they even had us sign their little ryuugakusei guest book :D

Sunday night we just took it easy and Heather, David and I all went out for dinner and sat in the park watching the breakdancers and BMX-ers. It was so lively there, even at 1am. I have to say, I miss running about the city like that, going to Mt. Washington in the dead of night just to see the view of the city...

And Monday I spent the bus ride home reading almost the entire first book of Nana in Japanese! It's kind of disheartening, seeing as I can normally read a novel in about 3 hours if given the time, but to go through a manga in over 6 or 7 hours because I have to constantly look up words in every sentence. This was such a feeling of accomplishment. And now I have the other 20 books to read :D (20+ manga only cost me a total of $15. Win).

And last but not least, our Tanabata tree :D

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"The List" Part II

I won't lie, food has very much been on the mind this week. I blame this solely on discussing a 'coming-home IHOP celebration feast' with the Boy.

  • I have to give credit to the, mainly high school kids but occasionally elderly women who I've spotted biking around Hakodate while texting. The first time I saw it it was actually raining and I have to say, I was quite surprised to see how well people could bike and hold an umbrella. Even more so, I saw highschool students biking, holding an umbrella AND texting at the same time. Skill! But I feel this can only lead to bad things.
  • Garbage trucks play music! Kind of like the ice cream man. Just...not as tasty.
  • I really would not like seaweed flavored flakes on everything that I put in my mouth. Just saying.
  • On that note: bring on the steak!
  • You know how you go to buy a bag of chips, open the bag and feel suddenly jipped that the air you just bought was so expensive? My morning coffee likes to emply a related tactic - weighted cans. Just when you think you can tilt your head back and down the rest of your delish Cafe au lait -- oh wait. There's nothing left. There feels like there's at least another gulp or two. Negatory. The can's been empty for the past 10 minutes. BUT IT FEELS LIKE THERE'S STUFF IN THERE TO SWISH AROUND! I have no love for you, cans of deceit.
  • As I was standing and waiting for my bus home on Tuesday, an older couple was taking pictures of one another by the bus stop/schedule. Why take a picture of your loving wife next to the bus times is beyond me, but I won't question it too much. Realizing what they were doing and realizing that my fan (it was ridiculously hot that day) might be flickering into the picture, I muttered a 'gomen nasai" and backed up which was responded to with a "No, no, no" and a beckoning motion (which, in Japan the "come here" hand wave corresponds to the American "Shoo!" - don't confuse the two!). Now I have a proud place in some Japanese tourists' "My Trip to Hakodate" scrapbook. Ah, memories.
  • Once again there was a wedding outside of our classroom window. Naturally, it turns into something akin to the first snowfall of the year, even though you've seen snow all of your life. So the entire class runs to the window to stick out heads out and be nosy. This is the 3rd wedding I've seen from our classroom window. I feel like I haven't even left David's Bridal and am strangely compelled to shout out to the bride and tell her about our wedding part discounts. I should also note that the bride was wearing this giant, poofy, pink catastrophe adorned with flower petals. Just not my choice.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ah, the joys of Om-Raisu

Life apparently doesn't get any better than Lucky Pierrot

Taiko + Birthday Extravaganzas

Heather's birthday happened to be last weekend, July 3rd. Which happened to be about the time of Laura's birthday. And America's birthday. So, to celebrate in a grand and generally obnoxious American way (we've been so good so far and I feel like the 4th of July is a legitimate excuse xD) we went to Goryokaku for nomihodai (all you can drink plus dinner; you just pay for a set amount of time ie. $30/person for a two hour slot and order away!)

But not before doing some necessary errands first.

The HIF office's Okada-san was nice enough -- no, make that: she was her normal angel-of-a-self, and got me in contact with a local taiko group in connection with my Independent Study project. I really wasn't sure what to expect but I had to get the ball moving on this IS thing so Heather came along with and we trekked out at 9am to find this place armed with just the memory of the map on the school wall.

It wasn't hard to find. At all. Like, it was probably the easiest time I've had getting somewhere in Japan. The group - Tomoe Daiko - is a 5-man taiko drumming group (the kind of drums you've seen if you've been to the Japanese World Showcase in Epcot) and they were also amazing enough to let us try and play. Actually, that's an understatement, they actually taught us a drum sequence and we got to play with them! They even let us keep a pair of taiko drum sticks afterwards! (plug time: Go ahead and follow Tomoe Daiko on twitter @hakodate_rengo)

As if that wasn't awesome enough, Heather and I wandered about Goryokaku and killed time until dinner (naturally, by going for kaitenzushi for lunch) and working on some IS stuff in the library. Which would be a really nice library if it were actually air conditioned.

7 o'clock rolled around and we finally managed to coordinate the meeting up of everyone at the station and heading of to "watami-I forget the rest of the restaurant's name" for dinner. And by everyone I mean all 25 of us. Dinner was amazing though: what started out as one pot of Ghengis Khan on each table quickly turned into french fries, crisps, flatbread "pizza", yakitori and more. I don't know how this is economical for the restaurant since people were gulping down drinks like mad in that two hour time limit xD

Afterwards there was a bit of karaoke and I ended up walking home with Michael and Neil (since
everything stops running at 9pm even on the weekends ><;) because I didn't really didn't feel like forking over $50 for a taxi. Luckily, they waited until I was home before they proceeded to set off the fireworks they bought at the conbini xDD

Also, tomorrow is Tanabata! Papa and I stayed up tonight decorating the take (bamboo) with these really epic paper lanterns he taught me how to make. But more on that tomorrow :)

Oyasumi nasai!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Asahi Elementary School

Tuesday we took a field trip over to Asahi Elementary School to play with the kids. Seriously, there's nothing cuter than Asian children. This trip affirmed that about 250 different times.

The first major bout of cute was when we walked in the door and found handmade nametags for us all. Mine had origami dolphins on it. It's like they knew I was coming.

Not to mention we then managed to find a group (flock? gaggle? herd?) of Sailor Scouts in the display case. Did I mention how much I love Japan?

These kids were supposed to be cleaning the windows. Clearly, they had a hidden agenda and started waving to us instead. And then the window wiping turned into a full out dance.

We were all ushered into the gym much more ceremoniously than even my graduation. Like, to music and under brightly colored streamer archways where we spent the next hour or so singing the Japanese "If You're Happy and You Know It", playing tug of war, jan-ken-pon, and (I hesistate to say) learned the infamous Squid Dance. Kids don't really teach you or preface anything. They just expect you to instantly know. So we all hopped around in a giant circle attempting to mimic the kids who were all basically doing something different anyway xD Though adorable none the less.
We then broke up into smaller groups and taught the kids Duck Duck Goose and boy did the kids catch on quick. Catch on as in caught on to the little things you do when playing to trick/psyche out the other kids. Or smacking that annoying boy right on the head (this one little girl got in a good one xD)
It was such a blast.
So much, that afterwards we decided to hunt go gaijin smash-ing for pizza.
Which we found, but lo! Pizza in Japan doesn't really count. I would not like mayo on my pizza, thank you (or on my french fries, on my salad, on my sandwhich, on my egg, on my damn miso soup ><; Ugh, why Japan!?). Or crab/shrimp/corn/mayo. Or whatever the else they come up with. We eventually found just peppers, cheese, pepperoni, and corn (couldn't get away from that one, sadly). Bear in mind that we got a 12 cut pizza, the biggest size, I believe 31cm, for about $25. And they 're usuallu way more expensive than that.
So here's about 10 of us standing in Pizza Hut, which are all takeout/delivery only. We get our pizza and sit out front of the store on the stairs to eat it because basically, there's no other option. And then halway through it hits us - "Crap, what are we going to do with these boxes when we're done?"
Take them back into the store of course xD

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Work in Progress

One of my fellow ryuugakusei friends up here, Hilary, brought up the fact that we're all talking like we're in prison. "What's the first thing you're going to do when you get out home?", is the current most popular question. And then I realized that I think about this alot. Alot.

So much that I will make a list, because god forbid I don't have many places to stick my sticky notes around here.

  • Eat a steak. A big, juicy, medium-well grilled steak.
  • Pee while actually sitting down. I never though this would even be a possible issue. Wrong.
  • Throw all of my trash into one bin that can fit more than 3 sheets of paper in it.
  • Have cereal for breakfast.
  • Hell, just have breakfast food for breakfast.
  • Catch a form of public transportation after 9pm on a Saturday.
  • Map out all of the nearby WiFi spots and give thanks.
  • Hug my Macbook Pro.
  • Yell at AT&T regarding why my phone hasn't had service until we drove up to East Kabum.
  • Order a large pizza while paying less than $30
  • Shower. In an upright position.
  • Use the dryer. Enjoy the soft feel and clean scent afterwards
  • Not wake up at 4am just because the sun rose.
  • Eat a bagel. Like, a real bagel.
  • Drink milk. Like, real milk.
  • Stop complaining about hand dryers in restooms and just enjoy the fact that they at least have soap.

More to come :D

It's Impossible for Asian Children to NOT Be Cute

Wait until I get up the pictures/video from today. We went to Asahi Elementary School to play games and sing songs with the kids. They were too freaking adorable.

Charge faster camera!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


So I definitely haven't been posting as much as I had hoped. On one end it's nice to sit back and fully enjoy my time here without getting too occupied in documenting it all ASAP. But it's something I truly enjoy doing and I feel like my being here on study/staying with a host family is interrupting, or at least radically different, from my own fairly independent way of running my day-to-day life. In one way I'm glad I'm doing a homestay in a small city - I feel less like a tourist and like my experience is more genuine and on the other hand I can't wait to come back with some of my friends and family and see all I've been wanting to see and do on my own agenda and in my own style.

This weekend, however, waa a nice break. The whole group went to a "Quasi-National" park for the weekend. Onuma's only about 40-minutes from the school but it's in the mountains (and actually a dormant volcano) so it was a nice chance to do some bike riding and walking, hit up the gorgeous hotel's onsen, chill and karaoke to lots of Queen and Michael Jackson. The room was traditional-style Japanese and everything, so we were supplied with fantastically comfortable yukata to wander around the hotel in plus a pretty spacious room for four people. Dinner was traditionally Japanese with sukiyaki and tempura anda lot of things that I'm not quite sure of in both taste and what they were. Japanese food is definitely not all raw fish but last night mostly was and I can only do so much of that. And the tatami were rolled out for bed! Definitely worth the visit, plus some hilariously interesting run ins with the sensei xD

Monday, June 14, 2010


So, I can't figure out the international keyboard on a PC and I really don't care to take the time to learn how. I miss my Mac xD

Saturday was the opening ceremony and we got to meet our host families. I live with the Oohasi's - Mama, Papa and Risa, a 13-year old middle school student - about 35 minutes north of HIF. They're extremely nice and apparently Risa's friends say I look like an actress from some J-dorama, though I find this kind of funny and slightly impossible xD

Mama showed me the house (thank god for Western-style toilets - the school only has the squatters and I swear, I will be a champion at peeing in the woods when this is all over), the bath, the laundry; my room is less of a room and more of a compartment - it's a tatami room, but it's right off the living room of the small apartment so it's not terribly private, but it has a sliding door for a little privacy. Food has been good - so far no raw things, unlike most other people I've talked to. I still have to use a fork to eat my egg in the morning. Cutting through a layer of egg and bacon with chopsticks is a no go, though they did compliment my use of hashi in the depaato this afternoon as I ate some free-sample ramen-like stuff.

My room

Also, newsflash which will be shocking to some of you - I've been drinking milk. Yes, big whopping glasses of milk.

Did I mention the school is at the top of a hill/mountain? And that my family lives up 4 flights of stairs with no elevator?

I made it to class today in one piece. They really didn't come with me to the bus stop so much as show me where it was during our walk on Saturday. Luckily, the bus sytem is pretty easy just as long as you know the name of your stop. Class, though it's not as long as last year's summer intensive, is much more immersing and it should be interesting to see how things go through a different text book.

We also went to Goryokaku-koen, a park around and through the star-shaped fort. I'm not too sharp on the history of it, but Hakodate is where Commodore Perry first landed for trade, and at the fall of the shogunate there were a few important battles-happenings here. I have a Japanese and English pamphlet that I've yet to go through completely, but the park is gorgeous!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Placement Testing


Just finished up placement today (though I'll know by Monday exactly which class I'm in) and it's a huge relief. The reading/writing ws difficult, but I'm pretty sure the oral went well :)

The school is really quaint! Except it's at the top of this killer hill, which, in tandem with all of the veggies I'm eating already, I will be in much better shape. But from the school you can see Mt. Hakodate and its cable cars and all the way down to the ocean :D It's a gorgeous location, and apparently they think so here too since when I looked outside from the window to take pictures there was a couple getting wedding pictures taken! Bikkuri-sita!

Made it xD

I never want to fly 12 hours again xD

I was up at the crack of dawn to catch my first flight out of Pittsburgh. My flight to Toronto was in a…very small plane. One one-hour plane ride and a very confusing and unhelpful 6 hour layover and I was on a huge, multi-row, movie screen in the back of the headrest, meal-serving airplane. Between trying to sleep, eating (brownies!), reading an entire Libba Bray novel, staring at maps of the flight and watching How to Train Your Dragon – and restlessness, the last two hours were unbearable – and we were landing in Tokyo. Customs and navigating Narita was easy enough, though I did have to whip out my Japanese direction-inquiring skills a few times and then it was off to the Limousine Bus (somewhat misleading of a name, but much nicer than Port Authority anyday) to get us to the Hotel Pacific Tokyo in Shinagawa.

(too bad I don’t know how to convert raw files off my camera onto this PC, so the pictures over Alaska are lost for now ><;)
My body is so confused. I hadn’t slept in almost 32 hours. And then I felt completely fine to wake up at 4:30 am.
Roommate Heather and I (who’s ironically also from Pitt) decided to bop around Shinagawa station and procured some fantastic raisin bread and apricot tea for dinner before slowly crashing in the hotel room (which has a window seat! And where you can see Tokyo Tower from!) We did some exploring to find some dinner (jet lag led us to raisin bread in the station supermarket-place) and then headed in for the night. The morning led to tv shows about food blogging and a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel. Right in the garden – gorgeous! The flight from Haneda to Hakodate wasn’t long at all.


We found the quaintest and best little bakery, too.

We ran around this afternoon and explored Hakodate now that we’re here and ended up eating amazing grilled syabu syabu (pork, beef, pumpkin and asparagus) Oishii ne! And we made friends with the Japanese businessmen next door. So fantastic. Speaking of fantastic, one of my favorite things was probably the guy on the limo bus to the Tokyo hotel sneezing and telling himself “Bless me!”.
Tomorrow is more placement testing though, boo. Zyaa, oyasumi.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Official!

After a long week of being wait-listed and the anger/depression/revenge antics that followed, I just received word tonight that I'll be going to Hakodate! How exciting!

Now, to cancel that other tattoo appointment until I get back so I can enjoy me some onsen!