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