Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Japanese Holiday Special: Setsubun, Valentine's, and Strawberry Picking!

So throughout my spring break and leading into February, there are quite a few holidays.
The first one is called Setsubun. It is celebrated on February 3rd by throwing beans into and out of your house. Why, you ask? Throwing the beans outside while yelling "oni ha soto" symbolizes banishing the bad luck from your house. The opposite goes for throwing the beans into your house: all the good luck flows into your house by saying, "Fuku ha uchi!" :) This holiday gets even better because you get to eat giant sushi rolls called, "Ehoumaki." I went to my favorite local yakitori place and made my own ehoumaki! Because it's a yakitori restaurant, instead of filling the roll with raw fish, we filled it with minced meat! lol It was a lot of fun to make and delicious to eat!

Putting in the rice~ 

The final product! :) Yum! 

The next holiday that came up was Valentine's Day! In Japan, people celebrate Valentine's Day with the girls giving boys chocolates. A lot of the girls hand-make their chocolates. So my friend, Abby, and I decided to take part in the fun and make chocolates of our own! :) It was a tasty adventure~! 

The chocolate making kit we used

We even decorated the first batch! 

Finished product was wrapped in cute bags to give out to friends :)

Finally, my last adventure of the break was strawberry picking with my host family! We travelled by bus to Wakayama Prefecture and visited not only a strawberry picking farm, but an ume-pickled plum- farm as well! It was a long, tiring, but very fun day.  

White plum blossoms

Adorable red blossoms

The strawberries were so juicy and yummy! 

After seeing the plum blossoms, I'm excited to see what the cherry blossoms will look like! Everything in Japan has been absolutely beautiful, so I'm sure the cherries will be gorgeous as well. 

School has started up again for Winter Intensive courses, so I've become quite busy! Classes are interesting and fun, and everyday is an adventure full of amazing people and memories! Super excited for what lies ahead~ :D

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Experience with Japanese Theater: Kabuki

Two nights ago, Host Mom and I took a trip to see traditional Japanese-style theater: kabuki! I've heard that it's something of an "acquired taste" so I was worried I wouldn't like it. However, I figured I have to take my chances while I'm here, so I went for it! Plus, if my Host Mom was going, why not tag along? I was pleasantly surprised to find that I extremely enjoyed myself :)

Here's a really neat video explaining the distinctive features of kabuki and shows portions of the "fox" play I saw:

The theater was in the heart of Osaka, bustling with excitement. The delicious smell of takoyaki and ramen wafted past me; it was a shame I had just eaten lunch! The crowd was let into the theater around 3:30pm, and the performance started at 4pm. The entire thing was broken into 3 different parts: dance, mini-play, and traditional kabuki.

The "dance" portion was the shortest, lasting only about 30min. It's called Sanbanshou (三番

叟), and is often performed during the new year. It tells the story of a nobleman setting up a puppet to dance for him. The puppet dances- twisting, turning, and eventually gets his strings tied up. The nobleman tries to fix him, but doesn't seem to be able to. 

Dancing doll

The second part, the "mini-play," was a sort of comedy. The story details the worries of a small village during the feudal era. Choube, their "village idiot" drinks all day, steals horses and nuns, and causes mayhem wherever he goes. One day, the local feudal lord visits the village, demanding they tell him who stabbed one of his samurai guards. The village has tied up Choube, tells the lord they have no one like that in their village, but Choube breaks free and bravely tells the lord it was he who stabbed that samurai! Surprisingly, instead of punishing Choube, the feudal lord rewards him by making him one of his honorary guards. It was a hilarious story with plenty of breaking props on stage. 

Mystical fox

After a 30min intermission, the final story started. It was a beautiful tale of a magical fox and drum. There was acrobatics, 2-second costume changes, and amazing stunts. I couldn't take my eyes away! 

It's a long video, so in case you don't want to watch the whole thing I picked some key points: 6:30; 8:00; 10:00 to the end. Hope you enjoy it! 


The costumes and sets blew me away. The expertise of the kabuki actors themselves was also extremely impressive; I could tell how many years of experience and practice they have put into their work. An interesting fact about the actors is that it runs in the family; in order to be recognized as a major kabuki actor, one must come from a long line of kabuki actors. I thought that was pretty intense! No wonder they're all so wonderful at what they do! :) Kabuki was an amazing experience, and I hope more people will give it a chance! 

Inside the theater! During the intermissions, we ate our lunch boxes in our seats. It was pretty cool :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

All in One: Tokyo Disney Sea and Coming of Age Day

It's been nothing but non-stop since...well, since I've arrived in Japan! haha But, I've picked out a few special memories to share with everyone!

First up is my trip to Tokyo Disney Sea! It was an absolutely wonderful experience!! Tokyo Disney had a special "New Years" theme, so I was expecting it to be crowded. The day started off at 5:30am, leaving the house at around 6am. My boyfriend, Shun, and I arrived at Disney Sea around 7:50am. There was a HUGE line of people just waiting for the park to open! Like us, these people had bought their tickets online and were waiting to be the first ones in the park. The minute we passed through the ticketing gates, people started running. I've never seen anything like it: children, families, couples all running to get Fast Passes to the rides at 8am. Shun and I got into the park and instead of running, we took pictures. About 10 minutes passed before heading to get our first Fast Pass...the whole day's worth of Fast Passes for the new Toy Story Mania ride were gone- every single one for the WHOLE DAY!! Plus, there was a 4 hour wait for those without passes...We were shocked. Then, all around us people were still running to get their next Fast Pass, knocking into others without apologizing. Japanese people are normally very well-mannered, but once they get into Disney all hell breaks loose! haha :D

The special New Years Disney Sea show was fantastic! Mickey, Minnie and the gang spoke in Japanese!! It was weird, but cool to hear them speak another language.

Another interesting thing about Tokyo Disney Sea was that the main character wasn't Mickey, but his teddy bear named Duffy! In the States, I had never heard of Duffy. However, here in Japan, he's everyone's favorite Disney bear. Everyone at the park carried with them something Duffy related- a stuffed animal, keychain, hair tie, etc. There was one little carrying around Minnie Mouse, but after a closer look, she was a foreigner! Disney Sea even has a show dedicated to Duffy:

I must admit, he is pretty adorable :)
Despite the freezing cold of January, Disney Sea was tons of fun!! Can't wait until I get another chance to go again!

Next up is my Coming of Age experience!
January 14, 2013 was Coming of Age Day in Japan. Unlike America, when you become an adult at 21 years of age, Japanese youths become adults at age 20. On a single celebrated day, all 20 year olds dress up in traditional kimono (suits for men) and go to their hometowns for a special ceremony. Most youths see their old hometown or elementary school friends during this time. Even though I haven't lived in this city for long, I received an invitation to attend the Coming of Age Ceremony for Nishinomiya City. In the end, I decided not to attend the ceremony. My host mom was kind enough, however, to lend me her daughter's kimono so I could take pictures and still celebrate my "coming of age." I went to the neighborhood beauty salon and got my hair done and kimono professionally put on!
Here's the end result:

The art of putting on a kimono was really similar to paper origami! The two ladies who put on my kimono did such a beautiful job! 

My "tabi" or socks in beautiful golden sandals

Minnie Mouse and I both wearing kimono! :) 

I've experienced nothing but wonderful things since coming here, and an happy to share all of it with you! Special thanks to my host family; I'm super lucky and happy to be with such a wonderful, nice family!!

Here's a special picture of me and my adorable host brother:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Takarazuka Revue

Sorry it's been a while. To make it up to everyone, I've decided to do a special blog on something I've recently experienced!

This is the poster from the performance I saw! It was absolutely wonderful; can't wait to go again someday! :) 

On Monday, my Host Dad took me to the "Takarazuka Revue." It's an all-female troupe of triple-threats! These women can sing, act, and dance! Some even play the coveted role of male characters- very well, in my opinion! In Japan, the Takarazuka Revue is regarded similarly to the way Broadway is in NY. Even though it was a Monday matinee, the house was packed! Since my Host Dad bought the tickets (he's a huge fan), we sat in the 7th row. We were so close I could see the actors faces very clearly; I could practically touch them! :)

The performers are recruited from age 13 (middle school age), and go to a magnet school run by the Revue. By age 18, they are deemed ready to perform as back-ups to the "top stars." Due to its high popularity, the Revue is broken down into 5 different groups: Hoshi (Star), Tsuki (Moon), Hana (Flower), Sora (Cosmos), and Yuki (Snow) Troupes. Each troupe has its own set of stars; and those stars come with an amazingly big following. A woman sitting next to my Host Dad at the Revue started up a conversation with us, and she came all the way from Tokyo just to see the performance! The traveling expense was higher than the actual ticket price! The Revue is just a couple stops from my house and school, so it's not a big deal for me. (Lucky~~!) There was really no need for her to come all the way down to Kansai; there is actually a smaller, temporary Revue that travels to Tokyo. However, she is a die-hard fan and just HAD to see the real thing! haha

These are the "top stars" of each group of the Revue. 

All the performers are super talented; I could really tell that they've dedicated their lives to their craft! The "male" actors were surprisingly cool; I actually really enjoyed watching the "male" performers most! haha

Here's a 10min video of a medley of popular songs from the Revue. You might notice a couple of actual guys in there; those are members of the popular Johnny's boy band, SMAP. This video is from their TV show:

Warning: Everything about the Takarazuka Revue is fantasy, so please don't take them too seriously or you might hate it. Watch it like you would watch a Disney movie! :D It'll make you feel warm and fuzzy, I promise! PS- don't worry so much about understanding the Japanese; treat it like an Italian Opera (No one goes to really understand the words. Just listen to the music and watch the artistry)!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Exactly 1 Month Ago...

I don't even know where to start...this first month has been absolutely amazing! When I think back on my life in the US, there are people and places (and macaroni and cheese!) that I miss. Japan is totally different from what I've grown up in. It has safe and easy public transportation, delicious foods of ALL varieties, and hospitable people who treat me like a movie star (just because I'm foreign lol). The things I love best about Japan, above all else, are karaoke, warm baths in the winter, shopping malls, and Japanese variety TV shows! I've gotten used to my travel route to and from school, made wonderful friends, and love time with my host family.

This experience is more than I could have ever dreamed of. While talking to a fellow exchange student from FSU, we marveled at the fact that we were really HERE. In the US, we are able to see the things we're experiencing on TV, the Internet, or National Geographic. Heck, we even can participate in mock Japanese festivals with the local Japanese population! However, we're experiencing the real deal; not a mock festival, not imported goods. I can't express how thankful I am to have been granted this opportunity!

Ok, enough of the sentimental stuff! :) School is a little stressful and hectic, but fun. I'm learning way more here than I ever have in the states. I've never studied so much in my life! Despite the difficulty, all the classes are interesting and my classmates are very nice. There's so many cool things for exchange students to do while studying abroad! KGU and clubs on campus arrange special outings and events just for us! This past weekend a group of exchange students and I went on a $5 tour of a country-side village called, Nishitani. It was fun and different from anything I've done in Japan! All my friends are in Tokyo or near major cities, so I normally travel there; the country-side is not something I thought would be appealing...boy, I was wrong! I had arts and crafts time with the elderly and spoke with them about their childhoods. They were a little hard to understand because of their "country" accent, but it was still awesome meeting new people! After having a cooking lesson on how to make "omlette rice" (one of my favorite Japanese dishes!), we went to an "End of Summer Festival." The whole village came out to celebrate and cheer on the men carrying what's called an "Omikoshi" or "Danjiri." It was amazing just to be a part of the action and be accepted by the locals :)

Here's some pics:

My beautiful university

This giant thing is called an "Omikoshi"

Probably the most picturesque scenery I've ever seen!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Best "First Day" Ever!

Please excuse my awful writing; this is an excerpt from an email I sent to my family and decided to post here so it's a little more informal than my previous posts >.< 

Literally the BEST "first day of school" I've ever had! :D Granted, it was the longest day ever (I have class from 9~6:20) lol

Here's a play-by-play of how my first day went:
1. Wake up at 7:25am and eat breakfast in 15min (it's just a small, sunny-side-up egg with a slice of ham and a piece of morning toast so it's not too much to eat). 
2. Run back upstairs to get dressed and put on lots of sunscreen cause the sun is brutal (of course, all of this is done while listening to music so I can dance/sing while getting ready haha). 
3. Walk 5min to the train station and hop on the 8:18am train to Nigawa Station. Last week and part of this week, there was no one really riding the train cause school hadn't started. Today, however, it was packed with college kids! It was kind of cool cause there were TONS of them haha. I felt like I was really going to college today lol. 
4. Arrive at Nigawa at around 8:25 and walk 20min to school; arrive at school at about 8:45. 
5. Search for the classroom/building (omg, that was hard! The one building I was looking for was behind another one and I got all confused >.< lol luckily, there was a nice teacher who showed me the way.)
6. After class, eat a snack and then go to the next one. After that one, eat lunch. After that go to class...as so on and so forth haha. 

My first class is Japanese language (i.e. grammar, kanji, etc) and I have 2 other friends that I've made in the same class, so it's great! Everyone's really nice and pretty good at Japanese (there's only one kind of creepy kid from Germany...). A girl I met from Canada, Abby, is in the same four classes that I have, which is nice; I didn't have to be awkward and search for a spot next to a stranger lol. After that, though, I had one extra class without her so I had to find it on my own...and got lost >.<  I opened the wrong door (ok, I was supposed to find room IS104 and instead opened room 104) and was greeted with a room full of regular Japanese students (there were about 25 kids)...definitely wrong class, right? Japanese people couldn't be THAT interested in Korean culture, right? I asked the girl nearest me, and sure enough, I was in the wrong room xD lol When I turned around, there was a female janitor standing there and she asked me, "Are you looking for the IS rooms?" and I said, "YES! Do you know where it is??" She replied, "Yes, hurry! The bell just rang! You'll be late!" and proceeded to grab me by the arm and run with me to my real classroom. Yes Japanese people are just THAT nice haha. 

I met some new Japanese people today who're in my Korean studies class; yay, new friends! One of them knows lots of people in the Dance Club, so he's gonna introduce me so I can join! :))) 

That's about it for today! I've got only one class tomorrow from 11:10~12:40, and then meeting a friend for lunch! We're gonna discuss plans for Saturday~~! Yay! (^^) All my classes look really fun and interesting (especially Literary Analysis! it's not as serious as I thought; it's more about recent/current generation issues haha). Pretty sure I aced my entrance exam into the Japanese Usage class! Overall, it was such an awesome day! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

So far, so good!

So, it's been a week since I've moved into my new home. It doesn't feel like only a week; I feel as if I've been here a month! The way my host family and I interact is so natural. They're very welcoming and friendly (Grandma makes me laugh ALL the time!). This past week was packed with KGU Orientation events, so it was nice to come home to their smiles and be able to share my day with them. Everything we eat for dinner is DELICIOUS- seriously. I've experienced nothing but fantastic meals since arriving here (and it's not like they're preparing anything special for me, it's just their everyday dinners). We've had Okonomiyaki, Yakibuta, some sort of amazing stew, and lots more! Grandma spoils me by always having my favorite dessert around: roll cake! Yum!! (^^)

I start school officially this Thursday. Last week was full of new experiences and people~~~ it was so exciting! The first day of orientation was the placement test- talk about not wasting any time, huh? It was nerve-wracking, but once it was over everyone was relieved. That same day, we met our "Nihongo Partners," or "Japanese Partners." They're KGU students who volunteered to be our first Japanese friends and further our speaking abilities by only speaking Japanese to us. I was paired with two girls my age: Shoko and Aoi. They're super cute and sweet girls; I can't wait to become really good friends! :) Shoko and I are joining the Ramen Club together; basically, the group goes to eat ramen about once or twice a month. It just seems like a great way to meet people- and really, who doesn't love ramen?!

On Thursday, we found out what level of Japanese we were placed in and proceeded to register for electives. I was placed in Level 5 Japanese (Level 6 being the highest), and honestly, was a little disappointed. I knew Kanji (Japanese characters) was my weakness, but I was hoping that my other strong suits would make up for that...guess not. So, now it's crack-down time!! My goal is to take regular university courses in the Spring, so I MUST improve my Kanji skills. Here goes nothing!! :)
The electives I've registered for look interesting and fun: Japanese Psychology, Japanese Business, Literary Analysis, Japanese Usage, and Korean Studies. Super excited for classes to start!

The entire orientation experience was a mix of good and bad; I was a little disappointed at KGU's time management skills (there was lots of waiting around time/pointless activities), but overall very happy. The group of kids that came to study abroad are absolutely amazing- EVERYONE speaks at least a little bit of English, even though not everyone is from an English-speaking country! I've made friends with people from Norway, Canada, Australia, and China! Who would've thought there would be so many people from all over the world interested in the same thing?

KGU took us all on a field trip to Nara on Friday. We went to Horyuji and Todaiji Temples, and got to see the native deer! :) It was a fun, but tiring! Even though it was a long weekend, I only wanted to lay around all day haha. I did go to Kobe with my family, though! It was a very fashionable city, with lots of pretty shops and old buildings. I'm sure there's even more to see, but didn't have time for! So I've got to go back (^^)

Overall so far, so good! I'll hopefully post some pictures tomorrow or the next day~
This week's nerve-wracking again cause it's the first week of class; so in the words of cute, Korean dramas "Fighting!" \(^0^)/