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Jeff (ジェフ)

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Hotel Naka-no-Shima [ 2010.03.12 | 01:31 ]
[A picture of the Nakanoshima island, with the hotel build around the perimeter of the island.]

The island of Nakanoshima

Had a great onsen (hotel built over a hot springs) trip recently, down past south Mie into coastal Wakayama. Ironically, it was quite close to the town where "The Cove" was filmed but we didn't let that bother us.

The hotel was on an island, just a rock sticking out of the ocean. You took a boat from the mainland and the only thing on this rock was the hotel. Somehow though, the building magically spun the entire perimeter of the island. They had a picture of what it looks like from the air and it is pretty impressive, rock with a layer of building around the edge (picture above).

The onsen was really nice, the guy's onsen was straight up against the ocean. People on boats could see in really easily but nobody really seemed to care that much. It had a distinct sulfur smell, something most onsens didn't have, however the sulfur lent to the authenticity. Actually the onsen pool had a cave behind it where water was spewing out in irregular bursts and I'm pretty sure that was coming directly from the source - it was a little hotter than most onsen water. I think it may have been the "most natural" onsen I've ever been in.

The food was of course amazing as expected. The town the hotel is in is considered one of the tuna "capitals" of Japan. Tuna generally makes for some of the best, if not the best sashimi (raw fish slices) and so the sashimi was truly amazing and tasted good in a way it never has before.

There was also a train game in the arcade that I've always wanted to play, and Leizel played the mole-bopping game for awhile. We snuck into the arcade early in the day before all the families with children arrived.

Pictures of food and onsen below:

[A picture of the dinner at Hotel Nakanoshima.]

Dinner and all its many small items.
Japanese hotels really lay it out in a way that is quite pleasing to the eye.

[Picture of an onsen.]

This is the outdoor hot springs at the hotel, luckily there was nobody inside when I got this picture. You can see the rock is colored, indicating volcanic activity under the island which produces the hot water naturally.
This picture was taken at low tide but at high tide the sea water comes almost all the way up to the edge of the bath.
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Future [ 2010.01.27 | 11:54 ]
Well I think I know what I'll be doing in August. It's not what I'd imagined but it should be a good year.

Basically, Leizel will stay on JET a fifth year and I will not...however I will continue to live with her here in Mie and accomplish other things, hopefully making money in the process.

I'll be spending some money too though - big money - on proper Japanese school. I've been eyeing a school in nearby Aichi ever since my first year of JET so I'll finally get to go. Working 8-5 during the week made it impossible to go but now I'll be able to go fulltime for at least a few months.

Other than that, I'll be doing as much private English conversation and translation as I can get my hands on.

I should also be able to make a visit home during this time, probably in September of this year.

So it'll be a slightly risky year, not having a set income, but it's a fairly safe risk.

"What happened to Grad school?" August 2011 - for sure.
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Decision [ 2010.01.25 | 15:51 ]
Well today I found out I'm not allowed to transfer from ALT to CIR. This is a big day for answering the question of "what will I be doing come August".

What's a CIR? Well a CIR is basically a JET Program person who is being employed for their Japanese ability, whereas an ALT is not required to have Japanese ability. Sometimes the two jobs are fairly similar, however CIRs work at municipal offices and are normally tasked with translation, interpreting, and event planning as well. ALTs generally just do teaching and work at schools. I was hoping to do get some translation practice and work out of being a CIR, however Mie Prefecture "does not allow" transfer between the two. This is an unbelievably foolish policy as people who've been ALTs for a few years would make great CIRs since they know the area well. Most prefectures allow it, but Mie does not. Meh.

Anyway, we'll see what happens come August.

Time to get moving on that grad school app.
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New Year's 2009-2010 [ 2010.01.12 | 00:50 ]
[Note: Normally this kind of entry would contain pictures, however the pictures used on this journal (with the exception of the wedding photo) have disappeared from cyberspace and so there are no pictures for the time being. If I post pictures elsewhere I add a link on this journal]

Leizel and I had a number of travel opportunities in the Fall of 2009 (some pictures available here) which we seized and our travel season culminated with a 7-day New Year's trip. This year's winter vacation trip was not nearly as epic as last year's, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Most of this trip was a 5-night stay in the heart of Tokyo which we'd planned to do in September but had to put off. It was nice being back in the capital again, especially during New Year's when it isn't as crowded as normal. On the way to Tokyo we spent two days in the snowy Hida region of Japan which we've been meaning to get to for a long time.

Saturday, December 26th, 2009
We set off the morning after Christmas. Last year, we travelled almost entirely by local trains but this year we'd be going to and from most places by bus. We headed to Nagoya to catch our first bus to Takayama, the city at the heart of the Hida region. What was amazing about this bus ride is that we left the plains of the Nagoya area, where it was sunny and hazy, and within 45 minutes we were in the middle of more snow than either Leizel and I had seen in Japan in these three and a half years. There is snow, and a lot of it, but in the mountains north of Nagoya and it was so nice being able to see it. Snow is one of the things I miss most from home. Even though it's a bother to shovel, it adds a beauty to winter that is not found in the area of Japan where we live.

Upon arriving in Takayama, we immediately hopped on another bus to head up to Shirakawa-go, an area in the mountains that was cut off from the rest of Japan for a long time and so developed slightly differently than the rest of the country until technology improved the ability to travel to and from. It's officially registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Japanese people are rather obsessed with this idea of "World Heritage Sites", at least a lot more so than people in Ohio. It's really not a spectacular place, it's just a village, but it's really nice to walk around and take in the old feeling (and the snow). The typical symbol of this place is the tall triangle-shaped roofs on many of the houses, mostly covered in snow.

After finishing up at Shirakawa-go we then rode our third bus of the day back to Takayama where we enjoyed a nice bowl of ramen flavored with the local recipe which is rather famous in the area. It was really tasty, and a good warm bowl of ramen is always good after walking around in the cold all day. We also ate a tiny but extremely good beef skewer; there's a lot of beef in this town as it has a number of cow farms in the area and the beef is known to be especially tasty.

Will give basic details but expand later

Sunday, December 27th, 2009
Went to the onsen village Gero and stayed in a really nice place. Had an amazing dinner.

Monday, December 28th, 2009
Woke up at the hotel, took a train back to Takayama, and caught a bus to Tokyo after eating the tasty ramen again.

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
Planned to have a photo shoot for Leizel in a maiko costume, her wedding present, however the studio had burned down the night before and we arrived to a burned out building. Wow. Surprise.

We met Tomona and Megumi for dinner, two of our friends from college. We ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp, which neither of us had ever eaten at before.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009
Shopping day at the largest mall in Japan. It was epic in its scale, and an unbelievably good selection of restaurants. I would actually be happy to go there again just to eat.

Thursday, December 31st, 2009
We spent the day of New Year's Eve at the Yokohama Aquarium, which was said to be the best in Japan but I'd have to disagree after going - Osaka's is better without a doubt.

We spent New Year's Eve on Odaiba getting good food and enjoying the beautifully lit-up Rainbow Bridge.

Friday, January 1st, 2010
Our only schedule-less day in Tokyo. We just kind of hung out, and walked from Akihabara to Kanda for fun. I played some of the DS games I'd bought the previous day and Leizel studied for the GRE.

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010
Heading home. We met our friends at Tokyo Station before we left, and then hopped on a bus. This may have been just one too many bus rides, as it was crowded on the highway and took longer to get everywhere.

We had dinner in Hamamatsu and then took the train back home to Mie, where we played some more of the very addictive Wii Mario game which we'd started playing the night before we left.
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Interpreting Seminar [ 2009.12.16 | 15:52 ]
I recently returned from a five-day seminar which focused on making those of us enrolled in the JET translation and interpreting course practice interpreting as much as possible. Interpreting is, technically, translation of the spoken word -- meaning you hear one language and quickly output the contents of what you heard into another language. This is more difficult than it sounds, and in my estimation it is extra difficult for introverts like me who very much appreciate being able to carefully consider their words before spitting them out. The fact that interpreting basically amounts to public speaking is also a bit difficult, however I can say with confidence that in my time in Japan I've overcome all fears of public speaking provided that I have all the time I want to prepare. The experience of learning a language has taught me that I'll never be able to "think on my feet" as quickly as most people, and so I find interpreting especially difficult.

The seminar consisted of 144 JETs. However, as people who work as CIRs (JETs who work in city government offices and need Japanese speaking credentials to be accepted) are allowed to take the course, doing well enough on the entrance test is a bit of a challenge. I hadn't really met anyone else enrolled in the class so I was eager to see the Japanese level of the others. After observing the others, in some ways my ego was boosted but in other ways it was damaged.

The point on which I feel good about myself is that almost every single other person in the class had serious, formal Japanese education in college or earlier. Most people majored in Japanese, East Asian Studies, or some other kind of similar field and through that were able to take real Japanese classes all through college. More importantly, all of these people came to Japan to do intensive university for a full school year...some of them had even studied abroad in high school or had initially picked up the language from a Japanese speaking parent. Compare this with me who didn't start seriously learning the language until I was already in Japan at the age of 23. Granted I was not a complete beginner, as I took classes in college too, but our classes were so slow-paced and easy it's like comparing apples to oranges to the kinds of training the it seems others have had. True, I had been to Japan before, but it was a homestay designed to expose us to Japanese culture and way of life as opposed to forcing us to really focus on the language. At that time I was determined to learn Japanese but my non-existant skills in the language made it next to impossible to communicate with my host family and since they were more than eager to practice their English with me. Also, this experience only lasted 4 weeks, which is not at all enough time to see real improvement. The truth is I've learned Japanese almost entirely on my own as a JET, and I take pride in that especially seeing as I (probably) passed the highest level of the JLPT.

However, as much as I want to pat myself on the back for learning it all on my own, nothing can undo the truth that almost everyone in the class was better at speaking than I am...perhaps precisely because they started earlier and had formal training. In their presence, especially a group of them, as a speaker I feel like a poser - a cheap imitation, and it's really a rather embarassing feeling. Hearing people's backgrounds about how they first started learning Japanese and how long they've been studying, I now truly appreciate the value of studying here for a full year in college and how much more useful this would've been for my language ability than a one-month homestay. Not that I would give up my homestay experience, it was amazing and I'll remember it fondly. Also, it was pretty much the only option at Kent for going to Japan. But I now see that since I took so long to discover that Japanese is what I wanted to do that I missed out on perhaps big opportunities earlier in life that would've helped make me a better speaker.

I am truly confident that my reading ability and kanji ability is above and beyond most people, even those at the class as I learned, however not being able to speak as well as them is a big problem. No matter how well I can translate, if I can't talk properly people won't trust my other abilities. This is my nightmare, being a translator who reads perfectly but can't speak and so is not trusted. My work experience has taught me that I cannot feel good in a job where people don't trust my expertise on the subject they're paying me to be an expert on, and so I must work to avoid this at all costs. Thus, I am considering going to intensive speaking or interpreting (which would help speaking) school at some point before returning to the US and certainly before finding a job.

I've gotten comfortable with Japanese enough that I'm at a level where, based on external factors, I don't need to improve. However, for my mental well-being I do need to improve, and I'm going to have to spend a lot of time and money to do so.

In other news, I'm currently writing out my yearly Japanese New Year's cards and preparing for our New Year's trip, which will not be nearly as grand as last year but will take us to the snowy mountains for two days and then Tokyo for five nice (potentially) relaxing days in the big city. Probably won't write again until I'm back.

See you on the other side of the decade. The 2000's have been the source of many of my absolute favorite memories and best times. I'm going to miss them.
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JLPT 2009 [ 2009.12.02 | 21:07 ]
Another early December is here. This could only mean one thing:

JLPT Season

This is it, the highest and final level: the dreaded Level 1. If I pass this test, I will never have to worry about the JLPT ever again, though I'm thinking I may habitually start studying for it every fall since I have donated so much of the last four fall seasons to this test.

The premise of Level 1 is quite simple really -- unlike previous levels which "cap" the amount of words / kanji characters / grammar points that can be used, Level 1 doesn't feel that's necessary. Basically, you need to know it all. The whole language. Of course, since the test doesn't require you to produce an ounce of Japanese you don't need to be a native to pass it, however reading "fluency" is required because there is a lot of reading. I'm happy to say that I've attained a fairly decent level of said reading fluency, and therefore I'm not pessimistic about my chances of passing.

One snag about Level 1 is that, unlike the lower 3 levels where the passing grade is 60%, you need 70% to pass this bad boy. In the past few weeks, I've taken identical copies of the Level 1 tests of the past few years and I'm hovering slightly above 70% which would give me confidence if the bar was 60%, but I'm a bit nervous about the higher mark.

I guess I'll say that, because of my performance on the tests of the past few years, I am kind of feeling it going into Sunday. However, I'm also quite certain that I won't be feeling it Sunday afternoon after the test because I have always underestimated my points each year.

My studying this year has been different than past years. The only thing that I have studied in the same fashion as I have in past years is grammar, in particular the many specific grammar points which are some of the most formal and rarely-used in the entire language. They require a flashcard system because I'll never see them anywhere else. However, for the rest of the test, I haven't done as much hardcore flashcard studying as in past years because I feel that it's impossible to memorize every word in the language. What I have done instead is read...a lot. This has contributed to the reading fluency I mentioned above. I've come to the point where, to a fair degree, I can "feel" if something is right and I can (in some cases easily) predict what should be coming next, the way that we do in our native language. Not that my Japanese is anywhere as good as a native's, but my reading in particular is getting up there. My listening has improved a lot too this past year. Speaking and writing still beg for more attention, but by reading and listening a lot, the other two are automatically supplemented in a way.

Anyway, if I pass I'm going to be very pleased because this will mean that I'm at a level where a more "natural" method of studying works.

As soon as the test is over I'm heading straight to Osaka to spent the evening with my host family, and then headed to a 5-day translation and interpreting conference (via the JET course) right next to Kyoto. It should be very useful and pretty fun as well.

Admin Note: My apologies but most of the pictures used in past entries on this journal are not showing up properly at the moment. This is something I intend to deal with in mid-December when my test and seminar are over.
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Triad [ 2009.10.21 | 13:42 ]
It's been a bit rough getting back into the swing of things having returned to Japan a second time. I felt like I was just getting into the swing last time when we had to leave, so it may take longer this time especially with work.

However, staring me in the face this fall are three very clear-cut goals:
  • Pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 1, the highest and final level
  • Successfully work my way through each of the six books of the JET translation and interpreting course and pass the corresponding monthly tests.
  • Apply to the Kent State University grad school masters program for Japanese translation...and get in hopefully.

At any given time for the next 3 months or so, my mind (if it's working properly) is probably going to be focused on one of these three tasks.

Also, seeing as this is probably our last fall in Mie, we intend to do a lot of things we have always wanted to since arriving. In our travels, we've paid western Japan (west of Osaka) a lot of love but have really neglected central Japan a lot, this includes the Osaka metro area as well as the mountainous region north of Nagoya, home to Japan's tallest mountain ranges. Since we have hardly any vacation days left, we intend to make especially good use of the fall's many 3-day weekends and the week of "free" winter vacation. I've spent much of these past few days lining up short weekend ventures to affordable places here and there, only to rearrange the entire order of trips the next day. I think I've finally got a good schedule down that will stick, and I'm really excited about it because we're going to get to do a lot of things we've meant to do for years.

I've created a photo album that will be updated after these various trips take place:
Excursions - Fall 2009

That is all. Back to studying and translating (and trip planning).
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Death [ 2009.09.22 | 23:21 ]
Leizel's Dad died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

I mean he was an elderly gentleman but was also in very good condition for his age of 82. It was always possible that something like this could happen, but I guess we just imagined it would involve hospital visits and a chance to see him before the end.

I feel this is the first time in my life I've had to closely deal with death. Having now been to the calling hours and funeral I feel I have a much better true understanding and internalization of grief you see on screen when people die in movies. I imagine it is going to be a long time before these feelings fade into the background. Going back to Japan will probably because we'll be detached from Ohio but I think it will linger long after we've returned.
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San Francisco [ 2009.09.12 | 20:05 ]
[A cityscape picture of San Francisco]

View from our window

Due to where we live and the nature of our job, we couldn't take limitless time off to celebrate our union, in fact one month was the absolute best we could do. We decided it would be wise to utilize most of that month before the wedding for planning than for leisure time afterwards. Thus, after the wedding we only had one day before departing Ohio for another year.

However, we weren't going back to Japan straight away, we were having a mini-honeymoon. I say "mini" because originally back when wedding talks first began (when the wedding was going to be held post-Japan), Leizel and I had toyed with the idea of doing a grand honeymoon via the Trans-Siberian Express. However, given we only had a month off, this was simply not possible. Our Kyushu trip last winter was the best trip we'd ever had and it had incorporated a lot of the things we'd hoped for in a honeymoon, so we kind of considered that (for now) our "honeymoon" and decided against doing one after the wedding. However, as the wedding date grew closer we realized we wanted to at least go somewhere, if for no other reason than to relax after such a big event that would take so much planning. There were talks of doing a short road trip and bed & breakfast stay (something we've never done) somewhere in a part of the midwest we've never been, but due to Leizel's research we discovered that multi-destination plane tickets that stopped somewhere on the west coast on the way back to Japan were basically free (ie, no more expensive than a regular Japan - Ohio roundtrip), thus we opted for the west coast -- specifically, San Francisco. We decided to save one week for post-wedding, which included one day in Ohio, two days of traveling, and thus four left-over days for hanging out and having our mini-honeymoon. We love traveling to cities and San Francisco had always seemed like such a nice city so it was an easy choice. It was our first time to California and that whole part of the country, so we were excited.

The city is truly amazing, we weren't let down at all. Since we hadn't traveled in the US together for 3 years we kind of felt like foreigners in our own land, but it's so different from both Ohio that we may have felt that way anyway and it was great to experience such a different city...a city full of American diversity, driven by (more) progressive ideals, and possessing a rich history yet being one of the most modern cities in the country.

In particular, I really noticed a deep-seated element of going against the flow in San Francisco. To me, it seems as if the city has collectively been prone to motivate people to rise up against the odds and defy convention in the face of traditional wisdom. It's not like I got this from every individual in the city, but its history is so full of this thinking that it would be hard for it to not still be alive and well today.

The most basic example here is, simply, what possessed humans to actually build San Francisco? Of course, gold makes people do crazy things, but the city is basically a small set of mountains paved over with concrete and buildings. Other people don't do stuff like that, at least not to that degree...but somebody in San Francisco decided it was a good idea. That person/group was probably laughed out of the room by many, accused of foolishly attempting the impossible, but today that city is one of the world's gems.

Somebody built a military base (later becoming a prison) on a small rocky island in the middle of a violent bay. Somebody built a bridge that, at the time, spanned such a long distance and was so high off the ground that it was decried as "impossible" by experts. Unable to run trains through the city, somebody buried a metal cable underneath the streets to pull carriages up the hills. People gathered there to rebel against the established social order. Many different people and organizations in the area have pioneered computing, an idea that wasn't accepted a mere 30 years ago...they developed things that would've been laughed up until the very moment they existed. Simply put, the city stands as a testament to all who have ever thought "I don't care what you think, I'm going to do it anyway and it's going to be great". I really appreciated that feeling about San Francisco.

As for what we actually did there, honestly it was a short list because we spent a lot of time relaxing in our hotel. Our room was on the top floor and had an excellent view of the city, thus we took a lot of time to enjoy that scenery. Also, we were absolutely exhausted after the wedding and didn't feel like doing a whirlwind trip. We'd initially had a ton of things to do and see on our list but in the end just decided we would definitely return and that we'd do most of the list next time. The only place we really saw properly was Alcatraz, it was highest on the list due to Leizel's obsession with historic crime. We also took a short cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, did a bit of walking both days, rode a cable car, had a really nice dinner, and procured a chocolate sundae (or two) for Leizel.

Our hotel, by chance was owned by a Japanese company. We stayed at the Nikko (Japanese for 'Japan Airlines' or JAL), and thus had some tasty Japanese food available to us at breakfast as well as via room service. There was a dilemma about eating Japanese food since we were going to be back in the real place soon enough, but I did delve into it just a little bit.

Our four days passed far too quickly, and eventually the morning of departure was upon us and we found ourselves boarding the plane back to Japan. However, the plane wasn't full. This was absolutely amazing to us midwesterners, who only have two airports that have Japan-bound flights just a few times per day. Those on the west coast, with more direct contact and influence from Japan, apparently have enough flights across the Pacific that not every one is completely full. Also, for some reason, even the thought San Francisco-Tokyo flight is shorter than the one from Detroit, the San Francisco plane was much better equipped...in particular, it had the on-demand screens for each seat, an absolutely genius invention for those forced to deal with trans-oceanic air travel. The pleasant experience on the plane only further drove home the idea that living in San Francisco (or somewhere in the bay area) one day would be really nice. I imagine it'll be fresh in our minds for some time and we will look into employment and grad school opportunities there when the time comes.
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Married [ 2009.09.08 | 13:21 ]
[A picture of Leizel and myself, staring at each other lovingly, at the base of a reflecting pool of an English garden.]

The big day
Photo taken by Nathan Migal of Imagen Photography

The big day has come and gone and, beyond hoped, it went extraordinarily well! Not only did it not rain, but the temperature was just right so as to not be cold but also not be so hot to enduce heavy amounts of tux-sweating. The vendors were great; the first that comes to mind is the photographer who took some amazing photos and was really easy to get along with but basically all of the vendors of the day really came through for us.

The days leading up to the wedding were good and bad. Good, because I really felt like I was able to reconnect with my Dayton friends a lot during what was perhaps my final stay in Dayton as a "resident". Bad, because Leizel and I were crazy busy with the last minute preparations and had to learn to do a really good balancing act. In the weeks leading up to my return, I figured 4 weeks at home would be ample time to do all the catching up, hanging out, and planning I needed but I was sorely mistaken. I think I could've used another month, or two, or three at home. But here we are, back in Japan (via San Francisco) from a month at home.

Now that we're back, it almost feels like a weird dream from some kind of imaginary fantasy land called "Ohio" that we are so far removed from in Japan that it doesn't actually seem real. In this far-off land of Ohio, food is very salty and tasty but unfortunately it doesn't lend itself to providing a feeling of healtiness (quite the opposite, actually), and so I've been looking forward to digging back into some rice and fish. Today I ate tempura eel on a bed of rice for lunch and words cannot describe how good it was.

Because we've been in Japan in this situation for 3 years now, it doesn't really feel like anything has changed except that I have to remember to put my wedding ring on in the mornings. Of course, our life together begins "officially" as of the day of the wedding, we're both kind of wondering if it won't feel like we're really beginning our married life until we change our locale and situation (aka, when we come back to the US).

For now, we'll just focus on passing tests, saving money, traveling occasionally, and overall having a good 4th and (probably) final year in Mie.
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Ready...? [ 2009.08.28 | 02:16 ]
...if not, it doesn't matter because this train's already moving and there's no getting off now. The wedding is coming in about 36 hours and I leave Dayton tomorrow (this) morning.

I've had a great time with everyone, both those in Dayton and Leizel during my time here. I feel like I've reconnected better than perhaps any other trip home in a long time.

The wedding, although it feels like utter chaos could ensue, will probably go alright and my main wish is that it doesn't rain.
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Homecoming [ 2009.08.06 | 09:36 ]
Preparations are set and I'm off to Ohio for the first time in two years.

I'm going home to get married!

See you in September.
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Six Weeks of Visitors - Round 4 [ 2009.07.11 | 11:30 ]
[A picture of James, Theda, Leizel, and myself standing in front of a small inlet of water with a torii on a tiny island in the middle of the water with a huge bridge in the background.]

James, Theda, Leizel, and I in front of the Bentenjima shrine

The fourth set of visitors, Leizel's brother and friend from high school, arrived on May 19th and stayed until June 8th. Leizel's brother, James, had planned to come last year but had been foiled by a blizzard. Theda, her best friend from high school, had actually worked in Suzuka for 2+ years as an English teacher and so already knew the area well and planned to do a bit of independent travel as well. It was good to show off Suzuka to James, who was very adventurous in his time here, and fun to relive the old times and places with Theda.

Leizel, or the two of us, took James a lot of places in his time here and sometimes Theda accompanies us. Among them:
  • Ise Grand Shrine - Inner Shrine
  • Ise - a bit of the town environs where I used to live
  • Iino - the high school where Leizel works
  • Suzuka - Pretty much everything...Bell city mall, Loc Town shopping center, Mandai Shoten (the ultimate used goods shop), rice fields, and a lot of independent exploration by James on foot and bicycle
  • Nara - turtle lake, deer-feeding, pagoda at Kofukuji, giant Buddha at Todaiji
  • Osaka - Ten'noji, Namba, Yodobashi Camera, Umeda Sky Building, Shinsaibashi, Fuse Segaworld
  • Himeji - Himeji Castle
  • Kyoto - Kyoto Station, temple at Kiyomizudera, gardens at Heian Shrine, golden pavilion at Kinkakuji
  • Hamamatsu - Musical instrument museum, Lake Hamana, PalPal amusement park, Bentenjima
  • Tokyo - Shinjuku, Square-Enix official gift shop, Harajuku, Ghibli Museum, Shibuya, Odaiba island via the Yurikamome train, Akihabara
Notable meals - kara'age at Ton Tei in Ise, yakitori at Torikizoku in Osaka, Tenri ramen at Saika Ramen in Osaka, Indian buffet at Indo-mura in Suzuka, sushi at Kura Zushi in Suzuka, shabu-shabu at Hama-fufu in Suzuka, yakiniku (Korean BBQ) at Ichiban Kalbi in Suzuka, beef bowl at Yoshinoya in Tokyo, ramen at Ichiran in Tokyo, and more...
James was especially immune to jet lag and proved to be, in my opinion, the hardiest of all our visitors yet. He had the bravery to go out and ride all over town on his own with no language skills, he wanted to see it on his own terms and he made it happen and I admire his independence. Theda, having lived in Japan before, was obviously extremely independent guest as well -- she went on a solo trip to Shikoku for one of her two weeks here.

Since James stayed in Suzuka for 3 weeks he really got to spend more quality time with our hometown than my other guests. I think he got to know the sights and sounds of Suzuka very well and we're happy he got to experience countryside Japan as much as he did.
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Six Weeks of Visitors - Round 3 [ 2009.07.02 | 19:18 ]
[A picture of Jenny, Debbie, and myself standing in a garden on a bamboo bridge.]

Jenny, Debbie, and myself at the Ginkakuji gardens.

My third set of visitors, my two older sisters, arrives on May 8th and stayed until May 16th. Jenny and Debbie had been looking to come for a long time so I was happy to finally have them. Their waiting paid off though, as my knowledge of the area only grew with time. So 3 number-oriented people set out to enjoy the beauty of nature, and some modern cities as well.

Our trip had less but longer phases. We cut out a lot of optional short trips in favor of spending a proper amount of time in the main places. We had a really good time though and saw a lot as well:
  • Ise Grand Shrine - outer and inner
  • Ise - a bit of the town environs where I used to live
  • Shiroko - the high school where I work
  • Suzuka - City hall observatory, Bell City mall
  • Kyoto - temple at Nanzenji, Philosopher's path, Ginkakuji, Heian Shrine, Gion, Fushimi Inari Shrine
  • Nara - turtle lake, deer-feeding, pagoda at Kofukuji, giant Buddha at Todaiji
  • Tokyo - Odaiba island via the Yurikamome train, Tsukiji fish market, Shibuya station-front intersection, Sumo, Imperial Palace, Ginza, Shinjuku, Park Hyatt Tokyo
Notable meals - gyoza at Misuzu in Ise, sushi at Daimonji in Ise, Indian buffet at Indo-mura in Suzuka, shabu-shabu at Hama-fufu in Suzuka, yakiniku (Korean BBQ) at Gyu-kaku in Kyoto, sushi at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, ramen at Ichiran in Tokyo, assorted Japanese cuisine at Cha-cha-hana in Tokyo, and more...
Jenny and Debbie dealt with jet lag pretty well and put up with my running them around even on the very first day, though we did have a few more relaxing days as well. We were really able to see a lot in Kyoto which was really nice for me as well since I hadn't been there in so long.

It was great to finally be able to show off Japan to my sisters, I think they a good amount of both traditional and modern Japan. I imagine they are now more confident in my ability to choose hotels.
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Six Weeks of Visitors - Round 2 [ 2009.06.25 | 22:30 ]
[A picture of Leizel and Sayaka's family eating unagi-don]

Leizel and Sayaka's family indulge in some of Ise's finest unagi.

The second set of visitors weren't overnight guests, but we met them for a day in Ise during one of the days of "golden week", a long stretch of Japanese national holidays in early May.

With our occasional trips to Tokyo, we've had a good number of opportunities to meet with our Japanese friends we originally met and hung out with at Kent State, all of whom now live in Tokyo. However, we've had two occasions to go to Kagoshima, southern-most prefecture of Japan-proper, to visit our friend Sayaka's hometown -- one of those times was fairly recently. While in Kagoshima, her family was very nice to us and gracious hosts so we told them we'd show them around Ise Grand Shrine one day if they ever were able to come. That day came, and her family (including her mother, aunt, uncle, and grandfather) made it up to Ise and the area for a few days.

Unfortunately they rented a four-person car for five people and thus couldn't squeeze and extra the two of us as well while going to other parts of the Ise-Shima area where only cars can go, but we met them at Ise Grand Shrine and, as (ex-)natives, gave them a good tour. We saw pretty much all of both the outer and inner shrines of Ise Grand Shrine, as well as the road into the inner shrine called Oharai-machi and Okage-yokochō. Here we ate Akafuku in its original shop, something I do with any guest who comes to Ise. For lunch, we ate an unagi rice bowl at Kitaya, a fairly well-known unagi shop near the outer shrine.

Sayaka's grandfather had never been to Ise Grand Shrine before and thus had wanted to make it while still alive. I'm really glad he was able to see it, he's always been very kind to us. Ise Grand Shrine has a lot of things written and said about it, but one is that it's the "home of the Japanese people", so I was quite pleased to be able to provide a Japanese person with information and a tour of a place so significant to their cultural history.
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Six Weeks of Visitors - Round 1 [ 2009.06.23 | 17:30 ]
[A picture of Seth, Nate, myself at the base of the main sanctum of Ise Grand Shrine.]

Seth, Nate, and myself at the base of the main sanctum in Ise Grand Shrine

My first set of visitors, comprised of Seth and Nate, arrives on April 21st and stayed until May 1st. Seth is a long-time friend I've known since high school and I met Nate in college via Seth. Both are of the same geek disposition that I am, but (unlike me) actually use it in their jobs.

Seth and Nate got perhaps the most fast-paced of all the tours due to their shorter stay and my limited time off to show them around. Also, they were my first visitors in over two years and so I was quite ambitious in how much of Japan I wanted them to experience -- needless to say I kept them busy during their time here:
  • Ise Grand Shrine - outer and inner
  • Ise - a bit of the town environs where I used to live
  • Shiroko - the high school where I work, including bringing them to a few classes (where Nate met with unexpected disaster)
  • Nara - turtle lake, deer-feeding, pagoda at Kofukuji, giant Buddha at Todaiji)
  • Osaka - Namba, capsule hotel, Fuse Segaworld, Dotombori, Shinsaibashi, Yodobashi Camera
  • Kyoto - Nintendo headquarters, Heian Shrine, Nijo Palace, Kyoto Station
  • Iga Ueno - Iga Ninja Festa
  • Suzuka - Suzuka Curcuit, Bell City mall, Mandai Shoten (the ultimate used goods shop)
  • Tokyo - Yasukuni Shrine, Odaiba island via the Yurikamome train, Sony and Toyota showrooms, Odaiba giant ferris wheel, Shibuya station-front intersection, Harajuku (ultra-crowded due to it being a national holiday), Square-Enix official gift shop, Tokyo Metropolitan Government lookout tower, Imperial Palace, Edo National Museum, and Akihabara
Notable meals - gyoza at Misuzu in Ise, sushi at Daimonji in Ise, yakitori at Torikizoku in Osaka, unagi-don at Kaneko in Suzuka, conveyor belt-style sushi at Kura-zushi in Suzuka, and more...
Unfortunately Nate was forced to hobble his way through most of these places because on the second day full day of the trip, while passing out papers in one of my classes, the "guest slippers" betrayed him and with a misstep sent him twisting to the ground, injuring ligaments in his knee in the process. We were able to get some medical pads and a very effective knee brace that made the rest of the trip possible, but as there was lots of walking involved Nate definitely put in an extra degree of effort and energy to make it around everywhere. Particularly the Tokyo experience which, as the above list indicates, was especially full.

It was great having them here and I think they enjoyed their trip and certainly saw a lot for just one week. I was really happy to finally show off Japan to the geek-oriented (post) high school group.
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Something is amiss [ 2009.06.21 | 13:41 ]
I seem to have hit a wall of some sort. I'm not sure where this wall came from, but at this point there is no doubt that it's there, I hit it head-first, and now I'm out for the count.

What's curious is that life is really good, especially lately. So the source of the wall is a bit mysterious. I think the most likely culprit is my job, the environment at work, and the feeling of uselessness my job occasionally inspires. The problem is that I can't ever remember feeling this paralyzed since I've been in Japan -- usually a few days, getting something accomplished, or a bowl of unagi are enough to set me right when work is pissing me off.

Either way, I think the trip home in August will do a lot of good. I'm looking forward to it more and more as August approaches.
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New Camera [ 2009.06.02 | 17:25 ]
[A picture taken at an empty railway station just outside Osaka looking downtown.]

Into downtown Osaka
I really like the lighting here

I got a new camera about two weeks ago or so and I'm pretty pleased with it. My new camera is a Canon PowerShot SX110 IS, which I chose after a few days of internet and in-store research.

It seems like right now, most camera makers are offering two lines
  • SLR cameras: super-cameras for seasoned photographers that come with lots of expensive addons that are big, bulky, and expensive -- with the caveat that they take the best pictures. Recently they have been decreasing in price though.
  • Super-compact cameras: Mainly for putting in your pocket and taking to social gatherings, events, and the like to take pictures of you and your friends. They are good at capturing faces but don't excel with scenery and have little to no ability to customize shooting settings like auto-white balance, shutter speed, aperture, etc...
So I kind of found myself in the corner, because there is a third category in between these two extremes that I've been using for years, however this category is quickly shrinking due to the SLR cameras being available for cheaper and cheaper in recent years.

My camera, the SX110, is one of Canon's only currently-available models in that third category. It's much like my old ones, small-ish but with much of the customization of more advanced cameras. You can't buy crazy lenses for it, but it is equipped with a 10x zoom (way more than my previous 6x) and, as I am discovering, 10x is a lot of zoom. I also picked up my first tripod to provide stabilization for the 10x shots as well as the night shots that I'm growing fonder and fonder of taking (see above, my old home station in Osaka). It's a mini-tripod so it fits easily into my bookbag that I carry with me everywhere.

May has been a great but surreal month. I've spent most of my time showing Japan to friends and family and not so much time at school or even just hanging out at home...and practically no teaching has taken place at all since there were exams last week and "sports day" rehearsals this week. It's been a month unlike any of the 30+ months I've already been in Japan, and it's been nice. Now it's back to work, relaxing, and standard money expenditures.

Pictures of my visitor sets to follow soon (probably).
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Sisters [ 2009.05.20 | 14:51 ]
My sisters were finally to make it out here for a 9 day trip and so I spent all of last week showing them some of the best that Tokyo, Kyoto, and my very own Mie had to offer. I think Kyoto may have been the best portion of the trip, and I certainly saw some really nice places there that I had never been to before. I intend to go back with Leizel sometime soon and show Kyoto some love (we've neglected it badly for these three years).

Unfortunately I have no pictures to post of this nine day event as I lost my camera and had not uploaded pictures since the beginning of the trip. However I should be able to retrieve the full size images my sister took while here with her crazy nice camera. Also, it turned into a good excuse to get a new camera which is more suited to my increasing (but still very amateur) photography ambitions.

Leizel and I are now entertaining our 5th set of visitors in the last four weeks (3rd set of overnight visitors), her friend Theda (who has actually lived in Suzuka before) and her younger brother. Theda has a lot of plans on her own so we'll mostly just be taking Leizel's brother around. He's staying for three whole weeks and so will get to see a lot more in the way of nook-and-cranny types places that Leizel and I love but our recent visitors weren't able to see.
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First halo visitors [ 2009.05.01 | 08:52 ]
The long-awaited arrival of a small subset of my high school-era group of friends has finally happened, 2.5 years into my time here. Seth and Nate have now been in Japan 10 days and are leaving today. They've seen Ise, Suzuka, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Iga, and Tokyo -- quite a bit in a short time, I kept them pretty busy despite an unfortunate injury along the way. Nate especially deserves a medal for the amount of marathon walking he has done on a hurt knee.

I took care to show them not just to the sight-seeing stuff but also a lot of places I know well where one can witness particular Japanese phenomena or just get a glimpse of average Japanese people living out their lives, thereby giving them a better looking glass into Japan. I'm glad I could take many of the things I've experienced in this time and present it to others. There are some places in Japan that everytime I've seen them or been through them I've kind of theorized to myself, "if my high school friends come they'd love seeing this", and for the most part these assumptions were correct. I think they seen and eaten quite a bit of good things, more so than I had originally hoped.

I look forward to either more visitors or the same visitors coming back for Round 2.
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