Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Last Post

Well, this blog has completed its purpose. It was intended to record my experiences in Japan, and now I'm home. I really, really miss Japan!!

Friday morning was difficult - when I said goodbye to Sogou I started crying, and then again when I said goodbye to Miki after my graduation ceremony. I miss them terribly, but I'm resolved to visit again!

After the graduation party, all of us said our final farewell to the Fijians, which was sad. We've known each other for such a short time but we've all become so close in that time. One day I want to go to Fiji and visit them again. We ANZACS went in to Umeda together - Trav and Dave helped Mel and I with our luggage, which was so good of them! We said our final farewell to the rest of them at JR Osaka station, where Mel and I caught the Airport train from, and there were tears all around. I've known Trav for a while, but other than that, I'd only known the rest of them for about a month - the Kiwis for less - but we all have a special bond. We saw each other pretty much every single day for the month we were there, and now we'll only see each other on Facebook! Kris and Emma said we have to come to NZ in September next year to go skiing and visit them, so hopefully I'll save up enough for it!

Mel and I caught the train to the Airport, and got there about 2 hours early! So we took turns to go looking around at the shopping centre on the third level of the airport, one of us staying with the luggage at all times. That killed time okay, and we managed to find a relatively cheap place for dinner - about $9.50 for yakisoba, which is cheap by airport standards (and quite filling, and extremely tasty, which is rare for airport food!)

So, we checked in, got our seats together, luckily, and then went off for dinner. After that, we went through customs and then wandered around the duty-free area until we were called to board.

We managed to get a window and an aisle seat together on the plane, but lucky for us, the seats behind us stayed unoccupied, so when it was time to sleep, Mel moved to the other seats so we could stretch out. We'd been giving Mel crap earlier because the scales told her she'd gained 4kg while she'd been in Japan, so we were all like, "Did you book your two seats on the plane, Mel?" and stuff - and then she ended up getting 2 seats to herself on the plane anyway. Twas amusing!!

Sleeping on the plane was, however, not amusing. At all. It was difficult, probably downright impossible. I think I got about 2 hours of broken sleep total, because every time I'd get vaguely comfortable my neck would cramp, or my foot would cramp, or something would make a noise and wake me up despite having earplugs in, so I didn't sleep very well. At about 4am I decided to give up sleeping as a bad joke and just watched movies until it was time to return the mini TV.

We landed just after 7am at the Gold Coast airport, and it took us about an hour to get out of the airport, because 3 international flights all landed at about the same time, and there's only one international baggage carousel. So it took us nearly an hour to just get our bags, then get through customs, which was actually quite painless. The only thing I had comfiscated was a bookmark made of a laminated leaf, which was fair enough, what with it being plant bits and whatnot. No biggie.

So, I crash-tackled John as soon as I saw him, and after saying a final farewell to Mel, we went off to mum's place for a bit, and then to my grandfather's, and then finally home. John kept the house really well, the place looks great!! I admit, I'd been a little worried about how the house would be on my return, but there's nothing needs doing! I'm very very happy with him :)!!

So, the things I'll miss about Japan are:
Hot cocoa from vending machines
Electric toilets with heated seats and little buttons that do various things
How polite and helpful and courteous everyone is!
Japanese food
How clean everything always is
Trains coming every 5 minutes (or less!)
My host mum!

The things I won't miss are:
Having to sit on the floor
Sleeping on a futon

It was truly an amazing experience, and I am resolved to return in the not-too-distant future - but next time, I'm bringing John with me!!

And just remember - What happens in Japan, stays in Japan ;)

Signing off

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My final night...

So, tonight is the last night I spend with my family in Amagasaki. They have been the most generous, kind, patient hosts anyone could ever imagine. I will remember them forever. It's a poignant moment for me. I've spent just under a month with these people, people who were, only a short while ago, total strangers to me, and the parting will be a sad time indeed. In such a short time, they truly have become dear to me, but dearer people to me call me home.

Today started off quite well, with our final Japanese lesson for the trip. Fujiwara-sensei has been amazingly helpful throughout our entire time in Japan, and I can only hope that everyone gets a teacher like her at least once in their lifetime. People deserve that kind of pleasure.

I met Miki and her friend Mori-chan for lunch after Japanese, and we went to a little sushi bar that has cheap lunches. It was really good, for 1000 yen (about $15) I got a massive plate of sushi, a huge bowl of udon (noodles), some miso soup, coffee and green tea. It was tremendously good value for money, and the sushi store itself was incredible. There was this fantastic clock (which I stupidly didn't photograph) with that amazing plastic food the Japanese are so good at in place of numbers. I want one.

After lunch we had a "lesson" with some of the Adult Education people, where we just sat and chatted with them about differences between Australia and Japan. It was okay, but I could probably have used my time better....

Afterwards, we were going to all head off to a Karaoke bar near uni, for which I had some vouchers, and do some Karaoke. However, plans changed when Trav's friend Takeshi invited us to his place after school for drinks and Takoyaki, and then Karaoke afterwards. It was fun but left us with precious little time - most of us had to leave at 6 and we didn't get to the place til 5, then what with having to go through all the rigmarole of firstly, not really understanding the guy (he mumbled and spoke way too quickly and didn't seem to care that we were foreigners and had trouble understanding him) and then, when we finally understood what he wanted, having to all sign up - for one hour of Karaoke! We decided to forget it and just go home. I had to go anyway, I had groceries with me because I decided to cook for the family tonight.

I made my Funky Chicken, and it was a big hit! I left the recipe with Miki so she will be able to do it herself in the future, which I'm sure she will do. After that, I did my packing - some of my stuff is still damp from being washed yesterday - things take FOREVER to dry here - but hopefully it'll be dry enough to pack tomorrow. I've got it hanging up over the lounge room heater so it should be right...

After packing, Sogo, Miki and I broke out some wine and cheese and stuff, and Miki showed me the present she'd made me - a PhotoStory slideshow of photos from the Kaiyuukan (Aquarium). It was lovely. I nearly cried!

I'm really going to miss them...

Of course, I've got them friended on Facebook and I have their email addresses, so it's not like I'll never speak to them again. That's the joy of modern technology - you can make friends on the other side of the world and then when you go home, keep in touch with them in real-time, without having to wait weeks for international post. It's marvellous!

So, this time tomorrow I will be well and truly gone from Japan. The month has flown by in some ways, but in other ways it feels like I've been gone from Australia for a year.

I'll have one last update when I get back to Australia and return to some sort of normalcy, but until then, dear readers, take care, and don't forget to check out my photobucket

What happens in Japan...

...stays in Japan. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Instant. Ramen.

Is the bestest in the worldest. We went to the Instant Ramen factory today, and it was heaps of fun (and tasty, too!). Ramen, for those who are wondering, is Chinese noodles. Instant Ramen is ramen that you just add water to. It tastes awesome!! We made our own, and then I ended up munching on it while we wandered around and looked at stuff. I bought some more presents - I think I have pretty much everyone bought for now - and am wondering how I can get it all back to Brisbane... lol. I'll work it out!

We were nearly late to the Instant Ramen factory, because Juusou station has two 551 shops, one on platform 1 and one on platform 3; we were meant to meet outside the one on platform 3 but two of the Fijian girls got lost and were waiting outside the one on platform 1, so we were very nearly late. It was okay though, we made it in time to do our stuff.

After that, Mel, Lisa and Stephanie went into Osaka for a day of shopping, but I didn't really feel like it so I went home with David, Trav, Kris and Emma. Picked my bike up from the station - I rode with Sogou to the station this morning - and rode it home. Did some uploading of photos - still am uploading, actually. I have somewhere between 500 and 600 photos - closer to 600, I think, and only about 300 uploaded at the moment. I've been slack...

I won't bother captioning photos, it takes too long. If you're terribly interested in knowing what they are, I'll tell, but otherwise... you know, it just takes too much effort, lolz!

K, so that's it for today.

Take care and see you all in Aussieland soon!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tales of Tajima

Lol, sounds like a game.

In my last post, last Thursday, I mentioned that I'd be going to Tajima and would be offline til I got back. I did promise you a big fat update, and here it is:


We arrived at uni at like, 8:30 or thereabouts, with intentions of leaving at 9am. It wasn't so bad for me, I live really close but some people, like Trav, had to be up at like, 6 to be there on time. We were off just on time, and once we were out of the city limits we started watching Harry Potter on the bus's TV. It was relatively uneventful. The scenery was pretty - Japanese rural scenery is SO different to Australian rural scenery. Photos coming soon, I have all afternoon tomorrow off, so I'll do a massive upload then!

The whole district we stayed in is Tajima, but each group stayed in a different town. The Kiwis stayed in Toyooka, one of the major cities in the region; the Fijians stayed in Shin-onsen, which is apparently quite famous for its hot springs. We Aussies stayed in Kami, a little town about an hour away from Tottori, a city on the coast of the Japan Sea. We met our host families at about 3pm, had coffee and a chat, and then went home. My family's home was lovely. I didn't manage to get any photos of the inside of the house, and only a couple of the outside, but it was nice. My room was massive, about 12 tatami in size (a tatami is a straw flooring mat, sleeping and sitting rooms are generally floored in tatami, and each mat is 1mx2m). It was... enormous. And a little lonely, being in this huge room on my own.

My host family, the Ueda family, were lovely. Mum's name is Midori, and dad is Michinori. She's a housewife, he's a dentist. She studied education and speaks excellent english, he speaks almost no english at all. It was fun, though.

Friday night, the moment I mentioned I had my wedding pics on my laptop (which I had bought with me on the off chance that I would get internet access) I had to show them all off. Not just once, to mum, but twice, because when dad got home from work at 8:30, I had to show them off again, and it took about 2 and a half hours because of the language barrier. It was pretty cool though.


Saturday, we had planned to meet at the restaurant we'd met our families at the day before, at 10:30 and go from there to Tottori to the Sand Art Museum. Mel's family ended up driving past just on 10:30 and nobody was there, so they figured everyone must have already left and went back home. Everyone else must've arrived just after, or we were inside at the time having coffee and we didn't see them, because only Lisa, Stephanie and I ended up going.

Tottori is pretty cute. It has a spectacular sand dune beach, with this massive dune about 20m high that people taboggan down, and a Sand Art Museum. Sculptors have created a display of the Terracotta Warriors at Xi'an in China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and several other pretty spectacular world heritage sites, all out of sand. The detail is incredible!! The whole thing was just amazing! We spent a little over an hour going around there, looking at all the amazing sculptures and enjoying the sea air (we were right on the coast). Afterwards, we went shopping, had lunch and I bought myself a new pair of shoes! I finally found a pair of shoes that actually fitted me in Japan! Usually Japanese shoes are tiny, so this is really awesome news! After going shopping, we went off to this really cool place with natural hot springs that are hot enough to boil eggs in 12 minutes. We tried it, and it was awesome. While you wait for your eggs to cook, you are welcome to sit on the side of the river and put your feet in hot springs that aren't quite that hot, having been cooled by the river water. It was lovely, just the perfect temperature. It was really nice, sitting there with my feet in the hot water, watching the ducks and the carp - they grow to well over 2ft long here - cavorting in the river. It was great!

Afterwards, when we were in the car, Midori decided that, since I'd said I wanted to try a real onsen - the one I went to in Amagasaki wasn't so much an onsen with natural hot springs, as a public bath house with man-made "hot springs" outside. Fun, but... this was heaps better. We went to Yumura, a town that is famous for its onsen complex. Yumura Onsen is a huge complex with about half a dozen springs outside, plus the bath complex, which is quite vast and includes an Olympic-size heated swimming pool. The recommended way to do things is to start at spring 1 and work your way up the side of the mountain that the onsen are located on, until you reach spring 6. Spring 1 is a warm, fairly deep and fairly clear pool, designed to just relax you and get you used to the water, which is fairly mineral-dense. Pool 2 is small - about 3m in diameter, and quite hot, nearly 50'C. We only stayed in for about 2-3 minutes, before it got too hot to bear. Pool 3 is located in a cavern (which has been modified for safety) and is quite steamy, lots of fun. Pool 4 is huge, completely massive, and has a waterfall running into it (and one from it too) so you can sit under this hot waterfall and get a massage. It was really really good. Pool 5 was naturally bubbly, smelled a bit like sulphur but was like sitting in a spa with all the bubbles. It was fun, until the smell overwhelmed us and we had to move on. Finally, pool 6 is actually a series of little rockpools dotting along a steamy, sloping, twisty tunnel, which leads back out near where pool 1 is situated.

After exploring all the outside pools, we went back inside and took off the swimmers we'd been required to wear in the outside pools (because both men and women go to the outside pools) and went to the bath house to wash off. As I mentioned before, the bath house was vast. It had a sauna room with a small, but quite deep, ice plunge pool; massage rooms; some long, shallow sloping pools that you lie in and get a bubble massage from; hot tubs, a big, waist-deep, warm bath you could just sit in for hours, and, of course, showers. We spent, all up, about 2 hours just wandering around having fun at the onsen.

After that, we went to a little tiny Sushi bar, the owners of which are friends of Midori's, and had dinner. I had raw squid, eel, prawn, octopus, tuna, salmon (which I've had before) and sea anenome (which I'm never having again!) We also had some tempura, and dessert was a dish called Triple Mango - some mango ice cream, mango jelly, and a piece of real mango. I nearly cried when I ate the real mango - it tastes of home!

So, we got home and I went straight to bed, I was so sleepy after the onsen and the late night the night before.


On Sunday, we went to a child care centre and did Mochi-bana with the little kids. Mochi-bana is where you take mochi - sticky rice cakes, made out of rice pounded into powder and mixed with a little water until it is like glue, and you put it on sticks to resemble flowers. It was pretty fun but we couldn't take them with us. After that, we drove well over an hour to Toyooka, to a conservation park where we saw Oriental White Storks. They were all but extinct - there were only 12 left in the world about 10 years ago, but now there are a couple of hundred. It was pretty cool to see, but it was so far out of the way it felt a little like a waste of time. Anyways...

So, we went back home, did our packing to return to Amagasaki, then had our farewell party. Mel's host family own a restaurant, which is where we had the party. It was SO much fun!! We had Shabu-Shabu, which is where you get a big ceramic pot over a hotplate and you make the soup and cook your meat and veg in it. It's tasty, and you don't realise just how much you're eating because you just take a little in a small bowl and you keep going back for more until you've eaten 10 bowlsful.

Also, free drinkies. Japanese beer is gooooood!


No hangover, thank goodness. We did our final packing, and made our way out to the primary school, where we did soapstone carving. I'm not telling what I made, you'll have to wait and see! It was fun!! Afterwards, we went across to the middle school, where we learned to play Sakura Sakura on the Koto - I was pretty good at it. It turns out nobody else in the group has learned how to read music... I had a good time. We met a fellow Brisbanite who teaches English at the school, and we sat in with his English class and did some conversational English with the kids, which was good fun.

Then, it was time for a final farewell to our host familes, and we went. It was quite a teary farewell. Midori extracted a promise from me that I'll come back to Japan one day, with John, and we'll come and visit her.

We travelled by bus to Sonoda University's Ookayama campus, wherein we had a Tsukiyaki party, which turned into a rave! It was pretty mad, everyone was dancing and singing and having a good old time! That was, until about 1 in the morning, when we were all in bed and nearly asleep, and one of the Korean girls, who had just been sitting there drinking all night, until she was completely paraletic, threw up on her bed and all over herself. Then there was no sleep for anyone. These girls don't have any common sense! None of them knew how to deal with a drunk person at all. We - Mel, Lisa, Emma and I - had to take charge. Get the dirty bedding outside so it doesn't stink out the whole place. Get her in the shower with a friend, to sober her up and make sure she doesn't drown. Get her a bucket. Put her out in the other room with a friend so she's nearer the bathroom if she needs to spew again. Put her in the recovery position - to which they all asked, "What is that?". No. Common. Sense. At all. We finally got to sleep at like, 2.


Got woken up at 6, after very little sleep - the smell of spew was still on the air and it was hard to ignore it. Packed, went down to breakfast, helped clean up. Madame le Spewe was all bright and happy and not at all hungover, which proves that justice doesn't exist and that there are no consequences to anything at all... we ANZAC-Fijians had to clean up everything, the other girls - from Korea and Taiwan - sat there playng on the piano. Brats. So, we left by about 9:30 for Himeji. I don't remember much of the trip - I think all 4 of us girls - Mel, Lisa, Emma and I - slept all the way there. We arrived at about 11:30, saw Himeji castle, which was really cool, and the Western Bailey, which was meant to be the Princess' Quarters, which was... not so great. It was pretty but I had been expecting a museum display there like in the castle, and there was nothing. Kinda sucked. We had lunch at this tiny little yakisoba - noodles - place, and it was really nice. Then we were back on the bus and homeward bound. Slept all the way home and am feeling somewhat better now.

So, big fat update provided. I'll be back in the land of Oz in 4 days now - nearly 3 1/2 now that I think of it.

So, I gotta go, Miki wants to use the table to make dinner.

Love y'all


Thursday, December 11, 2008


So, this will be a fairly bare-bones recital of the last few days, because it’s late, I’m tired and annoyed. Being poorly-organised must be a universal condition of most tertiary institutes...

So, Wednesday. We started the day with an intercultural communication class, which was… interesting. We just spent an hour and a half talking about the differences between Japan and Australia. Fun. We then had tennis, which actually wasn’t too bad, I didn’t nearly kill anyone this time. After lunch we went to another elementary school, met the kids and played with them – my class was doing Jump Rope and so I had to join in. I haven’t skipped since I was in grade 9! So, that was interesting.

Wednesday night, we went with the ESS – English Speaking Society – to Kobe, to see Luminarie. Luminarie is a big light display in memory of the victims of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. It’s pretty cool. We decided while we were there that, once we were finished viewing Luminarie, we’d like to go shopping – just window shopping, but we wanted to look around - this may be our only chance to see Japan. Our escort weren’t having any of that, though. Citing reasons such as “It’s too dangerous” (firstly, our home cities are all probably 50x more dangerous than Kobe, secondly, we spent 3 nights in the seediest part of Osaka, literally around the corner from the yakuza-controlled red light district, so the CBD of Kobe would be a nice, happy and friendly place by comparison) so we ended up having to just go straight home. It was nice but the restrictions made us all feel like we were about 6 years old on a school excursion, not legal adults out for a fun time. Meh…

Today was… well, not a total loss. We went to a middle school (Japan has 3 levels of school – elementary (years 1-6, ages 7-12; middle, years 7-9 equivalent, ages 13-15; and high school, years 10-12, ages 16-18) and did some cooking – we made dango – Japanese chewy dumplings in sweet soy sauce, and crepes. Then we came back to uni where we had a briefing about our homestay in Tajima. Of course, it was a very brief briefing, as Ono-sensei had very little information to give us pertaining our homestay families. We leave tomorrow.

So, after our briefing, we went off to Japanese, where Fujiwara-sensei threw us a little party, with all sorts of funky Japanese sweets and drinks, and it was fun. Afterwards, however, was not fun. We went to a class about childhood development or something. Either the teacher hadn’t been told to expect us and prepare accordingly, or he just didn’t care. Either way, we came in, sat down up the back and were totally ignored by everyone. Teacher didn’t acknowledge us come in, and when we finally got sick of being ignored, not understanding a single thing he said (it was all in rapid, highly academic Japanese) and left, he didn't acknowledge that either. It was a waste of time. No, it was a complete and total decimation of an hour, that we can’t ever get back. My gods, it was so stupid!!

Tonight, Miki had a bit of a Christmas party. I learned how to make Takoyaki (really easy if you can get real octopus) and we had Takoyaki, pizza and pasta! It was pretty cool. The neighbours from upstairs, friends of Miki and Sogo’s, came along, with their 3 small kids. It was quite fun.

So, it’s quite late here, and I need to be up relatively early tomorrow. We’re off to Tajima to the snow, and I’m not sure whether I’ll be bringing my computer with me. I’m leaning towards not, but there are some compelling reasons why I probably should. Namely being able to put my photos on the computer, and being able to update my blog as word docs and just upload the whole lot when I return on Tuesday. Hell, I might even luck out and get a place with internet… who knows? Maybe I will bring it…

Anyway, I digress. Going to bed now, or as soon as I finish my Umeshu (apricot brandy).

G’night all, and if I don’t see y’all before then, I’ll see you on Tuesday, with a big fat update!


Monday, December 8, 2008

Osaka revisited

So, we visited Osaka again today. First time with the school, but revisited for those of us who spent time in Osaka before coming here. Of course, we stayed in a completely different part of Osaka, so it wasn't like "Been there, done that!" or anything. We first visited Osaka castle, which was totally awesome!! It was built in the 1500s, has been rebuilt a couple of times due to damage from fire, earthquakes and so on, and is just stunning from the outside. Inside, it's a history museum and really interesting. Unfortunately we couldn't get photos of all the interesting stuff... I got some pics though. The top of the castle has been converted into a viewing platform, and the view was pretty spectacular.

After Osaka Castle, we went to the Panasonic Centre in Osaka. Naturally, we weren't allowed to take photos while we were in there either, but it was totally cool. They have a 103 inch television there, for about $50 000US. So maybe in about 30 years I'll be able to afford it. It was just incredible, the definition on the screen was breathtaking. They have a setup that links your lights, security, air-con, floor heating, and so on to a console that is linked to your TV and has a link to your car. It's completely wireless and totally amazing!!

The Eco-centre of the Panasonic centre is pretty awesome too. In Japan, the government has decreed everyone has to save 1kg of greenhouse gases per day, and Panasonic is bringing out all these incredible energy-saving, low-emissions devices - lightbulbs, fridges, little tiny benchtop dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, even stuff like hairdryers and the like. It's really amazing! Finally, we had to do a quiz to see what we do around home to conserve energy, and how much we were saving. I can't remember my total but it was pretty cool, it was heaps of fun.

The trip back was quiet, nearly everyone slept - the walk back from Panasonic Centre to the bus was fairly lengthy and we were all kinda tired from just being on the go all the time, and in a second language too! We got back to uni just now.

Okay, so that wasn't the lengthiest blog entry in the history of forever. I'm uploading photos taken over the last few days (okay, nearly a week, I've been slack!) so check out my Photobucket to see 'em!

Take care, all, I'll be home soon! (11 days, not that I'm counting or anything!)


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kyoto and Osaka Aquarium

Yesterday marked the official coldest day I've experienced in Japan so far. We went to Kyoto as part of the uni program, and it was beautiful, but freezing cold. I was wearing 2 pairs of stockings, thermals and my jeans and my legs were still cold! We started off at Arashiyama, where we first participated in what I can best describe as traditional Japanese screen printing, then moved on to watching true professionals at work hand painting kimono. It was pretty impressive to watch. I got some pretty nice shots of the process.

After that, we moved on to Nijo-jo, the Emperor's official quarters when he visited Kyoto from Edo (modern Tokyo). Built in 1690, the castle has been brilliantly preserved and is beautiful. Unfortunately, we could only photograph the outside - in the interests of preserving the painted interior, no photography (flash, or otherwise) was permitted. We walked on the nightinggale floors - the construction is quite interesting, something about how the boards are balanced and spaced means they squeak in a rather musical fashion. This is not simply aesthetic, but provides a practical defense as well - nobody can sneak up on the nightinggale floor, even the lightest pressure causes noise. It was fascinating!

After Nijo-jo, we visited Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. It was simply stunning. The whole upper part of the temple is made of gold! It's really amazing!! The grounds were beautiful and tranquil, and just walking around there was a peaceful experience, even if there were about 100 other tourists doing the same thing. We prayed at the shrine there, and I did a bit of Xmas shopping there, so I'm happy (but broke!!).

The schedule said we were supposed to go home after Kinkakuji, but about half a dozen of us had asked our host families if we could stay back later and had been told we could. So Mel, Lisa, Stephanie, David, Emma and I hung back in Kyoto to visit Gion, famous for maintaining a traditional appearance and for having geisha, and for the spectacularly pretty display at Kiyomizu, the Temple of Water. Kiyomizu is set back in the foothills of the mountains that surround Kyoto, so it's a bit of a climb to get there, but the street leading to the temple is lined with plenty of (overpriced) stores that were all lovely and warm. David and I went off to check out some Mochi shops and ended up sampling everything - mmm, free mochi samples for dinner! The upshot of it all was that when it was time to line up, we were all scattered up and down about 200m of shop-lined streets. Mel, Emma and Lisa found David and I waiting in line, but we couldn't find Stephanie anywhere. She managed to catch up with us eventually - when she couldn't find us she jumped in line a bit further down and caught up with us inside the temple. The view from up there was simply incredible!! My camera doesn't do very good night photos at all, so I couldn't take any, but Lisa and Emma had their cameras so I'll steal some pics off them at some stage. It was beautiful up there, and freezing cold. We were high up and exposed to the breeze, and it felt like about -3. It was probably not quite that cold but it definitely felt it. I was walking around in like, 4 layers, plus gloves and scarf and hat, but some of the others had dressed a little more lightly so I can only imagine how cold they must've been by the end of it.

We ended up having to leave in a bit of a hurry because Mel wasn't feeling so great - she'd had some garlic bread from a bakery that might've been a bit dodgy and yeah, not good. Poor Mel. We hustled our way through night-time Kyoto, back to the train station, and saw Mel, David and Stephanie onto a train home, then Emma, Lisa and I had dinner at a little ramen place just around the corner from the station. It wasn't bad. Got the train home, bought cheap cans of hot drinks to wrap our hand around so our fingers wouldn't freeze off, and yeah, all good. Walked home, nearly froze (I couldn't feel my nose or my ears, despite multiple layers of scarves and hats covering most of my head). All in all, a really awesome day out, but I'm a little worried about Tajima now - if yesterday was freezing, how cold does it have to be to snow??

Today my host family took me to Osaka Aquarium. It was pretty awesome! You get your ticket, walk in through a tunnel with fish swimming over the top - kinda like in underwater world - and then hop on this big escalator that takes you up to the top level of the aquarium. From there, you walk in a wide spiral down the levels, past all these displays - they have Great Barrier Reef, Costal Cuba, Deep Japan Sea, Adriatic, all sorts of marine regions on display. Seals, dolphins, sea otters, turtles, penguins, about a gazillion different varieties of fish, and sharks. Right down the centre is this massive tank in which there are a couple of whale sharks, and some rays that must be about 15ft across. They are just massive! It's really awesome. They have a whole room full of just jellyfish. They're actually quite beautiful, when they're behind glass and unable to sting you. I got some pretty decent photos, woo-hoo! I'll do a really big upload of photos like, Tuesday - I think we have a spare then... anyways.

Down the bottom level of the Aquarium is a display of Japanese River Otters. They are SO CUTE!! There was a heap of information on the walls, that I would have gotten some benefit out of if I could understand the Kanji. 'Twas all in Japanese. Ahh well, that's what happense when you come to a Japanese Aquarium, I guess.

We spent a fun couple of hours wandering around the attached shopping mall - had lunch in a Gyoza house. Gyoza is Japanese dumplings; I had Karaage (surprise, surprise) because Gyoza always has onion in it. Anyways, I digress.

So, we came home via the supermarket, where I met another strange creature - live crabs. They sell the crabs in their seafood section to you live, then kill them once you've bought them. It was... kinda creepy, actually. I couldn't look at them once I knew... It was scary.

Anyway, it's late (nearly 11 here, nearly midnight at home) and I've got another long-ish day tomorrow. We're going to Osaka (again) to visit Osaka castle and Panasonic Centre. I'm sure I'll be crying for my lack of funds tomorrow!! Ah well... can't always get what you want. Stuff here is expensive - especially luxuries like travel and hot cocoa from vending machines to keep your hands warm. Well, okay, the cocoa isn't that exy but travel is!! Glad I walk to uni but still...

I'll probably update tomorrow night!

I'll have photos up sometime soon too!!

Love y'all

Friday, December 5, 2008

Welcome Party

Okay, so to pick up where I left off this afternoon, we had our Welcome Party. It was kinda fun - there are 11 students (6 from QUT including myself, 3 from Uni of the South Pacific in Fiji, and 2 from Canterbury College in NZ) involved in the short exchange program (the 1-month program) and about another half dozen or so that are involved in the long exchange, which as I understand, lasts about a year. So, we all got up on the stage and did a short introduction in Japanese - the Fijians and Kiwis had gotten theirs scripted during their Japanese lesson today, and they did pretty well considering they'd only been in Japan for less than a week. Then we had dinner and did our performances. Dinner was a buffet kinda thing, and it was quite tasty. They had all sorts of good food, karaage (chicken in a special batter), sushi, tempura, curry, all sorts of things.

The performances were pretty impressive. The students who were involved in the long program did traditional Japanese dances, in Kimono and everything. One girl was from Indonesia, I'm not sure where the others were from, but they did a marvellous job. The Kiwis sang their national anthem in Maori and English. We sang our anthem, and then did the nutbush, grabbing members of the audience to come up on stage and dance with us as we went. It was pretty fun. My gods, my legs are tired from the dance, but it was heaps fun.

The Fijians each did a different thing. Nitu is Indian-Fijian, and she did this amazing Indian (I think Bollywood) dance. It was just beautiful, really energetic and graceful. Qweni is from Tonga, so she did a Tongan dance, which was equally beautiful and graceful, and just flowed really smoothly. It was amazing to watch. Efremo sang a traditional Fijian song - he has an incredible voice! It was heaps of fun!!

Okay, so tomorrow I'm going to Kyoto. It's likely to be completely freezing there, it's apparently considerably colder in Kyoto than around Osaka. I'm staying there quite late, we want to see Kyomizu temple, the Temple of Water, and it's apparently quite spectacular at night! We'll be leaving Kyoto at around 9, so I expect I'll be home around 10, and will probably be just too tired to update. I'll try, though. If not, stay tuned for an update on Sunday!!

Okay, take care and be good!


Got a chance to update...

I apologise for not updating last night - we had rather a big night out...

So, to catch up on the last couple of days... Wednesday morning saw us visit the local High School for a lesson in wearing kimono and participating in Sadou, or Tea Ceremony. It was lovely - kimono are tricky to get on and off but look great once you're done, and the tea ceremony was quite elegant. We returned to uni, did lunch, and then were off to a tennis lesson. I should be labelled as armed and dangerous when equipped with a tennis racquet, as I nearly took off one girl's head about 3 times during the lesson, by the simple expedient of not aiming when I hit the ball. It was fun but I'm pretty hopeless at ball games in general.

After tennis, we met the Kendo club for a lesson. I've finally found a sport I don't suck spectacularly at!! It was tremendous fun! We armoured up, were given a shinai (a practise sword made of bamboo, constructed in such a way that the bamboo lengths compress when used to deal a blow, so the most damage you do to your opponent is the occasional bruise) and taught some basic strokes. Then we were turned loose to spar with the club girls, who are years more experienced than we are. It was great fun. At the end of the lesson, we had a 3 on 3 match - Trav, Qweni (one of the Fijian girls) and I against Stephanie, David and Yumin. It was tonnes of fun!! My arms ached from swinging so much, my knees ached from kneeling so often on a hard floor, but I was elated! Wednesday night saw us up quite late watching some random show about samurai and geisha in the edo period, or something. It was interesting but far too long-winded and convoluted for my tastes.

Yesterday morning started off with a visit to a primary school to meet some of the year 1 and 2 students. We were split up and went off to a classroom each, where we taught the kids some Australian games, were taught some Japanese games, did some Q&A with the kids and had lunch. Japanese school lunches are excellent - healthy, hot and fresh, and really well organised! No mad crush at the tuckshop where everyone pushes and shoves to be at the front of the line and get served first. Lunch yesterday was Miso soup, a bean and vegetable stew thingy, some rice, a mandarin and a little bottle of milk. The food is delivered from the kitchens in a couple of boxes, wheeled in by kitchen staff, and served up by the day's lunch monitors. Each kid brings from home a little bag containing a napkin and some chopsticks, and the school provides everything else. It's just fantastic!

So, after returning from the school, we went off in a couple of groups. Trav, David, Ef and I went off to the 99 yen shop and bought drinks, while the others decided to get some computer time in. I bought a can that turned out to be alcoholic green tea. It was vile!! I usually like green tea but I hate canned green tea and the alcohol just made it worse. It was awful and gross and disgusting!

After our experiment with strange Japanese alcohol, we met up at the station, went to the supermarket and bought more drinks (88yen, about $1.50 AU per can) and then went off to Maccas. We bought some burgers (100 Y buys a hamburger) and sat down, eating our burgers and drinking our alcopops. It was... totally random, really. When we were done, we went off to an izakaya. Izakaya are Japanese style bars, quite cheap and lots of fun. We sat down, nibbled on interesting foods and drank quite heartily - and danced the Nutbush down the middle of the pub! The whole night out probably cost us about $50 each, if that, and I got quite plastered. Can't speak for the others, but I know I was pretty maggot when I got home. Feel a little worse for wear today, not exactly hungover but a little fragile lol.

Our welcome party is tonight; we spent this afternoon going over our plan for the evening, rehearsing, getting a CD with our song on it made up and whatnot. The night'll be over by about 8pm, so I might be able to update afterwards, fingers crossed.

Okay, so that's my exciting fun last couple of days. I'm definitely going to try and get into a Kendo club in Brisbane if I can, it's so much fun!


Thursday, December 4, 2008


I'm going to be really bad and probably won't update until tonight, or tomorrow night even. I *might* get a post up this afternoon, if I'm really lucky, but don't go holding your breath.

Didn't update last night because the kids were up quite late and I don't like using the computer while they're up. Saki's okay, she's old enough to know not to play with other people's stuff without asking, but Kai's only 2 and he gets into everything. If he broke the computer it'd be an accident but it'd still be an expensive accident, and I'd rather that accidents didn't happen. So, I couldn't update last night.

I'm going to an elementary school today and teaching some first-graders some "traditional" Aussie games - probably going to go for "What's the time, Mr Wolf" and "Ms Mary Mack", the clapping game. That should fill up the couple of hours quite nicely. After that I've got some free time until about 5, when we are all meeting up with Yumin, an old exchange student who came to QUT last year, and we're going out for drinks and Karaoke. So I'll probably be late-ish home and won't want to update immediately.

I'll tell more about Kendo, Tennis and Kimono classes when I get some more time, right now I'm frantically hunting down music for tomorrow night's welcome party. If anyone has a good copy of a heel and toe polka they can email me before tomorrow night, I'd majorly appreciate it! I can't get hold of a copy online without handing over my credit card details!

Okay, so I gotta run now, have to be at the train station at 10 and need to visit the post office on the way and get some money out...

Love y'all!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happy anniversary to meeeee...

So, today is my first wedding anniversary. It was… well, a nice day but kinda sad, I didn’t get to celebrate with my husband ☹.

Cooking class was meant to be first up but it got cancelled – so we hit the town instead. We found an awesome sock shop that sold hundreds of varieties of toe socks, tabi socks, normal socks, leg warmers, you name it. I was SO tempted but didn’t have enough money so I didn’t buy. Then we went into a shoe shop – again, tempted by a really cute pair but they were too small and cost too much. After that, we discovered another Hyakuen store (remembering that hyakuen, 100 yen, is about $1.50 by todays’ exchange rate). I am definitely doing all my present shopping at a hyakuen store before I come back!

We decided not to try and brave the cafeteria for lunch, instead eating at a little ramen shop just up the road. I had katsukare, or pork curry, and it was really good. I got quite a substantial bowlful – I couldn’t finish all of it – for 560 yen, or about $9.50, which wasn’t bad. Came with as much free tea as you could drink. That’s something I really love about Japan, is that no matter where you go, you always get free tea with your meal. It’s really nice! Well, I think so anyway, but then I like Japanese tea.

After lunch, we had Japanese class. We had to present to our teacher one piece of exciting news in our lives – mine naturally being that today is my anniversary, hooray – and then do a timetable of a typical day in our lives. When we explained that for Australian students, there’s really no such thing as a typical day, we just timetabled an ideal or favourite day, and I timetabled my wedding day as I could remember it. After that, though, class became somewhat more challenging. We played a game where we were given a topic, like Japanese Traditions, and we had 5 seconds to come up with an answer, each time. It really put us on the spot, even if we weren’t doing anything that seemed difficult, it really put us out there because there was so many to remember but they were so hard to recall! It was heaps of fun.

After Japanese class, it was time to head for home, where Saki and I put up the Christmas tree. It looks pretty awesome. They put a Santa Hat on top of the tree here, instead of a star or an angel, but I guess that’s because in Australia, it’s a predominantly Christian society, whereas in Japan, it’s a predominantly Buddhist society and Christmas is a purely commercial thing – and Santa represents commercialism. So, yeah, logical once you see it through a Japanese lens. Miki cooked a special dinner in honour of the occasion – tsukiyaki, kanigohan (rice with crab meat in it) and fish. It was quite tasty, especially the tsukiyaki. Usually those foods are only eaten at special occasions, so I was quite honoured!

It’s now about 10pm and Sogo’s just gotten home. I’ve just spent the last while talking to John on skype – how sad is it, when you spend your first wedding anniversary in Japan on your own, and talk to your husband on Skype? He’s planning to take a couple of weeks holiday in the new year sometime before I have to go back to uni, however, and we’re hopefully gonna do something then.

Okay well, I’d best be off then, it’s lateish, and I’m tired. My sore throat’s much better – the copious amounts of tea I’ve been drinking lately must have boosted my immune system to the point that it didn’t get much past a sore throat, and even that’s faded now.

So, catch y’all later!!

Be good, take care!



Monday, December 1, 2008

So, today we met the rest of the program participants, 3 from the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, and 2 from Canterbury University in New Zealand. Surprisingly, none of them study, let alone speak, any Japanese. I know if I was in their position I’d be frightened out of my brain. They’re lovely people, though. Our first class was supposed to be about teaching Japanese, so we learned greetings, numbers and body parts. I’m sure to the others it was handy but to us Aussies, it was like being back in year 8 Japanese.

It was harder than usual finding a table at lunch. Usually, it’s challenging to find a table for the 6 of us Aussies to sit at together; finding a table with 11 seats free was going to be a challenge of Olympian proportions. Apparently they succeeded but I couldn’t see them so I ended up sitting in a vacant seat on my own until I was joined by Eferemo, one of the Fijian students, who was also lost.

Towards the end of lunch, the Kiwi and Fijian students said they were off to meet President Itami, the university dean. We thought they meant only them, but after a moment it became quite clear that we were expected as well. President Itami was pretty cool – she’s a tiny little old Japanese lady, and she spoke rapid Japanese alternating with halting English for the benefit of the Fijian and Kiwi students. That ate a little into our calligraphy class, but no matter – so we thought.

We turned up to our calligraphy class a little late, and had expected to have a special class learning about the art of calligraphy – how to hold the brush, how some of the basic strokes go, stuff like that. Instead, we rock in a bit late, Ono-sensei (the co-ordinator) explains that we had been off meeting President Itami, and that was okay. We were asked to take a seat, given a brush pen, an A3 piece of paper and 3 pieces of tissue-thin calligraphy paper, and a photocopy from an old scroll or book or something written in hiragana, which we were asked to copy. It was… again, a challenge of Olympian proportions. After my first 2 crappy attempts (and I’m being quite honest, they were crappy) I decided to just practise some of my favourite Kanji instead, and found that all the other Aussie students were doing the same. The Fijians and Kiwis dutifully spent the lesson trying for a perfect copy – I guess, since they didn’t know what to try and decipher from the script (being nice, saying script instead of scrawl!!) they just copied like one would a drawing, whereas we could kinda see the individual hiragana (Japanese letters) and spent more time deciphering them and trying to work out how to form them and join them, than actually making a decent copy of the text. Again, monumentally difficult!

The day ended with us hanging out in one of the computer labs. We all found out our results for classes – I passed Japanese this time, hooray!! Not long after that, I went off to the AV hall to finish watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was nice to listen to something I understood the whole of.

Sometime during the course of the day, I came down with a bit of a sore throat. By the time I’d gotten home, it was unbelievably sore. I think I’ve got a bit of a cold, my body’s response to the weather apparently doing a complete 180 – going from hot, muggy Brisbane weather to cold, windy Osaka weather would likely trigger a response in anyone’s immune system. I was eating dinner a bit slower than usual and Miki asked what was up so I mentioned that my throat was a bit sore. Well, the second I said so, she insisted that I go put a thermal and a t-shirt on under my pyjamas, and fetched me a blanket, and put like, 3 extra blankets on my bed plus a hot water bottle, and drowned me in about 5 cups of hot Oolong tea. Can’t say I’m not well looked after! I’m sure it’s nothing, just uncomfortable.

Well, that’s about everything.

Missing y’all!



Don't forget...

To check out my Photobucket!

Everything sings

Something else I've noticed while I've been here is that everything makes music. When you turn the dishwasher on, it sings a happy little tune. When it finishes, it sings another happy little tune. Same story with the washing machine, and the microwave. Even the garbage truck sings a happy little song as it goes. It's all very cute.

So, yesterday, after making hotcakes for breakfast, we went to a Bazaar. Just like in Australia, in Japan Sunday morning is Markets morning!! I picked up a pencil case for 200 yen, and later saw it in a department store for about 1000; Sogo picked up a brand-new iPod Shuffle for 1000 yen (about $15AU), and Miki and Sogo picked up heaps of clothes for the kids, and a t-shirt that neither of them fitted, so it came to me. It's blue, and says "For Children, your heart". We also met a Mocha stall, and I had my first taste of real Japanese ceremonial tea. You get a little origami box with some tiny tiny candies in it, and a mochi dumpling, and a bowl of green tea which is slightly bitter. It was pretty cool.

After the Bazaar, we went to Big Boy family restaurant for lunch, and I had a grilled chicken breast done in herbs with a basil sauce, and some salad. It was really great. After that, Sogo dropped Saki, Miki and myself off at Meiwa Elementary school for Saki's dodgeball game, which was heaps of fun to watch. Tell ya what, it's a brutal game! The kids peg the ball so hard they often send whoever gets hit by it, or catches it, skidding backwards in the dirt. It was fun to watch though.

So, after that, we went to yet another department store, and wandered around there for a bit - went to another Uni Qlo, but I didn't buy anything. Went to a shoe store - Japanese shoes are tiny, the biggest size they go to is about an 8. Sucks for people with size 9+ feet. Then it was time for the Onsen (Hot springs)!!

How to take an Onsen
Upon first entering the Onsen complex, take your shoes off and put them in a locker. Take the key from that locker. Go to the ticket machine and choose the entry fee, plus a towel - small towels are about 150 yen, and large towels are 500 yen. Hand the tickets and your shoe locker key over to the attendant and he will give you your towels and a locker card. Go through the curtained off area for your gender. You will be in the locker room, so choose a locker and put your locker card in the door, with the number facing out. Remember this number!! Remove your clothes, all of them, your glasses, any jewellery, and any makeup if you're wearing it. Don't be shy - you'll call more attention to yourself if you act all weird about being naked at a public bath than if you just act like it's a normal thing. You will get attention anyway for being a foreigner, but don't draw attention to yourself by carring on about "Eww, nudity".

Okay, so, once you have done this, it is time to enter the baths. Onsen usually have an inside and an outside area. Starting with the inner room, there are showers, and several baths - hot, middling and icy cold (for after the Sauna), a wood sauna, and a couple of spa pools. Shower first! Ensure that you are clean before you enter a bath. When you enter a bath, don't splash around or swim, just sit and relax, and make sure your towel stays out of the water. We tried each of the baths, except the cold one, at first. The spa was heaps of fun, the hot bath was pleasantly warm for a while, then it became too hot, and the middling bath was just nice. Then we went out to the outer area. Here, there are several hot springs, some large tubs, and a Kata - a room with a small pool, about mid-calf deep, seating around the outside, and around the ceiling, jets that shoot a fine mist of warm water into the air. It was really nice. You stay in there for a while, until you get too warm, then you step out and you're steaming in the cold air, but the cold air feels really good. Then you splash yourself with cool water and go back in. We did this about 3-4 times, then decided to hit the sauna.
The sauna was fantastic. It was about 85`C, and had about 3 tiers of seats, and even a TV. We stayed in the first time for about 2 minutes, then staggered out and into the cold pool, which felt great. The second time, we lasted about 4 minutes, and then did the cold pool, and decided to wet our towels with the ice water too. The third time, with cold towels wrapped around our heads, we lasted about 10 minutes before we decided we'd better get out and finish up. We dunked ourselves in the cold pool again, then went back into the locker room and got dressed. Afterwards, we had green tea soft serves, and then went home.

Dinner was okonomiyaki, and it was really good. I've discovered where I went wrong in making them at home. Japanese cooking is all about the preparation and the cutting, and I had cut the ingredients up wrong when I tried making it. Now I know, I'll remember for next time.

This morning was pretty normal; got up, broke my fast - toast with peach jam that Sogo's mum makes, 1/4 of a persimmon - 1/4 was enough, persimmons are very sweet, and some tonkatsu, or crumbed pork. Left home earlyish, hoping to get to the post office before 9, but it opens at 9 exactly, so I had to wait around to use the ATM. Now I'm at uni, waiting for my first class - a class on how to teach Japanese, in Japanese. Should be interesting!!

So, I'll update probably tomorrow!!

Ja ne!!


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Music day, Takoyaki Party and Language group!

Yesterday was a really really long and tiring day, so I didn't end up updating last night. The day started out with Saki-chan's music day at her school. The whole school was involved in the day, with every class presenting one sung and one instrumental piece. It was fantastic! Unfortunately, because flash photography wasn't permitted, I couldn't get photos - my camera automatically sets to flash when it's too dark, and I haven't worked out how to turn it off. But it was really good anyway. That lasted til just after midday. We walked home, had just enough time to drop gear off and then we piled into the little rental car my family is using while theirs is in getting a service, and went off to a friend's Takoyaki party. The friend lives in Nishinomiya, the next town to the west of Amagasaki. Takoyaki are little battered balls with octopus inside them. They're REALLY good. I also met Kimchi, a popular dish originally from Korea, which is pickled veges in a really really hot sauce. I had noticed other people putting a bit of kimchi on their takoyaki and eating it whole so I thought I'd try it... BIG mistake! It was HOT HOT HOT! Ah well, at least I can say I've tried it.

After the Takoyaki party, we went off to a meeting of their language group, Hippo. It was quite fascinating. 2 hours of about 20 people, all of whom speak a language other than Japanese, discussing a passage written in their chosen language, in Japanese. It was totally amazing. From the point of view of an English-speaker, hearing German or Russian spoken with a Japanese accent is... well, not to be impolite, but it's just weird! Very cool, but weird!

Okay, so after the Hippo meeting, we went down to the first floor of that building to a little Soba (noodles) restaurant with a couple of friends for dinner. They have the traditional tatami-mat flooring, which necessitated removing shoes, and we sat at a long table above a sunken floor, so we could stretch our legs. Considering I'd been sitting on the floor pretty much continuously since about 9am, I greeted this with a considerable deal of relief!!

So, now we're just waiting for Sogo to get home with hotcakes for breakfast. Miki's out in the kitchen, so I'd better go see if I can help out. Today we're going to watch Saki's dodgeball game and then go to an onsen (hot spring) so I'll have another exciting update for you tonight, hopefully - tomorrow, if I'm too tired tonight!!

Mising you all!!



Friday, November 28, 2008

First day of classes

So, yesterday was my first day of classes at Sonoda. It was quite cool! Our first class was about Early Childhood Education, and we thought it'd be a lecture; however, the girls (it's a class of about 8 plus the teacher) took the opportunity to teach us some traditional Japanese children's games, and then we taught them some Australian kids games - duck duck goose, and What's the time, Mr Wolf. It was heaps of fun. After that, we had lunch - I had Karaagedon, which was awesome. Karaage is crumbed chicken nuggets, in a special sauce, and the -don is Udon, or noodles. It was really good! And only ¥300 (less than $5 AU) for a massive bowl! Awesome value!!!

After lunch, we had our first Japanese, with Fujiwara-sensei. She's lovely!! She's very elegant, and she's a real foodie - she's eaten foods from every corner of the globe. Our first class was... well, all too easy. All of us have done Japanese since High School and have done the "about me", "about my family" and "about my hometown" topics several times before, but we had to do them again. It was okay, but I kinda wish it was a little more challenging. Ah well, you get that.

After that, we returned to the computer labs and then decided to go and watch the Kendo Club's practise. It was intense!! You could almost taste the testosterone in the room, and this was the women's kendo club! I reckon it'd be tons of fun!!

I rode home after watching the Kendo club (I mentioned riding to uni in my previous entry) and got there just ahead of Miki. I helped out with dinner - salmon, with an udon soup, and then after dinner, Saki (little sis) decided she wanted to make an Australia quiz to take to school and show her friends tomorrow, so she grilled me for a while on Australian trivia. It was pretty cool, having to explain Australian customs in Japanese to a 9 year old. My Japanese is getting better and better all the time, and I'm even starting to think in Japanese more often than in English. It's fantastic!!

Okay, well, that's the sum total of my experiences over the past 24 hours!

Missing you all, but having a ball all the same!! Don't forget to check out my photobucket for pictures of my adventures!!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Everyone rides...

In Osaka, everyone rides bicycles. It is the most common form of transportation in Osaka. So much so that roads are designed around bicycle traffic rather than cars. People do have cars but they don't often drive them. It's not uncommon to see Mum dinking one kid, and with another kid in a child seat on the back of the bike, all of them on the way to school, with backpacks in the basket on the front of the bike. And nobody wears helmets, either.

I went with Dad today to drop Kaidai off at kindy. I rode Saki-chan's bike - it's about 2/3 the size of my normal bike, but it was manageable. I haven't ridden in ages, but if I were to live in Osaka for an extended period of time, I'd definitely invest in a bike. It's great. Dad introduced me to a bunch of other parents at the kindy, and urged me to practise my jikoshoukai - self-introduction. It was pretty cool.

Well, class will be starting soon and I still have some photos to caption... so I'll leave it there.

Miss everyone, wish you were all here!!



A moment of quiet reflection

Sorry for not updating last night - the internet at my place is a bit dodgy and the kids were up late so I didn't get time last night. I also haven't had the chance to upload any photos because I can't seem to get online with my lappie... >.<

So, we had our orientation and campus tour at uni yesterday. It was pretty cool. The university is really pretty right now, all the leaves are turning and they’re all red and gold and pretty. The grounds are so clean and tidy! That’s one thing that I’ve noticed about Japan – everything is really tidy and clean. Even the dodgy little alleyway our hostel was in was clean, not littered with rubbish everywhere. The trains are clean too. Devoid of rubbish and gum and whatnot that you’d find on Australian trains. The recycling system here is really really good. They have bins for everything – bottles, cans, paper, plastic, and “dirty” rubbish. Also, there’s hardly any waste over here – if you don’t eat all your meal, someone will finish it off for you. Food waste is quite rare.

During our tour of the campus, we went to the library. It was SO COOL! They have electronic shelves that slide in and out, and a whole wall devoted to English literature, and a whole room full of antique books – antique in the real sense, that of more than 100 years old. It was amazing!! We were shown a collection of handwritten books, and scrolls, and were even allowed to handle them. It was brilliant!!

After our campus tour, we decided to hit the town. Amagasaki is really nice. It reminds me of some of the biggish country towns in Australia, like Shepparton or Golburn. It’s quite flat, and the CBD is smallish. We went to a hyakuen shop – a 100 yen shop. 100 yen is about $1.50 AUD, and they have all sorts of cool stuff there. It was located in a store that had a supermarket on the ground floor, and a department store – kind of like Big W or Best and Less – on the second and third floor. It was quite a modest affair for a Japanese department store. It liked it – they had some jackets with the most wonderful Engrish on them.

So, we spent some time checking the hyakuen shop out, and then it was time to go home. I managed to find home on my own, which was good, because I’d hate to get lost here!! I don’t even know the name of the street I’m on! I’m going to ask my family about that tonight…

Oh, I haven’t said much about them, have I? My host mother’s name is Miki, she’s 43 and she works at the university, near the computer lab where I tend to spend a fair bit of time. She’s quite lovely. She visited Brisbane when she was about my age, about 20 years ago. My host father is Sogo, he’s 34 and is a Net work Connections Consultant (or something like that). He works quite late most nights, and I only met him last night by chance because I was still up checking my emails when he got home at 11pm. He’s pretty cool too. My little sister is Saki, 9, an elementary school girl, and my little brother is Kaidai, 2. They’re a lovely family.

Well, now, I think that’s about everything. Don’t forget to check out my photobucket for photos!!

Missing you all!!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dotonbori, Karaoke, and Sonoda

I apologise for not updating this last night - we met a fellow Aussie at our hostel and we all went out for dinner and karaoke. But more of that later...

So, yesterday was freezing cold and raining. We went to Den-Den Town, but it was... disappointing, I must confess. I guess we'd all been imagining the likes of Akihabara in Tokyo, this massive, glistening, beautiful sprawling mass of technology, but it wasn't like that in the least. Disappointing, as I said. We ended up giving up on Den Den Town after about an hour and made our way back, to Shinsaibashi, this beautiful covered strip mall with shops and lights and people as far as the eye can see!! It was fantastic! They have a department store there called Uni Qlo, which is kinda like Target, only cheaper. I ended up getting a fleecy turtleneck and a jacket for less than 2000 yen (less than $30 AU). It was awesome!!

We then wandered around Daimaru, a really really upmarket department store - like DJs or Myer, but about 1000 times classier. Really old-school old-fashioned class. Dark wood panelling and marble and stained glass everywhere, about 8 floors high. Doormen wearing emerald suits with peaked caps and white cotton gloves. Kind of 1950s hollywood stylish. There were little stores within the department store too - Prada, Gucci, Versace, the list goes on. I was actually holding a real, original Gucci handbag. It cost nearly $1000 AU. It was just... mind-blowingly cool!

So, after we finished with Daimaru, we headed home and got dressed. I took a bath in the public bathroom - Japanese bathing is nothing like Australian bathing. You start by, in your bedroom, getting undressed down to your underwear and putting on a Yukata - a light cotton dressing gown. Hotels often provide them free of charge. You grab your little bathroom bag and your towels and put your slippers on and head on down to the bathroom. The first room you enter is the locker room, where you leave your big towel, Yukata and underwear in a locker. Now naked, you take your bathing gear (soap, loofah, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush if you want, shaving gear if you want) into the bathroom itself. The bathroom is a long, steamy room. Along one wall are showers, but unlike in Australia, they aren't screened off by walls or anything - there are about... 8 shower sections just next to each other, out in the open. Self-consciousness is NOT the done thing here. You shower, wash your hair, body, shave, brush your teeth or whatever else, sitting down on the little stools provided (the showers are about half-height, the right height for you to sit down at). After you are clean and have rinsed all the soap and whatever off, you get in the bath. The bathwater is about 50'C, and is constantly cycled out. You can spend as long as you like just soaking, it's very relaxing. When you are done, you collect your bathroom bag and head out to the locker room, dry off, put your yukata back on and head back to your room to get dressed. Japanese baths are awesome!!

Okay, so after my bath, I got dressed up, and we - the 6 of us from QUT plus Grant, the other Aussie we met at the hostel - went out to Dotonbori. Dotonbori is the most AMAZING place!! It's a long open-air strip mall, and everywhere you look there's light and noise and people everywhere. It makes the Valley look boring. Really boring. Like, dead boring. And it's such a safe place! Nobody will even touch you, especially if you're foreign! Everyone is so polite. We ended up at a really good Okonomiyaki restaurant. It was SO TASTY, and really filling!! We got our okonomiyaki, and our drinks. I started off with something that is called a Calpis Sour. I get the feeling it's something like a Vodka based drink, mixed with Calpis, which is the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. It's a slightly creamy lemon drink... kind of like a spider but not fizzy. Very good. So, after my Calpis Sour (which wasn't sour and didn't taste alchoholic at all!) I got a bottle of hot sake to share with Grant. It was VERY nice. Really good sake! So, that saw us through dinner, and then it was back onto the Chikatetsu (Subway) back to our area, Dobutsuen-mae (Which means "in front of the zoo" because it's near Tennoji Zoo). Once we were in Dobutsuen-mae, we went to a little tiny Karaoke bar, just a little local place. The people there were really nice, for all that they'd suddenly been invaded by 7 drunk-ish foreigners. We had a totally mad time!! The regulars were really awesome about us monopolising the songs. I sang Nothing Else Matters, and then Bohemian Rhapsody, and did Barbie Girl as a duet with David, one of the guys with me on this trip. One of the regulars there loves the Beatles, so we did a few Beatles songs, then we did some Bon Jovi, and ended the night with We Will Rock You. It was awesome.

So, we left the Karaoke bar on high spirits, and wandered around Dobutsuen-Mae. Trav, David, Steph and Grant had found the red-light district the other night, so we decided to have a little sticky-beak. It was... quite an eye-opener. Totally unlike red-light districts in Australia, which are dodgy, seedy and frankly, terrifying places to be; in Osaka, and we were in the really really dodgy part of Osaka, we felt safe. Well... no, we just didn't feel unsafe, if that makes sense. The whole area is controlled by the Yakuza, so as long as we minded our own business and didn't go about causing any trouble, it was fine. We even saw a few businessmen on patrol - they nodded and greeted us, and we replied politely, and went on our way, and they left us alone. It was really quite cool. We spent a good 15 minutes wandering around, and saw some really incredible things. The brothels there are little rooms with a wide opening at the front. The madame sits there and greets you as you walk past, and you can look in and see if you see anything you like. If you do, you can go in and have your fun, and if you don't you can just keep walking; no pressure. The girls there are all very pretty, and the establishments are themed. It was just... mind-blowing.

So, after our little jaunt, we came back to our hostel and I went straight to bed. This morning, I ended up walking all the way up to Tennoji - the next suburb, about 10 minutes away - to the post office to the only ATM that would accept my card. I thought I'd withdrawn 10 000 yen - about $150 , but I only ended up withdrawing 1000 yen - $15. Whoops!! So, I went to the supermarket to get a bun for breakfast, and handed over my money and had hoped that with the change I'd be able to reimburse the money I'd had to borrow the night before, but with only 1000yen I got about 800 yen change - enough to buy the train ticket to uni but not for much else!! Hope the ATMs here take my card...

So, we checked out at about 10, made our way, dragging our heavy suitcases up the stairs - they don't have an elevator or even an escalator at the station! - to Osaka central, then across to Hankyu station and to Tsukaguchi station, about 10 minutes walk from the uni - normally! It took us at least 20 minutes to get there, and my arms feel like lead now!! But we made it!! It was quite nice, the weather today is lovely! Thank the gods it wasn't raining!! So now I'm going to try out the ATM and get some lunch! I'll have some photos up later, once I get them from Mel's facebook!!

Missing everyone!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Laundry Habits of Osaka

So, my second day in Osaka dawned cold and misty. I spent a good 20 minutes hanging out the window of my room just observing the morning. One of the buildings I can see from my room has a rollercoaster wrapped around it, but I haven't seen it run yet. It looks quite cool. My room is TINY!! Just thought I'd get that out before I forget!! But yeah, one of the things I took great amusement from observing is the laundry habits of Osaka. It's really interesting.

Also, it's interesting to feel the earth shifting underneath you. In Australia, we're on bedrock so the earth doesn't move. Here, it's ALWAYS shifting, and it's strange, and slightly frightening. The Japanese don't notice it at all, but we all did. It's akin to being on a boat, in a way.

So, after checking out how Osaka-jin start their day, we got breakfast from a convenience store - I didn't actually get the purple noodles but they looked interesting!! We then caught a train into Osaka.

First stop was Umeda Sky Building. We caught a glass lift up to the 35th floor, 140m above sea level, then rode an escalator suspended over nothingness up to the 39th floor - it was amazing, quite scary but totally awesome - and then another lift up to the observation platform, 173m above the ground. It was incredible!! The view is spectacular!! Osaka is simply massive, this vast sprawling mass of humanity. It quite literally stretches off over the horizon in all directions!! It was incredible!!

After Umeda Sky Building, we went back down and visited the little Christmas village in the courtyard at the bottom. Unfortunately I can't be bothered embedding links for everything, so I'll just direct you now to my Photobucket album for all of this so you can browse at your leisure. From now on I think I'll do this, just mention my PB instead if embedding photos because it just takes too damn long, it's taken me nearly an hour to update.

So, this little Christmas village. It was incredibly cute! Little German-style stalls everywhere, selling awesome stuff! One was selling ceramic mugs that they would fill with mulled wine (hot spiced wine, it's awesome)! I got some, and Leese and I ended up sharing most of it before she poured the rest out - it was too early to get drunk! After that, we headed to Umeda Yodobashi, one of the hundred gazillion massive shopping malls in Osaka. We bought a few essentials, then moved on to a ramen shop for lunch, then on to HEP 5. HEP 5 is awesome, it's a 10-storey tall shopping mall in Umeda, with premium shopping on 7 levels. Level 8 is an arcade, level 9 hosts a really extensive Pikurika (the little sticker photos) mall with easily 1000 stalls, and then level 10 is the base of a 109-meter high ferris wheel! It takes about 15 minutes to do one cycle, and you get the most amazing view! Unfortunately, by the time we got to the ferris wheel, my phone's memory was full and I couldn't take any more photos. No biggie, of course.

So, I'm all shopped out (I didn't really buy too much) and exhaustipated. We're waiting on David and Travis to turn up from the airport, they should be here in the next hour. Tomorrow we're visiting Namba (south Osaka; Umeda is North Osaka) and doing Den-den town (electronics heaven!) and Dotonbori (massive strip mall). Stay tuned for more excitement, same time, same place tomorrow!!

Missing everyone heaps, hope you're all well!!



Saturday, November 22, 2008

First night in Osaka

What. A. Day.

I was woken up at 5:30am by my mum's cat crash-landing on my stomach. We made our way to the airport, where I tearfully left my mum and sister and husband. The flight to Osaka was the longest 9 hours of my life - you don't really appreciate how long 9 hours can be until you've been stuck on a plane for 9 hours. Our arrival to Osaka was... impressive. We came in over Osaka Bay, and saw Kansai Airport all lit up and Osaka all around - Osaka is HUGE!! We made our way through the airport, through immigration and customs, and finally out to the train station, where we found an icecream vending machine. I wanted to keep my first train ticket from my first Japanese train trip, but the machine at Shin-Imamiya station - the station near our hotel - ate it. A really nice guard helped us get our luggage off the station platform - they don't have ramps at the station! So, we managed to get to our hotel, and signed in and were given our keys. Our rooms are tiny!! We're only sleeping in there but still! Barely wide enough for a single bed, a tiny folding table and chairs, and that's about it. Cozy, apparently!! So, after we settled in, we made our way to a little Ramen store for a late dinner, and came across a bunch of vending machines just outside our hotel . The stories are true, vending machines are EVERYWHERE and they sell EVERYTHING!

No. Before you ask, no. I haven't yet seen an underwear vending machine. But I'm sure they exist.

So, it's now nearly 11pm (midnight Brisbane time) and I've been on the go since 5:30am. I'm just about ready for bed!!

Monday, November 17, 2008

4 and a half days to go!!

So, this time next week, I'll be in Osaka. It's quite scary how the time has flown. It absolutely dragged while it was coming up to exams, but now that my exams are done, it's bolting past like there's no tomorrow.

I had a really awesome going-away party on Saturday, courtesy of Marissa and Tony. It was heaps of fun, thanks so much guys! I'm sorry only a few people could make it, but that's the way it crumbles, and it's the thought that counts. Sunday was less fun - we had the biggest storm that Brisbane has seen in 25 years hit our area (check out these photos), and the restaurant at which I work was the only place in the area that had power. The brunt of the storm missed us by about 1km - we got about 10 minutes of rain so heavy we couldn't see the brick wall out the front of our house, some fairly impressive thunder and lightning overhead, but no damage. The upshot of all this was that so many people were without power, they couldn't cook dinner so they came to the restaurant instead. We ended up taking care of about 3 times as many people as usual there. I didn't end up leaving work until sometime between 10 and 11pm - not exactly sure of the time. I was meant to leave at 9:15. Crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Dear Uncle Thor, next time you want to have a party, do it somewhere else.

Tonight was my last gaming session with the lads until the new year - I go to Japan at the end of this week (yay!) and then in a couple of weeks one of the lads and his wife are off overseas as well, so it'll be well after Christmas before we resume our gaming schedule. It was an awesome session, ended on a really high note (flawless victory against a red dragon, it didn't hit us once!) I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

Tomorrow, one of my girlfriends has something planned for me, that involves us going to Westfields at Chermside. Hopefully this something won't involve TOO much money, as I have practically none at my disposal right now... *sigh*

Between doing this and that, I'm implementing Operation: Pack. Stage one is in full swing - once I finish rambling on here, I've got to go hang out some washing so my jeans will be dry for Friday - maybe before, if the weather clears up! I'm half-hoping it stays wet and grey until I leave, so I won't be pining for lovely Brisbane weather while I'm in Osaka; the other half of me is hoping it clears up so I have some good memories of lovely Brisbane weather to sustain me during Osaka winter.

Okay, enough is enough. Washing machine's finished, so I'd better go take care of it.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

2 Weeks!!

In exactly 2 weeks time, I'll be touching down in Kansai International Airport, Osaka. Wewt!! It's so exciting, and it's so close now! But it seems so far away because I still have 2 exams to look forward to between now and then. By this time next week I'll have finished my exams for the semester, thank the Gods.

Apparently Osaka in December is wet and sleety. Ick. I'm re-thinking what I'm going to bring with me.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

To begin...

So, I be keeping this Brog while I'm in Osaka. For those who have just jumped on the bandwagon without knowing me, my university offered a few scholarships to Sonoda Women's University in Amagasaki, Japan (Amagasaki is a satellite town of Osaka), so I'm heading off there in... 16 days! ^_^ Fun fun!!

But first I have a couple of exams to look foward to U_U Less than fun.

Why can't Japanese be assessed 50% speaking and 50% writing, instead of 30% speaking and 70% writing?? I'm GOOD at speaking. I'm absolutely crap at writing - the physical act of putting pen to paper and creating legible letters in Japanese, that is. I can do it on a word processor no trouble at all! もうー!

Well, that was an exciting first post! I'll update when something exciting happens!!