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!!