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Life in the Intenational House

June 21, 2010 9 comments

Foreign students entering NUFS have two official choices of where to live. The first is a set of apartments called Proxy Friends Nissin. They are about five minute by foot from the university campus, and cost ¥30000 rent per month, not including utilities and internet. They have few rules and regulations, about the same as any normal apartment complex. The other choice, the one I chose, is the International House, otherwise known as I-House.

I-House is a set of dorms adjacent to the campus. It has a square layout, with a nakaniwa (central open garden) in the middle. It has two stories (boys on bottom, girls on top, generally speaking). There are 3 or 4 kitchens and two common rooms for each floor, as well as a game room, computer room, laundry room, and small library on the first floor and a tatami room on the second floor.

The rooms are fairly spacious, all things considered. The come with a bed (with bedding supplies, including a futon, which can be rented), a desk with a light, a set of shelves, a fridge, a closet, and a bathroom with a bath/shower and toilet.

The building is maintained by our kanrinin (landlady), Yuuko, although we like to call her Okaasan (literally, “mom” in Japanese), since she takes care of us so well. We also have three RAs: Koko, Yayoi, and Jun. Jun is the only guy RA, and he’s quite fun to talk to. Especially stories of his part-time job at 7-11!

There are many advantages to living at I-House. The utilities are all taken care of, as well as internet (which is slow, but doable), and the rent is ¥24000. If you have a problem, Okaasan will be able to help you out. There is never a shortage of people to talk to, as many of them hang out in the common rooms almost perpetually. It’s close to the campus, as well as the main grocery store (Aoki Super), video rental store (Geo), bus to the subway (Itaka Ryoukuchi), and  many restaurants (including the Italian restaurant Sizeria and many sushi places).

There are some costs to living here, though. Everyone takes turns cleaning the kitchens and taking out the trash (known as gomi-touban, or “cleaning duties”), which I personally don’t mind, but it tends to make other people lazy and they won’t clean their dishes and expect you to. There is a “curfew,” although it’s not as strict as it sounds—the door is simply locked at 11 PM; if you want to come back afterwards, you can call someone to let you in. There are also quiet hours after 11, but that’s just common sense.

Overall, I think I made a good choice in coming to I-House. I might have preferred a homestay, but given my options, I’m happy with what I’ve got.

Categories: Uncategorized

Language Lounge and My New Japanese Friends

One of the great things about NUFS is that it offers scholarships to ryuugakusei (foreign students); mine was about ¥60,000 a month, of which ¥24,000 was taken out each month for rent. But if you’re going out and seeing the sights and eating the cuisine, that isn’t always a lot to live on. And ryuugakusei can’t get jobs in Japan. So one thing NUFS offers as a supplement to the scholarship is working in the Language Lounge. Essentially, you go in and speak in your native language to Japanese students who are learning that language. It helps if you know Japanese, so you can explain concepts to them, but in general, in the Language Lounge, speaking Japanese is prohibited. For doing this for an hour, during lunch, you get paid ¥1000. Not too shabby.

In my case, I signed up for the English Lounge, and the experience has been quite amazing. I worked two days a week (Tues and Wed). Not only have I learned quite a bit about Japanese language and culture from the students I’ve spoken with, but I’ve made several Japanese friends. I should single out one person in particular.

I met Takayuki a couple of weeks into the English lounge. He was quiet, a bit awkward, and shy. But he was very interested in English, and happened to plop down by me and began asking me questions. I soon discovered he was also a French major, and I told him could speak a little French. We had a good talk during the first hour, and he came back the next day, this time with questions on English idioms. Roisin was there to help me explain them, and he had a field day with the differences between American and British English (as Roisin was from Wales).

The next week, during Lounge, he invited me and Roisin to go bowling with him and his friends (I had told him the previous week, when we were discussing sports, that I liked bowling—he did as well!). We accepted, and that weekend we went to a bowling alley in Chikusa with Takayuki and his friends. They were all really patient with us, as well as curious, and it was a blast. The bowling alley was fun, and we also played a bit in the arcade.

Takayuki and I met regularly from then on in the Language Lounge, and even now, when Language Lounge is officially over and I’m not getting paid, I still see him every week in the Lounge. He really is a lot of fun, and I’m so glad I met him. I hope I helped him with English as much as he’s helped me with my Japanese. I certainly hope he makes good on his offer to come to America and visit. ^_^

Categories: Uncategorized

Golden Week Kyoto/Gion Trip

Golden Week is the name for the set of holidays which all line up to create Japan’s main holiday, where everyone goes on vacation. This year, it was April 29-May 5. For two of those days, Emily, Nathan, Roisin, Hoshiko, Lauren, and I went on a trip to Kyoto. We left on Thursday after class, and took a bus to Kyoto from Nagoya. We arrived at night, and looked around Kyoto station (which is freaking huge!) before getting ourselves some ramen. Kyoto has its own famous variety.

We then went to the karaoke place where we would spend the night. Yes, we decided to save ourselves some money by staying at an all-night karaoke joint. It’s not as cool as it sounds. It was impossible to sleep because, even though we got our own karaoke box, it was very easy to hear all the other Japanese people doing karaoke, and you couldn’t mute the TV, so there was always noise and light. Eventually we gave up and sang karaoke for a good portion of the night, until we were made to leave at 5 AM. We walked around Kyoto, looking at the temple district before, desperate as we were, stopping at a Starbucks, and waited for it to open. When it did, we went in, bought ourselves coffee, and crashed. Most of us slept for around two hours, allowing us to regain a good amount of energy. From there we went to the big sites around Kyoto, but most of significant of all, we went to Gion.

Gion is famous for being the geisha capital of the world. This was especially important for Emily, since she is obsessed with geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha). We even got to see a Maiko-odoori (a dance show performed by maiko) at the festival. It was quite the show, and we were given a nice explanation of it by a kind Japanese family that sat next to us.

It was an unfortunately short trip, but with the funds we had, it was all we could do, and it was worth it. Tiring and a lot more exercise than I’d like to admit, but still fun.

Categories: Uncategorized

Classes

Classes began on April 5th. The first week was basically reviews, as well as meeting out new sensei. We have three sensei, with two periods of morning classes five days a week. On Monday we have Tokumoto-sensei, who’s probably one of my favorite teachers. She speaks English well, and as such can explain grammar points and their nuances well, making them much easier to understand. Then on Tuesdays we have Yoshikane-sensei, usually for reading comprehension. He’s a bit strange, but he’s a good guy and really tries to help us out a lot. The remaining three days (grammar/listening, kanji, and project classes) are with Obara-sensei. She is a bit more strict than the other two sensei, but she also explains things very well, even in Japanese. The classes are challenging, but they’re not terribly hard, either. It’s a very nice balance, and a breath of fresh air compared to last semester in JAPN 313 and last year in JAPN 301. God, that was terrible.

I’m also taking two culture classes, each one day a week. On Monday, 4th period, I have Japanese Business Practices with Shima-sensei. This classes is so informative it’s not even funny. Plus Shima-sensei speaks both Japanese and English (he lived in California for a good portion of his life), so I get a bilingual class, plus he has all these interesting stories of working with international companies looking at the Japanese market (like Jamba Juice, Burger King, McDonalds, and In-n-Out). He’s also a really nice guy, and I enjoy his class a lot. Then on Wednesday, 3rd period, I have my International Relations and Diplomacy class with Meguro-sensei. He speaks English, and the class works by having us look at current events in international relations and doing presentations on it weekly. It was most interesting because we got to do stuff on the Futenma base issue, as well as the resignation of Prime Minister Hatoyama.

Classes thus far have been an interesting experience, but I’m glad I’m taking what I am. I look forward to learning more.

Categories: Uncategorized

Iga Ueno Ninja Village 伊賀上野

Shortly before classes began, NUFS had a Culture Excursion to Iga Ueno, a town in nearby Mie Prefecture. Iga Ueno is famous because it is a Japanese Ninja Village.

Yes, you heard that right. A freaking ninja village!

We were given a tour of the ninja village, by ninjas, who were kind enough to show us some ninja tricks. Trap doors, surprise attacks, and an epic ninja show. We toured the rooms, got to see the stuff ninja wore, and got to explore the area around Iga Ueno afterwards. It was awesome 😄

Categories: Uncategorized

Arrival in Japan, Part II

March 29, 2010 1 comment

Hello again! Here’s an update of my adventures in Japan up until now.  ^__^

A couple days after we finished the orientations, we had a group trip to Nagoya and Sakae. Since I had already been to Sakae, I spent most of my time there scouting out new food spots, before heading off to Nagoya proper, where we first and foremost went to 名古屋城 Nagoya-Jou, or Nagoya Castle. It was an amazing place to visit. Usually, when one thinks of Japan, the old castles are some of the first images that pop up in one’s head. This particular one was interesting because it was one of the forts built by Oda Nobunaga, who used the strongholds to unify Japan. This was my favorite picture. After going leaving the castle, we went to some of the stores in Nagoya, which included Animate (basically a huge anime store) and Big Camera, a tech store, where I bought a 電子辞書 denshi jisho, or electronic dictionary (it was expensive, but hopefully it was a good investment).

The next three days were language class placement tests. It was harrowing set of days. The first day everyone took a computerized grammar test…. unfortunately, I was one of a few students whose connection died on them (they had had a problem with their server), which made me redo entirely a whole huge section of the exam, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t completely confident in my abilities of the section, so I was just really flustered. The results later that day had me taking the next day’s exam, which meant I was in danger of being placed in the lower class (which would have sucked, since I’ve been taking Japanese for the past two and a half years). And it was supposed be a grammar test, then a kanji test, but there was another server problem, and we were forced to do the kanji test (which very few of us were adequately prepared for, since we were prepped for a grammar test), and as you can iamgine I was a little really scared of not making it into the higher classes, but thankfully I scored high enough to make it into the next test the next day, which was mainly reading and listening comprehension and writing. It was tougher, but more enjoyable without that pressure. In the end, the results I received placed me in the 301 class, which is not my first choice, but satisfactory nonetheless.

Which brings me to today. Today was the entrance ceremony for the new students entering the university, so we were given a special welcome by the president of the university, and then we got a welcoming party in the Communication Plaza (with lots of great free food!! 😀 ). We got to see displays from some of the clubs, and I would really like to join the kendou or archey clubs 😄

I’m definitely enjoying my experiences so far in Japan, and I will try and get some more fun stuff squeezed in here in the time until language classes start on the second. I know we’ll be going on an O-Hanami (watching the sakura blossoms) a couple of days, once on the third and once later in the week, which will be loads of fun. Plus Easter Mass in Japan; should be interesting and exciting.

Hope everyone’s doing well back home!! ^__^

Categories: Uncategorized

Arriving in Japan, Part I 日本に来ることI

March 21, 2010 1 comment

Well, it’s been almost a week and a half since I arrived in Japan. Sorry there hasn’t been any updates since I got here, but trust me when I say it’s been a crazy week and a half! But since I’ve got so much stuff to talk about, I need to seperate this into two parts. This post will deal with the first half of the time, and another blog post will deal with the later half.

Anyway, we got San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday the 10th after staying at my great-aunts house for the night with my parents, Emily, and her mom. We got our tickets and our baggage checked, said goodbye to our parents, and went through security. (I almost got to go through one of the cool full body scanners! Unfortunately they didn’t seem to think I was dangerous looking enough T_T). We eventually met up with Kelsey and got a snack. I exchanged my last remaining US dollars I had saved, and bought a memory card for my camera. And before you knew it, they were calling for our seats to get on the plane.

Kelsey, Emily, and I were separated on the plane, unfortunately (though not too far–Emily was two seats behind me, and Kelsey was three seats to my right). It took some effort to get my bags properly stowed, but it worked out fine, and eventually we took off on our 11-hour flight. The flight itself was smooth, if not a bit tedious (but it’s an 11-hour flight, so what else is expected?). However, there were some things which totally made the flight worthwhile.

For one thing, the stewardesses were all amazing. It was hard to believe that we were getting the service we were getting in economy class. The were constantly coming by to refill drinks, give more snacks, etc. They even had complimentary snack baskets by the restroom, which included cinnamon rolls, cookies, and rice crackers. You can bet I took advantage of that! 😀 Another cool thing about the flight was in in-flight entertainment system. The selection of movies was unfortunately bland (2012 being the major pick… terrible movie, btw), but at least the movies were available on demand, so you could start and stop whatever movie you wanted whenever you wanted, plus they had TV (including NHK broadcasts and cartoons), with most of the options being available in both Japanese, Japanese with English subs, and English with Japanese subs. But what was even more cool was the fact that there was games on the systems. They even had Bejeweled, Go, Chess, Poker, Tetris, you name it, they had it. The in-flight meals were really good too, epsecially lunch. Ebi-curry with rice. Yum ^__^

A little over 11 hours later, we arrived at Narita International Airport (成田国際空港) in Tokyo. We were hungry so we ate our first meal in Japan: Emily and I had yakisoba, and I believe Kelsey had udon. It was pretty good for the price. It wasn’t too long of a wait, though, before we got on the plane to Nagoya. We were given a pleasant surprise: we had been upped to premium economy (with comfy seats, leg rests, and bendy lights!); plus, we all got to sit together. Unfortunately we didn’t get to enjoy it too much–the flight only lasted about 45 minutes. But we finally did disembark to Chuubu International Airport (中部国際空港) in Nagoya. We made it through the terminals and got our baggage safe and sound. Then we got to customs and immigration. This was the single scariest moment for me, so a bit of backstory is necessary:

As most of you know, I was bringing my hemophilia medicine with me to Japan. This normally requires a special permission slip (a Yakkan Shoumei). Well, a week before we left, I noticed that, according to Japanese guidelines, all international passengers went through customs at the final airport on the intinerary–I was under the impression that I would be going through customs at Narita, not at Chuubu. As such, I had listed on my form that my “Place of Quarantine” was Narita, when I probably should have put Chuubu, and therefore I should have sent it to the Chuubu/Kansai Regional Bureau, rather than the Kantou Bureau. I was freaking out because there was no time to change it, and I was worried that I would be detained for smuggling illicit drugs or something O_o

So you can imagine my apprehension as I’m walking out of immigration (after getting my visa) to the customs area. The customs guy (who, keep in mind, is wearing a mask and looks very scary and official-looking) takes my passport, looks at me, asks what the purpose of my stay is for (most of this is going on in Japanese, so it’s not helping!), hands me back my passport, and lets me go.
Seriously. No checking my bags, no asking for a Yakkan Shoumei. Nothing. As soon as I hit the domestic terminal I threw up my hands and shouted 😄 With that out of the way, we met up with some other fellow exchange students, and some Japanese students from the university, who were kind enough to have bought us our bus tickets. We took the bus (a 72 minute ride) from Chuubu to Fujigaoka 藤が丘 whereupon we were met by more students who flagged us all taxis and paid our fare. We arrived at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (名古屋外国語大学) in no time, and were met at our dorm, the International House (or I-House) by several other exchange students, including Dani and Hoshiko, who helped us bring out bags in. We were given a tour by the RAs, with translations from some of the other students, and after a bit of catch-up and introductions, we promptly fell asleep.

The next day was the shopping tour. A few Japanese students from NUFS organized a trip for the new exchange students to take us to the big and popular shopping places around Nisshin-shi (the city in which we live). We went to the big superstore (which included Aoki, a really awesome gorcery store; and Kahma, a Sears-esque store), a 百円 store (hyaku-en, or 100-yen store, the rough equivalent of a dollar store in the States), some clothing stores (such as UniQlo), and some restaurants (like Sizeriya, an Italian-inspired restaurant with really good food and unlimited drinks–something hard to find in countries outside the US [they also have ice!!!!!!!]). It was informative and helpful. Aoki has been my favorite, most especially. I’ve been trying to cook more often. 😀

The next day we went to Sakae and Nagoya with Hoshiko and some of her friends. In Sakae we went to this shopping center called Oasis 21. It has some pretty neat stores, like the Shonen Jump store (got a few things from there 😉 ), as well as great restaurants, like the ramen shop we went to. At Nagoya, we went to Big Camera, a huge tech store, and Animate, and anime merch store. Animate was a little disappointing, but big camera was amazing. We also used this as a way of learning the train and bus lines for the city.

The next four days were orientations, which for the most part were informative but all together boring XP The exception to this was when we went to the Nisshin-shi City Hall to register as alien residents that the local news crew came and interviewed us. Probably amazed at the gaijin-bomb the city is getting (for those who might not know, gaijin 外人 means “foreigner”).

That’s all for this part, but stay tuned soon, when I detail some the recreation and excursions I’ve been on since then and up till now! 😀

じゃねえ!