Monday, September 27, 2010

The Joys of Moving Out

First off some personal notes.

Cami babe I am glad to hear from you again. You are a study monkey right now too so I am thrilled that you take the time to write to me.

Katey, I have always thought that you spelled your name Katie, moshiwakearimasen. However, this raises the question "What else don't I know about Katey?". So answer the two questions about you weighing most heavily on my mind. Are you a closet twilight fan? Are you a republican?

Tara, most of the rest of this post is about the question you asked about my apartment. As for the cookies, every year pre-Christmas, I make peanut butter blossoms and this year I am also making my personal fave oatmeal scotchies. You bring your mom and Shaun out to Centreville while I am home on break and you can have as many as you want. I also make peanut butter balls every year but they are classified as candy. I am thrilled to hear about the new job...kick ass, take names and make bank.

Now onto the question of housing. Real estate in Tokyo is a big deal. Schools do not usually keep much dorm space and dorms are not on campus, they are usually apartment buildings about an hours commute away.

At TUJ you have to spend your first semester living either in the dorm or in home stay but there are not enough spaces for anybody other than first semester students. In your second semester you have to strike out on your own and find a place to live. Luckily, in Japan nobody is into the whole "roommate" thing, so Tokyo is crammed full of studio and one bedroom apartments in all price ranges.

I am so psyched about the idea of having my own place again. When you live with someone else (family excluded)you never actually relax. I desperately want a place where I walk through the door and shut it and I am not answerable to anyone but myself. If I am depressed or homesick, I want to be able to cry (or eat a half gallon of strawberry cheesecake ice cream)without worrying about other people worrying about me. I want to get up and go to the bathroom in the morning without having to put clothes on. When my hillbilly is showing I want to be able to bop around the house to bluegrass without wearing my headphones.

Don't think that it hasn't been great living here with Chiemi San and Sanshiro San. They have been very kind and I would have had a much harder time adjusting without their help, Chiemi San has helped me get my alien registration card and national health card, not to mention teaching me the train system and helping me set up my bank and cellphone accounts, but I am a (those of you who need to know my age already do and those of you who don't can suffer the curiosity) ? year old woman and I need my own space.

I do not have to move out until the beginning of December, but I am going to need time to move the little bit of stuff I have (two backpacks full at a time on the train) and I need time to kit my apartment out with all the luxuries (pots and pans, a futon, a desk, a washing machine...) and I can't leave it for the first week of December because that is finals week. So I am starting my search this weekend and I am planning on starting my rental contract beginning in November. I will make sure to post pictures of the places where I am looking so you guys can give your opinions.

So something very mundane but cool happened with my host family yesterday. I offer to make dinner some of the time, usually they decline ... home stay students still have a bit of a guest feel to them and the host families don't always feel comfortable with you doing things that they feel are their responsibility, but Chiemi San and Sanshiro San have finally started to understand that I like to cook and it doesn't bother me to clean. So yesterday I made dinner. Usually when I cook here I make traditional Japanese food but yesterday I made something I have been craving for two weeks now...soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. To my amazement neither Chiemi San or Sanshiro San had every eaten a grilled cheese sandwich. They loved them! You would have thought I did magic. Sanshiro San has made me promise to teach him how to make them. You cannot imagine how fun it is to introduce somebody to something as simple and perfect as a grilled cheese.

So on that happy note I'll take off for now
Miss you guys

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I was waiting...

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't posted in almost two weeks.

I figured if I waited long enough I would get some feedback on my essay.

Katie and Tara are safe.

Some of the rest of you are not.

I think you know who you are. But just in case...

Sarah Elizabeth and Nikki, Katherine, April and Donna (who told my mother she wanted to post about me being crazy, but she wussed out before she did) there are others but this will do for now. I may be on the other side of the planet at the moment, but I will be coming home eventually. When I get home I am going to beat ya'll like you owe me money. I wait for either posts to my blog from ya'll or at least a pitiful email every once in a while, and what do I get...not a sausage. Oh yes, beatings will be forthcoming. Except for Katie and Tara, they get cookies.

As for the guys over at Skeptic Friends...I have seen you all do five thousand words arguing about the wording of one post. Somebody could have read the damn essay and at least posted "pitiful" or "pointless". Kil, Filthy and Halfmooner I am looking directly at you three.

Now that I have gotten that ugly business out of the way.

Things here in Nihon are strange but quiet. I spend so much of my time studying to keep up with my classes that I am starting to feel like a monk. I really only get out and about during my commute. Commute-class-study-commute-home-study, five hours studying hours all adds up. When I have studied so much that I begin to forget basic survival information (when to eat, how to get dressed...) I take the day off and wander around some of the different neighborhoods in Tokyo.

These excursions have an ultimate purpose (beyond the shopping that I accidentally do along the way.) At the beginning of next month, I have to start looking for an apartment. So far the only neighborhood I am interested in, is this place called Kichijouji. Its not huge like Shinjuku or Shibuya but it is full of tons of small shops and restaurants interspersed with a couple of convenient chain stores (Seiyu for one which is sort of like a Target but with a wider range of services.) I have found out to my dismay that Kichijouji is not just popular with me but with every other human being in Japan. In other words it is more expensive and it is more difficult to get an apartment there.

Since Kichijouji may end up out of my reach, I have started searching other neighborhoods one-by-one. When you don't have a car there are a lot of things that you have to take into consideration. First and most important is; how far do I have to walk to get to the train station? Virtually everything in Japan revolves around what the nearest train station is and how far away it is. Second on the list is; Is there a supermarket in walking distance? I do not mind a twenty minute walk to the station or the supermarket but in some places there is no supermarket even close. Unlike most of my friends at school, I am not happy with the idea of surviving on convenience store sandwiches and onigiri combined with the occasional trip to the ramen stand. I need actually produce, meat and grains in order to remain walking upright. The lesser considerations are the actual apartment itself (amenities, size, whether it has all of it's walls...). Location first, everything else is negotiable.

I am actually looking for a studio. A studio is one room with a little kitchen nook and a bathroom. It sounds tiny, but right now I spend about 90% of my time at home in my room anyway and I have included a picture of my room now to give you an idea of the comparison.

Well kidlings, in the time it took me to write this, I have forgotten 25% of the vocab I memorized this I gotta run.

I have included a couple of my newest drawing assignments. Katie asked to see my Maneki Neko I won at the matsuri, you can tell how small it is because I have it propped up with a 50 yen piece. You can tell by my still life that I have major problems with perspective.

Missing everbody.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hi guys,

Here is the belief essay that I mentioned. Give me any feedback that you think is useful. Don't worry about grammar or spelling (I've already got an editor working on it,thank you sweetie.) I would especially like any thoughts from the crew over at Skeptic Friends. Thanks to everybody in advance.

I Believe in the Permanency of Nothing and the Possibility of Anything : By Elizabeth Weiblen

If every piece of information in the universe were a grain of sand then the human race would be like children on a vast beach examining one grain of sand at a time. Every discovery and every invention is one grain that we put in the pail of knowledge that all human beings share. We put the grains in one by one and when we have filled the pail we will still barely have touched the beach. I think the most important thing we can know, is that we know virtually nothing. I am neither a materialist nor an idealist, as those choices have been defined to me. I guess I will define myself as a possibleist. Is the world definable strictly in terms of physical reality, a collection of tangible components and chemical reactions? This option is a definite possibility. Is there a spiritual dimension to the world, an element that we cannot quantify but nevertheless has a profound effect on our existence. This option is just as possible as the first.

I was raised Southern Baptist which is a branch of Christianity that is fundamentalist in its views. By fundamentalism I mean that Southern Baptists believe in a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible. A few examples of these beliefs are: The world was created in six days by God. God is an omnipotent being who exists in the form of three manifestations Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son manifestation was given birth to by a virgin in order to live as a human being and eventually be sacrificed in order to bridge the divide between human beings and God and allow the spiritual aspects of human beings immortality. When I was a child and belief was easy to come by, I believed this fully and without question. As I grew, and my experience of the world broadened, my ability to believe without consideration narrowed. Now, I find myself standing on a philosophical tightrope suspended equidistance between rationality and spirituality. Standing there without either enough concrete information or enough personal enlightenment to have the faith to move in either direction. When you don’t have faith, what’s left are possibilities.

The road of materialism seems to require you to have faith that everything you come in contact with, and will be affected by, will be measurable on some scale that makes sense to human beings. I believe that this is entirely possible. I also believe the universe is infinite, or as close to infinite as to make no difference, and within it lies the possibility for an infinite number of manifestations. Some of these may be ones that human beings have already imagined or possibly encountered, like ghosts, angels, demons, gods and monsters, but the possibility also exists for entities so far out of our range that we would not be able to define them at all ( H.P. Lovecraft type thinking but hopefully with less insanity and world eating ). I also think that materialism as it has been defined is fluid in nature. Every new discovery expands the definition. When people first began to believe that the world was defined by the laws of science, they hadn’t even seen a germ yet. Atoms, radiation, dark matter… the list of discoveries goes on and on, and will keep going on indefinitely, who says that one day somebody in a lab won’t see a pattern in their data and turn around to say “ I know how this is going to sound but… I think I just proved the existence of gremlins.”

Now let’s have a look at idealism. This belief system seems to hinge on the idea that humans are possessed of a spirit or soul that cannot be defined in physical terms but is the most important aspect of ourselves. This is also entirely possible. I like the idea of spirituality. If there were some way to manufacture faith, I would do it immediately. I know many people with a true and abiding faith in Christianity. I am related to many of them. They are for the most part the happiest and most serene people I know. Unhappily, you can’t buy faith and you can’t make it. Either faith comes to you organically or it doesn’t. There may be a God and there may be an afterlife… and there may not be. I stand directly on the balance point of this issue. I have just enough of my spiritual upbringing left, that when I consider that there is the possibility that there may be a God, I also consider the possibility that I will go to Hell for thinking of him as a possibility and not a reality.

Since this essay is about what I believe, which also opens the door for what I don’t believe, I will give you the quick and dirty run down on my beliefs. I believe in Karma, the comic book version of it anyway, when you do good it invites good to come back to you and vice versa. If there is a God, I don’t believe he is a man who sits in the sky and micromanages the lives of human beings. I believe that we are not alone in the universe, and it is a bit arrogant of us to believe that somehow we were the only ones to hit intelligent life form jackpot. I believe that any day that goes by without something catastrophic happening, such as a meteor strike or plague, was a good day. I also believe that beliefs are like emotions, you can describe them to someone else, but you cannot make them experience them like you do.

I guess, in a way, what I believe in most is learning. What I really depend on, is the fact that I will know something tomorrow that I didn’t know today. So let my belief system be based on the importance of the accumulation of knowledge. There aren’t any actual churches devoted to it, but there are libraries and schools. There isn’t any system of morality based on the quest for knowledge, in fact many institutions devoted to morality seem to frown on too much knowledge. The quest for knowledge has never started any holy wars, although it has improved the weaponry quite a bit. It definitely has its own martyrs, the father of the Socratic Method, just to name one. The best part about having learning as your belief system is that you can practice it alone or in groups, and you never have to dress up to do it.

To sum it all up, there are no certainties in life, only possibilities. Physical laws are there to be broken, and spirituality is an invisible needle in a haystack that never ends. My beliefs about the nature of ultimate reality are that, so far as I can tell, there is no ultimate reality. Actually in all truth I don’t think there is even a proximate reality. There is only what we know now and what we will know tomorrow and what we may never know.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Even though, nerd that I am, I have been studying almost non-stop, I managed to make it out last weekend to the neighborhood matsuri (festival).

I went during the day long enough to see them carrying the mikoshi (portable shrine)and then Chiemi San, Sanshiro San and I returned in the evening to enjoy the booths. For all my anime geeks back home:
No, I did not wear a yukata. Mine is at home because I didn’t have room to pack it.
Yes, I did eat takoyaki .
Yes, they did have goldfish scooping, an air rifle booth and ring toss. The only one that I played was the ring toss game. I threw ten rings and won a little ceramic maneki neko, two bells and a pack of gum.
We watched some of the entertainers, there was this one guitarist who was amazing, I got some video of him but I think y’all will have to wait until I get home to see it.
I have put up a picture of the mikoshi and one I took from the overpass at night.
The matsuri was awesome but yesterday was even better. I finally opened my bank account (at Shinsei Ginko) and got a cell phone. I think I actually qualify as a human being again.
I am doing alright in my Japanese class. I am studying almost non-stop and I am managing to stay at about a high C average, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

This week coming up we have holidays on Monday (Respect for Seniors day)and Thursday (The Autumnal Equinox). I plan to put in all weekend studying so that on Monday and Thursday I can finally go out and explore. Well, on Thursday I will be exploring. Chiemi San, Sanshiro San and I are going to Inogawa which is an older part of Tokyo, to do some sightseeing. On Monday though, me and some of my friends from school are going shopping and maybe to see a movie. I am so excited that I will be doing something other than studying, that I can barely contain myself. I would be doing little happy dances all over the place, but I try not to do anything that might scare the neighbors.

Speaking of scaring the neighbors, being the only gaikokujin (polite term for foreigner, the neighbors more than likely term me gaijin which is less polite) in my neighborhood, has become a constant form of amusement for me. Mostly I get the “glance and look away” somebody checks me out, but when I look up at them they look away really quickly. I am getting really good at timing out the movement and I have an almost overwhelming urge to wait until they look and then lunge forward and yell “BOO”. I am managing to restrain myself only because I don’t want to end up in a police station explaining myself. Now I know you are probably thinking “would the police really pick her up for something so stupid?” and the answer is absolutely YES. Tokyo has per capita, more police officers than almost any other city in the world. Combine that little tidbit with the fact that there is almost no street crime in Japan, and you end up with a horde of policemen wandering around with absolutely nothing to do but give directions.
The brave and diligent men and women of the Tokyo PD are the Maytag repairmen of the law enforcement community. As one of our deans put it during orientation “foreign students are the only entertainment that the Tokyo PD get.” And Japan is not the US, the police do not need an actual reason to detain you, they can pick you up for having a bad hair day. So I am reigning in my natural inclination to screw with people, in order to save myself the trip to the police station. But in the morning…on the train…trapped and bored, it’s not easy.

Well, I need to get back to work. Besides my matsuri pictures, I am also posting my hand picture that I mentioned before, and it rained today so I took a picture of the wave of umbrellas crossing the intersection in Shibuya.
I will try to post again soon.
Hugs - Liz

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The move to Japan Diet

Yes, I have been studying my ass off. Yes, it has been a number of days since I posted. Yes, I have lost somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds. I haven’t been on a scale since I got here, but I am having trouble keeping my pants from sliding off my hips which usually happens between 15 and 20 pounds.

There is a good reason that I am losing weight. Everything you do in Japan is physically more difficult. Well not everything, 99% of the things you do in Japan are physically more difficult. The train station and the supermarket are about an equal distance from my apartment, about a mile and a half. I always do at least one of these walks, and about half the days of the week I do both of them. That’s 3 to 6 miles a day depending, but that is just the beginning. On my way to the train, I climb up two flights of stairs to use the overpass over the highway. I go down two flights of stairs to get off the overpass, I go down two more flights on this steep slope on my walk. When I get to the station I go up one flight to get to the entrance. I get my train, and if it is busy I strap hang for the 30 minutes it takes to get to Shibuya station. At the station I go down two flights of stairs to get to the street, and walk through two sets of JR rail buildings to get to my bus (about 2 blocks) after I get off my bus it is another two blocks to get to school and then since my class is on the 2nd floor I take the stairs. After class reverse the process which means 4 blocks, up six flights of stairs and down two, and a mile and half back. That is just my usual commute to school. It doesn’t count any day I go to the store and back (about three miles) or run errands (two to six miles depending), and I do almost all of this while wearing a backpack full of either books or groceries.

I literally walk my ass off. It is lying somewhere in the middle of Inokashira Dori right now.

Even the everyday stuff you do to run your life is more taxing. I sleep on a futon so I can’t just roll out of bed, I have to push my butt up off of the floor. About 75% of all the trash is recycled so it has to be sorted and washed and carried to the recycling bins at the supermarket. Nobody uses a dryer so everything has to be hung on the veranda and then taken down later. You spend a lot of time sitting on the floor so there is a lot of getting up and down. Living in Japan is a constant workout.

I am eating. I am eating everything in sight. There are things you will not find in Japan, like fat free potato chips, or low fat low sugar snacks. People here don’t need them. I eat onigiri (rice balls), noodles, sashimi, sushi, vegetables, candy, ice cream pops, rice crackers and drink loads of tea and diet sodas (yes the one thing they do have here that is low sugar). It’s an awesome diet, I eat whatever looks good, whenever I want it.

Well kiddies, I have to put my nose back on the grindstone. I will try to post sooner this time. For those of you who are thinking “where the hell was the hand picture she mentioned last time.” I wrote the post thinking that I had taken a picture of that drawing and I hadn’t. In class on Monday I am going to ask Daisuke Sensei to let me take a picture of it and I will post it soon. I also got an assignment in my humanities class to write a three page essay on my beliefs, I am going to post it soon and hopefully you guys can give me some feedback on it to help me polish it.
I am missing everybody soooo much!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

In the weeds

Classes have begun and I am already deep in the weeds. I have taken a huge gamble on a class that I may not be ready for. We had to take another placement test on the first day of class in Japanese class and I hosed it badly. My Japanese teacher wanted me to drop back further into Intermediate 1. I said “absolutely not”. She said “You have to”. I said “not a chance”. It went on from there. If you really want to make your life more difficult, argue with a Japanese professor. The upshot is, I stayed in my Intermediate 2 class but if I fail I will lose my Visa.
I am not going to fail. I will work myself into the ground to keep up. I am not known as a tooth grinding grade hound for nothing. I have gambled a lot on this and I intend to win (although this would probably be easier if I had not already pissed off the professor.) So everybody keep your fingers crossed for me.
On to more pleasant things. Chiemi san is feeling much better and I am getting more acclimated to my new routine. I got to go to Shinjuku the other day and I am absolutely in love with the place. All the cool shops with the super cute stuff I was looking for seem to be located in Shinjuku. I will not be able to go there very often or Dave will probably call and have my credit cards cancelled. The day that I went, two of my friends from school went with me. Lee (there is a picture of him in this HUGE bookstore that we went to) and Danielle. I wanted a picture of Danielle to post but she refused, I told her I would take a picture of her ass crack while she wasn’t looking and post that, but then I forgot.
Lee is also in my drawing class. Happily, we are at about the same skill level (I also posted a picture of Lee’s sphere from the class where we were working on shapes).
Right now Chiemi san and Sanshiro san have friends that are visiting. Shinobu san and Tamano san, so for the last few days there has been a marathon of food and booze at our apartment (just food for me). I am loving Shinobu san to death, she runs a bar and speaks almost no English but she is just like me (loud, energetic and loves a good time). Tamano san is a scientist and he and Sanshiro san and Shinobu san all grew up together. I have posted a picture above (far left Tamano san, me and Chiemi san standing, Shinobu san and with the stern look on his face Sanshiro san.)
Well boys and girls, I have studying to do, I’ve posted pictures of some of my drawing assignments (check out the awesome hand with a spoon I drew, now if I could just figure out how I did it.)