Well- a lot has happened in the last few days. How to explain, how to explain…
The past 4 days have been so busy, I haven’t had time to sit down and process it all. Well, let’s try shall we?
It’s best if I divide my story into 3 cities: Kyoto, Namba, and Kourien.
Kyoto: The culture capital of Japan
Ahhh, Kyoto- what else to say except that it’s incredibly fantabulouuus! Brittany, Tiffany (my friends and ex–KG suitemates) and I went down on a school trip with 1 other American, 4 Australians, and our two Japanese guides Kenji and Yuki. Yuki-chan was one of the prettiest people I’ve met so far, and so stylish! I tell you, these Japanese girls know how to dress! All the young women wear lots of mascara and blush, possibly even fake eyelashes? And high high heels. I was surprised- all these women are running around in short skirts and knee high 2 inch heels, and here I am tired and cold with my super cushy flats and long underwear! Kenji was really cool too, and very handsome. I can’t speak for the Australians, but as for the three American girls- we had a little crush.
Anyway, Kyoto is a wonderful mix of new and old. Just walking down the main street, I saw a woman in a Starbucks wearing a Kimono, tons and tons of cute boutiques, and a mouthwatering array of treats.
At the end of the main street is a famous shrine (Kiyomizu, I think). My pictures will be up soon, but even with them, it’s going to be hard to truly understand the serenity of this place. I washed my hands and drank from a stone and bamboo fountain and felt completely refreshed. The water was so clean, so pure, and so cold. I stopped and prayed at the numerous little shrines erected for luck, love, money, and health. It was an incredibly peaceful experience, and one that I hope I can repeat.
We also went shopping and ate at a hamburger patty restaurant. I was a bit leery of this place at first- I’d never understood why mom made just a patty and rice for dinner (sorry mom!), but it actually turned out to be quite tasty! Japanese patties (when they’re served by themselves) taste more like meatloaf than McDonald’s, and come with a variety of things on top (mine had pineapple). The restaurant had an American-style flavor to it- kind of like applebees, or any other type of family chain place. However, the music was not always so friendly. They played the most recent American hit songs (J-sean, Miley Cyrus, GaGa), but they also included an Eminem song that used M***F*** every other sentence. We native English speakers winced at every word, but the rest of the customers just sat there and ate! I wonder how often this same thing happens in American restaurants that play foreign songs…
Namba: The entertainment capital of Japan
The next day, my suitemates, their friends, and I (about 19 in total) went down to spend the night in Namba.
In Japan, the trains close down at midnight, and the buses stop running at 10:30 . So if you’re out past then, you aren’t getting home till 5am. The same thing applies to my old KG dorm: If you’re out past 11, you aren’t getting in till 7am. So, to quote the Ke$ha song “When I leave for the night, I ain’t comin’ back!” (The Japanese know how to party, don’t they? They invented Karaoke and Sake, and when you leave, you’re forced to stay up and party till sunrise).
The trip down to Namba was actually more eventful than Namba itself (which is saying something; Namba was really cool). At 10pm, we stopped to pick up the French guys from their dorm, but they took so long getting ready we missed the last bus! A couple of guys ran off to get them to hurry, while the rest of us debated what to do. Some people thought we could walk to the station in time (it’s 20-30 minutes away), but Lilly was wearing 2 inch heels, and if we walked there was a good chance we’d miss the train AND we’d be locked out of our dorm so she wanted to take a taxi, which would end up costing the same as the bus if 4 people rode at a time. I thought it was a good idea, except that we didn’t know the number for a taxi. Just then, a man happened by with his dog. He spoke to one of the better Japanese speakers in the group, then took off. He returned a few minutes later with the number of a taxi service, which he proceeded to call and order us 4 taxis! He even waited with us to make sure we all got on one. In the meantime, 4 drunk Japanese girls showed up on their bikes, and immediately became interested in the two blonde girls we had in our group. They were insistent on taking pictures with them, and only noticed me when I introduced myself in Japanese. Then, as most Japanese do when I tell them my name, they got incredibly excited and happy, but by that time my taxi had come.
We made it to the station in time, but the rest of the trip was only a little less stressfull. People kept lagging behind (especially the Frenchmen), talking loudly (the Frenchmen), and being rude (one Frenchman in particular). He woke up several people on the train, with the excuse that “well, they know we’re foreigners, and we act differently,” for which I shushed him and apologized to the other passengers. One interesting thing was that all the loud, lagging, rude people spoke little to no Japanese at all, and knew very little of the culture.
Anyway, we FINALLY made it to Namba and our destination: the famous Club Pure. I guess you could say Namba is a bit like the vegas of Japan- it’s a city where the booze flows freely, the girls dress as flashily and skimpily as possible, everything glitters and lights up; everything beckons: come in, stay a while, spend spend spend! what happens here seems to stay here, including some of the people. There were homeless men in Namba- the first I’d seen in Japan. They slept on the side of the streets, under cardboard boxes while the younger, flashy, homeless-for-the-night types slept in the all-night McDonald’s.
Club Pure definitely full of firsts: it was my first club, my first time drinking in a public place, my first time jumping on a stage and dancing, and my first time telling someone NO strongly. I danced and danced and danced- mostly with my friends, but a few times with men. But I always chose who and when I wanted to dance with, and how long. If someone got too handsy, I pushed them away. they tried again, I said “chikan” (pervert) until they understood. Once, this Kenyan man I danced with refused to let me go. He grabbed my waist and said”I see my color-chocolat-I like my color.”
“No.” I replied.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I said so.” I answered, pushing him away one last time.
1 minute later he was sucking face with a Japanese girl.
I think it’s kind of funny (and strange, and annoying) how much some men will grab at you and call you baby and refuse to take no for an answer, but the moment you are out of sight they’re locking lips with someone else. Why pretend you’re so interested when you aren’t? Spare us both the trouble of me having to tell you off, and leave at the first no!
The Japanese girls were great though! They were really friendly, and by the end of the night I’d taken pictures with several of them. We kept saying to each other: “No, no, no- YOU’RE sexy!” It was fun.* For some reason though, most of the Japanese students I’ve talked to think I’m Indian. Perhaps because I tell them I’m from Indiana, but even after I emphasize the “na,” and explain about my grandmother they ask: “So, is your father Indian, then?”
By 5am the club was closing, everyone had gotten kissed whether they liked it or not (especially poor Brittany- she’s pretty and Blonde and nice), and Tiff, Brit, and I were ready to go. While Brittany got invited up to the VIP room and met the owner (don’t worry, nothing happened. She’s OK), Tiff and I wandered around Namba with another KG student. We even got free takoyaki from a street vender! It was super delicious!!!
Getting home was, again, a problem. The super drunk people kept wandering off, and refused to follow us. One guy decided to go home with a Japanese girl he met, and one girl wandered off with her friend and ended up joining some female Kenyan KG students instead. We also lost one person at the train station, when he went to the bathroom, but he ended up joining us in Hirakata in the end. The annoying, rude people were still annoying and rude (French again- what is it with him? His name is Fabian, like Fabio. What?!?!?).
By the time we got home it was 7:45am, but I couldn’t sleep because I had to wash up and check out before 10. I was meeting my host family at 3!!!
Kourien: The Izuka-Gavia capital of Japan
I checked out at 9:30 and slept in the student lounge at school until 2:30. I awoke fresh-faced-if a little disoriented- and ready to go.
I was sent to an empty white classroom, where I had to fill out a bit of paperwork, and could watch “Whispers of the Heart” while I waited. Then it was time. A woman called me and my new parents, and together we went to a larger room where we filled out a behavior agreement (the woman was our translator and acted as lawyer). I was really nervous- it felt like I was being adopted- but throughout it all, my host parents kept smiling at me, and the smile lived in their eyes like it belonged there.
I know people say that the Japanese are poker-faced, but so far I haven’t noticed it at all. When they smile, if they are truly kind people, it reaches their eyes just like everyone else. They show embarrassment and curiosity just like everyone else, except they are usually more polite about it. I think most other people don’t pick up on the subtlety of expression that goes hand in hand with a soft voice and economy of space.
I’ve unpacked now, and spent my first night here (soon to be my second). The Izuka house is small, but homey. We live in what I’m guessing is a lower-middle class household (a lot like mine at home) in a middle-to lower middle class area. It’s very cold here. To conserve energy, and prevent fires, people in Japan don’t have central heating- they use kerosene lamps and heat only the rooms they are staying in at the time , but there are a lot of blankets, and a heated carpet that sucks you in and feels fabulous after a long day. My room is small, but economical- my desk pulls out to hold all the space I need. The only thing I haven’t figured out is the ofuro- the bath. In Japan, everyone uses the same bath water each day, so you wash off and then soak in the tub to finish (like a jacuzzi without the jets). But I can’t figure out how to heat the water that’s already in there! This morning, I tried- I pressed all the buttons next to the bath, but the water stayed cold! I’ll have to ask Naoki (my host brother) about it.
I haven’t met Manami (my sister) yet- she’s off on a trip, but everyone else is lovely. They’re caring and patient, and my mother fixes tasty meals and asks me to sit next to her on the carpet. My father is fun as well, he smiles a lot. Naoki is also really nice- he’s really tall, and goes to Kinnki university nearby.
They’ve eaten all but 8 of the chocolates mom and dad sent for them (so much like home, huh?).
Today, during the pouring rain, I went to my first class (Japanese speaking level 3) and attended the club fair (I’m thinking of joining an informal sports group). Afterwards, I tried to exchange my American money at the bank down the street (I’ve only found 1 ATM that accepts my card, and bank in Kourien wouldn’t take my money-the woman said I should try in Hirakata), but the bank turned out to be only an ATM station and a closed office. On the advice of some Australian KG students I went to the post office (they said you could do it there as well) but the man too said no. By that time I was tired and wet, so I returned home, but the fact remains that I have American money that needs to be exchanged. Why won’t the banks do it? I wonder if it has to do with me being obviously foreign, or rather- obviously dark-skinned. I’m going to ask Brittany or someone else to try for me tomorrow, to test this theory. I really need to change this money, and I don’t know how otherwise.
Wow- I wrote a lot. Next time I’ll write more on Japanese TV shows (we like TV here)- they’re very interesting and quite strange. Jyaa, Matta ne!
*caution: Adult content-In the line for the bathroom, I struck up a conversation with this one Japanese guy. It started out with the standard “what are you studying, have you been to Japan/America before, what do you think of it, etc.” but then he asked me “Do you know Prison Break?” When I answered yes, I did he said “What does it mean: from hedtoto?”
“Head to toe?” I asked.
“It means: all over.”
“Oh. In Prison Break what does it mean: I p*ss on you from hedtoto?”
“…I will pee on you all over….” (I make a gesture of peeing up and down)
“oh. so so so.”
A very strange conversation.