Thursday, October 4, 2012

Recent Happenings, Halfway There!

So, I know, it's been a while. As the summer grew hotter, it became harder and harder to force myself to go to class and study, much less update my blog. I know for a fact, however, that I was not alone. Many of my fellow students were feeling a similar amount of heat / study exhaustion as I was, and attendance across the board suffered. When every single day has a triple digit temperature and every single morning the decision must be made as to which would be the best way to get to school: bicycle or simply swimming your way through the intense humidity, it's difficult to function. I don't know how people here do it.

103 Summer Semester Students!
That having been said, I (and everyone else in 103) passed the class, and the ones who aren't going home or leaving Yamasa for some other reason are continuing on to 201! There are five of us in total, and I'm also told that one of the prior semester's 201 students is repeating the class, so that makes a total of at least six students in my class this upcoming semester. That doesn't count the students who have just arrived and took a placement test. I have no idea how many of them placed into 201. Probably not many; they seem to prefer rounding down in their placements into classes here. Not necessarily a bad thing. I guess I'll find out tomorrow when I head over to the classroom building for my first day of 201!


So, what have I been up to recently? Due to Heat Apathy™, I didn't do much during the semester other than go to class, come home home, and eat. However, over the break I did a number of really fun things. I guess I'll go in some random order that makes absolutely no sense.

This past week I went on what turned out to be a three-day mountain climbing trip in Kamikōri, up to a peak called Yarigatake (the route we took was the Yarisawa route, if you are curious). It was, without a doubt, the most physically difficult thing I've ever done in my life. I wasn't able to go down stairs for a few days afterwards, and I still have tons of blisters all over my feet from walking such a long distance in hiking boots. However, it was a ton of fun and I'm glad I got to spend the time with my fellow students. Especially because one of them (the one who organized the trip actually) won't be continuing on with us this next semester.

I've been going out with friends a lot, since between semesters there's a lot of opportunity to have going-away parties for people. Pictured on the left there is one of my favorite places in Okazaki to hang out, Shinjidai. The food that they have is generally in small portions, but it's about ¥105 per plate so it's totally worth it. Plus, they have a half-price happy hour and you really just can't beat that.

I also started my new job yesterday! Yes, that's right, I have a job now. I'm the resident English-speaking clown at a kindergarten in Obu. It's a really fun time and the children are super cute. They don't understand a lot of the grammar (and I had a hell of a time yesterday trying to explain the difference between "in" and "on" to them) but they generally enjoy running around the room and being loud and obnoxious, and as an American I have no difficulties facilitating that. What's nice about the job is that it pays a lot more than I would get for an eikaiwa job (English conversation school for adults) and it's a lot easier and more fun. I lucked out big time. And not a moment too soon, either. My savings are dwindling and the money I get from this job should cover food and activities for the rest of the time I'm at Yamasa. Woo!

The rest of the break that I didn't use for brutally punishing my lower extremities or liver, I spent punishing my brain with as much study as I could possibly cram in there. I've decided to take the JLPT N2 in December, so I've been studying as hard as I possibly can for it. Currently it's way above my level but the N3 would be way too easy for me. I have tons of books from which I am making flashcards and reviewing every day, and what's cool is that next semester I'll be able to take N2-prep electives, which will be totally awesome. Lots of work, but awesome.

My Impressions of Yamasa After Six Months

So, I guess since it's the halfway point I should write a bit about how my Yamasa experience has been and how much I've learned. Warning: boring realtalk ahead.

I posted a while ago about how I was considering skipping 103 and going right onto 201. Obviously that didn't happen, and it wasn't because I failed the skip test. I never took it, actually; I came to the realization that skipping 103 would have been doing myself a great disservice. Yes, most of the stuff we learned in 103 was review for me. Yes, the stuff that I didn't know in 103 I could have looked up myself. But the reason I didn't want to skip 103 is the same reason I've come to Japan to take classes in the first place.

Sure, anyone with enough time and a grammar dictionary can teach themselves Japanese given enough time. The idea of taking classes that are taught entirely in Japanese and having to survive in the country without the use of English isn't to learn new textbook grammatical structures. Instead, it's about seeing those grammar points as they are used in a native speaker's speech. It's about having the opportunity to practice those things so that I not only know them, but they come naturally to me. I knew, for example, what 学生じゃないんじゃないかな meant before I took 103, but I wouldn't have been able to say it because I never really practiced it in the sort of environment we had in class. (Sorry for those of you who don't speak Japanese, essentially that construction means something like "he's not a student, is he?" negating a negative when you want to seek approval for something).

And it's fun, too!
I guess I've realized that, while Yamasa is fantastic for giving you a syllabus and the motivation to follow it, the only real way you're going to learn a language is by putting in the work yourself. In other words, it's real easy to memorize a certain amount of information and then regurgitate it onto a test paper, but that doesn't at all mean that you have mastered the information. There's no way to do that other than to put in the work yourself and really immerse yourself in the information.

So, would I recommend Yamasa? Definitely. The classes and teachers are good, but that's not necessarily why. Being a fulltime student in a foreign country with other students who may not even speak the same language as you is really a great catalyst for improvement. And indeed, I've improved vastly since I've gotten here. I'm more confident in speaking, I can read way better than I could when I got here (can't read a newspaper yet of course), and my listening... well... yeah.

I'm looking forward to class tomorrow, because it will be a nice change from my methodical and slightly-boring N2 study regimen. The thing is, though, that I can't really slow down on that regimen. If I'm going to pass N2, I need to put in a ton of study time and I know it's going to get nasty. I'll try to pace myself though.

And I'll try to update my blog more often. Now that my brain doesn't have to compete with heat the likes of which it has never seen, maybe my updates will become more regular.

'Till next time!

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Baseball is apparently really important in Japan. As an American, I've never really understood what baseball is all about, so actually before I even left for Japan I promised myself I would make my very best effort to become educated and interested in Japanese baseball. As it so happens, our 102 homeroom teacher Oae-sensei happened to have the idea to take us all out to a Nagoya Dragons game. So that's where I was pretty much all yesterday after class.

Nagoya Dome
My Korean friend, two Taiwanese girls and I took an earlier train than most of the rest of the people in our group just to chillax and go to some shops and whatnot around the Nagoya Dome. I have to say, my absolute favorite thing about this place is hanging out with people who speak absolutely zero English (or close enough), forcing me to figure out a way to get my point across completely in Japanese. Shamefully, I've been spending most of my evenings (and lunches) hanging out with my European friends who speak English totally fluently, but I think that's gonna change. My Taiwanese friends mostly live in the big dorm (called the Student Village) so I think I'm gonna make a habit of finding someone to let me in in the evenings and just study whatever while hanging out with a bunch of people who don't speak English. The only way I'm gonna improve is by speaking more.

The view from our seats
Regardless, back to the story. We wandered around for a while and spoke about a bunch of stuff, and then the rest of the class (including our sensei) arrived. We went and bought food and beer (yeah, you can bring beer into the stadium in Japan--what a country!) and then found our seats. Since tickets generally sell out for games here, apparently, we had to split up a bit. It was CJ (my swede friend) and myself in a sea of people who not only spoke fluently a language we could only guess at, but also who knew every single song and every single chant for every single player on the team. We did our best to follow along (it was easier when the songs only consisted of clapping and screaming the players' names) and were aided in the process by the fact that stadium beer is actually rather cheap compared to the highway robbery you encounter in the States.
No comment

About the 7th or 8th inning, the Dragons managed to fall behind by a single point, so at the bottom of the 9th the Dragons had to score two points for the win. They managed to get a guy on second, and finished the job with the only home run of the entire game. It was completely and totally epic, particularly the point where everyone started tenatively cheering as they saw the ball flying through the air and then erupted in complete and utter insanity when it went into the stands.
Basically the last hit of the game happens to be a homerun and the crowd goes absolutely bonkers. People we hadn't even looked at the whole game began to high five us vigorously and scream and shout and it was just a great thing to be a part of.

The view from way up there
How are we going to find the others, we asked each other. After all, everyone's spread out and it was utter pandemonium. Well, we'll just go back the way we came since it was just a bridge walkway, and then find a place to gather and wait for the other students to walk by, since they'll most likely be in a group. CJ had the great idea of standing on the ledge beside the walkway so that we could get a better view of everyone walking by. The unintended side effect of this, however, was that we were two big huge foreigners, who on a normal day stick out like sore thumbs, but on this particular day were also wearing huge Nagoya Dragons ears. Couple this with the fact that everyone in the stadium was totally freaking stoked that their home team won in such a spectacular manner and you get one of the most legendary experiences I've ever been a part of.

You see, someone thought it would be awesome to scream and charge us with high fives. It was so theatrical that other people wanted to get in on the action. Eventually it got so intense that we actually were disrupting the flow of walkway traffic because people from the other side of the walkway were fighting their way through the crowd so they could give us high fives. Old ladies, men, women, children, everyone wanted to run up and high five the big dumb gaijin. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. My favorite part, though, was the parents who would bring their children of no more than 4 or 5 and lifted them up so they could high five us. It was so adorable.

Our group finally arrived and gathered around us (at that point we weren't really looking for them anymore, but we were kinda hard to miss) and a bunch of Japanese guys joined us up on the ledge. Honestly I don't even remember a lot of it because at that point it was just sensory overload.

So that was my baseball experience. I'm pretty sure it was nonstandard, but it was still rather fun and I totally want to go back again.

The end.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some class- and study-related ponderings

I've been thinking over the past few days that everything I've seen so far in my 102 class has been review, grammar-wise. I'm not particularly surprised by this, since grammar was just about the only thing I studied in the 4-5 years since I left Cincinnati. In fact, I think 102 is still the perfect class for me, because instead of having to focus on learning the grammar I can focus on my weak points (i.e. everything else).

For example, I've gotten really quite good at studying kanji characters. I have a very nice Anki deck with all of the example sentences from all the kanji tests we've been taking over the weeks, and I review them every... many of the days. I add new ones as soon as I get them, which turns out to be once every week or so. The pacing is fantastic--I'm very solid on kanji study and consider it one of the easiest aspects of class here.

Then... there's vocabulary. Vocabulary is a little trickier. I can't really do the same sort of flashcard thing for vocab because there's so much of it and it goes so quickly. Essentially there's no way that I can consistently review all of the previous vocabulary words like I have been doing with kanji, because just the review period would take hours and hours, and there's just not enough time in a day. I need to find a way to study and remember vocabulary more effectively.

The same goes for grammar points, actually. Most of the things in 102 have been review for me, but when we begin to encounter new grammar points I'm not sure what way will be the best method for studying and remembering them. What I've come up with today has been maybe to have a private blog thing where I write little entries every day, specifically for the purpose of using and practicing grammar points. I'll try that and see how it goes. That'd probably work for vocabulary study, too.

Really, I'm trying to figure out the best way to study these things because I want to kick my studying into overdrive. I feel like I haven't been doing enough studying, and (pretty much) everything new I've learned so far has been kanji. For that reason, I think I'm going to go buy the next textbook that we'll be using and see if I can study ahead for the purpose of skipping 103 and moving directly into 201, the start of the intermediate-level classes.

I have the feeling that this will be totally possible for me to do, especially if the test involves a heavy written portion. The only thing that worries me is the fact that I will probably also have to have a speaking test sort of thing and speaking and listening are by far my least comfortable skills. Regardless, I feel like if I manage to find a way to effectively study my weak points like I've found for kanji study, I will be able to test into 201 no problem.

We'll see, though. Sorry this entry was pictureless. The next one will be more travel-oriented, I think!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Past few weeks' activites

It's been a while since I've last posted. Between classes, keeping up with friends and relatives back home, and hanging out with the people here, I've found little time to actually sit down and write much in my blog. I'll try to be better though. Here are some things that have been going on at Yamasa!

Lookin' dorky at Nagoya Castle
Last week was a thing called Golden Week. Basically, it's a few Japanese holidays that happen to fall back-to-back, so companies (and schools) generally give the whole week as vacation. We didn't get the whole week because of scheduling issues, but we did get Thursday and Friday off, which is nice. I kinda prefer the shorter breaks anyway. Class every day means I spend less money, am more occupied, and am actually improving in an observable way, as miniscule as a day's progress may be. Still, the four-day weekend was very much appreciated.

Before I get to Golden Week activities, I should mention that right before the long weekend we happened to have a large comprehensive test, covering everything we've studied since class began. It was a pretty normal test, involving grammar, particles, and whatever else. Pretty easy. However, the test also involved a listening section, and some of those native speakers talk so brutally quickly that it becomes really difficult to actually comprehend what they're saying, much less answer questions about the conversation. I thought I did pretty poorly on the listening section, especially because listening and speaking are my weakest points, but apparently I did well. So far, so good on grades.

The second part of the test is an essay and a one-on-one speaking test. That happens tomorrow. I'm not necessarily worried about the essay. I outlined what I'm going to say, and I've never had any trouble being long-winded (obviously). The speaking test worries me a little bit because I still feel like I'm near the bottom of the class in terms of speaking ability, but luckily the teacher gave us loads of study materials for the speaking test, including a list of about 20 questions that may be asked, so I've been working at developing fluid responses to all of them. It's the followup questions that are gonna hurt.

Anyway (sorry to keep jumping around chronologically but I can't really write any way but stream-of-consciousness these days), Golden Week was pretty relaxing / interesting. On Saturday I went with a classmate to Nagoya Castle (see above) to see a martial arts demonstration by students of various dojos in the area. It was really cool to watch (though obviously I didn't understand the majority of what was going on), and because the styles of martial arts were so diverse it stayed interesting for longer than it would have if it had just been one style.

After a few hours we walked around and looked at all the cool stuff around and inside the castle. Nagoya Castle is waaaay bigger than the one in Okazaki, so there was actually quite a bit of ground to cover.

Longest rollercoaster in the world
Then, on Sunday, for some reason, I decided to allow myself to be peer pressured into going to Nagashima Spaland amusement park. I had never been to an amusement park in Japan before (obviously), but honestly it was very similar to amusement parks in America. I was reminded of Kennywood, a park in the Pittsburgh area. In fact, some of the rides were exactly the same, including the one where you get into a big car and it goes down a hill into the water and gets everyone totally soaked. There's even an observation deck for the people who want to get wet without all the fun of the actual ride.

I went with my friend CJ as well as a new(ish) classmate-turned-friend and her Japanese friend who spoke zero English. It was a little discouraging when I wanted to talk about things or make observations or jokes and absolutely could not do it because I lacked the Japanese ability to form those kinds of sentences. I really can't wait until I get better at this language and I can actually participate in things with the locals. I do my best, but often I find that I'm just totally at a loss for words, grammar, and anything else. It's especially bad when I start a sentence (usually about something mundane, just to keep the conversation going) and realize that I have absolutely no idea how to finish it, so I just stop and look helplessly at the people around me, finally giving up and saying 'nevermind.'

Still though, we managed to have a good time despite the fact that we didn't really share a common language. Everyone loves rollercoasters.

So that was essentially Golden Week. This week has been a little rough study-wise for everyone, I reckon, just because everyone had four whole days to slowly forget everything that was going on in class. I think we're back up to full speed, though, and I managed to make it through both of my Anki flashcard decks today, so I should be set. Tonight I'll probably end up reviewing the speaking test questions and trying to cram more nonsense into my essay outline.

But first, I'll probably make some spaghetti. I need some comfort food right about now for some reason.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Party games!

The difficulty of my class has been ramping up something fierce. Most of the grammar that we're covering is still stuff I've already studied on my own, but it's getting to the point where I feel like I may be falling behind in terms of listening and speaking skills. That kinda causes a bit of a problem, because unlike grammar or kanji, verbal communication isn't really anything you can sit down and study until you get it right. I have a television, as well as a fairly large collection of my favorite shows and movies on my computer, so I can practice listening that way. Still, though. It's not really the same as having a real life conversation.

It seems to me that while studying is important at Yamasa (obviously, as it is a school), something that is equally important is leaving your apartment as often as you can and interacting with other people in Japanese. Preferably people who don't speak English so there's no safety net.

Playing difficult Chinese games
Whiiiiiich brings me to last night. One of the other students had a big party sort of thing at his apartment and tons of people went. By "tons" I mean about 20 or so. That's a lot for how big the apartment was though.

There were a lot of students from Taiwan at the party (including one from my class!) and they taught us two fun games. One was apparently called "5 10 15," and you can see the two students in the foreground of that picture playing it. Basically it's a very fast game where the two players take turns saying a number, either 0, 5, 10, 15, or 20 (mind you, this game was played entirely in Japanese last night). When someone says a number, both players instantly change their hands to either closed, one open, or both open. If the number of fingers up match the number that was said, the player who said the number gets to go again. Call two correct numbers in a row and you win.

The other game was similar to rock, paper, scissors. This one was played in Chinese because it had a sort of rhythm to it that would be destroyed if you played it in any other language. It was called "Bang Da Lau-Hu Ji Chi Chong." I guess that translates roughly to "Stick beats tiger, bird eats worm." Basically how to play was to say the name of the game in rhythm while touching your pointer fingers together on every syllable, and then call out either stick ("Bang-zu"), tiger ("Lau-hu"), bird ("Ji"), or worm ("Chong"). Stick beats tiger, tiger eats bird, bird eats worm, worm eats stick. As I was doing research on it this morning, I learned that apparently there's some sort of psychological aspect to it that I can't even begin to understand, but it was still really fun to play.

I brought my ukulele to the party wrapped in a towel in my backpack and sang a few songs and taught my Taiwanese friends how to play the chords C, G, Am, and F, since like every song ever just uses that chord progression anyway.

So that was that. Met new people, learned new things, introduced new people to how amazing the ukulele is. Good times.

Today, apparently, we're heading out to Nagoya for some sort of party at a small Australia-themed bar. I don't really know very many details other than that, but I do know that my entire evening will be spend there. Until then, though, I better get my ass in gear and start studying those kanji.

Till next time!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Okazaki Castle, Grand Shrines of Ise, Miscellaneous

I can't find the time to write in this blog, but I know at least a couple people are subscribed to it so I should at least make a cursory effort to write something. So here goes.


A bridge across the river, decked out in Hanami gear
I guess the first thing to write about would be the Hanami festival we attended at Okazaki Castle. The number of people who were there were absolutely huge. I and the two guys I've mentioned before (the Swede and the German) all walked up together with the intention of finding the Yamasa area, but as soon as we got there we realized what a ridiculously impossible task that was gonna be. Realizing this, we kinda just decided to walk around and see the sights, since two out of the three of us had never been to the castle before.

As we wandered around, we couldn't help but notice all of the group dance competitions. It seemed like maybe some of them were high school events, and others had older people participating. Everyone was dressed up in kimonos and other traditional clothing and it was really quite impressive. There were tons of shops set up along the river with all sorts of carnival-type games: archery, some fish-catching game, tons of booths selling unhealthy fried food (I bought a corn dog), and even a haunted house. We totally would have gone in but I'm pretty sure it was for children and we didn't want to be the gaijin making the haunted house even MORE scary for the little kids. Still though, it was a good time.

A bunch of good-looking Yamasa students and also me
Eventually we managed to find another similarly-sized group of Yamasa students aimlessly wandering around for the same reason we were, so we resolved to double our wandering-around efforts together. I have to say, it was pretty awesome walking around and hearing little Japanese kids unabashedly pointing us out to their mothers and excitedly talking about foreigners being in such proximity to them.

Well, long story short, eventually we found the Yamasa tarp and I proceeded to join the other people already cracking open their beverages at a healthy 2PM. The admissions guy brought his beloved Guiness as well as a bunch of sake and lots of barbeque-able meat, so it was a really good time. I met a lot of awesome people and did my best to be as sociable as possible, which is kinda the idea I guess. After it had become a bit later and I had finished my bottle of horrible sugar-liqeur and a couple beers, I decided it was a good idea to go pay ¥200 (I think) for 5 arrows at the archery competition. I missed every single one, but I still got a box of powdery little sugar pellets which ended up being pretty okay. Think American smarties, but smaller and less hard.

That's about all of Hanami I figure is blogworthy.

Class was pretty good. It's getting progressively harder and harder and culminated in this past Friday, a day when I didn't have enough time to eat breakfast in the morning and subsequently was a brainless Japaneseless zombie all day. We had a kanji (an incredibly complicated writing system that the Japanese language uses that was borrowed from China in ancient times and shoehorned into a language it wasn't designed for) test that day and I honestly have absolutely no idea how I passed. But I passed, so I guess that's the most important thing.

Saturday and Yesterday

This was taken early on--more people showed up later
Saturday was the unofficial opening of a bar called Zigzag, but the new location wasn't ready or safe for human occupation yet, so we all piled into the old location with boxes everywhere and hung out and generally had a very good time drinking tons of Guinness and Japanese sake. Never having been to the old location before, I was very grateful to have been able to experience it before it was lost to the sands of time and Facebook. It was also someone's... let's call it 21st birthday at midnight, so we all stayed up way too late the day before the Matsusaka trip drinking way too much. Ah, youth.

The rope is changed in a ceremony on a yearly basis
So then after that, we woke up really freaking early and piled into a Matsusaka-bound van and proceeded to play a bunch of annoying travel games until I was absolutely sure Declan was going to kill us all by swerving off a bridge just to end the torment. The goal of the trip was to see the castle at Matsusaka and the shrine at Ise, both of which were pretty impressive. As an American, I kinda get jealous of other countries whose history goes back thousands and thousands of years. Still, it's pretty amazing that the same ceremonies and rituals we saw at the shrine have been handed down over so many generations. Kinda humbling, really.

You know, that's actually a good point. In America (and I would assume this goes for European countries as well), it seems like a lot of the cultural tourism is relic-based. That is, people want to go see a tree because it has a carving from the 1800's on it. People want to go see such-and-such building because it's the oldest in the region or something. But here, it seems like the idea of going to shrines and castles is not necessarily to see a really old thing--in fact, the shrine we saw at Ise, by tradition, is rebuilt every 20 years--but instead to witness something less tangible: the tradition and culture that has survived for way longer than I can even imagine. Fascinating.

Anyway, that's about it for this past weekend. Now for something far less interesting.

Today marked the first day of elective classes. For me, that meant two extra classes today. For most people, the classes are spread out through the week, but it just so happened that the two classes I felt addressed the things I needed to work on the most both fell on Monday. Whoops.

Unrelated picture wherein everyone looks directly into the sun
The first one was a listening and speaking class, which was a ton of fun. I spent most of the class having getting to know a classmate (in Japanese, of course) from Brazil. Pretty cool stuff. Is it weird that one of my favorite things in Japanese is when I don't know a word so I have to find a way to describe the thing that I want to talk about using simple words? Today's hurdle was trying to describe a nursing home without knowing the word for nursing home. I think I conveyed it pretty well, if I do say so myself, though I'm sure I sounded like an idiot in the process.

The second elective class that I had today was kanji level 2. We spent most of the class drawing kanji on white boards, being sure to get the proportions and stroke order correct. Apparently penmanship is extremely important to some Japanese people so I suppose it can't hurt to try to get my handwriting as perfect as I possibly can. It's also pretty fun to do because I don't consider myself artistic in any way whatsoever, but when I get a kanji character looking the way I want it I kinda feel like an artist of a certain sort. Maybe I should get myself a calligraphy pen and/or take a calligraphy course. That would be so much fun.

Anyway that's about it for now. It's getting late and I want a bright and early start tomorrow morning so that I have time to eat one of my famous (to me) breakfasts of spaghetti sauce and cheese on buttered toast. Lates.

P.S. I've started keeping a blog sort of thing in Japanese on lang-8 so if any of you know Japanese and want to laugh at how awful I am at it, こちらへ

P.P.S. I tried Pocari Sweat and I did not enjoy it :(

P.P.P.S. Goodnight.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

First day of class, food food food

So as I look at the pictures I've taken for this blog post, I can't help but notice that they're pretty much all of food. Whoops. I guess this entry won't have very many pictures. I can never remember to take pictures unless I'm sitting down at a restaurant somewhere. Rest assured that my sakura festival entry will have a bunch of awesome pictures in it, though. More on that later.

Munching on these while I write
So, yep, yesterday (Friday) was the first full day of class. I was placed into 102, for those of you who don't follow me on Facebook and didn't know that. Following a trend, I woke up at the crack of... the middle of the night (around 4ish) and used the morning to clean my apartment, make breakfast, Skype my parents, be on facebook, and all that other good stuff. The truth is, I probably could have slept some more, but I was too excited for class to begin, and it was keeping me up. Oh well.

I arrived at the building around 8:30, found my class assignment, and sat down in a random seat in my assigned classroom. Everyone was pretty quiet, possibly as nervous as I was. Our worries were soon allayed when our professor, Ooae-sensei, started class. She speaks very quickly, but uses simple enough words that, when combined with generous usage of hand gestures, conveyed the points she was trying to get across. It was pretty cool being able to actually understand a native speaker at regular speed, even if she was using extremely simple language.

The way class is laid out, the entire class stays in the room we're assigned, and as the periods change, the teachers pack up and move rooms instead of the students. Apparently, that's the way that high schools work here as well. For the first two periods of the day, we had the same teacher, and the class period seemed to be mostly review. We introduced ourselves, learned how the class schedule worked, got our textbooks, talked about class policies and rules, and other first-day-of-class stuff. All in Japanese, of course. That's a rule, actually--nothing but Japanese in the classroom.

Our second class, headed by Honda-sensei, was a little different. Apparently this class was grammar, so we spent most of our time together reviewing different verb conjugations: te-form, ta-form, dictionary form, masu-form, etc. We also had a little exercise where we would talk to and interview each other in plain form. I had a little bit of difficulty with that portion of the class, since speaking is by far my weakest point. Still, there seemed to be a number of other students in the same boat, so at least I find myself in good company.

For lunch, an Australian girl and I tagged along with the Taiwanese students as they went to a nearby ramen shop. That was actually a lot of fun because we were pretty much forced to speak Japanese the whole time, since I certainly couldn't speak their language. I bet they could speak English (as most of the students here seem to be able to), but I'm kinda glad we didn't. The more Japanese we speak in our off-time, the better we'll be!

You know, one of my favorite things so far about my stay here is how adventurous I've been able to be, food-wise. The ramen shop we went to offered free tea, for example. Back in the states, I never drank tea. It's not that I totally hate tea or anything, it's just that I never branched out and acquired a taste for it. Same with most vegetables, or really anything that wasn't burgers or Italian food. The food pictured to the left there, for example, had tons of vegetables in it. I didn't even know what kinds of vegetables they were (and I still don't) but they turned out to be pretty delicious with the curry flavor and the ramen noodles. The tea was pretty good too; I ended up having a number of glasses of it before we went back to class.

After class was over, I spent the rest of yesterday and the majority of today studying and doing homework. There was a decent amount of homework, all in all about three hours' worth, but I wanted to study all the chapters that would have been covered in the 101 class, just to make sure I wasn't missing any grammar points or important vocabulary words that would put me at a disadvantage. I've finished just about everything I wanted to finish this weekend, class-wise, but I'll definitely have to spend some time tomorrow morning doing some extra studying so that I'm 100% prepared for class. With how intensive this class is supposed to be, I figure it'll be pretty easy for me to fall behind. I'll really need to do my best to stay ahead of the curve.

Anyway, it's about 9:30ish, and honestly this is just about the latest I've stayed up during my entire week here in Japan. I'm incredibly tired so I'm going to go to bed. Tomorrow I'm gonna be going up to the castle to watch the festival and take some awesome pictures, so expect a trip report in the next few days.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My first two real days in Japan: a retrospective

Tuesday (火)

My sleep schedule was still totally screwed up on Monday evening, which meant I woke up wide awake at about 4AM on Tuesday. I used the time to stare at the television and write that last blog post. When 7:00 rolled around, I put on all my warm clothes (and put all the stuff in my backpack in the little plastic bag that my pillow came in--I thought that was pretty clever) and headed out to go explore the city.

I expected to find a bank, exchange all my American cash into Japanese yen, and then hit some random restaurant and see if I couldn't make a total eel out of myself trying to order food in Japanese. I had a map that Yamasa had given me on arrival, so I had a general idea of where I was most of the time, but since the streets don't ever have names here, I was never 100% sure of where I was at any given point.

In Japan, this is a worthless piece of paper.
I ended up getting to Okashin bank around 8:45 or so after a bit of aimless wandering and sightseeing. I admit that I didn't take nearly as many pictures that morning as I should have (in fact, I didn't take any at all), but whatever. The Okashin bank building was open, but the tellers weren't there--the only service available in the building were ATMs. At that point, I didn't realize that there were such things as international ATMs here that would work with my American debit card, so I started to leave, becoming increasingly hungrier as the morning went on. As I left the building, an older Japanese lady told me that the main part of the building opened at 9AM and that I should come back at that point if I want to exchange money. I thanked her profusely and went out to walk around for 15 more minutes.

I walked down the street a bit and managed to pass the Yamasa II building at just about 9:00. Content with the knowledge that I now knew where class was gonna take place each day, I turned around and started back towards the bank. Before I could start walking away, though, I was intercepted by a Yamasa staff member who asked me if my placement test was today. I told him yes, at 1:00, but he ushered me into the building regardless. Apparently there were two placement tests that day, one at 9AM and one at 1PM. So there I was, handed a packet of information and ushered into a small room with a bunch of other prospective students at 9AM without any food in my system and without any activity in my brain.

There were two phases of the test: one was a written portion, which I thought I did really well on, and a speaking portion. During the speaking portion (which essentially was a little informal interview with visual aids such as pictures with empty speech bubbles, etc) I managed to steal a glance at my graded written exam. Awful. There was more red ink on that thing than I thought really possible for such a short test. The interview itself was rather brutal as well.

Needless to say, I have the feeling that I'm going to be placed into 101. 102 if I'm really lucky.

So, after that, feeling a bit demoralized, I decided at least I could go back to the bank and get some real Japanese money so I could actually eat. I went to the bank, took a number, and when I walked up to the counter I tried my best to explain what I needed in baby pidgin Japanese. Apparently, that particular branch doesn't do currency exchange. Awesome.

I did find this delicious looking beverage though.
As I left the bank, it had just started to sprinkle and the wind was getting rather intense, so I stood in the overhang in front of the building and checked my map for the next closest bank, since I had no money and I was becoming rather ravenous. Luckily, I noticed that the dot for the post office said "Post Office / International ATM", so I went there and withdrew about ¥18000. At that point the rain was coming down pretty hard so I ran to the convenience store and picked up some orange juice (which turned out to be super delicious, by the way), two apples, and some ham. Don't judge me.

I then fought my way back to the apartment against the crazy wind and rain. By the time I got back, I was completely soaked, so I placed my clothes out to dry (in front of the air conditioning / heating unit) and ate some delicious ham and apple.

Since I wasn't in the best of moods, I decided to take a bit of a power nap, which kinda turned into a regular nap, which kinda turned into a full-blown 8-hour sleep. I woke up at 9PM and spent the rest of the evening cleaning my apartment, watching television, Skyping my family, and forcing my demoralized ass to do some studying.

Wednesday (水)

Yesterday was a lot better. I managed to get a bit of sleep in the early hours of the morning, and woke up at about 4AM. I ate some ham, noticed I had a frying pan, and wished I had some delicious bacon to cook up. I resolved to go find myself some bacon. I don't care if that makes me a stereotypical American; bacon is freaking delicious.

I spent most of the morning figuring out a good VPN to watch my Hulu shows. That's probably going to become a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, since I'm really not supposed to be watching American television, but one episode of a few shows a week can't hurt.

Seriously though, this guy is everywhere.
I headed to orientation at 1PM after preparing a last-minute 自己紹介 (Japanese self-introduction), since I wasn't sure if we were gonna be doing that at orientation or not. Turns out not. I did get to meet my fellow English-speaking students, though, and the guy who's in charge of the admissions office, Declan. He's a pretty cool dude. We all got a tour of the campus as well as an explanation of the bureaucratic stuff we'll have to deal with in the next few weeks, such as registering as an alien, among other things. I'm pretty sure if I'm an unregistered alien, the Boss is gonna come after me. Frightening. I've seen how he deals with aliens.

Curry udon!
After all the orientation stuff, I teamed up with two of my fellow students, one from Germany and one from Sweden, and we set out to find a bunch of things we still needed to buy for our apartments, as well as some food. We ended up going to the big mall in Okazaki and eating at the food court. I got curry udon and it was way more delicious than I was expecting. I had never eaten anything curry-related before so this was a totally new experience for me. It ended up being great, though I wasn't really able to finish all of it because I don't eat a ton.

As we walked around the mall and found various things we needed to buy, I kinda started to realize that in order to be successful here, we really need to get over our fear of looking like total idiots to native speakers. It really does seem like everyone who we've interacted with so far has been very nice and accommodating, and genuinely grateful that we're even making an effort to speak their native language. I figure if acting like a big dumb white dude American makes people willing to interact with me, I consider that a winning strategy.

Oh, and as a sidenote, I played one of those ¥100 crane games and managed to win this cute little penguin guy on my first play (see right). I should have taken a picture of the machine as well, but oh well. It was some Doraemon-themed game, but I'm not sure why this little fella was in there.

We continued to walk around the city a bit, and we were planning on visiting the castle at some point, but it started to get late (i.e. 8PM or so) and we were all still a little jetlagged, so we decided to head back and call it a day.

Today (木)

I woke up this morning and made some bacon. I kinda blackened the everloving shit out of it because I had no idea that my electric hotplate thing got that ridiculously hot. Whoops. It actually still tasted okay though, so that's good. I spent a long time cleaning my frying pan, though, because as it turns out, I forgot to buy dish soap. Or a sponge. Luckily I had an old rag I had thrown in my suitcase as I was packing so that did the trick well enough.

No class today, but there is going to be a pretty important new student ceremony later on. I think it's at 1PM but I'll have to check my schedule to make sure. I'll definitely need to prepare a short little introductory speech so that I don't sound like an absolute idiot. Or, you know, maybe it's okay if I sound like an idiot. We'll see.

Other than that, though, I don't really have any other plans. Maybe I'll go to the castle today!

What I really need to do is make a shopping list because I keep remembering things I need to buy when I'm at the apartment, but when I'm out shopping I can never remember. Oh well. I guess I'll head out now. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Some First Impressions

Well, it's about 4:30AM (local time, of course) but my body still seems to think it's the middle of the day and therefore not sleepy time. So I figured I'd get some studying and writing in this morning before it's late enough to start unpacking stuff and making a racket. Apparently it's a big no-no to be making noises in the middle of the night here.

The Flight to Tokyo

The plane, by the way, didn't have any outlets. Sucks. I did bring some books and also my paper journal, which was nice to be able to write in. The cool thing about the plane ride, though, was that they had individual touch screens on the back of every seat, so I was able to watch movies and play cheap and dumb little games like Tetris or hangman. As a sidenote, the Muppet movie was as good as I was expecting it to be, and "We Bought a Zoo" was way better than I thought it would be. Kinda sappy, but okay.

Useful, but maddening
Another thing you could do with the touch screen was view the flight plan, a graphical representation of the route the plane was taking. It would plot the plane's location along the route and display the time in Chicago, Tokyo, and wherever it was that the plane happened to be at the moment. That was both nice and excruciating, because it was too hard to resist the temptation to stare at the little plane icon and think about exactly how much longer there was to go.

The worst part of the plane ride: I was starting to feel relieved when there were only two hours to go in the flight until I remembered that after the Tokyo flight I still had to run to catch another flight to Nagoya. Soul crushing.

The best part of the plane ride: I decided I'd try to drink myself to sleep.
Me: Do you guys have wine or something?
Flight Attendant: Sure, do you want red or white?
Me: Red will be fine. How much?
Flight Attendant: [Handing me a bottle of wine] Oh, it's free.
Me: :O
Customs, the Flight to Nagoya, Arrival

Customs was not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. That's probably due to the fact that as soon as I got off the plane, someone handed me a bright orange "priority" slip of paper to show the people at customs so I could jump to the front of the line since my connecting flight was leaving in just over an hour. It all went pretty smoothly and everyone at the airport was incredibly helpful.

Heh. "Travelator."
The first thing I noticed was that mostly everyone in the airport was really good about standing to one side of the moving belt so that others could walk by. Everything related to travel is a bit backwards here; since they drive on the left side of the road, the left lane is the slow lane and the right lanes are used for passing. Took me a little bit of time to adjust to walking on the left side of the staircases and hallways to let people pass on the right.

I made it to my connecting flight's terminal with about 15 minutes to spare. I thought the whole touch screen display thing was only for international flights, but it was on the domestic flight as well. In fact, there was a ton of space on that plane. Honestly coach on that plane was totally comparable to first class on American planes. Extreme swank.

I landed and picked up my baggage, met the driver who was waiting outside of baggage claim, and was driven to my new home for the next six months. Later today I'll post a video showing what it's like. It's set up for two people, but I have it all to myself. Can anyone say, "bwahahahaha"?

Maybe it was the sleep deprevation-induced delirium, but watching the traffic outside made me feel like I was on the planet Pandora. Bright colors everywhere, lights flashing on the road and on the signs and on the trucks and buildings, and all the speed limit signs that I saw were all digital, which I thought was fantastic. I would have tried to have a conversation with the driver but at that point my brain had ceased to function, so I just sat reading the information packet that Yamasa sent with him. Luckily, it included a map, which is going to be extremely useful today.


The view outside my apartment window. Quaint!
So what's the plan today? First, I'll have to unpack my suitcases and bags. Lots of storage space in this apartment (again, it's designed for two people) so that won't be an issue. Again, it's just all about not making a ton of noise when people are trying to sleep. I guess I'll start doing that stuff at 7 or so. After that's done, I'll go out and see if I can find a bank, since I have some American cash that seems to be silently begging me to be exchanged for currency that can actually be used to purchase stuff in this country. Then I guess I'll try to find a convenience store of some kind so that I can buy some of the things I forgot to bring. Most importantly, shampoo.

Also, I have no idea what restaurants are good around here so I guess I'll have to choose one at random.

Not encouraging, Japan.
I'm watching the morning news and apparently it's supposed to rain today, which is not ideal. Oh well, though. I have a jacket.

Then, the last thing I have planned for the day is my placement test for my Yamasa classes, which takes place at 13:00 (I'm trying to get used to 24-hour time, the metric system, and degrees Celsius since that's what they use over here). I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to find the campus. From this map, it looks like it's going to be a 15- or 20-minute walk to and from class each day, which is totally reasonable. Then again, I could be completely wrong about that.

In any case, I'm going to go ahead and post this. Later today, if I find myself at the apartment with some downtime, I'll make a little video of my apartment and whatnot.

But as for now, the adventure begins!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tomorrow, I will be on the other side of the planet

Kinda difficult to believe. Lots of stuff happening at the moment, so I guess it's time to finish up another update as I sit here in the Chicago airport.

Last Week

I finally got my certificate of eligibility and whatever else back from the admissions office on Wednesday, so I spent most of Thursday running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get a package together to overnight to the New York consulate. They received it Friday morning, so the next step, as every step so far has been, was to "hurry up and wait." The consulate needed 4 business days to process my request, which means the visa would be done no later than Wednesday. I told them not to mail it to me when it's done; I wanted to  travel to New York the following week to pick it up. Sure beats waiting for the USPS to get it back to me.

On the social front, I've been hanging out with a lot of friends and coworkers who are nice enough to go out with me for foods and drinks as a farewell sort of thing. On Friday, which was my last day of work, I was actually feeling a little melancholy by the end of the day. I guess I got a little bit worn out, having to continually say goodbye to a bunch of friends I've been hanging out with every single day for the past two years. Still, I've been planning this for years now, so oh well.

This Week

This week started off pretty nice, what with the not having to go to an office all day thing. Be the end of the week I was a little burnt out, having spent most of my waking hours cleaning, packing, calling to get bills taken care of, taxes, car stuff, and then planning and attending a little going away party sort of thing for myself at the Hofbrauhaus. Exhausting. Stressful. But here I am, sitting in O'Hare, waiting for my flight that will start boarding at 12:30 central time. That's in about a half hour from exactly right now.

I really lucked out on the seat assignment. Apparently I'm going to be sitting by the window, which has the bonus of controlling the window shade as well as an outlet for my laptop! That's a relief because I don't know how I'd deal with a 13 hour flight with zero electronics.

I'll be writing another blog entry on the way, probably, but I obviously won't be able to post it, what with being over the Pacific ocean and all. So I guess the next entry you'll see from me will be tomorrow... morning for those of you who are still in the United States. It'll be night time for me, so my sleep schedule will be totally all screwed up.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. My camera isn't charged and I can't find an outlet anywhere to charge it. I'll be able to take pictures once I arrive in Japan, and I think I'll even be able to carry my laptop around my apartment so I can put a little video up when I get there.

Geez. As I'm writing this entry, conservative talk radio is blaring into my head and it's kinda hard to concentrate.

Anyway, I'm gonna head out. See you on the other side!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mid-March update

I guess it's time for another update, since I haven't written in a few days!

It's currently mid-March and things are progressing smoothly, more or less. I received the invoice from the school the other day, so today I went out to the bank and put in a bank transfer. It was a bit of a painful process, if only for the fact that the bank teller had to figure out how to spell things like HANEHIGASHIMACHI or KOSEIDORINISHI, and then read them over the phone to someone else she had to coordinate with. It was kinda cute, in a painstaking sort of way.

So, I'm told that it will take three business days maximum to reach the recipient, which means that the payment will be received no later than Monday. Hopefully they'll send the materials out right away and I'll have the certificate of enrollment in my hand as early as Wednesday. That'd give me a week and a half to get the visa.

Cutting it a little close. Still though, I should be done with everything with a few days to spare. I'm glad I made my last day at work the 23rd, so I have a whole week with no work to do last-minute things that need to be done.

In other news, I went out shopping this past weekend. Managed to get myself some good summer clothes, as well as some sandals. I figure it's kinda important to have summer clothes because from everything I've read, the summers get pretty oppressive in Okazaki. Still have a bit more shopping to do, though. I still want to find some uniquely-American candies or foods to pack in my suitcase to offer to the other students who may not have ever had them before.

All in all, this should be fun. Hurry up, international banking system.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Patience is a virtue

Well, it's been just about two weeks since I sent the paperwork in, and it seems like they're taking their sweet time sending me an invoice or any other documentation. I'm trying not to let it bother me, but it's starting to stress me out a little, especially since I put in my two-week notice and bought the (very expensive) tickets already.

I'm keeping myself entertained by eating spaghetti and watching penguin cam. I feel like this is a good use of my time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Study Tools Ahoy!

Some of the most important things I can think of to bring over to Japan are a set of tools I can use to make my study time as effective as humanly possible. I don't really have the spare cash to buy a brand-new cool electronic dictionary like many students of Japanese do, but honestly I don't really think I'm gonna need one. I have plenty of stuff I can carry around with me that'll do the trick.

The coolest thing I have is, of course, my phone. I'm gonna have to permanently set it to airplane mode since I won't get service over there (obviously), and anything that uses the internet is gonna be a wash (unless I'm connected to WiFi--I don't know how common that is over there though). Still, I have some really cool tools on my phone that, in my opinion, makes it almost as good as a fancy-pants 電子辞書.

The IME for droid phones, Simeji
I have an IME called 'Simeji' on my phone. IME, by the way, stands for Input Method Editor and it's basically a way to type in a foreign language using either a QWERTY keyboard or some other layout. Here's a neat online one for when I'm on a computer that doesn't have an IME installed on it, like my work computer. Anyway, essentially Simeji is just a way for me to type in Japanese, which is very useful since I have a number of Japanese dictionaries already installed on my phone.

I have a program called WWWJDic and it has a pretty okay J-E dictionary on it for quick look-ups, but where the program really shines is its ability to let you draw in unfamiliar characters and look them up for you based on stroke order and character shape. I'm sure this is going to be insanely invaluable when I'm out and about and need to look up a character I don't know. That's one thing that's pretty interesting about the Japanese writing system: there's no real way to "sound out" a word like you can in English. If you don't know a character, the only hints as to the pronunciation or the meaning are the little elements that make up the character, and even those can get pretty esoteric and obscure.

On top of that, I also have a program called DroidWing which is simply a program that displays dictionary files that are saved in EPWING format. The nice thing is that I already have two EPWING dictionaries from a while back: スーパー大辞林, a very good J-J dictionary, and 新和英大事典, a well-respected J-E dictionary. They're older editions, but perfectly fine for what I'm going to be doing.

The dictionary program that comes with MacOS
Now, as far as computer tools, I feel like I have a bit of a leg up in that department as well. I bought a Macbook Pro a few months ago (mostly because I'm gonna need a good reliable laptop when I'm overseas), and as it turns out, it contains a very good J-J dictionary and a progressive J-E learner's dictionary, which is actually one of my favorite dictionaries I own. The cool thing about this dictionary program is that you can highlight any word in any application, and press a certain key combination--the dictionary opens and shows you the definition of the word in whatever dictionary you want. Very useful for reading webpages or other documents.

What's also pretty cool about my laptop is that I installed a part of the OS that allows me to use the trackpad as a writing surface for character recognition. The only problem is that it's actually part of the Chinese IME, instead of the Japanese one. That means I can only look up characters that are shared between Japanese and Chinese. Luckily that's still a lot, but I kinda wish there was one specifically for Japanese. Maybe in the future.

I also have a bunch of books, though I'm not sure of how many I'm actually going to bring over there. I have the first volume of Genki, which I completed my freshman year of college at Cincinnati. I also have the second volume which I sorta worked through myself. I don't think I'm gonna bring those books because I have limited space and they cover stuff that's pretty basic. However, I also have An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese, also from the Japan Times, and I think I'm gonna bring it. It covers a bunch of stuff I'm still pretty shaky on, and has a lot of exercises that I can use to supplement my coursework. As if the coursework isn't gonna be enough.

I feel like I need to mention this, in case anyone reading this is in the process of learning Japanese: Tae Kim's Japanese Guide is honestly one of the best Japanese-learning resources I've ever seen. I keep a hard copy on my laptop and on my phone for quick reference. Particularly, his grammar reference is absolutely spectacular and comes with tons of examples.

I also have a number of intermediate novels and articles I've accumulated over the years, most of which are above my level right now. Still, I'm probably gonna end up bringing them with me. Why not? What's a couple extra pounds in my suitcases? At the very least, they'll give me something to struggle through on the plane.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Less than a month to go...

I've started the process of getting ready for the trip that is less than a month away. The tickets are booked and ready to go (all times local):

  • Depart 9:55 AM from Pittsburgh - Arrive 10:30 AM (Apr. 1) at Chicago (Flight time 1 hr, 35 min)
  • Depart 1:10 PM from Chicago - Arrive 4:20 PM (Apr. 2) at Tokyo (Flight time 13 hr, 10 min)
  • Depart 6:25 PM from Tokyo - Arrive 7:35 PM at Nagoya (Flight time 1 hr, 10 min)

And from Nagoya I'll be hopping into a Yamasa vehicle for a ride to the Okazaki campus. Now that there's an actual schedule, everything feels way more official...

...And yet there's still so much to do.

Get My Student Visa
Probably the most important thing I need to do is to continue filling out all the paperwork. Admissions sent me a bunch of PDF's asking about my housing preferences and arrival times and all that good stuff, which I filled out. Today I'll have to figure out how to get my signature onto the PDF and send it back to them so they can send me the next step in the visa process. Basically, once they get my paperwork I've filled out, they'll invoice me, I'll pay for two quarters, they'll send me an official letter of acceptance, and then I'll have to bring that to a consulate to get my actual physical student visa.

I'm not sure how that works. From what I can figure, I'll either need to send all the paperwork in the mail (which might include mailing my passport, which makes me a little nervous) or go visit the closest consulate and get my visa in person. I'd rather not miss much work, though, so hopefully they'll be open on a Saturday. We'll see, though. First step is getting all of the Yamasa paperwork out of the way.

Go Shopping
I'm going to need to do at least a little bit of shopping for things to take over there. All of my summer clothes are at least half a decade old at this point, so I'd really like to go out and get at least a few nice pairs of shorts and some t-shirts that aren't from high school marching band functions. Maybe some sandals, too, for the awesome summer weather I'm probably gonna encounter over there. I want to go to the beach at least once.

I was gonna include "buy a suitcase" in this section, but I went to my mom's place yesterday and she had gotten me a very nice suitcase, so that's one thing to scratch off the list! I'll need to figure out if I want two suitcases, though, and if I do, I'll borrow another from my dad or something. Then I'll need to figure out what's going on with carry-on bags. How many am I allowed? Which bags am I going to take? I'll need to also figure out how to get as many of my instruments over there as possible. I can't take all of them, I know, and I'll be leaving my big instruments at home (basses, trumpets, possibly violin) but I'll definitely be able to bring my smaller ones (flute, tinwhistle, harmonica, cornet, possibly ukulele). I guess I'll do a test run one of these days pretty soon to see how easy it'll be to pack all those in my suitcase.

I'd also like to hit the grocery store with a list of non-perishable foods (candy, mostly) that I won't be able to find over there. Not really for my own sake, but for sharing with people who may not have tried them before. Snickers and Starburst come to mind. Also maybe some pop tarts or granola bars as airport snacks.

Move Out of the Apartment
This is gonna be an interesting one, because it's going to involve a lot of sitting down and sorting all of my possessions into "keep" and "toss / donate" categories. The majority of my clothes are going to be donated. I don't think I'm gonna need my bedding material since I'll be getting that stuff when I'm over there.

The problem, really, is that I'm a packrat of epic proportions. I still have spiral notebooks full of notes from my freshman year when I was in Cincinnati. I'm gonna have to dig my heels in and force myself to throw away all that stuff that I'm never going to read again, much less actually use in my daily life. I'll keep my Japanese books, though. I'll probably even bring them with me. But I still have a statistics book that is currently being used to prop up a broken cabinet. I have an old calculus book. I have so many cords and computer parts in my closet that I can't even begin to imagine going through all of them.

But within the next few weeks I'm going to have to slowly move all my crap (that is, only the stuff I'm planning to keep) out of my apartment and to my dad's place. I should probably do that as a gradual thing so I don't spend the last week before my flight departs running back and forth doing a bunch of last minute stuff-hauling.
I really am gonna miss my
Bubble Bobble thumbtack art though.

Write a Letter For My Two-Week Notice
This should be a short-term priority for me, because I plan on officially giving my two-week notice this coming Friday, the 9th. That'll make my last day Friday the 23rd. Then I'll have that weekend, the whole next week, and then Saturday the 31st to finish all the stuff I need to do without distracting things like a 9-5 office job.

Probably a Bunch More Stuff
Of course, there's probably a lot more stuff to do that I just haven't thought about yet. The above will keep me occupied for the time being, however. I just need to force myself to do it now so that I'm not stuck on the 30th with panic attacks because there's still so much to do and not enough time.

This is gonna be fun.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Leap Day Celebration! Student Visa Approved!

Student visa approved, baby.
Happy leap day 2012! And more importantly by far, welcome to my new blog. For most of the people who are ever going to read this, you probably already know my plans regarding traveling overseas for the next half a year, but for those of you who don't, I'm headed to Japan, starting on April 4th!

Over the past year or so, I've been working on--and waiting for--things related to obtaining a student visa through a school in Japan called The Yamasa Institute. Particularly, I've applied to their Academic Intensive Japanese Program (AIJP) for a 6-month stay. That's about all I can comfortably afford. Hopefully I will be able to get some sort of work-study deal going on over there or a part-time job at an English conversation school (英会話) so I can build up a little extra scratch to do fun things or possibly even extend my stay.

[As a note, if 日本語の文字 just shows up as boxes to you, your browser / OS doesn't support Japanese fonts. I'm not going to type in Japanese very much in this blog (I have another journal for that) but there will be occasional words here and there that you may or may not care about. A Google search may help you set that up.]

So why did I decide to start a blog? Primarily it's for my own benefit. I want to document the entire journey from day one (that's today) so that years from now I can look back and make fun of myself and my horrible writing style. It's also for the purposes of letting everyone back home know what I'm doing from day to day in the most passive way I could think of.

With all that out of the way, the next month is going to involve a lot of packing, a lot of shopping, and a lot of bureaucratic nonsense. It's a little scary to think that it's all happening so soon, but I can't wait. Now to sit tight and wait for another email.

This is gonna be a long month.