Friday, December 31, 2010

Your Friendly Neighborhood Mochi Pounder

日三番:Day 3

In order to prep for the impending New Year’s celebration, the hostel host family demonstrated for us how mochi is prepared as part of the tradition.

The sticky rice used for mochi is soaked overnight, steamed, pounded and then formed in order to become what people consume. Each of the students in the group got a chance to pound the mochi, most of them stating that it was a lot harder than it looked.

Sensei at work!

On the third round of mochi, the gentleman who had been instructing us kept urging me to try and it was then when I realized I was the only blonde in our entire group ^^;

After we had pounded the mochi, we were given plain mochi in soy sauce and (some extremely spicy) daikon, as well as mochi filled with sweet red beans (yum).

Following the mochi pounding, an “emergency” lecture was called, mainly to address the issue of behavior. The previous evening, a few people in the group had become a bit drunk, rowdy and loud, causing a concern for both our sensei and others, such as myself, in the group.

When traveling abroad, especially in eastern countries like Japan where foreigners are very easily recognized, behavior is something that needs to be kept in mind. That is not saying that you must restrict your normal mannerisms and have to be extremely strict in monitoring yourself, but in any country, shouting profanities outside in a dense neighborhood at one in the morning is no way to establish a name for yourself.

As a tourist, you are putting an impression of the state, province or country you represent when interacting with locals and I believe it is important to try to leave behind the best impression that you can. You can never be sure of all the rules or customs when you are visiting a foreign country and you are bound to make mistakes or do something small that may be frowned upon (like leaving your plates on the table in a café or talking on a cell phone on a train), but it is not difficult to make those incidents minimal.

After all was said and done, we headed out to the city flea market and then returned to the main market street for lunch and to browse again.

Sensei asking for directions.

Market stalls.

We found a small area behind a building with a golf practice device set up.
I pretended to give it a try.

And inside the market place, we took some fun photos:

Debating on where to have lunch, the three of us who had been to Japan before decided to take the three that had not visited before to Mos Burger, where I was admittedly happy to have my shrimp burger again.


Four of the group enjoying their Japanese sodas.

Things along the way:

Kimono shop

Statue of a long tailed rooster.


I ran back into Jam so I would be able to get the Milky Planet socks to match the skirt I had purchased a few days ago.

Then, we took a tour of another hundred yen shop, which a couple of the girls had dubbed their favorite place to buy things.
I took advantage of the opportunity to obtain a few more accessories toward building my Deco piece.

We also found the perfect gift to give to our sensei, a stick with a pointing hand on it. Sarah wrapped it and we decided to present it to her the following morning at breakfast.

Throughout the day, we had runs in with some fun signs, including a T-Rex instructing us not to park bikes against the side of a shop.

Treat of the day:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book-Off はどこですか。

日二番: Day 2

The girls in the group started off the morning by playing a prank on the boys. After breakfast, a few of us remained in the hostel dining room with our sensei and decided that during the morning lecture, she would ask us to turn in the essay assignment from the day before. Except none had been assigned.

So when it came time for the lecture, the girls all pulled out sheets of papers and passed it over to her while the boys sat in the back of the room, wide-eyed, asking, “What assignment?!”

However, the lecture turned out to be more a discussion, asking the students to share what culture differences they had noticed during their first day in Japan.

One of the boys the previous day had asked why Japanese books don’t open “the normal way” and why Japanese is written right to left opposed to left to right.

Nearly everyone mentioned the politeness of individuals and service people in Japan, but others brought up the presence of vending machines, the use to calculators to display prices, architecture, blind walkways, and the “strangeness” of some television programs.

For me, what has always stood out in Japan in the lack of trash cans on the streets due to the encouragement to recycle. Coming from Russia where a lack of trashcans means dirty streets, and living in America where trashcans are always present but litter is still rather common, the cleanliness of Japan has always impressed me.

We also discussed one of the essays in our textbook, which was based off the theory that language has nothing to do with culture.

I disagreed with the statement, using Japanese compared to English as an example. While there are respectful ways to address someone in English, with titles such as “sir” and proper structuring of sentences, both the language and the society is rather laid back. However, in Japanese, the use of honorifics and special phrases are used every day. I believe these contrast the different cultures and societies, with the emphasis in organization, respect and traditionalism.

Afterwards, as we had a free day, we headed off for the center of Kochi as many students on the group wanted to see the mall and do some shopping.

The mall sign.

The train station.

The Space Invaders like images on a shop window.

A display for New Years in the Kochi station.

Small shrine outside the mall.

When we arrived at the Kochi Aeon mall, there was a stage set up and some musicians were performing throughout the day to provide entertainment. The first one we saw was a young woman who had quite the powerful voice and later on in the day a group of young men were playing some mellow music that reminded slightly of Bump of Chicken’s style.

And then we moved on,

Riding a Pikachu.

Cute phone straps in the claw machines.

After the few purchases and three hours of doing mostly window shopping, my group went to get some crepes. But the rest of the students did not wish to wait for us, so they left us, telling us to meet back at the Book Off near the train station.

Strawberry white chocolate crepe. Yummmmm.

After we got our crepes, getting back to the station was no problem, however we could not find the Book-Off. One of the girls in our group of four was struggling with the navigation system on her phone, so I suggested we stop a local.

Let it be said, that even one semester of Japanese is immensely helpful. It’s amazing how much more communication I have with people compared to this summer.

“すみません、Book-Off はどこですか。”

After a paragraph long response from the woman and some pointing (most of which I did not understand) we caught on to “みぎ” and all four of us repeated it in excitement, knowing “Right”!

After reuniting with the group, I was volunteered to explain the phenomenon of yaoi and shonen ai to our instructor, who claimed she had never seen it before. One of the girls found it very entertaining to hear our sensei saying "girl-on-girl" and "boy-on-boy".
And then after losing and finding a member of our group, we returned to the hostel.

We were using the balcony outside the smoking room as a refridgerator and found this sign inside. Fan?

The meeting room is full of puzzles from Hayao Miyazaki's movies.

And a lot of manga.

Also, we have some many tangerines >.< Our sensei bought us some and then a representative from Kochi University came by to gift us with two more boxes. Although, it was a wonderful surprise to receive the gift and again, I think it reflects on the society. ~About the hostel, it is called the Kochi Youth Hostel and if anyone does plan on coming to Kochi, I would very much recommend it. The family that runs it speaks very good English, they are friendly, the food is good, the rates are affordable and its location is within walking distance of most of the areas that you might frequent. The evening was concluded with another evening of sake tasting.
The hostel owner explaining the different types of sake.

Since I’m one to enjoy participating in activities, I brought in my own drink:

100%?! So hardcore.

The girls dominated the sake-tasting contest, winning small sake cups as prizes.

Group dynamics have started to emerge and I can sense potential drama in the making even after just two days (the boys have already visited McDonald’s >.<) but for now, things are as quiet as they can be for twenty American college students visiting Japan… Not very. Meal of the day: (I was too hungry at lunch to remember to take a photo of my very delicious udon)