Friday, August 22, 2014

July and August 2014

Hello! Sorry I have not posted in a while, but I just finished the Master's section of my study here in Kyushu University. So, for the past few weeks I have been working extremely hard on finished my Master's thesis, Master's presentation, as well as working two part-time jobs. It has not been easy, but it has been quite rewarding.

So, in this post, I would like to briefly summarize what fun, or interesting things I have been up to for the past eight weeks or so.

In the beginning of July I held a Independence Day BBQ with a few lab members and several international students. The 4th of July is my favorite holiday in the USA, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some American culture, as well as enjoy my favorite holiday here in Japan. However, it is really difficult setting up a barbecue in Japan, since they have very strict restrictions on where you can have an open fire. Most places do not have portable grills, or you have to go to a restaurant which specializes in barbecue. Neither is inexpensive and convenient when you have over 5 people, so I ended up having the party at the school's dormitory.

We had many people from all different places come attend, so it was quite a cosmopolitan event. Everyone seemed to have a good time, playing games, eating, and drinking together (excluding myself on the drinking part).

After dinner, we broke off into teams and played several games. Everyone really tried their best, and had a lot of fun. At the end of the party, everyone was nice enough to help clean up. It was a good holiday, though I still miss having a good old-fashioned grilled burger with potato salad (not to mention cherry pie).





The following week in July was also the end-of-the-year party for my laboratory. Not much is different from our other parties: people drink a lot, people do dumb things, and everyone over eats.  However, these parties are never dull. Usually you are able to get to see the more playful side of the lab members and teachers, and of course we generally just have a good time. I am quite fortunate in that my lab is not particularly unfriendly, and that most of our parties are over by 9 p.m.





Next week, we had another lab event, the 'Yamahon Challenge'. I have mentioned this twice before on previous posts, but basically the Yamahon Challenge is where we have a sushi eating contest among the lab members. We break off into our respective project teams, then have 2 hours to eat as many plates of sushi as possible. Each plate consists of two pieces of nigiri sushi, and the total dishes for each team are summed up. The team with the most plates wins the challenge (though there is no prize). Some people ate dessert afterwards.... I do not know how Japanese stay so small.














I took a series of photos from start to finish, so you can slowly see how the stacks of plates begin to accumulate on each table. Not to mention, everyone goes from a happy expression to one of pain.

No fun things happened in August, other than I started a part-time job. I found an English Summer Camp program on Nokonoshima island, where native English speakers act as camp counselors to Japanese children. For 3-4 days you do various activities with an assigned group of children, usually only speaking English (the kids usually do not understand you, but the point of the camp is for them to learn more English skills). This was a really fun part-time job! However, it is also extremely exhausting, especially in the summer humidity and heat. Luckily, the kids are also tired after the second day, but I have a new profound respect for parents. Keeping up with children is tough! Sadly, I have no pictures of any of kids (you need permission from the parents to take a photo together), but I hope to be able to attend next summer! It really depends on how busy I am in the lab, but it's a fun part-time job.
Speaking of lab-work, I was able to complete my Master Course!! Hooray! That means I am able to move onto the Doctorate level course and continue my own personal research. It's really hard to believe that I have been in Japan nearly two years, already! Next thing you know, my five years may be up!



I'm not expecting anything exciting in September, but if it does happen, I shall post again.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Too hot to be spring, too cool to be summer

Sorry for not posting again sooner, but I've had multiple people ask me to take down photos of them from my blog, which is fine, but this means I can't really post anything about the second half of my Tokyo trip. I was primarily meeting family members, but to respect their privacy, I won't post much more than that.

However, I can say some interesting things have happened to me after the week of Golden Week. While none of it is particularly as exciting as going to Tokyo, I think it is still worth mentioning.

A local event I attended was featured in the school newspaper: http://lovito.web.fc2.com/

Every Friday during the school year, a few local women and students gather to enjoy conversation (in Japanese) and eat snacks. They also sponsor various small events, and this past month I just happened to get featured while there. Apparently, people REALLY love USA-style cookies. I do not know why, but they think they are the most amazing things ever... which is strange since you can make your own fairly cheap or buy them at the grocery store.

Sadly I have no pictures from that day, but I do have the following week's photos when we made chocolate covered pretzels. They also thought that was pretty amazing:


I hope that article inspires new people to attend, as I surprised not many students seem to show an interest in talking with foreign students or to the local inhabitants of Itoshima. It seems like a real shame since the people there are so kind, and fun to be around. I do not think I have ever regretted attending this event, and I try to encourage other Kyushu University Students to go!

The second interesting thing that happened is that I was invited to my Professor's home with the other students in my class for a party. He had also invited some other students from another class he holds, so I was excited to meet some new people.

I think it is a rare opportunity to be able to talk to your Professors outside of the academic life, but when you are able to, usually teachers have pretty incredible lives.

Finally, before the weather started into rainy season, I went with to a few parks to look at the flowers. Especially hydrangea and dahlias are nice this time of year, but unfortunately I was a little too early to see the hydrangeas at their best.









 However, the rose garden was very much at it's peak! I took a lot of pictures of these areas, and I probably smelled 3/4 of the roses there. However, the walk was really loooong to cover the whole park, so I was quite tired by the end of the day.








I hope to be able to make another post soon! However, I do not have a lot of photo-worthy moments this time around. Everyone take care this summer~

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tokyo Day 1 and 2

I had a good 'Golden Week' holiday from May 1 to May 5 in the Tokyo area of Japan! The experience was really great, but it left me exhausted even since I did a lot of different things in a very short amount of time. Because of this reason, I have almost 200 photos I need to go through and edit, so sorry if it will take me a while to post everything. I will try to break it down into two or three posts, in order to completely cover my trip. So anyways, on to my first day.

May 1st was not much to talk about (or take photos of), since I had a night-time flight from Fukuoka to Narita airport. My relatives in the area were unable to meet me that first day, but one of their assistants in the driving school business was so kind as to take me from the airport to my hotel.

I felt quite guilty since my flight was late, and the assistant had brought his wife along as well, so they had probably been waiting at the airport for an hour or two. They were a very nice couple, and surprisingly the assistant is from the same part of Satsuma Sendai, most of my other relatives are from. His wife was from the Kyoto area, so along the long drive from Narita airport to Kashiwa City, she told me about the famous landmarks from her hometown and about Kyoto in general.

On the outskirts of Kashiwa City, I was able to see the driving school owned by my relatives. Sadly, it was night time so I wasn't able to see much, but considering how big the school was, it seemed quite impressive. After a nice dinner with the assistant and his wife at a local izakaya, I went to check into my hotel and prepare for the busy day I had the following day.

May 2nd was the most busy day I had, starting at 7 a.m., the nice assistant from the day before came to my hotel to take me to the central part of Tokyo via train. The surrounding train system for the Tokyo area is REALLY complicated, so if it had not been for him I would most likely have been lost the whole day. Anyways, he took me to Hamamatsucho station, where I was booked for an all-day bus tour along with my cousin on the Hato Bus Line (http://www.hatobus.com/en/course/fullday.html).

After meeting up with my cousin our bus tour started at 9 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. with the following stops:

Tokyo Tower- My cousin actually lives really close to the tower, so maybe it was not so interesting for her, but it was fun for me. It's sort of an iconic place to go to in Tokyo, and before the construction of 'Sky Tree' it was the tallest structure in the Tokyo area.




 

Happo-en (experiencing Japanese tea ceremony)- This was not my first time trying the traditional japanese 'sado' or tea ceremony, but the garden surrounding the tea house was quite beautiful. It's one of the most popular places for weddings in Tokyo, and it has some REALLY old bonsai trees. Some of the trees were over 500 years old (hard to imagine someone took care of them the whole time). I also happened to see a very small turtle (which I almost stepped on) which was a pleasant surprise. The garden itself is actually not all that big, but the landscaping was nearly perfect. I just wish I could go there when all the azalea bushes were blooming.









Chinzan-so (lunch)- This place was also located inside a garden, however it wasn't as traditional as the previous location. This was a hotel garden, which was also popular for weddings among couples in Tokyo (I saw a lot of weddings that weekend, I guess it must be a popular weekend to get married). Here we ate Japanese style barbeque cooked on igneous rock from Mt. Fuji. You got three courses of food, served with green tea or barley tea. It was not the most exciting lunch, but my cousin and I were so hungry by that time, that we didn't mind having any type of lunch. While at the lunch table though, we were able to talk to some of the other people on the tour. There were people from India, Australia, Thailand, and even another American... though he was from Boston.




 


Imperial Palace Nijubashi Bridge- Sadly, I did not see the Emperor or even the palace... the only thing you can see without an invitation was the outskirts of the imperial grounds. The statue of the samurai on horseback is of a famous guard to one of the old emperors who died on duty. His statue faces the palace, so that he can continue to show his loyalty to the royal family. While the tour happened to be there at the changing of the guards, it was not too exciting. There were only two guards, and it only took them a few seconds to switch out. However, my cousin did tell me an amusing story, where apparently the Emperor went off the royal grounds unescorted and said good morning to some local joggers. Apparently the joggers didn't realize who he was right away, though they were really shocked when someone recognized who he was. I can only imagine what that must be like. 






Sumida River Sightseeing Tour- This was really nice after all the walking! The cool breeze from the ocean made a big difference in the afternoon heat, and we could see some of the more famous parts of the business district of Tokyo. Here you could see the famous fish market (http://www.tsukiji.or.jp/) where they load the fish into the market place, and some of the more iconic buildings and bridges. My seat wasn't the best to see some of the places, but I managed to get photos of more interesting buildings as we passed by.






Asakusa and Nakamise Street- This was my favorite place I think. It's a historical district with a lot of shopping, next to the Thunder and Lightning God's temple. In fact, I came here twice to buy souvenirs, along with look at the really great cooking tool stores. Some of the best knives in Japan are made in this area! There is also gardens, old gingko trees, and many interesting shops. You can also buy some very tasty traditional sweets called ningyoyaki (http://www.seriouseats.com/2008/02/ningyo-yaki-molded-japanese-cakes.html). A lot of young people like to come here on dates for the sake of nostalgia, which was kind of interesting, as 300 years prior the same area was considered very 'trendy' and 'modern' for young people to visit. It's kind of funny how that works out.
















Ginza- The upscale shopping district of Tokyo, this was the final stop of the tour. We had previously driven there earlier, but other than a review from our tour guide the tour does not formerly stop there. However, members of the tour could chose to be dropped off at the Ginza area or Tokyo Station at the end time, so my cousin and I chose to get off at Ginza. This place has LOTS of luxury item stores like Seiko, Gucci, etc. so for those who like high-end retail, this is a good area to go to.

 


After a little bit of shopping we met my relative Yoichi-san at a Korean BBQ restaurant where we enjoyed some bolgolgi and udon noodles for dinner. I was quite tired after running around that day, so I was really quite happy to get some sleep after everything. Besides, I had two more days to enjoy myself in Tokyo before heading back to Fukuoka!