Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kyoto and Nokonoshima

I apologize for not posting sooner. Despite me having a dull prediction for September and October, a lot happened unexpectedly. This along with school restarting, delayed me from editing and posting photos of what has happened to me over the past two months. Plus, I took over 200 photos, and those took a looooong time to reformat and adjust to be small enough files to easily upload. On top of that, I recently graduated from Master's to Doctorate level! While I no longer have any regular classes, I am expected to publish papers before I graduate, as well present at several conferences... and that takes a considerable amount of prep time.

So, allow me to start off what happened during September. During the first few weeks, nothing much happened. I mostly was in the laboratory during the day, and if the weather was good, I would walk home and look at the rice fields. However, my friend was away on an internship, and as a result of this she managed to get free hotel anywhere for two nights. Since this was a rare opportunity, she asked me if there was any city I wanted to go, that way we could travel together. Both of us had been mostly in Kyushu during our stays in Japan, so we both ended up choosing to go to Kyoto. Kyoto is a fairly famous destination for tourists because of it's historical sites and beautiful landscape, and we went for more or less the same reasons. This was really a last minute trip, so I scrambled to get prepared and make reservations for everything. Luckily, with the help of my friend, we managed to get it all done in time. We were there for four days and three nights, and still only did a portion of what we wanted.

The first day in Kyoto, my friend was spending her day in Osaka, so I wandered by myself around Kyoto Station. I had traveled by Shinkansen, so it would be easier to manage my luggage, and I wouldn't have to worry about being late to an airport. However, I am prone to getting lost, and since my friend is the one with the smart phone and Google-maps , I stuck very close to Kyoto Station. The area actually has a lot to offer, including some famous shrines, temples, and gardens.

Sadly, most of the buildings were undergoing reconstruction, so I only posted the photos where the construction is not visible. Also, while the garden was indeed very nice, I probably went a the worse time of year to visit (other than winter). All the flowers were finished, and it was not cool enough for the leaves to change colors, so it was mostly just a lot of green plants. I am sure if I had gone recently, it would have been much more enjoyable with the changing of the autumn foliage.

The next two days were exploring some of the more famous and historical temples and shrines. While we went to the Heian Jingu first, sadly due to an event being held there most of the temple was covered with chairs and an outdoor stage, so we could not enjoy it thoroughly. There was, however, a giant robot there, so that was something unusual for sure. Afterwards we visited two more temples, one of which had tanukis inside the temple grounds. Tanuki look a lot like the North American raccoon, but are actually a different species altogether. The pictures I got of them are not good, but my camera is not made for long-distance shots. Finally, I was also able to see the Nishi-jin weaving center! That was a dream come true, as you could see the looms, and the various methods how the silk and eventually weavings were made. There was even a kimono show which displays some of the more modern-style kimonos.

The last day, we went to one of the most famous places in Kyoto, the Inari shrine. The shrine is for a fox-god who is associated with harvests and grains in general.There were no foxes sadly, but lots of stray cats who live in the shrine. It's a HUGE place, and is well known for its many gates. I thought the gates were of deep spiritual meaning, but when you get there, you can actually buy one for $10,000. A lot of companies had their names written on them, so this was surprising. I also found a restaurant that made really tasty ramen and kara-age! You know food is important to me.

That evening,after finishing our trip to the Inari shrine, we returned back to Fukuoka, exhausted, but with good memories.

In the beginning of October, I was quite busy getting my visa and other papers renewed since now it has been two years since I came to Japan. TWO YEARS! Time really does fly...yeesh. October also means fall classes start again, so I knew it would be only a short time before I was too busy to do anything else but lab/class work. For this reason, I wanted to go visit the island of Nokonoshima. I had been there several times before during the summer season, but it is most famous to visit during the fall due to its blooming cosmos flowers. My friend and I made a day trip of it, and visited the Nokonoshima Island Park. There we could see the cosmos, enjoy the cool fall weather, and have a picnic with a great ocean view.

Since this is the last week in October, I will try to post about my Halloween Party in next month's post. Usually, my lab members and I have a very good time, and this year some international students will also be joining us in celebrating Halloween!

I look forward to posting again soon.

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.