Day 43-47: August 17th-21st

August 17: With great sadness, I left Kyoto today for Toyama. This is a place I kinda wanted to explore, if nothing else, but for the food. Toyama’s in northern central Honshu, close to the aptly named Toyama Bay. This means that they have really good seafood, and I was curious to try. My shinkansen left around 12 and then I had to transfer in just 10 minutes, so that was kinda exciting. I was afraid I would miss my train, but I got to Toyama with little difficulty.

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Toyama Station

My hotel was nice. It’s about 6 minutes away from the station, it’s pretty cheap (59 dollars per night) and quiet. I didn’t have too much time to myself when I got there, but I had enough time to explore the immediate area. Toyama’s a very quiet city, compared to Kyoto or Tokyo, and while there was some English, like I thought, there wasn’t much. Just walking the city as it gets dark was really nice and relaxing. I got back to my hotel, tried to do laundry and failed miserably. But I guess it had to happen eventually.

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Nifty little way of storing the key. I like it

August 18: The lobby of my hotel is really large. That’s because instead of a separate area for breakfast, they serve it in the lobby itself. Breakfast was nice and simple and I really enjoyed that.

I probably should’ve done more hiking and exploring the scenery, but I didn’t. I did some more omiyage shopping and exploring. This time, I went a little further out. Toyama has this really cool light rail service, like the one in San Jose in California. I was supposed to get out at the second to last stop from Toyama station, but I fell asleep and got off at the last stop. But that didn’t really affect my plans too much. I really wanted to see Toyama bay and the observation deck was close to the last stop anyway. The view was really nice. You can see most of the city and the bay itself. I returned to the station, ate a really good lunch, and then walked an hour to the outskirts of Toyama. The further out you go from the station, the fewer stores appear (I did find a local dango store that I think just sold out of dango when I walked in. Feels bad). It took me most of the day to walk out there and then get back. There’s a kinda run-down train system that gets you back to the station from the outskirts. I had a bit of a scare there. People had this small tickets, and I didn’t. there was a ticket dispenser, but it didn’t have a ticket, so I couldn’t take one. I put 310 yen (the fare) in the machine, which didn’t light up, then thought that I should’ve given it to the people at the station. I checked later, and there was one last ticket, which was the driver’s. However, after talking to the station guy, turns out there wasn’t a problem at all. So long as I paid, I could leave, so that was a relief.

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Toyama Castle. There’s something very fascinating about having an old building in the middle of a modern city

In hindsight, I probably should have done more careful planning with Toyama. I didn’t go see cool temples or pretty scenery. I just saw street after street of buildings (clearly, I am not a country boy). That said, I had a lot of fun just walking around. Just being in the city was enough for me.

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Toyama Bay, seen from an observation deck

August 19th: I left Toyama today for Sendai. I had previously planned to stay for longer, since I’ve never been to Sendai, but my JR pass expired the next day and I needed to get back to Tokyo. As such, I wasn’t able to see much of the city, but I was still able to walk around.

 

It seems many stations have a similar layout in front. When you exit Sendai station, you get spit out onto these walkways overlooking the street. It was like this in Tachikawa as well.

My hotel was close to the station again, so I got to see the immediate area. After coming from Toyama, Sendai’s much more in line with Tokyo. It’s busier, which I honestly kinda like. But unfortunately,  I wasn’t able to see the city in much detail. When I return to Japan, I would love to give Sendai a proper exploration.

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Just outside Sendai Station

August 20th: I returned to Tokyo today. The past shinkansen trips have been packed and since I’ve been lugging around a big suitcase, I feel like I’ve been causing people some trouble. I had a bit of trouble getting out the station (again). For whatever reason, my passmo card was not accepted and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. One of the workers did, but I didn’t understand him and he couldn’t speak English. I got it working by catching a random train to Ueno, and then riding the subway to my stop, Nihonbashi. After that, it worked fine; I don’t know why.

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Almost looks like a zombie apocalypse, doesn’t it?

My last nights in Tokyo were in a capsule hotel. These things are crazy. The “rooms” consist of a single bed. You have headphones, a radio in the wall, a small tv, a little counter for things, and a control panel. That’s it. You can’t even stand up. Your luggage is kept in the lobby in a storage room. On the floor you sleep, there’s a small locker for your stuff. It looks like a gym locker, only much narrower. Bathrooms and shower rooms are public. Oh, and you need to be out of the room by 10 AM every day and you can’t go back until 4 PM. It was wild. The lady who helped me out was actually from Russia, so we had a nice little chat in Japanese. Helped boosted my confidence since I was really frustrated after the station fiasco. Other than that, I had a very lazy August 20th.

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Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

August 21st: This was my last full day in Japan, and I wanted to cram as much as I could in. I started off the day with a visit to Asakusa. There’s this giant temple there, which looked vaguely familiar. I think many years ago, I visited with my family. Like in Kyoto, en route to the temple are all these stalls selling food and small gifts, so I stopped and checked them out. The temple itself isn’t all that impressive inside; what I mean by that is that you can’t go very far inside. When I got there, there was some Buddhist prayer going on and everyone was taking pictures, ignoring the fact there was a large “no photography” sign. Today was hot; after spending time in Toyama and Sendai, I had forgotten what “hot” meant. On the way to the temple, I caught a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree, one of, if not the tallest, tower in the world, so I decided to pay it a visit. On the way, I got stopped by a Japanese family looking for the Tobacco and Salt Museum. With the help of my passable Japanese (and iphone), I think I pointed them in the right direction. I hope they got there ok; the father gave me 100 yen, so if I got them even more lost, he might have wanted this money back.

 

The Skytree was pretty impressive; it reminded me a lot of the Empire State Building, with long lines and really fast elevators. From the 4th floor, it took about 3 minutes to get to the 350 floor. The view was impressive, but it was a little hazy that day; I’ve heard that on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji. And for the crazy ones, a few floors down, they have a glass floor, so you can see just how far you would fall if that floor broke. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

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Pretty spectacular. It’s so high up you can see the cloud shadows. I thought that was cool.

After some last minute omiyage hunting, I decided to return to Musashi-sakai and ICU one last time. When I left after the program, I felt like I didn’t give it a proper goodbye, so I returned to see everything one last time. I also chose to have my final full day meal in the same place I had my first full day meal: at the Matusya right by the entrance to campus. I hope one day I can return to ICU.

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So long, ICU. I’ll see you again someday.

I spent the rest of the night at an arcade in Shinjuku. I was initially going to try Pachinko, but the pachinko arcade was loud, smelly, and confusing. A more traditional arcade was better after all. I even got a blast from the past. In the arcade was a rail shooter called the House of the Dead 4 (in 2003, the nightmare returns, it said. IN 2003!) When I was 8 years old, I saw that game and it terrified me, but now, 13 years later, I finally understood what was going on and wasn’t scared anymore. Funny how those things turn out. I didn’t expect to see such an old game in a snazzy arcade.

 

I did have one day left in Japan, but I didn’t do anything, so I don’t think I’ll write about it here. Ultimately, I had a lot of fun in Japan. It hurt a little to leave, but that is all the more reason for me to come back. I’ll see you all later. Until the next adventure

 

Peter

 

Obligatory Food Pictures

 

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The same thing I ordered my first night at ICU. It was only fitting.
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A Moss cheeseburger.
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A donburi ekiben (station food)
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Toyama White Shrimp. These were advertised constantly
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Toyama Chirashi
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Unadon (Unagi and rice)
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Day 40-42: August 14th-16th – Kyoto

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the inside of a shinkansen. Looks a lot like a airplane, doesn’t it. 

August 14: I took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. It’s about a 2-hour ride to Kyoto from Tokyo, but since I overcompensated, I was at the station hours before my train, so I definitely didn’t miss it. I lived at this family inn close to Kyoto station and right across the Kamo river (Kamogawa) from Shichijo (7th street) station. I was using a Passmo card in Tokyo, which was really nice, but apparently that card doesn’t work in Kyoto, so I had to purchase my tickets individually. I guess I didn’t realize just how nice the Passmo card really is. My room is tiny. It fits a tiny desk (if you want to even call it that), and a futon. That’s it. The bathroom is shared between multiple tenants and there’s no private sink. After unpacking (it was really hot in Kyoto), I took a visit to Shijo and Sanjo (4th and 3rd street). Those are big shopping areas, at least close by. I wanted to explore more, but it was getting late and most of the stores were closing. Heck, even the largest department store in the area, called Takashimaya, closes at 8.

Also, convenience stores are a blessing.

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That’s mean

Day 41: Today I took a trip down memory lane. Shichijo is part of the Keihan railway, which runs the length of the Kamogawa. So after stopping at Sanjo to see a music store, I took that train to the first stop, Demachiyanagi, and walked down Imadegawa street. 13 years ago, my family and I lived on that street for 3 months, while my Dad was taking a sabbatical. Whenever we return to Kyoto, we make it a habit to visit this street. There’s a family mart on the corner, which has been there for at least 13 years, because it was there when my family was. I even found the house we lived in with little difficulty. I guess even after all this time, muscle memory endures.

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I stood on those same stepping stones 13 years ago

The nearby playground was still intact with no change, as are the stepping stones to cross the river. When we lived in Kyoto, every weekday, my Mom, brother, and I would cross the river on those stepping stones (my favorite part of the day. I felt like I was actually platforming). On the other side was a Manju store that my mom liked (it’s still there and as crowded as ever), and right next to that was a little mall that had all sorts of cute things and food, of course. In the past, there was a guy selling noodles that we would purchase, but he hasn’t been there in years (now there’s a tempura store there). While wandering, I stumbled across the Kyoto imperial palace and took a walk around. It’s pretty cool (no it wasn’t. It was really hot).

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Popular as ever

After getting lunch, I took the train out to Kohata, where a famous anime studio is located, aptly named Kyoto Animation. It’s a very unassuming building. You can easily mistake it for another house or something, and nearby is a store for all their anime. I say all their anime, but it was for this currently airing anime called Free! Dive into the Future.

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Actual footage of me waking up in the morning

Despite all the fluids I was drinking, I think I got a bit of heat exhaustion by this point, because I had a throbbing headache, so I returned to the inn and took a nap. After waking up, I was going to try and get to Ginkakuji, so I knew the route to the Obon festival, but that didn’t end up happening. I decided to go home and sleep

August 16: I think I made a bus driver mad. I took a bus to Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavillion, but only until I was nearly there did I see an announcement that said pay in exact change, which I didn’t have (it’s 230 yen to ride a bus). I had 500 yen, and offered to pay for a lady behind me, but she declined, and the bus driver just sighed and asked “together or separate?” Probably shouldn’t have done that, now that I think about it. I hope that wasn’t rude.

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This was about how big my room was. It barely fit the futon

I walked around the area checking out the small stores set up on the way to the temple (I didn’t actually see the temple itself.) I guess the best way to describe today was that I tried all sorts of Japanese sweets. One lady even got me to go into her store because she advertised her cinnamon cookies are some sort of omiyage (at least, that’s what I want to say. I heard her say “omiyage,”but I didn’t understand the rest). The cookies were good, but hard. They wouldn’t travel well, so I had to decline.

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All sorts of cool stalls on the way to the Silver Pavillion

I came to Kyoto for the Obon festival, and today was the last day. There are 5 mountains with giant Chinese characters carved into their sides and today, every August 16th, those are lit up. I think it’s supposed be a farewell of sorts. It’s believed that during this time, ancestors return from the spirit world to visit their relatives, and they return home today. I even saw people selling wood where you could write a prayer that would then be BURNED. Instead, what I ended up doing was going to a nearby area called Arashiyama, and wandered around. This area is known for this really big wooden bridge and is much more traditional looking than Kyoto proper and looked similar to the area around Ginkakuji. One of the five mountains can be seen here, and I walked about half an hour to find the pond where you can see it. It’s actually a great view. I returned back to the bridge just in time to get poured on (it rained sporadically throughout the day). By now, the obon stalls had been set up and I got some of their food (it was kinda salty.)

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These are the scaffolds for the lanterns

Every year on the 16th, as another sort of farewell to the ancestral spirits, people light up paper lanterns and then release them down the river. It’s really pretty, which is what I would say if it wasn’t packed. The lanterns, or Toro Nagashi, is a big tourist event and I got there before it started, but not early enough to get a good spot. I did have some nice small talk with an elderly couple who came to see the lanterns as well. I forget what I said to the lady, but she responded with something like “next it will be our turn.” It took me a while to understand what she meant by that, but it was a little sobering. So instead of seeing lanterns, I saw people’s smartphones as they tried to get pictures of the lanterns. I would’ve gotten more, but my phone died, and I had to hurry back to charge it. The lantern event starts at 7 and the bonfires are lit at 8. I got back to Kyoto 2 minutes before they lit up the fires, and hurried back to the inn. Unfortunately, I was told the fire would burn for 40 minutes, but it only lasted 30. By the time my phone was ready to take more pictures, the bonfire was a little spark. That said, I did catch a glimpse of it as I was rushing back and it looked really cool. The fire is visible from the Kamogawa and people lined the bridges to see it. I wish I had gotten a photo, but I did see the end. I guess I just have an excuse to come back again and see the fire properly.

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This was the best picture I could get of the lanterns. It was much too packed.

All in all, Kyoto was a lot of fun. It’s very different from Tokyo. The atmosphere is much calmer and people are very nice. I kept getting called Onii-chan (big brother) by a lot of different people, including that couple. I think I misunderstood some people’s questions. In Arashiyama, I stopped to look at a pizza place, and a family outside told me it was good. I agreed and said that I thought the stalls by the river would have food. They asked where I wanted to go (he said ikitai, which means want to go) and I told them I was going to go down to the river. To this day, I don’t know if he asked where I wanted to go or where I wanted to go eat. His kid, who couldn’t have been older than 4-5, asked who I was when I was leaving and I was kinda touched.

Just remember, Kyoto uses different “IC cards” (e.g Passmo, suica, etc.) than Tokyo, so prepare accordingly.

Tomorrow, I leave for Toyama, which is further north and likely completely different than both Kyoto and Tokyo. From what I heard, it’s more “conservative,” which says to me that it’s going to be more traditional. That means that it’s likely that there will be little English, so I guess this is the real test of the summer course at ICU. Let’s see how much I’ve learned

Obligatory Food Pictures

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Deep-fried Chicken from Arashiyama
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Cold Soba and Tonkatsu
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Miso Ramen. This was taken in the same location as an old ramen store my family would frequent 13 years ago. It’s now a different ramen store
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Green Tea Dango with Ramune frosting

Day 32-39: August 6th-13th

August 6th: Today we got word that another typhoon was approaching Tokyo and this one will likely hit it directly around August 8th. As a result, we have to have our final exam a day early. Worst case scenario, the last day of class is cancelled. So we get to await the next few days in anticipation. Some of my classmates are betting on the typhoon not coming, so that’ll be embarrassing if it doesn’t hit after all. But the way they made it sound, this one is much more likely to hit.

 

August 7th: This was the last day of formal instruction. It was also my birthday, though nothing all that exciting happened today. I just studied and didn’t go out. It’s ok though. I wasn’t planning on doing anything all that exciting for my birthday itself.

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A moray eel just casually hanging out

August 8th: We had our final today, due to the typhoon. It rained all day today, but it wasn’t all that bad. It’s kinda hard to believe that we will be getting a typhoon considering how mild the rain was. After the final, I went to Shinjuku to activate my JR rail pass. I tried. I really did my best, but the lady behind the desk looked at me and said, “I can speak English, you know” perfectly, so that was embarrassing. But I got my rail pass without a hitch and got tickets to Kyoto. I leave on the 14th.

 

August 9th: So turns out our class wasn’t cancelled because the typhoon missed us (AGAIN), so I ended up going to class and giving my final presentation. We just had to go somewhere and talk about it; I talked about a card shop because I am so original. Both senseis surprised afterwards with a small party in our classroom, which was fun, and I played one final yugioh match against a friend I made (I lost). After that, though, there was a farewell party and I played piano for everyone. I was so nervous that I made a few mistakes, but everyone seemed to like it, so I’m not going to question it too much. The real fun came later that night. As a final farewell, the dorm helpers organized a trip to an izakaya and then to karaoke. I had my first drink that night and I’m not a fan. Alcohol doesn’t taste very good; I’ll stick to water, I guess. Karaoke was fun, but I really just enjoyed spending some time with everyone before we all had to go our separate ways.

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The farewell party

Also, I walked back to ICU, which took about 45 minutes, so that was fun.

 

August 10th: I left the dorm today. Everyone was saying goodbye and taking pictures and all that other stuff you do when you say goodbye to people. I didn’t want to go myself. My parents came up (or down, I guess. They came from Tachikawa) to ICU and I went back with them to their hotel. I got my own room; I was so happy. Later in the day, we took the Tachikawa monorail out to this giant shopping mall. It looked very much like an American shopping mall, which surprised me. I figured Japan didn’t have the space. But it was cool, albeit not the kind of thing I was interested in.

I should also add that my parents were trying to get shinkansen tickets to Hokkaido, but they were sold out, so they had to scramble a bit. I would say that was exciting, and it was, but I was asleep for a good amount of it.

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Farewell, ICU

August 11th: We went shopping again today. My parents were nice enough to take me to Nakano Broadway, this shopping mall not too far from Nakano station. There’s a lot of figures in there and I know some people who would love a chance to visit. I took a brief stop in Shibuya (I’ve actually never been recently), and then met up with my parents to have a dinner with my mom’s cousin and his wife. It was nice and relaxing; we got o just chat and catch up. I learned a lot about my family’s history. Apparently, one of my distant relatives fought against the meiji government during the meiji restoration. He later went on to found a university or something, so that was cool. I also got to practice my Japanese. I can kinda feel it getting better, little by little.

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Hachiko, Japan’s most loyal dog

August 12th: I said goodbye to my parents today. They’ll be going off to Hokkaido for the remainder of their time here while I’ll be travelling by myself. I’m a little nervous, but also kinda excited. This is the first time I’ll be doing that. After I said goodbye, I checked into a hotel closer to Tokyo station (but not without getting lost. The first of may times, I’m sure), and then met an old friend for lunch. I hadn’t seen her in 7-8 years and it was nice to catch up. She seems to be doing alright at least. I returned to my hotel, took a nap, and that was about it. I did get lost again because I wandered too far from my hotel to get dinner and wasn’t sure of my way back, oh and my phone was low on battery, so that was exciting.

Apparently, there is competitive aikido, but it’s more of a dancing competition than it is a fighting competition. You have judges evaluate how you do each technique, how nice it looks, etc.

 

August 13th: Today was a bit of a trip. I woke up earlier today to visit Tsukiji market (I say early, but I was there around 12). Tsukiji is intense, even that late. It was hot and crowded, but it was so cool. There was so much food that I hadn’t seen before or even expected to be at a fish market. I even found strawberry daifuku there. When I left tsukiji, I got a train to kita-senju, where I got lost (AGAIN), trying to find the JR Joban line rapid service (they really don’t do a good job telling you where it is). The reason why I was looking for that was because I was trying to get to Tsuchiura City. It’s kinda out of the way, about an hour by train. 8 years ago, I was supposed to visit as part of an exchange program, but that was the year of the Tohuku earthquake, so I couldn’t go. I would’ve loved to explore more, but Tsuchiura got hit with a thunderstorm and I didn’t know my way around. It’s a very quiet city; it reminded me a lot of the area ICU was located. On the way back (I got on the train just as the rain hit), I was fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with an elderly lady also going back from Tsuchiura. She didn’t speak any English, but we were somehow able to talk, so that was fun. It was a good chance to practice what I had learned this past 5-6 weeks. I had so much fun talking to them that I missed my intended stop and wound up in Ueno park. But I think that ended up working out better, because I got to spend some time in the park. It reminds me a lot of central park in New York. When I was searching for a train station, I kept walking down a street called chuoudoori. Turns out that if you go down that street long enough, you hit Akihabara. You learn something new everyday.

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A buddhist temple I passed by on the way to Tsukiji

Obligatory food photos

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Chirashi and Udon
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Natto
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Strawberry Daifuku
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My last meal at the ICU cafeteria. Indonesian Fried Rice.

Day 24-31: July 28th-August 5th

July 28th: A typhoon was supposed to hit today. Everyone was hyping it up, warning us not to travel. And I did get rained on. A lot, actually, but it just looked more like a pretty heavy rainstorm than a typhoon. Honestly, it was a little disappointing. I was hoping for a little more drama, you know?

Anyway, this was the last meeting for Glocal Mitaka. We were supposed to go to a festival, but since it was cancelled due to the typhoon, we ended up just staying on ICU campus and did some fun activities. One lady taught us how to do a tea ceremony, which was pretty fun, and then we all did the Bon Odori. Turns out there are two versions, and depending on the region, it’s different. The first one we learned is the dance that looks like you’re digging a hole. The second is the one where you wave your arms around, supposedly like a Geisha. I didn’t expect it to be as fun as it was, but I really enjoyed it. There were fewer families this time around. I guess the rain kept them away, but some faces I did recognize.

After the dance ended, I was playing with some of the kids, who dared me to run out in the rain and touch a few trees. Of course, I couldn’t say no to kids like that, so I did. They seemed to enjoy it, which is all that matters to me. Something that did strike me as odd was how polite and responsible they were. I have a hard time picturing American kids at the same age acting the same way. Of course, that’s not to say that Japanese kids and American kids are all that different, because they’re not, but it was something that I noticed.

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Is this me? Or a strawberry? Vote now on your phones

July 29th: This is the part where I would tell you all about my second Yu-Gi-Oh tournament in Shinjuku. Except I got DQ’d (disqualified). Turns out that store doesn’t allow English cards, so they made me drop after round 1. I did tie with a deck I didn’t expect to beat, so that’s good, I guess. I just spent the rest of the day in Shinjuku just not really doing anything. So my sunday was actually quite uneventful. Bit of a shame, really.

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Amenities Dream Shinjuku

July 30th: It’s hard to believe that this is the start of the second to last week. It still feels like I just got to Japan and I’ll be leaving in a few weeks. But I didn’t do much today.

 

July 31st: Today I participated in Nihon-buyo, or Japanese traditional dance. It first started with a small performance by members of the Japanese traditional dance club at ICU, and we then were taught a short and simple routine. It’s nothing too fancy; certainly nothing like modern dance you might see today, but it was enjoyable. I also got to try a yukata for the first time. But that was the only interesting thing that happened today.

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We T-Pose to assert dominance

August 1st: I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but I woke up at 8:50 today. When class started. Fortunately, Sensei wasn’t angry (at least, she didn’t show it), but it was embarrassing. Outside of oversleeping, I don’t think anything particularly interesting happened today. I just went to class and came back. The only funny thing that happened was when I came back from eating out (I like the dorm food, but there isn’t much variety), I ran into my sensei at the bus stop.

August 2nd: Today, I participated in a kanji study that lasted for about an hour or so. It was kinda interesting, I got a 30 dollar gift card out of it, and I do feel like my kanji improved slightly. I just hope that the professor is able to use my data.

August 3rd: I didn’t learn this today, but I want to write this down before I forget.

  • White does not have any bad meaning in Japan. In fact, white represents holiness and purity. It is associated with ghosts because, during funerals, the body is often dressed in white clothes
  • In the past, ICU was once called Isolated Crazy Utopia.

I tried going back to Shinjuku to play Yu-Gi-Oh friendlies with other people, but that didn’t happen. Since everyone is usually playing with their friends, it feels very awkward to ask if you can play a game. In addition, I didn’t read their rules very carefully. Turns out the tables are only available to those who have already purchased something. That was also kinda embarrassing, but also very frustrating. I think I said this in a prior post, but in case I didn’t, I’ll say it here. Since I am an exchange student studying Japanese, I feel more pressure to not look like an idiot. A tourist can embrace their stupidity because they’re tourists and I feel like the standards are lax. But for a student studying the language and culture itself, it feels like I should’ve been aware of the rules and followed them better. So all in all, today was . . .interesting. Not one of the better days, to be sure, but nothing particularly bad happened.

August 4th: I wanted to participate in another tournament, so I went back to the first place I participated at in Akihabara. I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten a lot shyer when it comes to dealing with other players. They’re not doing anything wrong, but after I messed up in Shinjuku, I’m just scared I’m doing something wrong. Which is sad, because I want to play with more people, but I don’t know how to approach them. I just don’t want to be rude. Regardless, it was a lot of fun and I actually won my first match.

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After spending a lot of time (and money, but don’t worry about that) in Akihabara, I decided to return early because I had a lot of work I wanted to complete. As I got back, I managed to catch a little bit of a festival going on right by the station. It wasn’t very big, but I think it was very cute. Even in the middle of an urban area, people still find places to do cultural festivals.

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justdormthings

August 5th: I spent most of today doing work preparing for my final week at ICU. So I continued my travel plans and completed my homework. I also swung by Akihabara and Shinjuku to pick up some things for class (we have this end of the year party on Thursday, and our class is doing a puppet show, so I picked up the necessary supplies). But other than that, today wasn’t all that special. I had to use it to prepare for school.

 

Obligatory Food Pictures

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Another beef teishoku.
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Tsukemen.
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Miso Ramen

 

 

 

Day 19-23: July 23-27

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July 23rd: After class, I had tutorial. This is a one-on-one meeting with one of the senseis where they go over your homework and work through any mistakes you made. Mine was supposed to go from 2:44-3. I got out at 4, because there was one grammar point I just couldn’t understand. Fortunately, Sensei was very patient with me and eventually I got it. At dinner tonight, I saw one of the UCEAP coordinators and we had a nice dinner together and talked a little bit about life in Japan and our experiences. It was very interesting.

Later that night, I was sent as an errand boy to McDonalds to get some food for people in the dorm. one of the helpers was nice enough to lend me his bike to get food, so I just rode it down to McDonalds. It was a short trip and went off without a hitch, but it was a kinda fun experience. I haven’t ridden a bike in Japan in a long time.

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What a world we live in, where you can freely park your bike outside without a lock and you don’t worry your bike will get stolen

July 24th:  Today we visited musashinoplace, or the local library in the area. The main idea of the library is to combine three themes: youth activities, citizen activities, and lifelong learning. What this means is that there are very few walls on each floor, and the ones that are there are made of glass. This makes it easy for people to see activities across the floor. However, the place, especially the B2 floor, didn’t seem to be tailored to people like me. “Youth” apparently cuts off after you turn 20 (the legal age in Japan), so I wasn’t allowed to use some of the facilities, only watch. They had a dance studio with a keyboard, but it was only for youth, so I wasn’t allowed in.

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Welcome to the Next-Generation Library

I went back to the dorm, studied a little bit, and that was it. A relatively uneventful day.

 

July 25th: I had my midterm today. It seemed pretty straightforward; nothing was very surprising, but it was long. Japanese tests always drain me. I relaxed a little bit and played yugioh with a friend I made in class. He played invoked trickstar (used the trickstars as mechaba fodder and reincarnation for disruption). I played raidraptor and mekk-knight kaiju. Both games were very close; I won one, and he won one. I forgot what it felt like to get hit with a Maxx “c”, and I don’t miss it at all. That card is not healthy for the game at all.

To celebrate the end of midterms (which also means I’m halfway through the program already), a few friends and I decided to travel to Harajuku to a My Hero Academia cafe (a popular anime in both the US and Japan). This was in collaboration with the Tower Records cafe (that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while), so it’s only for a limited time. During that time, however, they serve food and drinks that are reminiscent of certain characters on the show. It was certainly different; I don’t think I’ve really experienced a character cafe like that before, but it was a lot of fun.

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GO BEYOND. PLUS ULTRA!

On the way back, we stopped in Kichijoji, two stops away from ICU and wandered around. We found an arcade in a place called Sunshine Road (which was covered, by the way), and I spent some time there. One of my friends won a Doaremon plushie in the claw game. Apparently she’s pretty good. We ate dinner there, and then came back. When we came back, people were playing Super Smash Bros. in the lounge, and I just couldn’t walk away from that.

July 26th: We received our midterms today. I was quite surprised they were able to get them done so fast. That said, I’m not complaining; I got a good grade, so I’m happy with the result. Other than that, nothing too interesting happened today. I did learn however that a number of people in the dorm play Project M, the mod of Super Smash Bros. that I play the most, which was also surprising. I didn’t expect PM to be so popular.

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Lots of people in Harajuku

July 27th: Today wasn’t all that special. We were told that there’s an end of the program party on the last day of class and that our section has to do some kind of performance. So i’m kinda looking forward to that. There’s a piano in the cafeteria, and hopefully on the day of the party, I’ll be able to use it.

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I got caught in rush hour……

In the afternoon, I went to the convenience store to stock up on supplies for the incoming typhoon (as of writing this, the typhoon is striking further west, so we should be ok, but we’ll still get rain), and then went to Shinjuku to play Yu-gi-oh. I had this realization that I might not necessarily know Japanese very well, and I might not be able to hold a decent conversation. However, Yu-gi-oh is a language that both the Japanese players and I understand. I had a lot of fun. The people I played with were very nice and curious about America. One guy heard that, in the American game (TCG), references to the Devil are censored and asked if it was true. It took me some time to understand him, but I figured out his meaning. It’s the little victories that mean the most.

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One of the guys I played with was nice enough to give me this card.

You might say that I’m wasting my time in Japan by going to a card shop when I could do the same thing in the United States. And you would be right, but this is my way of talking to Japanese people I otherwise wouldn’t speak to. I get to meet locals and bond over a common interest. In a way, that’s experiencing culture. Sure, not the culture that people might be used to, but it’s a culture that I don’t think people normally talk about and I think that’s very interesting

 

Also, because they asked for it, I’d like to do a small shoutout to Melody Lin, Kate LaMont, and Alyssa Cuan for consistently following this blog. If there’s anyone else I missed, I’ll try to acknowledge them in the next few posts (sorry, Mom and Dad, but you don’t count).

So you next time

Peter

Obligatory food pictures (there are more food pictures, but I hope this is sufficient.)

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Salmon Florence. Think of it like a cheese casserole with salmon and vegetables
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Ramen. Of course
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Hashed Beef
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Another beef bowl
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Teriyaki Burger
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Yakionigiri
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Ebi Tempura Soba
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Character-themed drinks and food from the My Hero Academia Cafe

Day 17-18: July 21-22

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July 21st: For the first time since coming here, I went to the gym. The ICU gym is very small, as are most other things in Japan. There’s only one squat rack, one bench, and a host of other things. I planned to go earlier in the morning like I normally do back at Davis, but I was so tired from the day before that I couldn’t. I was planning to go at 8; I went at 12. But I guess it’s better than never going at all. After I finished (I wasn’t in there for very long), I decided to give Shinjuku one more visit and give it the proper exploration it deserved. Shinjuku strikes me as an Akihabara for more well-adjusted people. There are stores everywhere for designer clothes, luxury goods, and other normal items that you would expect a normal member of society to enjoy. The sidewalks were packed and the crosswalks are enormous. I spent a pretty decent amount of time there and enjoyed walking around, even if the stores aren’t the kind of thing I’d really be interested in.

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Just Shinjuku things

July 22nd: I signed up for a volunteer program called Glocal Mitaka. You get to spend an afternoon with some Japanese families and, of course, with kids. The children ranged from 4-9, probably older, and they were all very cute. We first made uchiwa, or a Japanese fan (the one with a stick, not the other kind), and had to decorate it with something that symbolizes summer (for the group I was with, that meant bugs. Lots and lots of bugs) and then ate nagashi somen, or flowing noodles. If you haven’t seen it, they set up this long sluice and run water through it. At the same time, they send the noodles down the sluice and you have to try and catch it. It’s a lot more fun with multiple people. After eating, I spent some time talking to some of the parents and the kids. They were all very cute. At one point, one even asked if he could sit in my lap. Next Saturday, we’re all meeting up in the afternoon to go to a festival and I’m really looking forward to that.

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I’m glad this kid liked me enough to sit on my lap.

The same kid who sat in my lap thought I was from Osaka, based on the way I spoke. I was very flattered that they keep thinking I’m local, even though I would completely fall apart if they tried speaking to me as if I was local. But I do think I’ve noticed an improvement in my speaking ability. I spoke with the families almost exclusively in Japanese (there wasn’t much of a choice. They didn’t know English very well), and while I couldn’t understand a lot of words, I got the gist and could somewhat hold a conversation. I really need to get better at asking more questions about them. I can answer theirs’, but asking my own is harder. It’s also kinda freeing to speak in a casual style, since you don’t have to use “normal” Japanese with children.

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Souichiro, Rihito, and their mother Namiko-san

I keep forgetting to write this down, but the sun sets early here. I’m writing this at 7:42 PM and it’s already dark out.

Next week is the beginning of my class project and tests; my midterm is this coming Wednesday.

 

See you all on the other side

Peter

 

Obligatory food photos

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Frozen yogurt with chocolate bananas, mochi, and a pancake.
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Kaiten-zushi (a.k.a sushi train)
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I hadn’t eaten all day, so I went hard on that sushi
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McDonalds strawberry ice cream
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BBQ beef (they call it karubi, or Calbi)

Day 13-16, July 16th-20th

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Enter a caption

July 16th: I had no class today, so I slept in. I was still a little congested, though my throat didn’t hurt. So I guess that’s a good sign. I mainly ate, and studied for my quiz tomorrow. I got to chat with some other people in the program while studying, so I’m happy about that. I was concerned about being able to make friends here since I’m kinda shy when it comes to meeting people my age, but it seems to be going alright

July 17th: I honestly don’t remember much about today. Maybe it’s because I was tired or something, but I don’t seem to recall doing anything all that special today.

July 18th: Today was an interesting day. In class, a bunch of ICU students visited our class and we got to talk to them about Japanese manners and how they compared to other countries. We had just read an article about manners on the train and so we were able to ask actually Japanese people not just about train manners, but also about other related topics. I asked them about their opinions on “weaboos” and cultural appropriation (nice and cheery topics. Nothing heavy). For those who don’t know, a weaboo is someone of non-Japanese descent who loves Japanese culture so much that they, in a sense, want to be Japanese. It’s primarily used as an insult for people who really like Japanese culture, usually pop culture such as anime or manga. And since cultural appropriation, or the offensive representation of another’s culture by ignoring its context (e.g wearing a kimono because you think it looks pretty, etc.), has become a more popular phrase, especially among American students, I wanted to know how Japanese people felt about Americans loving Japanese culture that much.

 

Kishi-san, the person I interviewed, had an interesting opinion. She didn’t mind weaboos or cultural appropriation. If anything, she was very flattered. She thought that it was a good thing that foreigners love Japanese culture, when someone people in the U.S would consider the same thing borderline racist and offensive. At the same time, she also felt that there were Japanese people who loved western culture too much. Japan has their own version of a weaboo, it seems, and she believed that those people are ignoring the good points of Japanese culture.

While some people might call Japanese ideas about manners and proper conduct conformism, I think it’s a little different than that. In my talk with Kishi-san, I noticed that Japan is starting to adopt some western attitudes, in particular, about individualism. Kishi-san noted some behaviors she’s seen on trains that she felt were inappropriate, if not dangerous, such as children running from car to car while the train is moving. When I asked her how she would solve the issue, she believed that putting posters that warned the offenders of the danger would solve the problem. This was curious because other poster I’ve seen in trains appealed to peoples’ sense of shame. “Don’t do this because you’ll embarrass yourself in front of others.” So rather than appeal to a sense of belonging to a bigger picture, Kishi-san felt that directly targeting the offenders would be the most effective. I did not expect that answer.

July 19th: I had an interesting talk with the dorm mother today. I was curious about something I had heard as a child: that in Japan, if someone offers you Ochazuke, or tea and rice, it’s them tell you that it’s time for you to leave. According to my dorm mother, that’s not a thing, at least, not in Tokyo. She had heard of such a practice, but believed that it was likely a Kansai (i.e Kyoto/Osaka area) practice, or something that people mainly do in Southern Japan. She also said that as you go further south, shoyu, or soy sauce, gets darker and sweeter, but gets clearer and saltier as you head north. This is likely because the north has longer winters, so the extra salt preserves food longer. The last rumor I asked her about was the view Kyoto and Tokyo people have of each other. It is said that Kyoto people are insincere and Tokyo people are rude. The dorm mother suggested that it’s because while the Tokyo dialect has spread throughout Japan and the rest of the world (I think in my language class, we learned Tokyo-style Japanese), Kyoto and Osaka have remained relatively the same. Since Kyoto has a richer and older culture than Tokyo, it’s possible that Kyoto people are very proud to be from Kyoto and retain the more traditional views on manners that others find insincere.

The last thing she added is that everyone in Japan likes ochazuke.

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Kannon-in Temple. Built over 300 years ago by Ieyasu Tokugawa’s grandson. The chandelier like thing’s gold stuff is real gold.

 

July 20th: Today was long and a lot of fun. After class ended, I went to a local buddhist temple, the Kannon-in temple, and learned a little about Zen and zen meditation. The head priest (monk?) was very personable and down-to-earth. He was showing us some of the instruments that they use in their prayers, like a large bowl-like drum. He then showed us the larger version, and whipped out a stick with an end the size of his head. We know this because he pointed it out. He taught us Buddhist table manners, which I then proceeded to forget many of when we ate, and then we went to meditate. I’ve never really been any good at meditating, so I can’t tell if it was effective or not, but it was a good experience nonetheless. After a vegetarian dinner (we had to eat everything. I made it somehow), we took some photos and set off some fireworks (the small kind. There were trees around). After the meditation, I tagged along with some people in the dorm and went back to the Karaoke place I went a few weeks ago, and I enjoyed that immensely. There was quite a bit of alcohol involved (I didn’t touch a drop). Somehow, we all made it back safe and sound.

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This bell is rung to announce mealtimes

I was very flattered at the temple. During a break, the head priest looked at me and asked if I was Japanese. I said yes and asked how he knew. He said that my 姿 (sugata), or appearance was very Japanese. Up until now, I thought for sure, people realized I was a foreigner.

Also, I haven’t sat in seiza (kneeling) in years and my ankles were killing me.

Obligatory food pictures

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Chasu don
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Deep Fried Salmon (and vegetables)
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Chocolate chip melon pan
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Chicken Teriyaki and a soft boiled egg. Note my classwork on the side.
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First watermelon of the season
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The UCEAP program had a pizza party for the UC students. Japanese pizza.
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Actual size of Japanese ice cream. And if you think that’s small, you should see the spoon they gave us.

Day 12: July 15, 2018

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Japan’s PSAs

I woke up at around the same time I did yesterday, around 9, slightly congested. I hope I’m not getting sick with anything. At any rate, I didn’t slow me down and I was up and about by 11. Instead of going towards Tokyo like I normally do, instead I went the other direction, towards an area called Kunitachi. There, I met with an old friend of mine, who was also studying abroad, only he was at Hitotsubashi University.

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Hitotsubashi University. Located in a quiet part of Tokyo. The campus is split across the street and reminds me a lot of Berkeley.

He and I have been friends since elementary school, and even though we hadn’t seen each other in almost a year, we talked like nothing had ever happened. He enjoyed Japan immensely and is leaving at the end of the month, so this is the only time I’ll be able to see him while in Japan. He gave me a tour of his dorm and of Hitotsubashi itself, we talked about anime and cracked jokes, just like we used to. Unfortunately, he had papers to write, so after we ate lunch, he parted ways. This was around 3, so I decided to use that remaining time and return, once again, to Akihabara. If you’re getting sick of hearing about it, don’t worry. I won’t be returning there for a while.

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My friend’s dorm. This is just the hall. The room itself was actually quite small

In Akihabara, I did a little more omiyage hunting and I think I’ve gotten omiyage for most of my friends back in Palo Alto and in Davis. There are still a few more things I have to get, but since I’ll be traveling after the program ends, I have plenty of time. Plus, there are more weekends. I got to Akihabara at a weird time. Apparently, on sundays, they close off the main road and people are allowed to freely walk on the street. I don’t know why they do this, but when I got there, the police were taking the guard rails away so cars could drive normally.

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Yodobashi Camera. Think Best Buy on steroids

I came back to the dorm around 10 and watched people play some drinking games for a while. It’s honestly kinda fun to be an outside observer.

Observations

  • It’s only gotten hotter since coming here. I don’t sweat as much from my head as I do my torso. After seeing my friend, I was drenched.
  • In residential areas, there isn’t a sidewalk. At least, not where Hitotsubashi is. Everyone walks on the street
  • Vending machines are lifesavers. I was dying today.

There’s no class tomorrow, so I’m probably just going to spend it working. Till next time

Peter

Obligatory food photos

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Chashu Ramen
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Tonkatsudon

 

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Nishimura Clinic. This was at the train station

Day 11: July 14th, 2018

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This blog post isn’t going to make much sense to people who don’t play the yugioh trading card game, but I’ll do my best to explain what’s going on.

I went back to Akihabara today because I wanted to enter a yugioh tournament. While exploring last time, I had found a place that did them and I wanted to see what Japan yugioh is like. For those who don’t know, think of Asian yugioh and Western yugioh like the American and National leagues of baseball. Same game, slightly different rules. I wandered for a while because I didn’t quite remember where the place was, but I eventually found it. I played 3 rounds, 1 of swiss, and then two of double elimination. This is unusual, even for the store I played at; usually yugioh tournaments are 3+ rounds of swiss. 10 people entered, including myself, and most of them spoke Japanese. And there was me.

The following is what is known as a tournament report. Basically, I’ll be talking about how well I did, what I faced, and what I noticed about each deck. If you aren’t interested in what exactly went down, long story short, I got destroyed every round and got eliminated pretty quickly. But if you want to know what it was like playing in Japan, keep reading. I played phantasm spirals

round 1 0-2: I played against the new thunder dragon invoked deck. Lost the die roll and the man went off. Turn one, he was able to make two superbolt thunder dragons and a summon sorceress. I couldn’t answer that, didn’t get access to my field spell in time and died. In game two, I was able to stall against the invoked part of the deck with skill drain, but then I got harpies feather dustered and lost to superbolt thunder dragon. That card is so much better than I gave it credit for. It didn’t seem hard for him to make multiple copies, and I just couldn’t really answer it. It’s 2600 ATK, so it’s surprisingly hard to kill.

Round 2: Got a bye. Played against a mekk-knight invoked player for fun and won. The link 2 mekk-knight is very helpful. Instead of floodgating him, I kept flipping solemns and that seemed to work at stopping the mekk-knights.

Round 3 1-2: Lost to altergeist in time. Game 1, I won because I had a macro cosmos and he couldn’t do anything. Game 2, I believe I got harpies feather duster’d for 5 cards so that was a blow out. Game 3, I red rebooted an evenly matched and grinded out that game. But I paid too many life points and exhausted all my resources, so I wasn’t able to get the kill. It’s hard trying to play around silquotous and multifaker

 

After the tournament, I chatted a little bit with some Japanese players, one of whom noticed that all my cards are in English, and played a few friendlies. It was a lot of fun. The Japanese players are very nice and fun to play against. They’re very good sports about everything. They even put up with my English cards when they couldn’t necessarily read them.

 

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Some of the local players. The guy in red is actually from Texas.

After eating dinner, I decided to try out this thing I had seen last time: a cat cafe. It was not what I was expecting. I was expecting a starbucks-like interior with cats walking around. It’s all you can drink for 350 yen, but what gets you is the time. It’s 200 yen for 10 minutes and you stay for a while because of all the cats. They’re freely walking around, and everyone’s taking pictures and petting them. The cats are cats; they don’t really care what you do. It was a new experience and I’m glad I went. Plus the cats were very cute

Came back to the dorm around 10, watched some people play a few drinking games, had a nice talk with someone else in the program, saw people trying to help a girl who had gotten stung by some nasty bug; she had run her foot under hot water and half an hour later, it still hurt. I think she ended up ok. I hope so.

 

Obligatory Food Pictures

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Yakiniku rice burger. I like burgers. You know, Mos Burgers
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Fried rice and Kotteri ramen.
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This is what Kotteri ramen is

 

Day 5-10: July 8-13th

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Placings for the next round have been posted

July 8th: I actually did nothing all day. It felt nice to just kick back and relax right before classes started. The most exciting thing I did today was laundry.

July 9th: First day of classes. I got placed into Japanese 5 (there are 7 Japanese levels total). I was actually quite surprised. I was expecting to be placed into Japanese 4, so I was a little nervous going in. There are two senseis teaching the class and they both seem very nice. We have approximately 6 weeks and we’re covering 8 lessons. According to our syllabus, we cover a lesson in two days and then are quizzed on it the day after we finish. Fortunately, some of the material I have seen before. Some of the grammar and kanji I’ve seen while studying Japanese at Davis (I’d like to thank Ito-sensei, Watanabe-sensei, Koyama-sensei, Takeuchi-sensei, and Kamikihara-sensei for helping to prepare me for this). At least for the time being, this is some degree of review, but I might learn new things later in the “quarter.” The senseis also talk kinda fast, so it’s hard to make out their Japanese sometimes. But I also think that it’s going to be fun. Hard, but fun.

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View from the classroom (sideways)

July 10th: Today I learned a little more about ICU and my senseis. Although two senseis teach the class, only one of them is actually from ICU. The other teaches in New York and had to apply like we did to be “enrolled” in the program. She’s a very nice lady, if not a little disorganized, but I enjoy her a lot. There is also a small mound in the quad in front of the main building, or Honkan. They call it Bakayama. During the year, sometimes students go out and nap. Passerbys sometimes call these people idiots (Baka) for napping, hence the name bakayama, or Idiot Mountain. I also met a friend who is knowledgeable about competitive yugioh; I’m happy to have found someone who shares a common interest.

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The Honkan, or main building. This is where my class is

July 11th: Next week we’re starting speeches. For three weeks, we’ll be giving three different speeches (one topic per week). The speeches will be about 1.5 minutes long, which doesn’t sound like much. The first topic is why we chose to study Japanese.

Also, cicadas are really loud.

July 12th: The most exciting thing that happened today was a bug landed on the back of my neck. I don’t exactly know what kind it was, but it was big and looked like a bee. It couldn’t have been one of those Japanese hornets; those are more common in the countryside. I was talking with a few friends outside the cafeteria when one of them noticed the bug on my neck. I actually smacked it, but it didn’t sting me and didn’t seem to want to leave, at least for the time, so that was exciting.

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July 13th: The end of the first week. I don’t know why, but it feels like I’ve been here for a while. In particular, the first week felt very long. But I did do some fun things today. I participated in a study about Japanese pronunciation and perception (e.g the difference between kuru and kuuru, etc.) and got to practice my conversational Japanese. Afterwards, I wanted to try and see the night life in Shibuya, but I ended up going to Shinjuku instead. That place reminds me of New York’s Times Square. There’s a lot going on and a lot of people walking around everywhere. I did have a bit of a scare. I got stuck in Shinjuku Station and couldn’t figure out how to get out. I guess I just missed the exit and tried to change lines without paying. Fortunately, the people working there were very nice and helped me through, even with my limited Japanese. I wasn’t able to stay for too long in Shinjuku, but it was incredible. It’s just one big sensory overload.

It’s not hot in Japan the same way it is in Davis. Davis heat is dry. Japan heat doesn’t get to you until you’re sticky with sweat. That’s when you notice how hot and humid it is

During the weekends, I’ll go back to writing an entry for each day. Since it’s a three day weekend, there will be three posts coming up

See you later

Peter

 

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Welcome to downtown Shinjuku
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Don Don Don, Don-ki. Don-ki-hote
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Oh, this was there too.

Obligatory food photos

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Chicken Curry
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Hamburger Steak and Egg
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Minced Meat Katsu

 

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Deep fried Mackerel
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Chicken Karaage
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Oyako Don
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Pork Belly Don
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Zaru Soba