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Japanese Pop Culture – The continuation to keep updated after Studying Abroad!

I haven’t mentioned it up until this point, but back home in the states, I work for a company that is very closely aligned to Japanese pop culture, music, and fashion; the name of the company is JhouseRock Entertainment (A part of this company or in partnership with this company, I also have worked with House of Anime, Freewill America, and S-inc).  So, in an effort to remain privy with ongoings in Japan, I decided I would continue to post some updates about new and relevant information in this field.  Now, I no longer live in Japan, I’m getting my information from secondary sources, but I hope you still find my posts interesting and knowledgeable to Japanese media and culture.  I have since changed the name of this blog to “Shaylynn went Kansai” to help you understand that everything past my final post, at the end of 2011, is ex post facto of my Japanese Study Abroad experience.

So, let’s begin!

It’s been over a year now since I’ve been back, and I’ve fallen right back into the routine of checking for new updates in Japanese pop culture in regards to popular music trends, fashion, and other forms of media, to keep me up-to-date in what’s popular in Japan.  However, because my job is mostly circled around Japanese pop/rock music, I will go ahead and focus this post around popular music as of recent.

I closely follow the Japanese Oricon, Korean Mnet, and Chinese KKbox music charts to stay updated on music of all spectrums, as these charts are the most reliable sources for popular music trends.  In Japan, it is common to see cross-overs from Korean or Chinese music as popular in Japan, and that’s why they are included.  JpopAsia includes a translated page that shows the top 30 singles from each chart for easier comparison.  If you can’t figure out the original pages, this is a great way to keep in the loop without knowing the language (or knowing the languages fluently enough) to browse their pages.  You can find a hyperlink to JpopAsia’s charts here.

According to the Oricon Chart, recently, in January and early February, groups such One Ok Rock and Dir en Grey (Japanese Rock Sub-culture groups) were actually making good ranking in the charts, but have since dropped off in mid-February.  Despite their drop, I feel it is still somewhat relevant to mention their success since Japanese Rock is often not as prevalent on the charts as much as alternative pop music.  One Ok Rock‘s new Album, entitled “Niche Sydrome”, was actually released in June of 2010, but only recently has singles from this album, such as “Kanzen Kankaku Dreamer” (完全感覚Dreamer) and even previously unreleased singles such as ”Deeper Deeper/Nothing Helps” have been gaining momentum on the charts. This should give you some indication as to the slow popularity build of Jrock groups. Harder bands and indie rock bands rarely ever see the charts, groups such as Alice Nine (アリス九號), Merry (メリ), Radwimps, (ラッドウインプス), D’espairs Ray, and Girugamesh (ギルガメッシュ). These groups are primarily the subculture that we, at the company I work and volunteer for, try to promote. Some of these groups are even more popular in America; even while though they have a particularly strong, loyal fan-base in Japan, they are among a minority.


For the One Ok Rock - "Deeper Deeper/Nothing Helps" music video, click the picture!


For the Radwimp's - "狭心症" music video, click the picture!

However, we follow and promote more popular groups as well at the company. Not all Japanese either, but popular within the Japanese charts, or that are involved in popular Japanese media.

If you follow the charts, you very well may know that the charts have been receiving a lot of Korean Pop in the ranks.  Korean pop has become so pervasive with groups, such as TVXQ (Tong Vfang Xing Qi –  東方神起 – Known as DBSK or Tohoshinki in Japan), Girls’ GenerationSuper Junior, and Big Bang regular having hits that find high praise within Japan.  In fact, South Korea has been on such a huge pop kick, they’ve actually managed to break into American pop culture with PSY‘s single hit, “Gangnam Style” (강남스타일), featuring HyunA from Korean pop girl group, 4Minute.


For the PSY - "Gangnam Style" music video, click the picture!


For the 4minute - "Volume Up" music video, click the picture

What generally tops the Oricon charts, however, are pop groups and idols. New this week, and currently at the top of the charts is KAT-TUN, the equivalent of an American boy band. Many of the pop groups that frequent the board also include stars of popular Japanese television dramas and/or movies or do the music for said shows and/or movies. The same goes for the Korean and Chinese pop groups which are often featured in dramas within their own respective countries in some form or fashion. KAT-TUN‘s most well known member is probably that of Kazuya Kamenashi (亀梨 和也), who has appeared in popular dramas such as Nobuta wa Produce (野ブタ。をプロデュース) and Gokusen (ごくせん). Some of the pop groups that are like KAT-TUN in Japanese pop, that appear frequently in the chart ranks, are AKB48, NEWS, and L’arc en Ciel. In addition to this, many of these groups’ songs are featured in advertisements, trailers, and Japanese Animation (a common television media in Japan). These groups feature so many talented members that they often feature sub-groups (featuring one or more members), alternate groups (featuring different members from various different groups), or solo projects. In addition, we also see Japanese pop idols such as Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ), Namie Amuro (安室 奈美恵) and Utada Hikaru (宇多田 ヒカル) who become well known icons within Japanese pop culture. The aforementioned idols, in particular, do not often star in television, but do music for some of the most popular selling media franchises coming out of Japan; especially Utada, who was the voice behind main themes for the Kingdom Hearts video game series (A popular video game series even among American gamers).


For the KAT-TUN - "Expose" music video, click the picture!


For Utada Hikaru's - "Passion" music video, click the picture!

I would like to go more in depth into the Japanese music world, but I feel that this is a fair introduction to trends in Japanese music (and Asian music in general).  I hope that you enjoyed this brief introduction, and perhaps in my next post I will include more about Japan’s music trends, or perhaps we can discuss more about the fashion that goes along with these groups.

Changing Opinions – December 9th 2011

During my stay in Japan, I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to find.  I didn’t really want to have expectations to meet, just take opportunities as they came along.  Didn’t come with too much to ask for I thought.  Just some interesting experiences and to reexperience Japan in a way I hadn’t before.  I’d say this experience was something completely different then when I came here in 2005.  Not only has the scenery changed, but the situation as well.  I know a lot more Japanese than I used to know thanks to my continuation of Japanese studies.  I know a lot more of the area in Japan because of my travels.  I know a lot more Japanese people than I used to know.  In fact, I know a lot more of my international community of peers thanks to Kansai Gaidai and my home university, University of South Florida.  So, all in all, I felt like I knew a lot more coming into it this time, and I was able to learn a lot more this time.  I don’t know whether that’s due to the length of time I spent here, or the people I spent the time with, but it seemed to have well-benefited me either way.

One of my opinions that have changed is being a minority.  Just because you can’t tell who is foreign around you, doesn’t mean you are the only foreigner around.  So I have green eyes and brown hair, and most of my fellow Kansai Gaidai peers would have to same problem as me.  Looking like we definitely aren’t from around here.  But to tell you the truth, I met a lot of foreign people who look closer to Japanese, but still are not.  For example, many of the friends I kept in my company were Korean.  A couple of my other friends, were half-Japanese and half-something-else.

So who here is foreign? Well... All of us actually.

As this goes to show, it’s harder to just tell who is who just by looking at them.  I don’t feel so out of place in places like Osaka or Tokyo anymore.  I feel like anybody else.  I’m either lost and looking around, or confident and able to find my way about with ease.  It’s not feeling out of place in the crowd though.  However, I will admit, I was in a smaller city last time and 6 years is also a long time.  Things may have changed among the Japanese, I’m sure.  I can’t really tell.  The feeling is very different having come back after so long to live in such a large city.

Another thing is school.  Not so much that it’s different from what I expected…  Well partly so.  So Japanese language classes, with punishment tactics rather than rewarding, followed by American lectures in the evening.  It felt kind of backwards.  I was also suprised with the schedules being so much to accomodate both Americans, other foreigners, and still try to navigate through the onslaught of Japanese holidays as well.  The school schedule has been anything but easy to try and figure out.  Especially during the exam times.  During midterm’s week, I missed one of my exams cause I thought it was at the normal class time, and then I had to take it afterward at the teacher’s office.  Talk about confusing.

Halloween event at Kansai Gaidai.

I was also finally able to formulate an opinion about Tokyo, since I had never been before this trip.  It’s definitely different, but so is everywhere else in Japan to a foreigner like me.  However, after living in Osaka, I do see the tremendous weirdness that is Tokyo.  There are also a lot of gaikoukujin (foreigners) wandering about the major tourist attractions.  I’m glad I did it though.  I figure there’s still much of Tokyo left to uncover.

Meeting up with classmates in Tokyo, Korea Town.

Shibuya streets on a crowded weekend.

I’ve had many ups and many downs this semester.  It’s hard to go through everything I’ve done and everything that’s changed me, but I will say my experiences shaped my views.  That’s part of but not limited to school life, classes, trips, events, and social connections.  I leave next week for America.  I hope that when I come back, I’ll see a whole new side of Japan all over again.

My friends and I are spelling "Kansai Gaidai" with ourselves.

Venturing on to Tokyo – December 2nd 2011

So last weekend a group of friends, including myself, decided to make a plan and head out to the most well-known and famous place in Japan.  We went to Tokyo.  It ended up that we split up into two different groups who went on different days and did different things while meeting up inbetween, since some of us didn’t want to miss school, and others didn’t care.  Yet, I feel like I got to see a fair portion of things that I wanted to see while I was there.

So my friend and I ended up taking a night bus from Kyoto to Shibuya.  It was fairly nice accomadations for the trip there, and it was an all-female bus.  I’m not going to lie…  In comparison to our bus which we later came back on, which wasn’t an all females’ bus, it was a tad bit more comfortable.

We slept on the bus, and when we got into Shibuya it was still quite early, so we waited around in Mcdonald’s for awhile, had some breakfast, got ready for the day in a Mcdonald’s bathroom near the train station.

The first day we got there, we went to the Ghibli Musuem.  This place is amazing looking from the outside alone and always teeming with people.  If you want to go see the historical compliation of Hayao Miyazaki’s fantastical masterpieces, such as artwork from Mononoke Hime -Princess Mononoke-, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro, this is a great place to check out while in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, you can’t just hop on the amazing Ghibli musuem bus that goes between the station and the museum and is decorated with Miyazaki characters, you have to make sure you purchase a ticket online (to be picked up at a local Lawson’s) before the day you plan to go.  They even make you choose a time slot.  To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s so terribly specific.  If you aren’t there 30 mins after your appointed time, you apparantly lose your spot.  Not to mention, I’ve had plenty of friends who’ve said they’ve traveled all the way down there, without having bought tickets in advance, hoping to get in but simply couldn’t.  Luckily, this advice helped a lot.

The outside of the Ghibli Musuem

Out back of the musuem you can really see all the structures you can travel between.

So, we were able to get an early time slot and head over there.  The place is stunning and hard to describe every detail of what goes on in there.  So I will go ahead and say check it out yourself.  There’s way too much to do in this building, from interactive art pieces to Miyazaki film shorts.  I couldn’t take pictures inside the actual musuem, but outside we were able to grab a few with the famous Raputa.  From the pictures you can also see the highly decorative manner of the musuem building.  They also have a wonderful musuem store with all kinds of wonderful Ghibli treasures you can get as gifts for friends and family, and possibly yourself.  Being a fan of Princess Mononoke, I had to pick up one of the cute little bobbling Kadama keychains they had on sale there.

The stairway to Raputa.


After that we took the train to Harajuku and did some shopping like only two girls could shop.  We went down Cat’s Street, according to my friend and tour guide of the area, and found some lovely shops, including one I work with in the states, called h.naoto.  It’s simply the name of the head designer, but it’s high-fashion gothic Japanese; like that which would be associated with Visual Kei, but has also designed for famous groups in America such as Amy Lee of Evanescence.  They’ve worked closely with famous Japanese groups as well, including the famous song writer and producer Yoshiki, former bandmate in X-Japan.  The store was also next to a Putumayo store, which is another clothing store that deals more in Lolita.

h.naoto+ and Putumayo

We went to Shibuya after that and met up with the rest of the group who had arrived a couple days prior to us.  We hung out in a Starbucks for awhile, from which we could see the famous Shibuya crosswalk quite well.

Shibuya crosswalk from Starbucks/Tsutaya 2nd floor

After we got organized, we hit up an Izakaya for dinner, and drinks since there’s no choice in the matter at Izakaya.  The guys, whom we had met up with, told us about their adventures to the largest fish market in the world, and Akihabara to get panties from a vending machine.  Ah, so that’s also a reason we think we were better off traveling without the boys.  Just kidding, boys.  No, but really.

So we headed back after that, met my friend Midori’s friend, whom which we were staying with in Shibuya.  His place was nice; an apartment on the 14th floor overlooking all of the Shibuya area.  Very lovely.  He spoke all Japanese though.  So I wasn’t exactly able to communicate efficiently, just partially.

The next day we decided to go to Yokohama and check out Midori’s friends’ hockey game.  All of her old friends were there, and I got to meet them.  It was a pretty successful game as well.  Their friends’ team won against the other group, and one of them even got MVP for their fantastic display out on the ice.

Midori's hockey playing friends!

The two teams making a vanilla/blueberry slushie on the ice.

We decided to go straight to Ueno from Yokohama.  It was quite a lot of traveling by train as Yokohama is the prefecture beside Tokyo.  If you know what’s Ueno is famous for, you would know exactly where we were headed.  Tokyo Tower.  This amazing structure is one of the most famous in Tokyo, and well-known to gaikoukujin (foreigners) as well.

Tokyo Tower from the underneath.

From the top of the tower, you can see all of Tokyo, and you can even pinpoint a few other things, such as the famous Rainbow Bridge.  The tower has a lot of interesting stuff on the various floors you can check out.  Different shows seem to come and go.  They had some interesting exhibits set up on the lower floors.  We didn’t go to the special observation deck at the very top, as it is an additional amount, but it’s definitely something you can check out.

Through the Tokyo Tower looking glass.

The last day of our trip, we decided to visit Akihabara.  The boys made it sound like so much fun.  However, our plan wasn’t to collect strange panties from a vending machine.  I wanted to look at all the crazy Otaku things they had in the area.  I have many friends who are, themselves, in some form or fashion, a fan of anime.  Whether they are an outright crazed otaku or not has yet to be completely assessed, but otaku are fans who are obsessed with the stuff.  I was a bit of a fan of the older stuff… I know nothing about anime these days, but it was nice to see some familiar things like… Gundam (to which there was a whole cafe dedicated to), and Evangelion (which seems to have gained a couple strange new characters since when I had been familiar with it).

From Evangelion, an old anime. See that new girl in pink.... Who the heck is she?

Mostly I was on a mission to get some omiyage (gifts) for people, including my boyfriend’s little sister who likes a bunch of animes I wasn’t even sure what the heck they were about.  But I just grabbed some neat looking stuff for her.

The other thing I loved about about Akihabara was that, they actually close of the streets for a bit during late sunday hours.  So people litter the huge streets.  It was quite fun.  Definitely worthwhile, especially if you enjoy anime, videogames (of which I do), and other such hobbies.  There are a couple of other shops around too, for the average person, you just have to find them between all the brightly lit otaku shops.

People-filled streets of Akihabara

That night we headed to Shinjuku and caught the bus back home.  The lesser of the buses.  When we arrived back, I was exhausted.  But I ended up dropping everything at the dorms and going straight to school.  Night busses are really convenient for letting you not miss classes.

So that’s my experience of Tokyo in a nutshell.  We did a lot more than that… But to explain everything would take much longer.  If you get a chance, go be a tourist and make plans to visit Tokyo.

Infes2011 at Kansai Gaidai – November 25th 2011

There are often events at school which students participate in from time to time.  Few of them seem to really affect the natural flow of campus life.  Mostly the events happen on weekends, so I personally haven’t been to many.  However, the Infes (International Festival) happened on campus during school days (and one holiday) seemed to be different.  Also, their were many requests to participate at the booths.  Many groups who were putting booths together or performances for people to enjoy during the festival were talking with people on campus, trying with all their might to get the international students involved.

I hadn’t realized how big this thing really was until the day of, when auto bikes filled up parking lots to the brim, where they were usually abandoned of anything whatsoever.  Bikes were even more littered about the bike parking lots on campus so much that it was a real hassle if you had a later class.  Trying to find a spot to set your bike would be close to impossible, next to shoving it in whatever small space you could find.

The first day of the festival was actually a holiday for students,  I believe all students.  Yet the campus was still full.  I was there not just because it seemed interesting, but because I had been roped in by one of the booths that sounded very interesting and up my alley.  I volunteered for the fashion show.  The idea was that we would make an outfit that combined two different countries.  Mostly it was one ryuugakusei (foreign student) to every nihonjin (Japanese).  So that meant I had to combine America style and Japanese.  What I came up with was a 1920s flapper look and gyaru style.  My partner wanted American pop idol and geisha.  So we decided to do both of our ideas in one and came up with something that trancended borders and time.  It looked quite nice I think.  At least it was fun.

Infes2011 Fashion Show Team


My partner and I's Flapper, Gyaru, Pop Idol, Geisha get-up.



At the festival there were tons of events just like the fashion show.  There was a singing group, a kpop dance group, to just name a few.  Even popular performers showed up for the campus festival.  For example, a couple friends went to go see the performer Shimizu Shota.  Apparantly, he’s a well-known J-R&B artist.  I also heard that some comedians came to the event.  On top of events, there were lots of different booths, selling different things.  However, they were mostly they a tons of food booths.  All kind of delicious foods like Yakisoba, Karaage, and many others.  The big star of the festival, in terms of food, was Tempura Ice (Fried Ice cream).  This delicious morsel was a soft bun with lava ice cream inside.  They had a really great set-up with the number waiting system, and a great looking booth.  They were all dressed up too.  A majority of them looked like they were trying to imitate, “Where is Waldo?”  Find the Waldos at Infes2011, get a delicious tempura ice.

Tempura Ice

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there until later in the 2nd day, because even though I went to school, I ended up having a field trip to a Japanese prison for my Peace class.  But I heard that most of the actual student derived events had gone on the first day, during the holiday.  Regardless.  This little festival was one of the best things I’ve seen happen on campus this semester, and I’m really happy I was able to be a part of it.  If you get a chance to come to Kansai Gaidai, definitely take your time to participate in the International Festival.

A visit to Kobe – November 8th 2011

Very recently, I was able to visit Kobe.  The plan originally came as an idea to go visit Kobe with a friend from the seminar houses that has a father who lives there.  Soon enough though, it seemed as though many people were very interested in going to Kobe.  I’m glad that I was able to jump on board for this adventure.

While I couldn’t tell you exactly how to get there if I tried, as even the people I was with were a tad bit confused from time to time.  We first headed toward Osaka before eventually making our way toward Kobe.  The ride to Kobe is not to bad, but it is still a distance.  This is something to consider if traveling to Kobe.  It is not a next door neighbor to Osaka in the same way that Hirakata is.  When arriving to visit the area we went to, you can get off at either the station at Sannomiya or the Kobe Station itself.  We stopped at Sannomiya.

From this large Eki, you can travel to several interesting locations in Kobe.  Most main attractions are within walking distance.  Though considered I was a little dismayed by the mountainous terrain.  It’s large hills makes the walks a bit more difficult, so that might be something you want to keep in mind if visiting.  The first location we ended up heading toward was Europe Town.

The mountain going up To Europe Town.

They call this place Europe Town because the shops and other local architecture resembles that of Europe.  It felt almost like a heritage collection though, in all honesty.  There were many buildings, including a starbucks, that looked very European.


The Euro heritage style Starbucks.


As we came into the area, I wanted to rename the area.  Because instead of being completely overtly European like I had expected it to be, it was more like a wedding town.  Very beautiful locations though for getting married.  The streets seemed to be lined with places to reserve your wedding at, wedding dress boutiques, and more.  Further down the road, another area that lead up some stairs, headed toward a very beatiful area with a Japanese Shrine.  I don’t believe I ever heard a name, but it’s very obvious when you come upon this place.  The stairway looks like it’s never ending going up into the trees, and up through the mountainous terrain.


The stairway to Ten.


We climbed to the top of the shrine, we you could see the whole area from very nicely.


The city from the top of the shrine.

On a route past the shrine, there was a small very Rococoesque feeling area where a monkey was performing for a crowd of tourist, painters sat on the side near the trees and buildings with work on sale near the show, statues of men near fountains playing instruments like trumpets seem to pop up from time to time, and there was a very notable German house on the side that seemed to be a museum that you could enter and look around in for a small cost.

After leaving Europe Town, we headed back to Sannomiya Eki, to meet up with some more friends.  There were quite a few people dressed up around the area by the time we got back.  It was close to Halloween, so many people were probably heading to Halloween Party destinations.  Once we met up with our friends at the station, we headed back out.

We walked through the street market, which seemed smaller than other street markets I’ve seen, but very wide.  The stores we very interesting.  There were quite a lot of clothing stores which had different styles than the Osaka area.  Not terribly different, but enough to note on and might I say was a bit refreshing.  I did a little winter shopping myself as it had been getting colder recently.

We were on a mission though, we were headed toward the harbour in Kobe.  It was quite a walk, though we did stop to eat dinner in between, which took twice as long as there were too many of us and nobody could decide on food, so we ended up splitting up for a good hour or so.  After which we continued on our path.  We eventually reached a place called Mosaic, which is apparantly an entertainment area with food and other such shops.  However, what caught our attention was the arcade.  After playing, “How many people can you stuff in a Purikura booth?”, we got sucked into the games for another good half an hour or so.

But when we finished, we finally got captured by the beautiful lights of the harbour at night.  There we all kinds of lights glowing in the distance.  We stopped there for a long while to take photos and taking in the cool harbour breeze.

We took pictures from the edge of the Harbour.

When we went back, we went through Harbourland, another area with shops and such, which probably would have been more lively if not for the fact that everything seemed to be closing down.  But they had a marvelous light decoration inside, as well as some other interesting things to look at regardless of if any of the shops were still open.

We decided to head toward the other station in Kobe since it was, by then, far closer.  So we headed to Kobe Eki to head back.  The area we went through seemed almost maze like, but it was really neat.  I’m not sure even how to describe it.  If you get a chance, you should definitely take a gander at Kobe if you visit Japan.  There is, of course, even more to Kobe that we weren’t able to check out, such as China Town, but maybe next time.  I highly reccomend a visit to Kobe it to anyone and everyone.

Exploring the Keihan Train Line. Next stop, Chuushojima – October 21st 2011

For this blog post, we were required to study the local public transportation system. Specifically the Keihan Train Line. Each person got separate train stations along the line. The train station I was in charge of investigating was Chuushojima Eki (Train station). On the Keihan Line you can go either toward Osaka or toward Kyoto. Chuushojima is in the direction of Kyoto.

The billboard displaying the station's name.

I guessed when picking what line I would do, since I didn’t know but a couple of stops along the Keihan Line. Most of the lines I have gotten to know are in the direction of Osaka, so it was really refreshing and nice to be able to visit Kyoto’s side. I was surprised that the Eki I chose was luckily a very interesting place. I found out when I was on the way that it was actually one of the bigger stops along the Keihan Line, where most train cars stop (all the way from express to all local stops). The train station itself is quite quaint though; almost as though it’s mostly just a port for people to change trains at, maybe go back a stop or forward to local stops.

The Chuushojima area is closely knit with the Fushimi area. The two are practically one and the same. After hearing a little bit about the train station from the guides in the Chuushojima Eki office area, we set out and after walking a distance arrived in Fushimi. The area was quite interesting. The place we stopped to look around at specifically was a river next to a temple. The river was very long, and roof boats seemed to be taking people on tours down along it. On an informational guide to Chuushojima, given to us by the train station workers, we saw that there were many light events set-up along the river at night at various times throughout the year. I believe my friend told me that there had been one just a couple months ago in August. From the pictures in the guide, these night light tours look to be dazzling. In the spring, there are also Cherry Blossom trees that bloom along the banks of the river which make for a completely different setting for the boat tour.

One of the many roof boats that give tours up the river.

The temple we stopped in at was called Choken-ji Temple. It is a lovely place. Most of the temple seemed to be inactive at that time. I don’t know whether to the time of day, or the time of year, or just that stuff only goes on at certain times or festivals, but they didn’t have a main area where you could throw money and ask for wishes. I later learned that this temple is apparently dedicated to Benzaiten, the goddess of beauty and arts. She is the only female deity among the Japanese gods of good fortune, and closely related to the Hindu god, Sarasvati.

Sayaka praying at the temple center.

After looking around in the temple, we looked at a map to get a quick idea of the area. Apparantly if you cross the tiny Benten Bridge and head further into the area, you find that Fushima is littered with Sake houses. Since Kyoto is apparently the sake capitol of Japan, Fushima holds this up by featuring sake warehouses where sake is made and contained. There’s many shops that sell sake around the area to visit if you want to take the time to bar hop Japanese style.

There was actually a lot of interesting points about Chuushojima/Fushima, but since this post is already getting long, I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest and take some time out to visit this wonderful spot in Japan.

Sources and additional information in regards to Chuushojima/Fushima area: http://www.kyotoguide.com/ver2/walking/walking-fushimi-.htm

Portrait of a Japanese Person – October 7th, 2011

Portrait of a Japanese Person


Mukashi, mukashi…. There was a Saki.
Actually Saki hasn’t been around all that long.

Saki Uchimura

Meet Saki Uchimura.  Saki is a 19 year old college student at Kansai Gaidai University.  Right now, she’s living at the international dorms and has been making many new foreign friends.  By foreign, I mean us.  Saki has an interesting persona to uncover.  On the outside she looks like a typical cutesy little Japanese girl.  She has curls in her hair and wears flattering outfits, mainly with skirts and heels.  Like the stereotype of young Japanese girls nowadays, on the outside she seems to care a lot about being charming, pleasant, and pretty.  However, once you get to know Saki, you know she’s able to let herself have a good time.  She enjoys interacting with people.  She cares a lot about what they have to say, and she really listens.  While adorable in her own way, she also envies those who surround her.


Saki always tells me my eyes are "mecha kirei".


While we were out talking about doing a portrait of her, I got to understand a little bit more about her and her personality.  There are some things that are part of her upbringing as Japanese, but there are other influences there as well.  I noticed something about her Japanese influence almost instantly as she started raising the “peace” sign in every picture, which is very typical for your average Japanese girl while being caught on film.  When I mentioned it to her, and her friend Shoko, her solution was not to simply put her hand down, but rather lay upon her arms so that her desire to flash the two little fingers to the camera was able to be kept in check.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of two Japanese girls laying on a table top with their heads covering their arms in a desperate attempt to stop the act that felt all too natural.  Not that Americans don’t occasionally give a “peace” sign, but it’s so much more common here.


Talking to the girls about the "peace" sign, illicits a strange new response.

We all went to a resturant that night, to grab some grub, and I asked what she enjoyed eating.  She declared wholeheartedly, “I like sweets!” to which she later proceeded to prove to me by ordering herself a large chocolate parfait to eat all by herself, followed by a syrupy ice-cream waffle cake to share with her friend, Shoko.  I, not being a real big fan of sweets, observed curiously as she scoffed down the super decked out treats.  Sweets might be universal, but Japan sure has a lot of choices at resturants.  They sometimes have pages of cakes, parfaits, cakes, waffles, cakes, and other likely culprits.  Sometimes they have models of their treats out in the windows, as is common practice for Japanese resturants to give visual food samples.  It’s probably just a ploy to lure sweet-lovers such as Saki into them.  However, I have seen a few foreigners fall prey to these eye-catching temptations.  I might be included when it comes to the case of Japanese Ebi Gratin.


Saki tearing up some sweets.

Saki and Shoko also took me over to Don Quijote (Donki) store, where we were quickly greeted with the spirit of Halloween being right around the corner.  I asked the girls what they wanted to be, to which neither had an answer.  Saki had told me before that she wasn’t a fan of horror, so I assume that means her costume will more-than-likely be something terribly cute.  While we were there, she got some essentials she might need.  A bag of some sort of snack food, a milk carton, and some chocolate treats.


On top of that night’s excursions, we have hung out quite regularly since the beginning of my arrival in August.  She has helped me a lot since then.  She’s even helped dye my hair for me.  Out of the many Japanese people I have gotten to know while here, it is good to have Saki as company.  She tends to be a bit more on the quiet side.  However, when she gets to know you, she becomes more outgoing.  This reminds me a lot of my own personality.  She seems to be very dedicated not only to her social life, but also to her school life.  She is somewhat modest at times, but also a tad bit different because of her interest in Western Culture.  She’s not the most rebellious-looking Japanese person I’ve met, but she does have a unique style and personality.  I hope that eventually I will know more about her, and we will be able to stay friends when I return to America.


Shay, Shoko, and Saki. We a band of "S".

My Neighborhood, Hirakata – September 30th 2011

My Neighborhood, Hirakata

My neighborhood of Hirakata isn’t solely based on the places that reside within it. It’s based on everything I know of Japan; my memories, my perceptions, my ideas, the people I see, whether they are from Hirakata or not, and how people treat me because of who I am. Generally, Hirakata is somewhat small in and of itself. There are many places still left unexplored. There are places we generally go from time to time: like school, a few resturants, and Hirakata-shi Eki (The train station). However, it is also because of the communities that I belong to, that shape my version of the neighborhood in my mind.

Perspective of an American within a Japanese neighborhood.

I belong to an international community, and I’m a gakusei (student) at Kansai Gaidai University. The people within this community define my experience within this institution. I feel there is a forced since of unity, between myself and the people here. It’s as though because we are a minority within this place and that we stick together to try and figure it out. There are Japanese, Koreans, Americans, Dutch, Australians, and many other types of people. My perception is that Hirakata, while still Japanese, features a variant community. The ideas of how to be, the reaction, and what to do has evolved from people from everywhere in the world.


People from our multinational gang of lost misfits.

Still Hirakata-shi is the place that hosts our institution and puts up with our presence. However, what I feel they probably think of us is based on their strict rules, and signs giving us clues on how to act and be.  That means it is just that; tolerance not acceptance. While that’s fine, it means we are outsiders and there’s no way we could perceive their rules because we never grew up with them. My perception is that they are strict, but it’s because they follow a very collectivist set of rules.  So when one person in the community doesn’t abide by them, the structure crumbles.  While we are living here, we have to try to understand that if we don’t follow the rules, we could be causing others trouble and to the Japanese, that makes those who we represent look bad.  In a way, we are saving face for our school back in the U.S., for Kansai Gaidai, and our seminar houses.  This can result from the simplest idea of throwing away trash in the proper recepticals (of which there are many for different types of things) to not being obnoxiously loud after 10pm.  However, that doesn’t mean we fully follow the rules to their fullest… We just learn to get around them better to save them and ourselves.  Which is probably what they half expect of us based on the idea that they have about us.

Japanese community near Hirakata-shi Eki


However, Hirakata itself, the city we are a part of, is part of a larger community.  It’s part of the Osaka and also the Kansai region.  So the people within it, are a different culture within Japan themselves.  They speak Kansai/Osaka-ben (a different accent with different slang words) and act differently from those who come from other areas of Japan.  They are a subculture of their own design.  So we also are learning and understanding from the Kansai point-of-view.  The way we look at things within Hirakata is based on their culture within Japan.  In a way we are molded by these ideas and the Japanese people we hang out with.

We also are being molded by Japan itself and the we people perceive us.  We have this idea that we are outsiders because it’s how they think of us.  We aren’t expected to fully grasp the Japanese concept.  Some may even believe we never can; that we are not meant to understand.  So we have this tourist mentality.  We are somewhat children in their eyes and treated as such by some of them, sometimes based on our language skills alone.  We don’t always understand the concept.  Sometimes things go right over our head, and we completely miss an idea.  However, what we do understand is how to adapt.  We understand that things are very close or very far in Japan, we understand things like the transportation system and how important it is to getting various places in Japan.  We also understand that a bicycle is very common place and one of our most important tools to get by.  Many Japanese use this to go to school, work, even the grocery store.  Even through the difficulties of riding with an umbrella in the rain, or finding a way up a gigantic hill (Like the one right by Hirakata-shi Eki).  So some concepts come to us because of what we see or hear about from our Japanese friends, and it helps us understand the company we keep.


The shortcut past the hill to Hirakata-shi Eki is a shorter yet steeper hill.

All in all, my neighborhood of Hirakata can not simply be described in one way.  It is built upon my ideas, not just the buildings or people within it, and not solely on Hirakata itself but Hirakata in comparison to other places.  I hope that you understand what I mean by this.

More of the people who mold my perspective on Hirakata and Japan.


First Impressions of Japan – Sept. 17th 2011

Blog 1/ September 17th 2011 – First Impressions of Japan

Coming back to Japan is a heart wrenching event for me, as it has been nearly six years since I last studied in Japan.  Japan hasn’t changed too much from what I can tell.  People still speak to me in such a quick and colloquial manner that I can’t quite follow every single word they say.  Sometimes, if I listen really hard, I might be able to follow the idea.  The whole place still feels like Japan with the way signs filled with kanji characters and the okurigana that follow them are littered around the area, making it impossible for me to understand where to go just to pick up my luggage after coming off the terminal.  I’ve come to know so much about this place, yet I still have no idea how to function here regularly.

Not that I entirely want to.  Sure this place is interesting, but I’m more interested in the people.  The idea about their culture from my perspective, and the ability to compare and contrast as such.  I’m not here to become them, I’m here to study them.

Still, being back made me nervous at first.  This was going to be my home for nearly four months.  It’s the longest trip away from my own country I have ever taken, and I was doing it by myself.  I already knew it would be so long until I would become totally settled that, by the time I would finally get comfortable, I would probably be close to packing it back up again and heading back to my real home.  It’s been quite an effort so far.

Some of the essentials I knew before coming and some I simply wasn’t expecting at all.  I knew my cell wouldn’t work, and I would need a new one here in Japan.  The school made it easy to get set-up with one.  However, I was pleasantly suprised to find that we could use our phones to email our texts anywhere…. Even America.  Since the Japanese use an email address to send texts to one another, it was easy to have your friends back home text your email address so you can save their information.  It’s a simple enough concept.  Wonder why the folks back home don’t use it.

Ontop of that I knew I would need a bicycle, one of the most common forms of transportation here.  Since I live so close to the school, it’s the most conveniant and possibly the cheapest way to get around.

Exploring was the first thing on my list of things to do.  Since there was little help from the RAs on visual presentation of Hirakata, we had to mostly take this upon ourselves to locate where most things were.  In fact, one of the only things they showed us of their own volition was the grocery store.  Well at least now I know they want us to eat.  However, getting to school was up to you to uncover.  I guess they figured you probably won’t even be there half the time since your foreign and out exploring.  Well… Maybe.  But I still want to get credit for being here, and I am here to learn.  The evasive route they took with us on showing us a path to school caused quite a commotion for myself and my roommate the first day of orientation week.  We ended up getting an RA to tell us which bus to take and where to get off.  From then on it got a lot easier to find school and, once you get a bike, the area becomes easy to remember.  You just go out a little further everyday.

The train station near our school.

However, the first actual day we got here, we didn’t even spend exploring Hirakata-shi.  We met a guy who had been here the previous semester, hopped a train with a group of people, and headed into the heart of Osaka.  Shinsaibashi was the place we took the subway to once we got in the area.  We walked the Shinsaibashi-suji street market, visited Big Step in Ame-mura (America Town), and had some Takoyaki on the popular food-filled street just beyond the famous “Glico” man bridge, for lack of better knowledge of it’s name.  To be honest, Shinsaibashi is one of the only places in Osaka I came to on my last trip to Japan, but the place had changed so much in six years that it felt like an entirely new experience.  Stores I had known had been replaced more or less, but some famous markers of the area had remained the same.  Still, it was a very nice first step back into Japanese modern culture.  With it came a sence that I had indeed returned.

Takoyaki stop on the food-filled street near Shinsaibashi-suji

The orientation week that followed our trip was very informative and got us all set-up for living and going to school here at Kansai Gaidai University.  In fact, I’ve done so much already I can’t completely describe it in good detail without going into a lengthy detailed post.  But what I will say is… There’s no shortage of interesting things to do in Osaka.  Maybe some of my thoughts about this place have changed, but I’m still on route to see where it’ll take me and what new ideas I will form about the place, as well as the people who live in it.  As I meet more people everyday who live in Japan, I learn more about what it’s like for them from their perspective.  I hope I can write more about it sometime soon.

Sayaka talked with us about the dreaded College Placement Test