Monday, November 27, 2006

Late night studying....

There are no 7-11's in Japan.

There are 7-i holding's, but those just sound funny. Same company and all, but doesn't do it for me. So late night studying can't consist of taking 4:00 am trips to get YooHoo and chips with Erv, Andrew, or Mark. But I guess their absence (and the fact that there's only a Family Mart within walking distance) makes that impossible anyway.

When I need to study late into the night here, I go to Johnathan's (basically a Friendly's/Denny's substitute). It's open 24 hours a day, is a 15 minute walk from home, and has a great deal- all you can drink coffee/tea/soda/juice for Yen400 (about $3.50 or so). Of coure, this invariably ends up with me studying successfully, but always regretting the idea of "getting the zen for my yen" by drinking enough coffee to fill a salaryman's quota. That being said, it's a nice setup.

I'm about to go to sleep. I just finished memorizing 40 or so Japanese terms, all of which look strikingly similar (try dismantling separate meanings from seiri, seida, seiru, zaibatsu, zairen, saikin, blah, bleh, and blooh) and have similar meanings (orderliness in the workplace, cleanliness of the desk, meaningless of this management technique, pointlessness of that economic theory) for my Japanese Management midterm tomorrow.

One thing I do want to say (besides the stuff I already mentioned) about Johnathan's is that there's a great song they play every 10 minutes or so. Most of its in Japanese, but spontaneously the singers break out in the following English chorus:

Lalala, we're gonna have a hardy party toniiiight,
Yea we're gonna have a hardy party toniiiight,
A hardy paaaaarty,
Yea a hardy paaaaarty,
A hardy paaaaarty,
You heard right a hardy paaaarty.
All right?

It amuses me.

That is all.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Royal Imperial Highness Princess Takamado Hisa

Yesterday I gave a speech to 800 people, including the President of the Yomiuri Shimbun, various ambassadors, different corporate leaders, Lady Fry of England and, most importantly, Princess Takamado Hisa of the Imperial Royal Family.

For any interested parties, the following is a picture of the Princess. The next graphic details her relation within the Imperial Family. For more information, refer to this link.

Imperial House of Japan
HIM The Emperor
HIM The Empress
HIH The Crown Prince
HIH The Crown Princess
HIH Princess Toshi
HIH Prince Akishino
HIH Princess Akishino
HIH Princess Mako
HIH Princess Kako
HIH Prince Hisahito
HIH Prince Hitachi
HIH Princess Hitachi
HIH Prince Mikasa
HIH Princess Mikasa
HIH Prince Tomohito of Mikasa
HIH Princess Tomohito of Mikasa
HIH Princess Akiko
HIH Princess Yohko
HIH Prince Katsura
HIH Princess Takamado
HIH Princess Tsuguko
HIH Princess Noriko
HIH Princess Ayako

Until arriving at The Imperial Hotel's Peacock Room, I hadn't the slightest idea of neither the size or reason for this event. I soon found out when I entered the ballroom to find huge flags (both Japan and U.S.), white-gloved servers, chandaliers, and lots and lots of table settings. I also discovered the purpose- to award the 3 chosen winners of the annual H.I.H. Prince Takamado Trophy All Japan Inter-Middle School English Oratorical Contest (really, thats the name)!

Many students from all over Japan participated, and there are three winners who get scholarships to high schools. This basically decides the rest of their professional lives, because what high school you go to
determines which college you can go to, which in turn determines which company you can work for! If you don't go to one of the top 5 or 7 universities (Todai, Waseda, Keio, Nanzan, Sophia, et...) you will most likely not get the chance to work for Nintendo, Sony, Mitsubishi, Toyota, or perhaps most impressive, the Japanese government.

Before the speech I was sitting and staring at my Japanese in a vain attempt to memorize the stuff and Japanese people kept coming up to me and saying "Ah, are your Buraian Sumisu-san?"and I'd say "Hai", and they'd say "Are you ok? Do you need more comfort?" and I'd say I was fine...but invariably they'd find me a new place to sit, so I was moved around so I was moved around quite a bit. People would say "Ok, now you can do this if you want...." and if I didnt do it they would say it I realized they were telling me what to do. I felt a bit like Bill Murray in the commercial scene from Lost in Translation. Here's the scene I'm referring to:

Basically, I was the token gaijin whom they sheparded out onto the stage like a puppy. I do tricks for food.

So the event started and I sat there and sat there, confused the whole time as I was originally informed I was to give the opening speech. Then, towards the very end of the reception, a white-gloved Japanese person dressed like an airport pilot motioned to me, "It is time". I was then led to the side of the stage and sat in a chair. The white-gloved attendent left.
Finally, three minutes later I heard "Ladies and gentlement, please welcome Mr. Brian Smith, from the United States of America, student at Sophia University."

I got a lot of laughs during my speech...probably because most of the Japanese audience found it impossible to believe any non-Japanese person possesed the ability to speak their language. After a few minutes, I bowed and said "Arigato gozaimasu" and stumbled (I was shaking the entire time) back to my seat. Finally it was over! It was such a relief, and I said so too- to the several people who congratulated me at the end. The speech itself was in both Japanese and English. I will provide transcripts at the end of this entry.

Afterwards, I took a picture with the Princess. During the photo session, and while the camera was flashing she spoke to me:

Princess: I know a boy about your age. He comes from England.

Me: Oh, sounds interesting.
Princess: Yes. He came here thinking he was to be with his girlfriend. But she trunked him the day he arrived.
Me: Oh golly...gee Miss that's awful!
Princess: Yes. And so I took him out to dinner the other day and I said "Gregory, whatever are you going to do now?" He has no English-speaking friends other than myself, you see.
Me: Wow, that's a horrible situation! How long is he in Japan?
Princess: Yes. For a while. I do wish he had some English-speaking friends. If only I could procure someone's contact information.
[Here, Princess turns and smiles at me]
Me: Well you want....m-m-my information?
Princess: Oh thank goodness! That's what I was after the whole time! Please!

So now I'm officially on call for the Emperor's family's whim. Should make for an interesting last 2 months in Japan. I did get an email from young Gregory, actually. I won't paste its contents here in fear of deportation but to summarize: "Let's hang out!"

I hate the internet

About 5 minutes ago, Mozilla Firefox crashed, making it the second time in 1 week I have lost a valuable entry to this blog. I had spent good time writing a few paragraphs about my visit to the Toyota plant (see entry to sections below) and had just pressed the "insert photo" button in order to present my loving family, friends, and admirers with evidence of the robots I had witnessed, when Mozilla just....crashed. So much for technology!

Last week was filled with 3, yes THREE, straight days of Japanese tests! Nothing else but continuous studying and the feeling that hell was crashing down upon my shoulders. The first day was a skit (mine was with another student, Alvin, and was a rather comical rendition of a Japanese salaryman mixed up with the wrong crowd in a party). The second day was kanji, for which I spent maybe 20+ hours writing the complex critters all, there were 111 new kanji required for this test! The third and final test day consisted of grammar points and listening. All in all, it was an exhausting experience that I am overjoyed to be done with. That being said, I think I did decently.

On Wednesday afternoon, CIEE held an organized trip to the Toraya company headquarters. Toraya is a Japanese sweets company that has been producing traditional wagashi for over five centuries! Wagashi is made from azuki beans, grains such as mochi-rice or wheat, potatoes, and sesame seeds. We were talked to by two guys in lab coats, whom I originally assumed (and naturally I think) were bakers. Ends up they were actually salary-men-executives. The whole thing reminded me a lot of the Muppets lab and the two guys were Dr. Bunson Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. Not quite the Wonka experience I had hoped for- no one was turned into a giant wagashi- but we were given samples with tea and a gift bag at the end to boot! Overall another interesting look into Japanese culture.

For any interested parties, here is wagashi:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Kato House

This space will soon be occupied by a photojournalistic tour of the Kato household. Thank you for your patience.

The Robots of Toyota

This space will soon be occupied by an account of my travels with my Japanese Management class to Nagoya, where we toured a Toyota manufacturing plant.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kyoto! 京都

Rather than make some vain attempt to rack my mind for all the memories from the time since I last posted, I'm going to simply say this: I was in Kyoto for a week, came back to Tokyo, then left for Nagoya for an additional 2 days. For this reason, I was unable to post anything here.

Wow. Okay. I just realized I had already stated that. Yay for the obvious!

Now, the much anticipated KYOTO STORY!

I had started planning this trip a few weeks back, and even compiled a small group that wished to go. It included Jade, Milo, Lizzy, the other Brian Smith, and Randi. One thing led to another, though, and eventually the group shrunk to just myself, Jade, and Milo. Lizzy ended up receiving an invite by her host family to go another time, and the other Brian Smith ran into some financial issues with his bank. Soon enough, however, Randie joined back up and, this time, brought Brown-Haired Dominick along! (from now on, he will be simply referred to as Dominick).

Thus, our team on Mission Kyoto consisted of:






After a frantic search to find everyone (ends up there are 3 or 4 entrances to the same Shinkansen gate at Tokyo Eki), we finally were aboard the bullet train and headed for Kyoto! The train left the station at 10:36 (and having boarded at 10:32 I'd say the Fates smiled kindly upon us) and arrived in Kyoto Eki a little before 1:00. It's a good thing, too, because prior to said arrival we weren't quite sure whether or not we had gotten on the correct train!

Our first impressions of Kyoto were quite different than had been expected. Rather than the cobbled roads lined with tori gates, hoardes of strolling geishas, and samurai recruitment offices set up on each corner, we saw this:

Besides not fitting the above assumed description, Kyoto Tower (the white protusion above) is perhaps the most hideous structure ever deemed a tourist attraction. There's supposedly an observation deck located in the UFO-looking thing at the top...but with Kyoto possessing virtually no skyline to speak of, I'm not quite sure of its purpose.

I'll come back on and write more later- I'm a bit sick and need some rest. But before I leave for the time being, let me say CONGRATS to Mr. Nicholas Giglia on a great job offer!

Back later today.

Okay, so back to Kyoto! The first priority was to check into our first hotel, which was included in the skinkansen ticket package. For some reason, Milo, Dominick, and myself were given a room far, far bigger than 3 people would need. This incited a bit of jealousy amongst the girls, which we of course took as a sign to rub our good fortune in : )

I could sit here and bore you with minute details about each temple we visited (and there were ALOT), but instead let's go for some photojournalism, shall we?

Am I the only one who wants to crawl on the bumpy green background?

Ginkakuji Temple

At "Philospher's Stone"- the ending point of the famous Philosopher's Path- so named for famous Japanese philosopher, Kitaro Nishida, who used to walk the route during meditation sessions.

Sun-god give me the power to rule the lake!

Ryoanji, the most famous zen garden in Kyoto. If only the people weren't so loud! It was extremely difficult to meditate.

Where was this? Not sure I remember but not sure it matters...beautiful nonetheless! Notice the beginning of fall.

Milo and I reinacting the Japanese cupid scene. This is from the so-called Love Stone Shrine. Legend has it that a lover or lover-aspiree is to shut his or her eyes and walk a straight line 20 yards or so to the "love stone". If he or she is able to accomplish this feat, they will enjoy love forever. If he or she fails, however, they will spend the rest of their lives alone and miserable. There are many such tests at temples and shrines in Japan. It is always my policy to simply not try them out.

In front of Kyomizudera...the top gave us amazing views of the forest and downtown Kyoto.

From atop Kyomizudera.

Once again...

Later, we spoke to these "geisha" who said to us, "Um, you know we're not real...right?" Too bad!

Eating on the first night. They cooked right in front of us! Some kind of Japanese omelette....I forget the name, and need to look it up but wow was it good!

In front of the famed Kinkakuji temple...we visited at the perfect time of day- just in time to witness the sun reflecting off the equally golden temple, washing the lake in its warmth! The picture does it no justice whatsoever.

Kinkakuji temple, seriously one of the most beautiful sites I have ever why not include two pictures?

Thought my father would like the site of this- a ton of fresh, raw seafood! The roundish sausage-looking things to the bottom right are actually ovaries of some kind! And no, I didn't eat them.

So that's a lot of interesting note- the hotel/hostel we were staying at did not have any rooms available on the last day (Friday night)... so we had to find alternative housing. Little did we know, however, how hard that would prove to be. We called 2 hostels. We stopped by one hotel. Nothing, nothing, and nothing was available. The owner of our original hotel then presented us with two, er...less convetional options- karaoke bar and manga cafe. For those who are unaware, a karaoke bar becomes extremely cheap after midnight, and can be rented for maybe $10 for 5 hours or so....if you're lucky and there's couches, you get a cheap hotel room! This is the option we selected....unfortunately, we did so without seeing the room first. It was nice enough, but music blasted from the hallway all night- resulting in a measely 30 minutes (at the most) of sleep!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I apologize...


I realize I have not been writing as much lately. Please allow me to explain:

Last week I traveled to Kyoto with some of my CIEE friends: Jade, Milo, Randi, and Dominick. The trip was a lot of fun, and we were there from October 30 - November 4. My internet access was very shoddy at best (grrr..) and I was extremely tired upon my return home (more on that later). Then, only after a few days of being back in Tokyo, I traveled with my Japanese Management class to the Nagoya area. There we toured one of the many Toyota factories. As I just returned home to Tokyo a little while ago, I am once again very tired. Thus, while I promise to fill everyone in on the last couple of weeks, it simply must wait.

Thank you for your patience! Or, if you simply don't care, thank you for not cheering the fact that I've been absent from this page!