Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I apologize, again, for how long it has taken me to update. School has got me rather preoccupied, and not having a reliable internet connection anywhere but on campus is rather prohibiting too. Anyway, shall we...

The Things That Make Life Easier

A few weeks ago I finally bought a cellphone and a bike. The phone was free and I got a really inexpensive plan that includes 5 months free. Seriously. Awesome.

Texting (SMS or phone-to-phone email) is the method of communicating here and making plans with people is so much easier now that everyone has phones. I've been texting in Japanese as often as possible for practice. Because they are Japanese phones it's actually more convenient to do so anyway. Texting in English can be a hastle and takes longer than it should because of the way, in certain types of messages, you have to press multiple buttons in order to put in a 'space'. The Japanese language doesn't put a space between characters or words normally so the phones don't take into consideration the frequent use of English.

My bike was around 7,500¥ (around $75) and is one of my favorite things in the world. Just as texting is the main method of communicating with people, bikes tend to be the method of travel for lots and lots of people in Japan, young and old alike. I was amazed at the number of people that commute by bike here. I was equally amazed at the number of laws, whose penalties are surprisingly harsh, pertaining to bikes.


Prohibition to Cycle While Intoxicated
Jail: up to 3 years Fine: up to 500,000¥

Obligation to Use a Reflector and Keep Lights on While Riding at Night
Fine: up to 50,000¥

Obligation to Ride Safely (vague, I know)
Jail: up to 3 months Fine: up to 50,000¥

Those are a few examples. So, needless to say, I try to follow all of the rules while I'm riding.

Becoming a TV Star in Tenjin

(A small street in Tenjin)

Two weekends ago I went to Tenjin, a large downtown district here in Fukuoka, with my tutor, Takafumi, and fellow JTW classmate and friend, Marc. We checked out a 5 story bookstore and ate at a great little ramen shop. We were meandering through the streets when we were stopped by a crazy little Japanese man with a camera and sound crew behind him.

"We're from a television program called Mentai Wide. Is it okay if we interview you?" he asked.

"Yeah, that would be fine," we answered enthusiastically.

And so began a 15-minute interview, in Japanese, in the middle of downtown Tenjin, for a very well known TV show. The segment of the show that we were being interview for is called 驚きJAPAN! , which translates to "Surprise Japan". It's basically a segment where the crew goes out and finds foreigners living/studying/visiting Japan and asks them if there is anything in Japan that has surprised them since they've arrived.

When he asked me I answered,

"To me, the Japanese are extremely kind."

He asked for an example, and, in garbled Japanese I managed to say something like,

"In stores, when you can't find the item you want to buy, if you ask the store clerk for help they'll always walk you to the item."

I know this doesn't sound like much, but compared to the states, where they'd usually just point in a general direction or tell you an aisle number, it was a pleasant surprise. All stores in Japan have been like this so far.

The interviewer asked for the name of the store and I told him,


「毎日いく」、"I go there everyday".

I really do. It's right in front of the kaikan and is attached to a large shopping mall called Aeon so it's rather convenient.

He was amused by this for some reason. I think because the show has some affiliation with the store chain. We were asked the normal questions one always asks students studying abroad too:

What is your major?

What about Japan are you interested in?


After Marc pulled out his Kanji practice book, he asked him to write his favorite kanji. He drew this character:


I asked him if I could draw my favorite kanji as well. I drew these characters (the first one is my favorite, but it's part of a compound so I drew both for reference):


While I was writing it the interview let out an amused 「何で?」、"Why?"

I circled the bottom portion and explained, 「これはスケートボードみたい」、"This looks like a skateboard".

I pointed to the top portion and said, 「これは町みたい」、"This looks like a city".

「だから、スケートボードの上に町みたいだ」、"Therefore it looks like a city on a skateboard".

When the show aired, the producers added an animated "City on a Skateboard" that zoomed across the screen after I explained why I liked the kanji.

A few other questions were asked and Marc was even able to speak a few sentences in Chinese (the other language he's studying), by which the interviewer acted very baffled.

The director gave me her business card that had her contact information on it. At the time, I didn't have a TV so I knew I was not going to be able to watch the show when it aired. I emailed her and explained my situation. I asked if there was any way to watch the show online. She responded that there wasn't but, in thanks for my participation, she could send me a DVD of that segment of the show. I thanked her and gave her my mailing address. The next email from her was a request. A request to come to the kaikan and film me and Marc watching the DVD so that they could then air that the following week!

Of course I agreed and about a week later she called me and we made plans to meet in front of JASCO, the store I had mentioned in the interview. I think the idea was to make it look like they were filming in front of JASCO for some other reason and we just happened to see them. So, we filmed for a few minutes there and then walked back to my dorm room.

We set up my laptop on top of my suitcase, sat on the floor with the camera in front of us so that they could see our reactions as we watched. The show was really entertaining! They added subtitles in Japanese for most of what we said (probably in case our English accents were to difficult to understand). Also, the show often has a picture-in-picture of someone from Mentai Wide who is watching the segment back at the studio. Their reactions are usually rather entertaining too.

After watching the show they filmed one more segment. In our email communications, Ishi (the director) asked if there was any sort of Japanese food that I'd like to try that they could bring as a souvenir for us. I told that I'd like to try some sort of Japanese sweets. So, they brought three types of snacks for us to try while they filmed us. The first was a type of bread in the shape of a fish filled with red bean paste (we ate these before I could get a picture). The second was a cracker in the shape of a face. This also came with a red mask that you're supposed to use when you want to apologize to a friend for something. I didn't completely understand his explanation, honestly. The third was a little duckling shaped bread with some kind of sweet...something in the center.

All three were delicious and the whole experience was awesome. I'll be receiving a DVD of the second show as well! Unfortunately, before they left they made me sign an agreement that says that I can't upload the video onto the internet so I can't show any of you back home in the States until I come back in July of 2010. Sorry!

Becoming an Otaku (or How to Look if You Never Want to Go on a Date with Anyone...Ever.)

This past weekend the tutors threw us a Halloween costume party! It was held on Hakozaki campus at the Culture Cafe. I had no idea what I was going to dress up as; I had very little money so I couldn't do anything elaborate. I woke up the morning of the party and it hit me.


An otaku is basically the Japanese equivalent of a nerd or geek in America. In Japan, these types of people are usually really into any or all of the following: anime, manga, video games and usually spend all hours of the day and night in their rooms, in the arcade, or swarming the manga section of bookstores.

I thought about the costume and decided that the only accessory I really needed to buy was a pair of thick black rimmed glasses. I head to Aeon and found a pair for about 1000¥. Cheap costume, yeah? I wanted suspenders, but I couldn't find any.

I put on a plaid shirt, tucked it in, pulled my pants up high, tucked my pant legs into my socks and threw on the glasses. I looked in the mirror and...

...something was missing.

It was the beard. It had to go.

I originally was just going to go clean shaven, but I decided that a something else was in order. So, for the first time in my life, I shaved my beard leaving only a mustache. Gasp!!

(One of the tutors, Yoshito, dressed up as Afro Samurai. I wanted to see how the wig looked with my costume.)

The party was a blast and everyone's costumes were really good. There was food and drink there and I had a lot of good reactions to my costume. Oh, and just so no one is worrying, I shaved off the 'stache as soon as I returned to my place and am currently in the process of growing my beard back.

(Here are some of the other students and tutors in their costumes.)

Idle Hands

Ever since coming to Japan I've been itching to play a guitar or piano. Well, I've managed to find both! I asked one of the teachers if there were piano practice rooms on campus (like the ones I have back at University of Michigan). He said there weren't but told me that one of the classrooms had an electric piano in it that I could use when classes weren't going on. So, I have a place to play piano now, and it sounds really nice.

That same teacher just happened to have a guitar in his office that a JTW student left the previous year. It's cheap, doesn't stay in tune, and doesn't sound that great even when it is in tune, but I'm able to borrow it for the year and it's a guitar!

Last night I learned how to play "Don't Go Away" by Oasis. Beautiful song. If you haven't heard it, well, 聞いてみてね (Take a listen).

プリクラ (Print Club)

My friend Loren, from France, took me and our classmate Hideo to try プリクラ which is extremely popular among, um, junior high and high school girls, but I thought "why not?", right? The process is basically this:

You step into a photo booth, you choose your backgrounds, you pose, you step outside. Once outside you are given the opportunity to "decorate" your photos electronically with all sorts of icons/animals that are かわすぎる and write whatever you'd like on the picture. Once you're finished you can choose to print one or all of the photos as well as choose to have the digital images emailed to your cellphone. It should be mentioned here that cellphones in Japan can do absolutely anything. I saw one the other day rescue a cat that was stuck in a tree. Really incredible.

And the rest...

Despite how much fun I've had since coming to Japan, I've had some low points in the past couple of weeks. When I first arrived I was in "vacation mode". Everything was new and I had little room emotionally to feel anything but excitement for my new life here. Since I'm beginning to get used to things that make up my everyday life here, I've also begun to miss the people and places I left back home.

In between classes, homework, and hanging out with my new friends there are times when I'm left to myself. It is during this time that I begin to feel a void within me and I think about those that were once there to fill it. I miss home sometimes. But not just Michigan, the place. I miss the entirety of what was once that very familiar, all encompassing essence of home that I, until choosing to live abroad, took for granted.

The relationships I have with the people I've had the privilege to grow close to over the past 10 years will be the same relationships I have when I return. I know this. I still miss these people though. My family, too, will be there and when I return, aside from the recent additions to my family (babies, that is), it will be as though I never left. I miss them too.

There are certain relationships that are fundamentally different. In these relationships the degree of closeness between the people involved is constantly reassessed, confirming for them and reassuring them that the integrity of the bond they share is growing stronger. It is from this kind that I left, a mutual decision made to sever this specific kind of tie we had. Up to the day I left I was still growing closer to her, still strengthening our bond. We both still care so much for one another, but the definition of what was once there no longer applies in the present and, thus, there is a feeling of something left unfinished, and unable to be finished, that lingers with me. This is difficult to figure out how to deal with sometimes.

For the past couple of weeks I've been confronted with feelings of regret about leaving. I've wondered if I made the right decision or if I've left something and someone that is irreplaceable. The truth is that she, and the relationship we had, is absolutely irreplaceable. But so are the experiences I'm going to have here in Japan. I've come to realize that I can't think about the decision to leave and the decision to come here (two very separate decisions in my mind since they imply different things) in such terms. It was a choice. It's unfair to designate a decision as wrong or right based on the presence or absence of some measure of pain one may feel as a result.

We move forward through life. One life. One direction.

I can't spend too much time contemplating a decision that was made with both her and my best interests in mind. Sadness is a feeling I've experienced many time before. Heartache is another. I can liken what I'm experiencing now to a kind of heartache, a longing for someone I no longer have. But it's of a different kind. It is, in its own way, a bittersweet feeling. I'm happy to be able to look back at our relationship and see that, from the beginning to the very last second, it was beautiful. And I have memories that I'll always look back on with a smile. Now I continue to move forward, same as then, only without her by my side. And I know that she and I will be okay.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There is not a whole lot planned for the next few weeks, so I'm planning on taking a lot of pictures of the various parts of Fukuoka while I'm out. The next blog will most likely be a photo blog.

If you subscribe feel free to leave comments. I love hearing from everyone back home so don't be shy.


  1. Chris, I love reading about your life in Japan and look forward to seeing your television appearance. Life hear remains quite constant with the exception of the weather that is about to get very very cold soon. This will be the first time since you were born that I will not see you on Christmas and you will be missed a great deal. Have you gained any weight since arriving in Japan? I am sure you are enjoying a great variety of foods. Is it possible for me to call you new cell phone from here? (expensive I know)I look forward to seeing many more photos of your stay and reading about it as well. Love always DAD

  2. Hey Chris,
    I've been really enjoying stalking you via your blog... The entries are great, and you talk about your adventures in great detail!
    I've decided to come out of my silence as a blog stalker, to tell you I can comepletely relate. This entry really hit home for me (No pun intended.) It is exactly everything I've been going through since moving to California. This feeling of a void, a yearning for everything familiar. The unexpected is always fun, and sure to make you grow as a person, but sometimes I just want home. I find myself having weird almost... cravings to be in my mom's living room. Or I miss smells. Or even weather. Maybe I'm crazy, or maybe you can relate. :)
    Either way, if I can offer advice that seems to help me, is that the world will always be there. After spending my summer in London, I miss it all the time... But I'll go back someday. And I'll go home again. And the people that love me always will.
    Just thought I'd say hi to a friend going through something similar.