Purikura and Karaoke

So yesterday was filled with more orientations and things to do. I realized that they tell us the same things in all the orientations. The basic message is, ‘go out and have fun just don’t get drunk and act like idiots. And don’t be loud in the streets but we know you will do all of these things anyway because you are loud obnoxious foreigners’. Maybe not exactly like that, but they are heavily implying it. It’s mostly funny, but they are being serious because there are over four hundred exchange students here this semester and things can get crazy quickly.

We also had our opening ceremony, which has been the nicest thing we’ve done at the school so far. The president of the school made a nice speech, as well as the American ambassador to Osaka and the Australian ambassador to Osaka. They picked an exchange student and a Kansai Gaidai student to make speeches as well. The exchange student did really well. I felt pretty inspired to go out and explore Japan after they all finished. The head of the Japanese department also made a hilarious speech in Japanese. I had to concentrate the entire time but I understood every word she said, and I was really surprised I could. Sometimes my listening isn’t very good if the speaker is talking to fast. But she kept it pretty easy since I’m sure she knew that everyone had varying levels of Japanese comprehension.

After that they had the cafeteria set up buffet style with tons of food. They had so many of us packed in there though it was hard to get to the actual food. It was an interesting mix of different foods. There was a chocolate fountain and ice cream machine next to the takoyaki and cold soba. There probably wasn’t any food left after everyone had eaten.

Matt had asked if Tim and I wanted to go with him to meet up Shiori, his speaking partner, after the ceremony had ended. She took us to downtown Hirakata where we did purikura and karaoke. For those who don’t know, purikura is similar to photo booths we have back home. Except the purikura booths here are really popular and everyone does it. Somehow the booth makes your face look different and if you aren’t wearing make up the picture will look like you are anyway. Its hard to explain exactly what makes purikura so different than regular photo booths back home. So instead I’ll just add a picture of one of the purikura we did last night.
That isn’t even the most ridiculous one. A few of the others were a little bit hilarious. Shiori only sent me one to my phone so I can’t upload the rest. Next time I go I’ll have to make sure to get them sent to my phone before we leave.

After that we headed over to the karaoke place down the street. I’ve never done karaoke before so I had no idea what to expect. The other three jumped right into it and had no problem singing. I suppose it’s because I’ve never sang in front of other people, but I got super nervous every time I was suppose to sing. I ended up singing some korean songs too since I tend to know more korean pop songs than recent japanese pop. We ended with a hilarious group rendition of Arashi’s Love so Sweet. Maybe next time I go to karaoke I’ll order a beer or two to calm down, haha. Maybe it will improve my singing.

Even though we had ate a ton of food after the ceremony earlier that day, we decided to get dinner anyway. We went to a place that has a ton of grilled meat on skewers called Toriki. It was amazing and delicious. Every time a customer would walk in or leave the staff would yell uproariously. Anytime someone ordered and they put in the order in, they’d yell uproariously. It gave the place a really interesting atmosphere that made us jump every time they’d yell out. We ordered a ton of food and ordered even more after finishing the first round. Tim decided to be risky and order fried chicken hearts. He said they tasted like chicken but I couldn’t bring myself to try one.

Today should be fun too. We get our course confirmation finally! I must have gotten into the ceramics class since they gave me an invoice for the course materials yesterday afternoon. Also here is to hoping I did indeed get into Japanese 3! Later today is also the Kyoto tour the school takes us on. I’m debating on whether or not I should take my dlsr instead of my lumix since I know the stuff we’ll see there is dslr worthy.

I’d upload more pictures on here but wordpress doesn’t give you much space to store them on. So I’ve been adding them to my mobile me galley. I add stuff everyday so check it out! http://gallery.me.com/danamckee

Festival

Oh, I had completely forgotten about the festival we went to on Sunday. It was in downtown Hirakata and it was PACKED with people. There were booths everywhere and people playing random music. We didn’t stay for very long but it was interesting to see nonetheless. Here is a video I took of an old man dancing to this random band singing half in english half in japanese.

Orientation week

So even though orientation week isn’t over yet, the last few days have been filled with a ton of things to do. Since I got to the dorms early, I was scheduled to do most of the pre-orientation activities the next day. Which was the chance to get most of the main orientation requirements done so I didn’t have to worry about them during the week. I had my language lab orientation and banking session on Monday. The language lab was pretty straight forward and simple. After it was over there was a campus tour that Jess and I opted out of. We got food from the cafeteria and then went to the banking session. I had heard that this was the most frustrating part of orientation and it definitely lived up to that expectation. All of us EMU kids had to open a bank account since we get a meal stipend from Kansai Gaidai. The bank forms require you to write your name and information exactly like it is on your passport and to sign exactly the same way every time. Needless to say there were people who had to rewrite their forms. I had to do a few over as well. They said they will check over them this week and if we get a slip in our mail box from them it means we have to do a form over again. As of today I haven’t seen anything in my mail box from them so I’m hoping my forms were okay.

Tuesday was my placement exam. The listening part was terrible because you only had one chance to listen and it was pretty fast. Most people I’ve talked to said they didn’t do well on the listening so I’m not really too concerned. The next part was a hiragana and translation test. I tried to translate as much as I could. Next was the main test. It was multiple choice and actually pretty easy. There are five sections labeled A,B,C,D,E and you take different ones depending on how many years you’ve studied. I did A,B,C, and maybe three or four questions into D. I’m hoping to be placed in Japanese 3. I feel pretty confident that I will make it there. I’ll know by tomorrow.

I met up with Samara and Matt after paying for my fees and we got lunch from the cafeteria again. Let me just say that the cafeteria food is actually good and really cheap. I’m thinking I’ll probably end up getting lunch there a lot. After, Samara and I went to get my cell phone. They were out of the white one since all of the students here are getting the same phone, so I ended up with black. It’s a decent phone and as long as it sends messages and calls people I’m happy with it. Matt had his language lab orientation so we waited for him to finish then went in search of a bike shop. I ended up paying around $65 for my bike. Matt payed a bit more since he is tall and had to get a bigger bike. Biking makes getting around Hirakata much easier and a whole lot faster. I will say that it is kind of hard to ride since the streets here are so narrow and there are always people walking on them. Apparently students get hit by cars pretty frequently here. I’m going to aim to avoid being one of those people.

That night all the rest of my suite mates checked in and we all spent some time in our common area chatting. One of the girls had both of her suitcases sent to Hawaii so she was without clothes. We all told her she can borrow what she needs from us. Hopefully her stuff will show up soon though. It was my nightmare and biggest worry that my luggage would go missing when I got here, so I can sympathize with her.

Today was busy as well, as we had a general orientation this morning at nine thirty. There were two more orientations later on in the day for the faculty introduction and a sessions on safety in Japan. The safety one was done by one of the english teachers and ended up being fairly amusing. How much of what we learned will be practiced by the international students is yet to be seen though, haha.

I also checked my mail box at school and low and behold I was assigned a home visit family! I had thought my application for it didn’t get submitted because of some errors I had sending it via email. But it went through and I’m super happy it did. I got a sheet telling me about my family and a note from their son who is a Kansai Gaidai freshman. I get to meet them tomorrow at the school. I am super excited, but also very nervous. I hope my Japanese can rise to meet the challenge. Either that or it’s going to be stretched to the limit.

Tonight we went out to a placed called Gusto for dinner. It was a bizarre mix of food from random places. They had Japanese food mixed in with Italian and Mexican. Their desserts were also really, really good! According to Tim though there is a place in Osaka called Sweets Paradise that is all you can eat desserts for ninety minutes. I may or may not die from sweet overload if I ever go there.

All in all it’s been an interesting couple of days. There were some good times, and then some not so good ones. I’m not sure if it’s culture shock or just getting adjusted to being on a campus with a ton of students. Either way I’m making the best of it!

Thoughts…

A weird feeling has been creeping up on me these last few days. I suppose I could chalk it up to culture shock in some ways. I am a shy person. I always have been and probably won’t ever be anything but. So it’s hard for me to make friends, and even harder to keep them. I knew going into all of this it would be hard because of my disposition. I can be really awkward because of it and most people take my shy personality as being standoffish. Being here has made me hyper aware of it because I know in order to meet people and do the things I want to do I need to be conscious of my surroundings. At home I tend to be a loner and have only a few friends I’m close with. I have the tendency to prefer my own company to being around large groups of people.

I see the other people I know making friends. I read the blogs of other students and see big groups of people going out and doing things and it’s hard not to dwell on it. I know it’s still only the beginning of the semester and I have yet to meet anyone in class. But I worry that I may not be able to make friends. I really don’t want to go and drink and be a part of the social clique that revolves around talking about other people in a malicious way. It makes me feel like I am in high school again.

This isn’t a happy “I’m in Japan” post. I hesitated even writing it but this truly is for me to look back on and see how I was feeling. I don’t want to read this blog a year from now without recognizing the bad things that I encountered while here. So far things go up and down throughout each day.

Arriving at the dorms

So yesterday we made the throughly exhausting trip from Osaka to our school in Hirakata. In the last post I mentioned that we came here the day before this, but that was without our luggage and not during the hottest time of the day. We woke up that morning early as always. I was in kind of a rush since the showers were full and I had to wait for one. So after getting all my stuff packed up we had about an hour before we had to check out. Since the day before Mister Donut turned out to be quick and filling, we decided to go there again. The girl who was ringing me up spoke all keigo to me, but I could figured out what she asked me from understanding bits and pieces. She asked if I had a point card and gave me once when I said no and that I would like one. It’s super cute card that gives me points to trade in for little souvenirs. There is a Mister Donut at the Hirakata station, so I’ll have to get points while I’m here.

After barely getting our luggage down five flights of stairs with falling and breaking a limb, we checked out and headed to the Fukushima station around the corner. Here is where things got insanely hard. First we had to get our luggage through the super tiny gates. So we had to maneuver our way through that. Then came two long flights of stairs. I’ll say that without Peter being with me to move my luggage I may have passed out from heat stroke. He helped me take my heavier bag up the stairs while I traded for his much lighter carry on. He still had two big and heavy bags of his own to carry around too, so I’m glad he didn’t mind helping me out. Once on the train we cooled down for a few stops and switched over to the next and last train we needed to take. The machine gate ate my ticket so we flagged down a attendant and attempted to explain in our child-like Japanese what had happened. She knew what we wanted before we even asked though and took mention of all the luggage we had and told us about an elevator around the corner. Nothing could have sounded better at that moment. So we grabbed one of the quick trains to Hirakata and from there the hardest part was over. It may not sound all that bad, but carrying that luggage was not easy. Fifty pounds on each arm, ten/fifteen extra pounds on my back, trying not to run into anyone, and trying to run through the stations to get on the right trains. At least we don’t have to do it again until December, and by then it won’t be boiling lava hot outside.

Once we got off on our stop we had to find a taxi to take us to our dorms. All three of us are in different dorms and because we had so much luggage we had to take our own taxi. It cost around sixteen dollars, which is the most I’ve spent here so far. But it wouldn’t have been physically possible to walk the forty five to fifty minute distance on a near non-existant Japanese street with all of our luggage.

My dorm is seminar house 3 and it’s right next dorm to seminar house 2, which is where Jess is staying. Seminar house 1 is right behind us and seminar house 4 is across the park. When I got there the RA showed me and two other people around and explained rules and whatnot. My suite is on the first floor and is right next to the entrance. I also found out that I have a Japanese roommate! I requested one on my application and I’m happy it worked out. She won’t be here until mid-September though, since the Japanese semester starts later than ours does. So for now I have the room to myself. When I got here none of the six other girls had checked in yet. I started unpacking and couldn’t figure out how to get my computer on the internet. Once I was finished I figured I’d go find Jess and Peter, but Tim and Jess found me first. Unfortunately though they aren’t letting us visit other seminar houses until after orientation is over in a week. So we are kind of cut off from people we know unless we happen to be out walking around. Each house has a man and women that oversee the house; Known as okaasan and otousan. They are basically the wardens, which come to find out is pretty accurate in the case of my okaasan. I had heard she was strict before picking my dorm but I didn’t think too much of it. She was really reluctant to call my room when Tim and Jess came to find me. The other seminar houses have guests walking through them and nobody minds. I don’t really mind the okaasan being strict to a certain extent. I just wish it was okay for at least other international students to come find their friends in other dorms.

Anyway, the three of us headed over to Peter’s dorm across the park. We grabbed him and met some other people at his dorm. SH4 is the biggest and newest dorm so it already had a ton of people checked in there. We figured we would need food so we walked to the hundred yen store we visited yesterday. I bought enough food to tide me over for a few days plus some chopsticks. Until the end of orientation we can’t cook anything in our dorms. We each have a cabinet with utensil’s that we can access at that point. For now we can only boil water, use the microwave and put things in the fridge.

After coming back I set up my internet and got skype running. I talked to Alan and my mom which was really nice to finally do with a stable internet connection. Around 6:45 the sun was going down so I messaged Peter and him and I went walking around the park. We took pictures and chatted. We met a few other students walking around as well. For the most part it was nice to be outside when it wasn’t super hot out and we didn’t have to be anywhere. After being in the busy city of Osaka, the more laid back Hirakata is nice.

When I came back, three of my roommates had checked in so I chatted with them for a while. All of the girls in my suite are Americans except my roommate. The two girls I did get to talk to a bit more are from New York and North Carolina. Both seem nice.

After that I talked some more on skype and finally went to bed!

I know these last two entries have been pretty long. But like Peter mentioned to me, the blog should be a collection of the thoughts and series of events you want to remember. You put the details that you want to remember in it. Maybe some of my entries won’t be as long, maybe some will be just as long as this. Hopefully anyone reading this doesn’t mind the longer entries.

Day 2!

This is going to be a really long post! Every time I want to write an entry, it’s when I’m winding down at night and I’m usually mentally exhausted. I can never think of what I want to write. To help me remember, I’ve put little bullet points on a virtual notepad on my computer. Since were are backtracking to the last few days I’ll start with the second day in Japan, which was Friday.

We woke up really early that day. Outside our hostel window there were kids screaming loudly and it forced us to wake up. The thing about being here is that once you wake up, it’s really hard to fall back asleep. Maybe it’s because the sun is blazing through your window or maybe it’s because you realize where your at and don’t want to waste time sleeping. I’ve never voluntarily woken up this early in my life, so I’m thinking it may be a combination of both things. We had a Mister Donut really close to our hostel so we went there for breakfast. Their doughnuts aren’t all that dissimilar to Krispy Kreme doughnuts and are roughly the same price. They have different flavors and types of doughnuts. I went safe and got a custard and strawberry icing. For me it was the kick of sugar I needed. And it helped me get through the day.

After that we followed Tim’s directions on how to get to Hirakata. We planned on going to there to visit him, Samara, and Kayo and to look around the city. The trains aren’t too hard to figure out. It always takes me riding train once or twice in a particular city before I understand them. But we took the train from our hostel at the Fukushima station to Kyobashi. From there we switched from the JR line to the Keihan line and met up with Tim. He navigated the rest of the way to Hirakata. The train is about a 30-40 minute straight shot from Kyobashi depending on what train you take. After this we made the bad decision to walk to Kayo’s apartment from the train station. It was incredibly hot and humid and was about a 40 or so minute walk. Now I know for some people that isn’t a lot. But I don’t really do all that much walking back home, let alone in 95+ degree weather. My back started to bother me so I had to stop them a few times so I could rest. I have to say as well, that I’ve never sweat more in my life. I’ve come to accept that I’m just going to sweat everyday. I just have to stay hydrated.

After we got to Kayo’s place (she had air thank god!) we cooled off and talked for a bit. After, we decided to go by the school. It was actually really nice to see the school without students there. We got to see our mailboxes and the main building our classes will be in. After, we walked to a clothing shop down the road. The clothes here are definitely interesting. They all have random english on them and they all are incredibly tiny. I could probably fit into a most of it, but it would be tighter than I like my clothes to be. I didn’t buy anything, but Peter and Jess each got things they needed. When we went to leave it started to downpour so we bought umbrellas and braved the storm. Hot, humid, and raining equals a not so happy Dana. It felt like we went swimming with our clothes on. We laughed about it because we couldn’t do anything else. We made dinner at Kayo’s place using food bought from the 100 yen store. 100 yen is roughly a dollar. We fed all six of us for 500 yen. It was amazing. We goofed around at Kayo’s place after. Seeing her apartment made me realize how oversized our apartments are! Her entire apartment is the size my dorm room at the school. It fits one person comfortably, but still compact.

After, we left we took the bus back to the station and made it back to Kyobashi fine. But we took the wrong train to get back to Fukushima and ended up going around the loop of the city. Either way we still made it back to our hostel. We were told that our hostel was having a small party but when we walked down the street it was an entire street festival. There were vendors grilling food and kids running around. We took some pictures and walked slow to see everything. By the time we got back to our rooms I was exhausted and dirty from the rain so we fell asleep pretty quickly.

That’s it for day 2. I’ll try to work on day 3 later today. I’ve been trying to study as much as I can. And we are supposed to go downtown for a festival today. So until next time!

~

First day!

I’ve uploaded all the pictures I’ve taken so far to my mobileme gallery. Here is the link http://galllery.me.com/danamckee

We walked around Osaka today and went to the Umeda Sky Building. From the pictures, you can tell how high up we were. It’s an amazing view! I hope we can go back there at night sometime. Maybe if we get time before we head to Hirakata we’ll go back.

I feel like I’ve been buying nothing but drinks since I’ve been here. Since it’s so hot and we are walking everywhere it makes me so thirsty all the time. We did get to buy some cute souvenirs from the Umeda gift shop. We had amazing gyudon, fried beef with onions and rice, for lunch. It was super cheap too. We were the only non salarymen in there and the people working there weren’t sure if they could speak Japanese to us or not. So far my level of understanding Japanese has been better than my speaking. On our way back from the Umeda Building a Japanese guy around our age started to talk to us. He knew only a few words of english so I was really impressed that he talked to us in the first place. So far I’ve felt really intimidated to speak Japanese but it was nice to talk to the guy because he was our age and spoke pretty informally. Most places we’ve been to the people speak keigo to us, and Peter and I haven’t actually learned to speak that formally yet.

I keep trying to write about the plane ride and actually getting here but I was so tired after we got to hostel last night that I barely even remember getting off the plane and taking the train here. I’ve never been awake for that long and it definitely took its toll on me. The flights weren’t that bad though. I was pretty calm throughout all of them. Only during take off’s did I get nervous. The main flight to Tokyo was super relaxing. The plane itself was enormous! I’ve never been on a plane that big. The turbulence was really minimal too. Only during our first meal was there any bumpiness and it was only side to side turbulence. I really like flying JAL. The plane was nice, the food was actually good and the stewardess’ were incredibly nice. We each had our own T.V. with games and movies so it made things easier. It was really hard to sleep in the middle row since Peter and I didn’t really have anything to lean on. Jess was by the window behind us so she slept more than we did. I probably only slept three or four hours all together.

We had some confusion trying to get to our connections and we had to go through security at every airport we stop at. We also went through customs three times. Narita was by far the worst because the customs guy was really rude and got pissed that I couldn’t understand his slurred and dialectal Japanese. We had to wait for them to fill our some forms so we wouldn’t be stopped again at KIX. All in all the traveling is something that I’m happy to forgot. Leaving was also amazingly hard and emotional.

So far I’ve been pretty upset about leaving. When we got to the hostel last night it hit me. I was able to jump on the internet and skype Alan and that helped. Being out today and getting some sleep helped a lot as well. I’m sure it will go in cycles and culture shock will hit me soon too.

To sum everything up it’s been a lot to take in. Not necessarily in a good way or bad way because sometimes it goes back and forth. Either way I’m trying to stay optimistic and open to everything that is happening. Hopefully the next post won’t be so boring and bland either. Since as I’m writing this it’s about 4 in the afternoon here and that means it’s 3 in the morning back home. I’m starting to feel really tired. I haven’t read over this or spell checked it so I’m sorry if stuff doesn’t make sense!

Until next time~

And I’m off!

In a few hours I’ll be boarding my first of three flights to Japan! It has been an emotional 48 hours and I’m sure its not over yet. Saying goodbye is hard and it never gets easier. Whether you’re the one leaving or you’re watching someone else leave.

I’m running off a few hours of sleep and I’m hoping to stay awake through the rest of the night before heading off to the airport at 7. Everything is packed and ready to go. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I stayed under the weight restrictions for my bags. They were both under when I weighed them, but every scale is different.

I love Alan and all my family! I hope I can keep up with the blog while I’m there and that you enjoy reading about it back home. I’ll see everyone in four months!

Four days!

My mom mentioned to me over dinner tonight that I should blog about how I feel leading up to leaving. I wasn’t sure if I really felt up to it, seeing as I figured it would be a whole bunch of random paragraphs about how insanely nervous I am. But here goes anyway! I am deathly terrified of flying in airplanes. I hate heights too, so that adds to the sheer terror I feel sitting at 40,000 feet above the ground. Every time I have to get on an airplane I pretty much lose the ability to sleep and eat normally for about a week before. For some people, this seems pretty dramatic, and believe me it would be easier if I could somehow calm myself down. But it just doesn’t happen. I do have measures that I’m taking to make sure I will fall asleep on the plane. Namely, staying up all night Monday before I leave. My flight anxiety is making me more nervous that I would normally be.

Other than that, I’ve gotten most of my packing done. I’ll probably go through some of it again just to make sure I have some space for the trip back. It hasn’t turned out to be as bad as I thought it would be.

I’ve mostly finished up purchasing everything I need other than a few things here and there. And I was able to pick my my yen from the bank. It’s funny that this seems like so much more money than what it really is.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Cincinnati to watch the tennis masters going on there now. Alan and I come back on Sunday night and are going to a friends bbq party. I feel like from here on out the days are going to absolutely fly by. Yet I feel like I still have so much to do!

Two weeks…

So I’ve been meaning to update. And I’ve been trying to but it seems every time I do all I write about is the same thing. I have been getting increasingly more nervous every day though. A month turned into three weeks, and now it will be two weeks soon. I still feel like I have a ton of stuff to do before I can say I’m ready to leave.

I ended up getting an early refund from financial aid, which was a huge relief. I haven’t exchanged any money and unfortunately haven’t even looking into doing so yet. That’s on a to do list for this week. I also got a credit card that I can use for emergencies and big purchases. The awesome things is that the card is interest free until April of next year. But I plan on paying off whatever I spend when I come home in January.

I also got my visa recently. I’m really glad there is a consulate close by. A few people on the Kansai Gaidai facebook page mentioned having to overnight their COE and passport to a consulate. Granted driving downtown and paying for the crazy expensive parking isn’t fun, but it was still a relatively easy process.

I’ve been buying things that I figured I’d have a harder time locating once I get there too. Hopefully I can buy most things I need then. My biggest challenge is going to be packing. We are allowed two suitcases under fifty pounds. Sometimes I think I’ll pull it off, other times I know for sure I won’t. I just keep reminding myself that I’ll have more to bring back than what I’m taking and I need to leave some room.

I’m a huge mix of excitement and nervousness. Add some slight sadness in that is waiting to come to surface as well. Either way I’m still counting down the days. In three weeks I will be in Osaka with Peter, Jess and hopefully some new friends before heading off to school. I can’t wait!

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