Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh dear!

Hello everyone! I am so sorry that it has been so long since I have updated about my adventures in Japan!

I have been back in the USA for about 7 weeks now and have been so busy! I got engaged! Yay! Also, I moved back to my college and before that I spent time with family and friends. It's been a crazy time! I will try to go back and write about special times in Japan, don't worry! :)

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 27: Fun at Tokyu Hands!

Day 27: June 13

Something that is bothersome about being an American in Japan is the time difference; one has difficulty communicating with friends and family. Being awake knowing Andrew and my friends are asleep can drive me crazy! Needless to say, I get lonely here sometimes. Also, Japan is a day ahead, so this day was actually Saturday June 12 in America. The day of Andrew's first show at the Plea for Peace Center in Stockton! I was so upset all day that I was missing the show; my heart was hurting badly. I wanted to be there to support him! In the end, he told me that not many people showed up and that it went well. I am glad it was a good experience for him and he made some new friends! Yep, I am proud of my boo! Great job hun! :D

Even though I was pretty upset, Mary wanted to take me and the girls to Umeda to shop at Tokyu Hands. It was a good outing and enough to take my mind off things. It was raining, and shopping indoors is pretty much one of the only things to do on a rainy day. I found myself really enjoying Tokyu hands! There were many nice things to buy of all varieties, although it was not cheap. The cooking floor was so expensive! I wanted to buy Andrew a bar of apricot chocolate, but for 630 yen, I knew he would get mad at me lol! :D Mary was so sweet, she bought me some lovely things, like stickers, stationary, special tape, and some gifts for Andrew's brothers! I bought, with my money, a funky wooden necklace with awesome colors. I was also excited to find the Studio Ghibli section! YAY! :D

After shopping, we had to go home and start dinner. On the way home, we stopped at Kobe-ya and ate some simple goodies. I got a super oily fried curry bread and a chocolate croissant. Yum~! Thank you Mary for a nice day! And congrats to Andrew for what I am sure was a great show! :D

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 26: Shopping Spree in Senri-Chuo!

Day 26: June 12

It was a Saturday dedicated to shopping! My father graciously wanted me to spend some money and have fun, so I did a lot of shopping. Mary was going to Senri-Chuo, where a big shopping area was located and offered to take me with her. I leapt at the chance!

First off, I got a yummy miso katsu sandwich from a place called Victoria's Cafe; Mary loves their sandwiches. It was large, filling, and tasty with the savory sweet miso sauce! Then, I just walked around and went to the bookstore to get some books. I had finished the book I came to Japan with earlier in the week and was eager to start reading again. I ended up buying two books in English (one of which I finished yesterday) and some cool stationary supplies! I was excited!

I then made my way to Hankyuu Department store and was surprised by the high prices. It was very stylish, and I went up and down the whole building just to see what was on each floor. I bought some pretty things and a gift for my grandma, and then went down to the food area! WOW! The food floor in department stores is amazing; they have so much! I walked around the whole place a few times trying to decide what to eat! I ended up choosing a selection of chinese goodies, such as gyoza and little nikuman. It was delicious! The lady in charge of the stand was so happy, and it was amazing to see the man next to her making everything fresh on the spot!

After that, I wandered through the pastry/dessert section trying to decide which tasty morsel I should get. I saw so many delicious and well-made looking pastries, but decided on a one person tiramisu chocolate cake! SO GOOD! I ate it when I got back to the house and it was amazng, so rich and chocolatey! I took some pictures and went back outside to walk around and sit down to eat. I visited some more shops, and took pictures. There were a few spots around that were set up like mini concert spaces; there was a lot of live music!

I bought a few more things at the bookstore again and then was picked up by Mari. It was a fun shopping day, but I was worn out by the end of it!

Day 25: Helping Out at the OIS Graduation!

Day 25: June 11

Friday dawned slow and softly. I didn't have much planned and I was okay with that. That evening , I wound up going to the nearby Osaka International School to help out with their high school graduation! Tradition dictates that the mothers of the 11th grade class have to cook and put on the party for graduation night. So, since I wanted to experience as much as I can, I went to help Mari, since Tessfaye is in 11th grade at the school. It was a bit odd though; there were some mothers who were full Japanese and they all huddled together talking in their nice clothes and frilly aprons. On the other hand, there were some foreign mothers, like from Malaysia, who didn't really speak Japanese so they felt a bit left out. I ended up speaking with one who was so sweet!

Seeing the graduation was fun, and made me think about Andrew's college graduation or even my own! I never think about graduating from college; it feels so far away and I have so much to do before it happens.

Anyway, the food was nice, but I did not get to try all of it. There was Indian take out from a place called Herbal Indo Yoga (bwahahahah love the name!), which was naan, samosa, kebabs, and some chicken tikka masala which I was able to eat~ I also got some authentic homemade Thai red curry! It was so interesting and good! A little spicy, but I handled it! I was able to talk to a super nice Japanese man whose daughter was in 11th grade. We spoke first in Japanese, then he switched to English. He told me some restaurants to check out in San Francisco! He was such a nice man~ I love being able to meet nice people! There was also a very literate and knowledgeable chemistry teacher who knew a lot about ancient history whose wife was from Thailand. They have the cutest, chubbiest daughter lol!

The desserts were wonderful! I was able to get some macarons to try, yay! The lemon one was awful, but the strawberry and matcha ones were good. Around 10 pm, I was exhausted so I walked home and rested after a busy but rather fun night!

Day 24: Cooking Time!! :D

Day 24: June 10

On this Thursday, some of my host-mom's students came over to make us a grand feast! They taught me how to make makizushi, and I helped mix the sushi rice and cut the veggies for tempura! Everything was very delicious and interesting! There even was oden, a Japanese style stew....hmm, it's hard to explain exactly what oden is. It's an interesting mix of foods that are "stewed" in a dashi-type broth. I tried some of it, like the mochi piece and the hard-boiled egg, but I have to admit that I don't really like it. There was lots of tempura, and some fried shrimp too, but the fried shrimp were a bit too bland. I felt like they needed some extra pizzazz~~ (is that how you spell it? haha)

The ladies were very nice, but a bit shy! We had strawberries and yogurt for dessert, along with green tea jelly. Japanese yogurt is interesting...sometimes it tastes too much like butter or something! Definitely different!

It was so nice of them to come over and I learned a lot! Thanks to those ladies, I got to make makizushi and I was able to take many nice pictures for my book project! :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 23: Renoir in Osaka?!

day 23: June 9th

This was definitely the day where my homesickness hit it's peak! I called my father, telling him how I felt, but he told me what I needed to hear. I had to be strong and make the most of my time here, even though it can be hard and it's a bit of a shock. I have never traveled outside of the country for such a long time (well, I did live in France when I was a baby, but I don't remember it!). My dad was right; I needed to take a deep breath and shake off the tears and look ahead!
Luckily, this day I was going to meet one of the new friends I had made! Yu-san, who took me to Arashiyama and Kinkakuji, invited me to go see the Renoir exhibit at the National Museum of Osaka! I met Yu-san's mother, Matsuoka-san (who is a Japanese woman in the extreme, very nice though), Noriko who is so sweet, and saw Kayo again, who is awesome! :D Matsuoka-san didn't go to the museum with us, we just saw her at the Umeda station going into Hankyuu department store, haha~ She was nice, but treated me like a three year-old, which I didn't really appreciate. They all could tell I was feeling a bit down, so they cheered me up!
We took a train to Nakanoshima, a city built on landfill, which is where the museum is. It was a grey day, and starting to get pretty humid.

The museum itself was fun! It was interesting to see an art exhibit, especially of Western art, in Japan! I have to say, the paintings were marvelous, but the gallery where they were hanging was so stark. We followed a labyrinthine path to see the paintings and various sculptures. Some of the paintings were so summery and filled with cheerful colors! Many of the works I had never seen before; my father would have loved it! ;) The gift shop was SWARMING with people! Japanese people love giving gifts and buying souvenirs, thus people were buying so much! I ended up spending a lot of money; I bought tons of postcards (since I collect them), a poster for my new Townhouse next year, a notebook, a matted picture for Mari, and something for my Dad! :D I hope he likes it!

After the museum, we went out and were supposed to meet Matsuoka-san for a bite to eat. None of us had really eaten lunch, so we expected to go to a real restaurant, but Matsuoka-san wanted to take us to a tea room! Before that, we each got a tofu donut from Hara Donuts! So good! A revelation! I got the lemon honey one!

The tea room was called the Musica Tea Salon, and it was high up in a building, as the fancy places in Japan usually are. Most of us ordered a cake set, which came with cake and tea. But, I got cake and some orange juice. The cake I chose was a delightful caramel mousse/steamed cake! It was so delicious! So sweet, and with a pleasantly fluffy texture~ I was so happy~~ Then, we sat there for hours talking, well, Matsuoka-san did a lot of the talking. I got a headache trying to follow her Japanese!

When it started to get dark, we left the quaint tea room. Matsuoka-san wanted to take me out to dinner, but I felt too tired and just wanted to go and rest. In the end, she bought me some okonomiyaki and matcha jellies to take home. Before she left, Kayo-san gave me her favorite bracelet, which had touched me so much! She said she wanted me to have something to remember her by! I really have made some wonderful friends here! I was also so happy to meet Noriko, as she and I have so much in common!

Thank you Yu-san, Kayo, Noriko, and Matsuoka-san for a great day!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Days 21 & 22: Of Food, Elevators, and Hyperactive Pets

Monday, day 21, was not much of a day....I hate to say it but I don't really remember what I did! I tried to take a little walk, but it was hot and rainy, so that didn't work out too well, haha~ I was still in the homesick slump, and with the awful weather I didn't have too much motivation. But, I soldiered on! I knew I had the support of Andrew and my family and friends, so that helped me! :)

Tuesday was quite a day! I was invited to a special lunch hosted by some of my host-mom's students! We went to Suita, a nearby residential neighborhood with steep streets and lovely houses~ The woman whose house we went to, Akama-san, was very lovely! She has an elevator in it!!! Crazy! XD She and the other ladies made lots of food, such as tempura, chunky miso soup, and special rice with egg and fish. For dessert, we had a lovely chocolate walnut cake and some tea~ So pleasant! I spoke to the nice ladies in English to help them and told them about my life in America. Then, I went to another lady's house who lives nearby. She hosts exchange students and wanted me to spend the night. Since I have so much planned before I go home, I am unable to visit her. But, she was very hospitable and had a sweet, super energetic chocolate toy poodle named Hug-chan! XD I enjoyed meeting all the ladies and had my first taste of traditional Japanese home-cooking!

Then, I relaxed the rest of the day~ Very quiet and peaceful~ :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 20: Obento Sunday~!

Sunday was a rather nice day, full of good eats and supermarket adventures! It's so fun going to the supermarkets here; so much interesting and delicious-looking food! :) Since we were going to have curry rice soon, we went and picked up some ingredients for it, such as veggies and curry roux (blocks). Since it was lunchtime and we were all hungry (all being Mari, myself, and her son Bruckie) we picked up some goodies! I got a classic Japanese o-bento and a little salad. We also bought a fancy roll cake since Mari's since it was church day for Mari. They were handing out free samples and it was sooo good! XD
The o-bento was tasty and fun to eat! The little bit of spaghetti under the little sausage made me nostalgic, and the fried shrimp was good too! All in all, a very satisfying lunch. Mari is awesome. :)
The roll cake was sooooo creamy, sweet, and fluffy! I really enjoyed it! It was a relaxing day; from my room upstairs I could hear Mari and her church friends sing songs and it was rather comforting. I was able to talk to Andrew a bit, which made me happy! Yay!

Day 18: Feeling the Heat!

Ok, I am going to be honest here. This whole week has been really hard for me. I've been feeling very lonely and homseick. It's natural to feel this way, since I have been here for a while, and I still have three weeks before I go back home. I am trying to stay busy and strong; I need to stay motivated! I miss Andrew, my family, and school sooooooo much! I just need to keep in mind that they are rooting for me and that it's okay. It's just hard. This is the first time I have ever been in another country, let alone for this long! I think it's a bit overwhelming for me.

This day, last Saturday, was hard. I felt sick because of the night before, and I didn't have any plans. I missed Andrew like crazy. Luckily, I was still reading the book I had brought, so I read that to relax. In the afternoon, it was so lovely so I walked to the little park down the street to read a bit. I snapped some pics because there was such a nice view! I love how Japan has so many little hidden pathways~ :)

Anyway, I am trying to stay positive! Sadly, I have finished that book so I hope I can find another one in English at a bookstore this weekend...thank goodness for little parks though. They can clear your mind. :) I did get a lot of mosquito bites's that time of year!

Day 17: The Day I Actually Became Sick of Food...

I will admit, all the eating I did n this day did me in. I felt pretty sick for a few days after and am just now getting over it.

Friday, around lunchtime, I was feeling adventurous and decided to go out and eat ramen for lunch. Going out and doing things really helps combat the homesickness. I went to a rather popular ramen place nearby and ordered the wontonmen, ramen that has thin wontons in it. It was pretty good, and everyone was nice to me there too! No one looked at me funny when I brought out my big camera. The ramen noodles were thin (Hakata-style?) and tasty! The soup was fatty and a bit spicy, but it was all right. I finished quickly and walked to a pastry shop in the opposite direction from the house! I ordered three goodies: a chocolate and nuts cake slice, a green tea macaron, and a strawberry tart. After I chatted with Andrew for a bit (yay!) I took some pictures of the chocolate cake and macaron for my book project. I ate both, and felt a bit sick, but I shrugged it off. Then, after relaxing for a bit, I was told that we were going out to Yakitori (grilled chicken parts on skewers)!
We ended up waiting for an hour since we were such a large party (I'm staying with a big family!) and when we finally were seated, we were all so hungry! We ordered a ton of food!
I got an apricot sake drink, since I am of age in Japan, and it was very tasty and sweet! I ate so much! There was chicken skin (all of this on skewers by the way), asparagus and pork, bacon and mochi, chicken wings, salad, shio ramen, and so much more!
For some reason, I started feeling overwhelmed and kind of sick. I think the food in Japan is too rich; there is a lot of fat in dishes, which makes them heavy. Add in the hot and humid weather, and you get an Ophelia with a queasy stomach! I was so tired, and I was also starting my "womanly times" if you get what I mean, which made me feel so much worse.
I am taking a break from ramen right stomach is rebelling against heavy food. I have been eating lightly because I want to be healthy and feel good in this weather. It was a fun day, but full of food! XD Crazy times!

Day 16: Shopping Fun!

I was happy to spend Thursday afternoon shopping with Mari! She took time off work to hang out with me and it was fun! We first shopped for shoes in Namba, and we both got a cute pair of sandals~! :) Then we drove to Umeda to go to Kiddyland, an underground shopping area with tons of stores full of cute things, haha~ I found some awesome Mameshiba stuff! It was just fun to walk around and be out~ :) I even found my mom a cute gift, which made me happy. Mari and I were so exhausted after shopping, but it was a good kind of tired. :) We didn't have time to go to a popular store called Loft, so we are going this weekend!

That cream puff pictured above was so delicious! The cream was light and vanilla-flavored; I really enjoyed it! We were so hungry afterwards of course! ;)

Anyway, it was a fun shoping day! Thank you Mari for spending the day with me! :D

Day 15: Osaka Aquarium Adventure!

I had wanted to go to the Osaka Aquarium for a long time! Known as the Kaiyukan, it is located at the Osaka Port next to the ocean! I was really looking forward to seeing the ocean and going on an adventure!
The Kaiyukan is a wonderfully easy place to walk around. I felt so much freedom as I looked at the animals; all the aquariums I'd been to in California were always so crowded and small. But, at this one there seemed to be a lot of room to enjoy the animals.
The fish were cool! There were many different kinds! I loved the cute otters; they were so playful! The Kapibara (picture at top) was so statuesque and awesome. XD The seals were so pretty and smooth when they swam. The crabs were soooo scary! >.<
I really enjoyed seeing the special Japanese whale shark! So cute and chill~ There were finless porpoises too, and those were so pretty and white!
The Kaiyukan seemed like a great place for families and couples. Yes, I went by myself and it was a little lonely. But. I kept thinking about how I want to go with Andrew someday and that helped me cheer up a bit. I did some shopping for gifts in the Kaiyukan and in the mall across the way. I found a Studio Ghibli store! YAY! I got some cute special things~
I took the train to Senri-Chuo when I was done and walked around there for a while. I was starting to get sick of all the shops and the constant shopping though....too much! Mari came and picked me up when she was done with work and I was glad, since I was exhausted. I am so happy I got to be near the ocean again! :) ALso, more cookies and green tea ice cream doesn't hurt! ;)

Day 14: Feeling a bit homesick...

Tuesday was a hard day. I was not feeling well and I was still a bit homesick for school and all my loved ones. Mari was kind enough to bring me to her volunteer work to help out so I wouldn't feel bummed at home. It was a hot day and I was so sleepy in the stuffy office. Everyone there was really nice; they could probably see that I was shy!
The office was for an organization in Minoh known as MOFGA. I forgot what it stands for, but I know it has something to do with helping international people in Mino. I helped translate and then typed up a flyer. It was nice to have something to do!
We had goodies from a tiny bakery down the street for lunch. :) It was a humble shop, so that was fun!
All in all, a hot, humid, homesick, humble kind of day~! (so many "h" words, lol)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 13: Taco Night!

I was still feeling a bit down about the night before, but I tried to cheer up. Not much went on during the day....just taking it easy. I was starting to miss school, Andrew, and my family quite a bit so I tried to keep myself busy. I helped around the house, started cooking the taco meat, and went shopping with Mari to finish getting the ingredients we needed! I was so happy to be cooking for the family; the girls were really craving tacos and I was glad to be able to make something they liked and wanted. :) The sour cream was a bit tasted okay but was hard like butter! We also got some guacamole chips and those went fast! The meat wasn't spicy, but was very comforting! I was proud of myself for being able to cook a meal that was to feed about 7 people! XD

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 12: An Interesting Dinner.....

Most of my experiences in Japan up to this point were very positive, but some have been a bit.....interesting.
I was invited to an Italian restaurant, called Kitchen Tatsuhiro, by a student of my host-mother (who is an english teacher) and there were many people there I didn't know. I felt a little out of place and everyone treated me differently because I wasn't super fluent in Japanese. The restaurant itself was very quaint and cool; lots of vintage Italian movie posters and wine bottles were everywhere. We were served community style and had different courses. First course was a delightful hors d'Ĺ“uvres and I looked forward to the rest of the meal. Sadly, none of the other courses save dessert were very good. The pizza was a cracker covered in cheese and some sauce, with halved cherry tomatoes on top. The first pasta was a bolognese sauce that lacked much taste, and the second pasta was a clam pasta that also lacked any taste. The dessert was tiramisu, and was so delicious! I really enjoyed it; it was so light and creamy! It was my first time eating tiramisu and it was a good one!

However, I felt like a token American and everyone kept asking me questions, like "are you okay with soy sauce?" Are chopsticks difficult for you?" Are you in culture shock?" and the like. I was okay with answering those, but then one man asked if I was in culture shock, to which I replied no, and then asked me if I am surprised that people in Japan don't lick their plates! He then started to pretend to lick his plate and everyone laughed. I was in shock. Perhaps I am being a little sensitive, but I found it rude. The conversation left me feeling lonely and very much like an outsider. It was very nice of Toyoko-san to invite me to dinner, but it didn't go as I had thought it would. I have to admit I was dissappointed with the experience. There were some nice girls there though, including one who had gone to college at SF State; she kept telling me how much she missed SF. I suppose Japanese people have a skewed image of Americans, but I won't let that bring me down!

Day 11: Kimono, New Friends, and Mister Donuts!

Saturday was a bigger adventure than I thought it would be! :) I was a little nervous but excited to go the Kimono event. It was held at the Higashi library and as I walked in there was a little ceramics sale going on! I couldn't stop to look at that time because I wanted to be on time for the Kimono event. When I got there, I was given a number (9) and went to sit down on the Tatami floor. It hurt my legs to kneel for so long! At first I was shy because I didn't know anyone; most of the international students were from Osaka University. I ended up making friends with two girls, one from America and one from Romania! They were so nice and I hope to hang out with them soon! :)

Some of the ladies who were helping out with the event spoke to me in English and Japanese; some thought I only spoke English and treated me a bit differently. It was okay though; everyone was nice. I was just feeling a bit out of it since I didn't know anyone.

I thought the kimono I chose was so pretty! I also chose a pretty pink obi and was so happy to be vested in such lovely pink finery~ The kimono felt tight, but that is because I have curves! I realized that perhaps kimono aren;t meant for women with curves, haha! :D Anyway, it was an interesting experience and I am glad I met some nice people! My new friends and I stayed talking for a long while after the event was over, which was very fun for me. :) It was a beautiful day too, so it felt good! When we left the basement room where it was held, we saw a ceramics sale going on near the front entrance of the library. It was fun to look at the pieces and explain some aspects of ceramics to Ashlyn. :) We stayed looking there for a while, and then she bought some pretty pieces!

After we talked outside for a while, we parted ways and I began my walk home. I thought it was going to be a terribly long walk, but it wasn't at all! I really enjoyed it; the day was beautiful and I felt like I had learned something. I felt inspired, so I started my book for the grant project with a scene from the kimono event. :) I was starting to get hungry on my walk home; I knew I was going to pass a Mister Donuts so I decided to go in there and see what they had!

It was set up like most bakeries-- you pick up a tray and tongs and choose what items you want. I chose a honey old-fashioned, a match ring donut, and a puff pastry filled with a curry sausage! XD Everything was delicious! I actually really want to go back, haha! I was proud of myself for being able to speak and understand the man behind the counter. I ate all three there since I was so hungry. Then, when I was done, I went bakc on my way. When I made it back home, I was tired but proud of myself. I couldn't wait to see the pics of me in the kimono and I couldn't wait to share my day with Andrew! :)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 10: O-sento Adventures and Making Dinner!

Friday was the day I was planning to make dinner! Yay!

Around lunchtime, I went over to Sunny Side bakery to get some garlic bread and goodies for my lunch! :) It was packed, of course, and they were so many delectable goodies! I got the rest of the garlic bread for dinner (5 slender baguettes) and then started looking around for my lunch! :) I got a mini hamburg sandwich, a pizza bread, the amazing matcha muffin, and a lemon cheesecake tart! I wanted to try different things, but I think I like what I had the first time best~ :) The pizza bread had corn in it! XD The muffin is still the best muffin I have ever had!

After shopping there, I walked across the street to Lawsons, a conbini. I bought a Japanese fashion magazine that came with a Hello Kitty bag and a Mameshiba book! YAY! Then, I walked back home. Tecola came back from work and asked if I wanted to go to the O-sento, which is the bathhouse. I was flustered, but I said yes since I didnt have anything else planned.

It was not too far away and the bathhouse itself was so nice inside! Very classy and fun atmosphere! It was not expensive either. I put my shoes in a locker and gave the key to the lady behind the desk. She then gave me a bracelet with a bar code that keeps count of what I buy/order. Then, I was escorted upstairs to the women's bath and shown my locker for my clothes. I wore the key as a bracelt too and, well, started to get ready! First I undressed, then went into the shower area, because you have to shower and clean up before bathing.

Yes, it was a little nerve-wracking at first. I was the only foreign woman and one of the youngest too. No one was mean though, so that was nice. I got a few funny looks, and one old lady smiled at me. :) The water was warm and there were a few different baths. My favorite was the private tub outside. The cool breeze felt really good!

After a while, I started feeling overwhelmed by the heat, and got ready to get out. I changed and dried my hair in the area reserved for primping. I then went downstairs, got a water bottle, and called Tecola to come pick me up. After a little while, he came and got me. We stopped at a secondhand store that had a lot of awesome things!!! I kind of want to go back, but if I did I would spend too much money! XD

The rest of the day I felt very relaxed and energetic because of the baths. It was really nice. :) I started dinner, and everyone enjoyed the pasta and salad! YAY! The garlic bread was delicious too! :)