Friday, September 25, 2009

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…

kyoto loveIt’s true. I absolutely adore this city. There is no place on earth I’d rather be. If it is at all possible to fall in love with a geographic location, I truly believe that I have. I used to go there almost every weekend while I was studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai, just to go exploring. I could give you an exhaustive list of all of the places I’ve been to in this town and there’d still be a million new ones I’ve yet to check out.

While I was there I visited a few of my favorite places (and some new ones!) with some of my favorite people. For two nights, I stayed at a great little hostel that was situated right between Sanjo and Shjio, in Nakano-cho. Then I stayed another two nights at my BFF’s house… right across the street from Nijo-jo! I had planned to stay a night in Osaka as well, but there were important people to see and making the commute via Keihan line to Osaka for a day trip is definitely no hassle whatsoever. I visited those places in Kyoto Station that nobody knows how to get to, walked on the 哲学の道 all the way to Nanzen-ji, and went to a subtemple there and (very much unlike when I visited Ryoan-ji…) had the crane & turtle garden all to myself (honestly, it was as though nobody knew this place was open). Aki and I went to Heian Jingu and did 座禅 at Kenninji, and afterwards, while still at the temple, ran into a honest-to-goodness Maiko; complete with bells in her shoes and a gracious escort who permitted us a photo. I had coffee with my professor. I visited Umeda with Megu and we had Okonomiyaki and did some shopping. In short, It was a wonderful trip away from Tochigi.

It made me so nostalgic to hear 関西弁 everywhere I went. I get a lot of flack for using it in Kanto – either people find it humorous to the extent of ridiculousness or they just can’t comprehend how a foreigner can pick it up. When you live there for almost a year you might as well forget learning 標準語 at all. I always equate my use of Kansai-ben to a Western Pennsylvania dialect, because anymore I only speak it in comfortable, homey situations with close friends – kind of how I can only use certain words and phrases that will only be understood back in Pittsburgh.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I love being a turtle Kyoto!! (25 points if you can name the movie reference)

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More photos on the Facebook!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

baby, I was born on a train

The Magnetic Fields – Born on a Train

Spectacular Views

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Went for a hike a few weeks ago. Here are some photos of the view.

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Apparently there are wild boars! I really wouldn’t want to run into one of those up in the woods…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I suppose that since I’ve studied Japanese for quite some time now, I often get tired of the extremely patronizing “you’re so good at Japanese!” after I’ve only uttered something like “good morning” or “nice to meet you.” Not long after these remarks, many people go on to say “Japanese is so difficult.” This, according to Greg Smits, is somewhat a source of national identity for people. It's like a little taste of Japanese nationalism. He says in his online text that:

“Indeed, for many in Japan this alleged difficulty is a mild source of pride in one's national identity (e.g., "Yes, I speak a very difficult language--how impressive"). According to linguists, however, it does not make any sense to say that a particular language is "difficult" in absolute terms. If that were really the case, then children in some parts of the world would master the stages of language acquisition significantly faster or slower than children in other places. If, for example Japanese is really an unusually "difficult" language in absolute terms, Japanese children would learn to speak at a slower pace than children in places where an "easy" language is spoken. In fact, however, children all around the world acquire language in the same sequence of states, and, on average, at the same speed.”

Personally, I think it has to do a lot with 日本人論 ("theories of Japanese cultural or racial uniqueness", as my dictionary defines it), which is a topic for another time and place. Smits even covers the truths behinds the myths of this “alleged difficulty”:

“Much of the talk in Japan about the alleged "difficulty" of Japanese is actually not about the language itself but about the writing system used to represent the language. Writing is not language2 but a system for representing language in a durable medium. Unlike the case of languages, which are all about equally "difficult," at least in terms of the speed children acquire mastery of them, there is wide variation in the efficiency of writing systems. As it is written today, Japanese employs a relatively inefficient writing system (as does English, with its inconsistent, often illogical spelling). Though a simple alphabetic script could handle Japanese quite well, owing to the early contact with China, the first Japanese exposure to writing was Chinese characters. Unfortunately, Chinese characters are not well suited for writing Japanese.”

I took a class from Dr. Smits while I was studying at Penn State. I’m pretty sure that he got sick of the constant “日本語上手ですね!” after simple words and phrases after all of the living/traveling in Japan that he did. I’m pretty sure that’s what motivated a lot of this commentary on language that appears in his textbooks. Anyway, even if it’s not, it’s exactly the same as I feel about it.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is don’t try and patronize me with your insincere “tatemae” flattery. It gets really old.

If you want to read more stuff by Dr. Greg Smits, you can read his online textbooks (which I have found to make for some really good reading) and his book “Visions of Ryuku” is available on Amazon. The entrance to the site is at

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Decorating the Leopalace

First of all, I suppose I should explain what a Leopalace is.

Leopalace 21 is a chain of apartments and hotels that can be found all throughout Japan. Leopalace apartments are pretty basic – they give you all the necessities of 一人暮らし(single living). A lot of people I know gripe about how small they are and that the kitchen appliances (namely the double electric burners) are total crap. Leopalace comes with its own TV and Internet service called “leo net.” It’s nice.. but somehow I still manage to have to pay the NHK guy every couple of months. I personally don’t mind my leopalace one bit. Compared to some of the alternatives I’ve seen (like living in a guest house) it is literally like living in one’s own palace.
In addition to giving you all the basics needed for living, if you need to move somewhere else in Japan – oh.. say.. your job transfers you from Tochigi to Kanagawa – you can just go to your local Leopalace office and they will find you another Leopalace in your desired location for more or less the same amount of money. Leopalace also runs their own hotels, which I’ve never experienced, but from the looks of them in the monthly advertisements they seem nice.

However, when I first moved into my Leopalace, it was super boring and not homey at all. Bare walls and floors are just.. really cold and unwelcoming. I felt like I was living in a hotel or just… a big empty room.

Apaato 019So I decided to decorate. I’ve been slowly working on this over the past couple of months. I don’t really have a lot of money to work with and nor do I have a car to move big things like big rugs and furniture. A lot of the things I’ve decorated with are just things I’ve picked up at the Daiso or collected from my travels. 

decor 003First, on the wall directly above the drop-leaf table I made this collage of postcards from places I’ve been to. Some are of landmarks, some are of pieces of art, and some are artwork in and of themselves. The large center images are from a calendar of flower silhouettes I picked up at the Daiso. I add to it every time I go somewhere new!
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These are some day-glo colored votives I picked up at the Daiso. The candles were a little present from my Mom – they are battery operated so there’s no risk of curtains catching fire when I want to do this:

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This is the view of the bed/desk area from the doorway. As you can see, I’ve coordinated the color of the artwork on the walls with the colors of the fabric on the bed. Once again, here we have a montage of posters, brochures, maps and miscellany I’ve collected in my travels. The bamboo is a piece I painted. The two hanging over the bed are from an reproduction of Aloise Corbaz’s sketchbook – from an exhibition I went to recently. The piece on top of the bookshelves is an awesome cardboard dinosaur skeleton that I picked up at Muji. The blanket and comforter cover are both from Ikea.

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Another collection of postcards is below this light next to my bed. These ones are kind of special, as they are artwork by the same artist who designed my yukata. They came in the same package as the yukata in a matching envelope.

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The photo to the left is all of my kitchen ware. The plates and cups are a mix of patterns but mostly with a palette of blue, white and orange (except for the purple teapot, of course). The pans are even orange. Go figure. I keep my mini woodblock calendar in the kitchen so I know when I need to do my recycling. I draped a scarf over my mirror and put some hello kitty suction cup hooks (once again, from the Daiso) on it to hang my necklaces and small handbags on. I like the look of things in both of these places, so I thought I’d include them. I bought a small area rug off of Rakuten and some pillows for sitting on the floor, since I don’t have a couch (which… I really wish I had). You can see them in the reflection in the mirror. They were probably my best purchases. I kind of want to get another rug, since the current one is small.

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I suppose that the biggest challenge of decorating for me is the fact that I don’t have a car. It’s hard to pick up large items if you don’t have one. It was even taxing to tote all the stuff from my trip to Ikea while travelling via train and subway. However, these are the things that brighten my life inside of the Leopalace.It really makes me feel more at home. I’m used to living in brightly colored and eclectically decorated surroundings, and I feel much more at home if there are a million things to give me some visual interest. Hope this has interested you and maybe given you some ideas. That’s all for now!