New Year, More Adventures

Sumi-e Final: 「傾城傾国」(equivalent of a Femme Fatale)

Sumi-e Final: 「傾城傾国」(equivalent of a Femme Fatale)

Well, Happy New Years ^^ I know, it’s a wee bit late, and I won’t bore you with any excuses (none of them good anyway). Instead, I’ll dowse you with pictures while talking about what I’ve been up to lately. Let’s see, I didn’t do much between Christmas and New Years, just went to a Secret Santa Christmas Party that the international students threw, and I marathoned a Japanese drama called Rookies (which was phenomenal, by the way). Took a small break from marathoning Rookies to Skype with my family when the 1st came around (it was pretty fun actually – I was Skyping them while they were at Church, so I got to listen to the message which was much needed). Well, to make a long story short, by the time I had finished watching Rookies (and then reading the manga version), I hadn’t eaten an actual meal in days (suffice to say, I go hard when I marathon). I forced myself to get up and go out for some sushi and spaghetti (weird combo, I know). After that, it was pretty much just going to work and finishing up the last few days of classes (had to present my Sumi-e final in Japanese =,=). Met with a friend from my home college, and then the real fun started: the Onsen (Hot Spring) Adventure.

梅 (ume)

梅 (ume)

梅園 (Plum Garden)

梅園 (Plum Garden)

Local Shrine

Local Shrine

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the semester was coming to an end, a lot of the international students who were only staying in Japan for one semester were getting reading to return to their home countries. Over this past semester, I had gotten really close with one such student. So before she returned to China, we wanted to have one last hurrah – hence, the onsen trip. Since we went to Hakone last year, we had heard that the area was pretty well known for its onsen, so we decided to go to a traditional inn in Yugawara (which is a little south of Hakone, I believe). On our way to Yugawara, we stopped by for the Plum Blossom festival. Unfortunately, not many plum blossoms (or ume, in Japanese) had actually blossomed, but thanks to that, we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. As you can see, not many blossoms on the tree, right? Anyway, after that, we had some time to eat before our train (and since we had gotten up around 7 am and it was well past 12 at that point, we were quite hungry). Found a quiet Japanese restaurant, had katsudon for the first time (pretty tasty), and then we visited a local shrine right before catching our train.

Our room

Our room

On the way to the outside onsen

On the way to the outside onsen

How to describe this ryokan.. simply marvelous. It was truly a relaxing stay, to say the least. Once we arrived at the traditional Japanese inn, we didn’t bother going out to explore the town (and that was absolutely fine with me). Instead, we went through a process of trying out the various hot springs they offered. Out of all of them, the outside hot spring we went to after eating an incredible and filling dinner was the best. It was lightly snowing that day, so the night had a slight chill to it. But the moon was as clear as ever – full, white, and gleaming at us through a surrounding sea of clouds. Looking up at the moon and sinking into the warmth of the waters below was perfection. I would have loved to take a picture of that, but somehow I don’t think my fellow female bathers would have approved. After returning to our room, we relaxed and ate mikan while watching some television. Out of the 8 channels available, one of the first ones we saw happened to be showing Kung Fu Hustle. Now, I know this might not mean anything to most people, but for someone like me who has a dad who loves Chinese movies, seeing Kung Fu Hustle on made me laugh and reminisce about all of the various kung fu movies my dad and I would watch back home together (my personal favorites are Shaolin Soccer and the Tai Chi Master). It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

Trust me, I did not want to leave the next day to head back home. My body felt amazing after repeatedly going into the various onsen for a day and a half (went in over 7 different times), and I was more than ready to sink into another fit of bliss. But, since I had work that night, I figured it was best to show up.

And so that brings me to the past few days. I think it was Friday, actually. I was reading manga (like I usually do) when I had the sudden urge to buy some video games. The whole week, I had been meaning to play some video games anyway, but I kept finding manga that I wanted to read. Well anyway, after the thought flashed through my mind about buying some games, I went online and looked some stuff up about whether the 3DS and PSP were region locked (in case you’re wondering, PSP games aren’t but the UMD movies are, and only 3DS games are region locked, so you can still play any DS games). Then I made a list of games I wanted for both, and off I went the next day to buy to my heart’s content. IMG_0866And this is what I ended up with: Shining Hearts, Tales of Phantasia X, Last Ranker, Children of Mana, Final Fantasy Ring of Fates, Final Fantasy XII, and Fire Emblem Awakening (this is the only one in English since – like I said – 3DS games are not region free)… and yes, that is a One Piece blanket behind them. I had bought enough breakfast, lunch and dinner to last me until today, so I spent the whole weekend indulging on some “me” time.  After unwinding and recharging, I think I’m ready to get out there again and mingle with the folks (and believe you me, recharging myself was necessary – interacting with people while I’m drained is never a good mix). But, since I still have a few hours until I’m expecting my guest, I think I’ll play some Harvest Moon.

It Could’ve Been Me… well.. not really

  It’s been a while, huh? I guess I’ve been kind of busy–at least, that’s what it seems like according to my planner. Went to Hakone, Ueno Kōen, Meiji Kinenkan, Kanda Shrine, and had some adventures/ errands to run in Jyūgaoka (where I went to a health spa for the first time (//∇//) ), Akihabara and Iidabashi.

Hakone (箱根)

Hakone (箱根)

Hakone 箱根 (yes, that's Mt. Fuji 富士山)

Hakone 箱根 (yes, that’s Mt. Fuji 富士山)

Hakone 箱根 (and yes, that is a pirate ship)

Hakone 箱根 (and yes, that is a pirate ship)

IMGP0392

Kanda Shrine (神田明神)

That is not to say that I haven’t been trying to find something to write about.. it’s just that nothing struck me as something I felt I just had to blog about.. until today. Seeing how it’s Christmas Eve, I wanted to relax at home. I guess for me, relaxing means snacking on junk food while watching a walkthrough of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Acclaimed as the best Assassin’s Creed game yet (not really trying to promote the series, just stating the facts), I’ve been enjoying the experience; but it seems like with anything that you watch online, it’s (almost) impossible to avoid one thing. Yup, advertisements. Thankfully, I can usually skip them after 5 seconds, but every now and then that option is not made available. So, I have grown accustomed to just watching them–especially if I’m doing something else at the time (like eating). Saying all that to say, while I was watching the play through, a couple of different advertisements came on that peaked my interest (3 in particular). Of course since I’m in Japan, they were in Japanese, but I still wanted to share one. And the beauty of it is, you don’t even have to be fluent in Japanese (or really even speak it at all, though it might help to understand a bit about the culture) to get what’s going on in this video. To give a short summary though, it’s called 「通学ダッシュ」(Tsūgaku Dasshu or “School Dash”), and it’s about a female high school student, Misaki, who is usually late to school. However, that particular morning, she wakes up after having a horrible dream where a disciplinary teacher closed the school gate on her (since she was late, naturally), and even after begging and pleading, he rejects her excuses, telling her to give up. To make sure that doesn’t happen, she leaves home early to set out for school. Suffice to say, things don’t really go her way…

Why am I even talking about this? Well, there’s this one part that got me thinking–that first time where she decides to take a different path because she’s scared of a dog. That one choice changed everything for her. And I realized how one simple (or seemingly simple) decision can influence, not only the rest of our day, but maybe even our lives. Okay, maybe I’m being a little overdramatic but hey, that’s what happens when you’re home alone (heh, good Christmas movie) all day and have got plenty of time to think. The point is, sometimes we don’t really give much thought to the choices we make on a daily basis. But have you ever stopped to think how some of those choices influenced who you are today? Again, this may seem like I’m digging to deep just for some random clip, but it never hurts to think like this every now and then… and who knows? You might just learn something new about yourself that you didn’t see before.

What can I say? I'm a One Piece fan (=D)

What can I say? I’m a One Piece fan (=D)

Whelps, seeing how it is Christmas Eve (and Christmas is only one day away ^^), I would be remiss to not throw in at least one Christmas pic. So, here it is. So, that turned out to be more than one picture, but hey, you know what they say – the more, the merrier! Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas!!!

 ☆*:.。.\(^O^)/*.。.:*☆

“1, 2, 3 Chee-” “Freeze!”

Alright, so this will probably be a short one. Not much to say, but I did have quite an interesting experience (to say the least) this past weekend.

It started out on Saturday… So I’ve been wanting to buy a camera for a while, and seeing how cameras can be pretty expensive, I had to go to the bank. On my way there, however, I was stopped by some police. I suppose I should feel flattered that they assumed I was fluent (or at least able to speak) their language since they immediately engaged me in rapid Japanese, asking me where I was from and where I was going. It took me a moment to answer them since I was still processing the fact that cops had actually stopped me (without me having to rob a bank or mug someone first). Didn’t really know they could just do that. Did I look particularly suspicious that day with my floral sweater and brown cut-off gloves? All I could think of at the time (besides “Why is this happening to me?”) was, “Is this how Middle Eastern people felt whenever they were stopped initially after 2001?” Thank God I wasn’t upset or anything, but it was still kind of weird (heard later that they were randomly questioning various foreigners). Anyway, when I told them I was on my way to Meguro and such, one of the men asked me for some type of card (don’t ask me what since I didn’t know that specific Japanese word). Me being my blond self (as my mother would so delicately put it), I took out my train card as if that would actually help. In a way it did, I guess, because the expression he gave me when I handed it over to him was pretty amusing. It wasn’t until the other officer clarified that they wanted to see my “在留カード” (or residence card) that the man holding my train card seemed to register my misunderstanding. Cue a silent moment of awkwardness and randomly staring at each other. With that moment out of the way, and me in possession of my train card once again, I handed over my residence card, and was then sent off on my way with ‘thank you’s and a few bowing of the heads.  I should have known right then that it wouldn’t be a normal day.

With money from the bank in hand (or wallet in my case), I made my way towards Shibuya. A wonderful officer (?) guided me to the Biccamera, since the sign that told me it was one place led to an empty room with boarded doors, and I began my search for the camera I wanted. Found every model except the one that I had earlier decided upon online until a clerk came up to me to ask if I needed help. I told him the model number, and was then taken to a computer where we found that the store did have the model (in storage, though the color I wanted was out). I told him that was fine, and chose another color. He then proceeded to show me every accessory he thought I might need: a case (sure), lens protector (okay), SD card (…alright), screen protector (…y-yeah?), and so on. The price kept climbing, and I had to wonder if the shop assistants received a commission from the purchases they assisted with. If so, I felt he did an excellent job in persuading me (though it probably wasn’t that hard), since I pretty much bought all of his recommendations. And why not? If I was going to invest in a camera, I might as well make sure I properly equipped it, right? Plus, he was very helpful and kind. I did have to turn them down on buying a 5-year warranty though; 1-year warranty shall suffice, thank you.

300 year-old Pine

300 year-old Pine

浜離宮恩賜庭園  (Hamarikyu Gardens)

浜離宮恩賜庭園 (Hamarikyu Gardens)

Awesome, with my new camera by my side, the places I wanted to capture continued to increase. Of course being in Shibuya, I wanted to see Hachikō (for some reason, I have been fascinated by Hachikō for quite some time). Long story short, I didn’t see the 8th exit, and I didn’t feel like spending my whole day there in search of it since it had started to drizzle and I still wanted to go to the Hamarikyu Gardens. So without seeing Hachikō, I arrived at Tsukiji-shijo, and walked the 5 minutes or so it took to get to the gardens. Paid 300 yen to enter, found a bench and started assembling my camera. And then it dawned on me — it being a new camera, would I need to charge it? Pressed the “On” button, and nothing… nada. My whole reason for getting the camera that day was now for naught. But whatever, “C’est la vie,” right? Even using my cellphone’s camera, I was still able to get some decent pictures. And besides, exploring the vast (VAST) gardens was quite enjoyable and relaxing. Seeing all of the different tea houses made my craving for tea escalate, and looking at the 300-year old Pine made me appreciate nature a little more. All in all, though it was an eventful weekend in a way that I am not particularly used to, it was still pretty fun. Oh, by the way, found out on Sunday night, that I hadn’t even put the camera’s battery in, so I actually could have used it that same day… yay…

#18(十八番)

 

 

Koshien1-1200

Tennoji High School (天王寺高等学校)

This is a documentary called, “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball,” on Japanese High School Baseball (or 高校野球) directed by Kenneth Eng that I watched last week. It shows the path to Japan’s National High School Baseball Tournament, Koshien (甲子園), of two schools, Chiben Academy (which is known for being a strong baseball school) and Tennoji High School (a public school in Osaka). As I watched the baseball members at Tennoji go through arduous practice (I’m talking like waking up at 7, going to school until 2, practicing for around 8 hours, and then going home to practice some more) and listened to their dreams, I bonded with them – felt as if I was shedding the same sweat, blood and tears as their were. Their passion was contagious, and though my softball practices were never that intense, it made me wish that I had tried harder. I know that America does not have a nationwide tournament like Koshien, especially for softball, but maybe if we had a goal like that to work towards… Well anyway, saying all that to say, the film had my full attention.

Chiben Gakuen (智辯学園)

Chiben Gakuen (智辯学園)

After awhile, they switched from Tennoji to Chiben’s team, and I saw them diligently practice as well. And though I enjoyed seeing them work hard and become better, it was when they showed the cheering team’s practice (which was just as rigorous as the baseball club’s) and Chiben’s baseball coach giving out the 18 numbers to the 30+ members that it really hit me. What they were working for, what it meant, and the weight of it all. After giving out the last number, the coach said, “That number does not belong to you alone.” Among the responsibilities of #18 was to represent all of those who could not receive a number or a place on the bench at Koshien with the rest. Even though each member had pushed past their own limits to better themselves for the sake of the whole team, only 18 players would be able to represent their school. And for those who would not have a place on the field, they were assigned to give their all by supporting the team with their voices. Yes, cheering is still a skill, even if it is not what they may have practiced for those many hours in preparation of Koshien. But, I have no doubt that cheering on the sideline was hard for some – especially if they thought that putting their physical skills to use would have benefitted the team more. And if was hard for them, what about for #18? He had the rest of the team members’ expectations, aspirations, dreams and fighting spirit riding on him. That amount of responsibility is equivalent to that of the captain’s or the ace’s. I guess it is at moments like these when I consciously realize that baseball is more than just an enjoyable sport. It is much more. High School may only last for three years in the natural, and to some, putting in that much work or effort might not seem worth it; and even though I believe it is worth it, I can admit that it is a serious commitment that requires the players to make many sacrifices (whether that be with their family, friends or studies). And to be honest, after watching it, I was a little upset for various reasons. But despite all of that, with the tears streaming down my face and my quivering lip, I could not dismiss the beauty that was created on those baseball fields. The teamwork, the diligence, the dedication. And all I could think was, 「やっぱり、高校野球が大好きだよ。」(I really do love High School Baseball after all…) So if you find yourself with an hour to spare, maybe you should give this video a look (don’t worry, it doesn’t feel like a documentary).

The Truth About Forever

482697_10151387735245316_769459331_nIn my time away from home, I have found that I have had a lot of time to myself, naturally. And with this time, although I’ve spent a lot of it sightseeing and whatnot, I have also done some serious thinking. Since it seems like talking aloud is a universal “no-no,” I have taken to thinking things out it my head. Usually it leads to daydreaming or spacing out, but sometimes I find nuggets of wisdom. One went a little like this: (Keep in mind that I am thinking to myself, and that is perfectly normal) “I can make all these plans that sound flawless, but at some point, I have to be honest with myself. Drop the pretenses, forget about trying to fulfill the (never-ending) expectations of others, and just lay it all down. This is my life. There are choices that need to be made that only I can make. If I just let every aspect of my life be decided by others, can I really even say I’m living? If I can’t live with my own choices and consequences, then I am nothing more than an extension of someone else’s life.” And as I lay here trying to sleep, thoughts of the future are doing their best to keep my busy. I’m somewhere between letting the future “worry for itself” and just wanting to know what I want to do with the next few stages of my life. And though I am at peace, these thoughts have a way of becoming a nuisance if I allow them. Is it too much to ask to just let me enjoy each breath? Everyone’s always looking ahead so far into the future instead of appreciating today. I’m not talking about fretting about the things that are already promised to us in the future, I am referring to all of the uncertainties that lie ahead that people spend so much time now worrying about. Believing that if you didn’t do this or that now, that it would make everything you had to deal with in the future more difficult is a common mindset to have. This is not a negative way of thinking per se, but there should be a limit… And we wonder why people have problems with stress and are mentally and physically exhausted at such a young age. On the flip side, you can probably think of people who are stuck in the past; and that’s not a position you want to find yourself in either. There may always be questions and problems for the future that need to be solved, and regrets or attachments to the past that are hard to let go of, but if we get too caught up in always trying to figure out what is to come or reminiscing about what has already happened instead of focusing on today, then it is more like we are merely existing instead of living. We are not a walking math algorithm that is constantly trying to solve for infinity, so why are we trying to calculate every variable of life? If life is like a flower, then our past would be a time of preparation before we bud – it is what makes us who we are when we do blossom. And our future would be just that, our future. Whether the flower will blossom more or whither and die, we don’t know. So why can’t we just appreciate the past, hope for the future, and enjoy the moment now when we are most beautiful ( and I’m not even talking about physical beauty)? You know, carpe diem: capture the moment, live for today. There was a saying that I used to hear often as a child, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift, that’s why we call it the present.” Instead of worrying about something that is not even tangible yet, I choose to find joy in every moment. Ah, but first I’d like to “find” some sleep.

The Art of War

r169_442x248_9726_Fū_2d_realism_samurai_girl_woman_japanese_picture_image_digital_art

You know, one of the ways I have been able to gauge the depth of a relationship is by what kind of conversations we can have. Naturally, that includes the actual depth of conversations as well. I don’t mean anything like, “How do you feel,” or “Where do you see this relationship going,” although I am sure that those are probably important questions with equally important answers. But if I continue on this track, I can see myself slowly veering from the topic at hand, so let’s get back to “real” conversations. I can’t say that I have had too many serious talks in my life, but the ones that I have had have been among people who I had never thought would become the close friends that I have today (life has a funny way of doing that, huh). Well, anyway, one such discussion happened quite recently. That day a week or so back (it was a Wednesday in case you were curious), I had every intention that afternoon of grabbing something quick to eat and then going on about my business, but one thing led to another and I found myself in an unexpected conversation with a couple of the other girls talking about the very real effects of war (specifically the various cases of PTSD resulting from the tours that some of our loved ones have been affected by). Whether you’re sexist or not, it is probably not a common thought that a group of girls would be discussing war in such detail over a cup or coffee or whatever, but there we were. I, myself, had not anticipated being a part of such a discussion, nor how difficult at times it would be to hear some of the personal stories the others told. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own “world” that we can forget about the realities of the world around us and how they affect some people quite personally. After that, I wasn’t really able to shake off the indelible impression our talk had left with me. Not that I meant to forget about it per se, but just that it heavily occupied my thoughts. As if I was looking at a picture that didn’t quite look right, and I knew the reason but just couldn’t articulate it… well, I’m not really making sense. Let me try again. When I was younger, there were times when I would get so upset that I felt like I needed to release all of the emotions in just one go, and screaming into a pillow just didn’t cut it. I didn’t know a feasible way to express what I was feeling, and it got to the point where it felt like I was in a desperate panic to do something, anything at all (found out later that just closing my eyes and taking deep breaths usually did the trick). But at the time, I felt like I just had to do something.

I mean, have you ever had those moments when you just needed to move? And if you didn’t do something, it felt like you would miss out on something grand? Like the core meaning of your life or something profound like that? Well, for me now, it’s more like when I’m alone, I feel like I can figure important things out. At times like those, I feel a sort of relief by taking walks (with no particular destination in mind) to clear my head. Again, I’m slowly drifting from the point of interest.. so yeah, with war on the mind, or more like how privileged I had let myself feel while others are dealing with “life,” I decided to take one of my walks. I guess what really got me was realizing that every nation has its own war stories to tell (Japan included of course) – its own history filled with fighting and whatnot. As might be expected, I learned about this all back in school, but learning it from a book and hearing it in person are worlds apart to me. And trying to figure out everything by myself this time was making me feel.. trapped? No, that’s not quite what I was feeling, but anyway, whatever it was, I guess it was a natural response, I suppose. After all, we aren’t meant to do everything by ourselves, but I sometimes forget that. Even if I think of all the implications of war and what it means for us, just thinking alone won’t change anything. Of course, action should start with us and changing ourselves, but it’s okay to reach out to an offered hand and accept help when needed. But that’s just one of the many things I have struggled with in the past (and sometimes even now). I’m not sure exactly where I was going with this… just thought that every now and then, we all need a little “real talk.”

The Best of Both worlds: Peace and Excitement

IMG_0189You know, a lot of times when people travel they’re so focused on trying to do as much as they can that sometimes they miss the “little” things – those brief moments of pleasure we sometimes come across when we’re just relaxing and enjoying our surroundings. I had not even really realized that I was one of those people until Saturday. That day, a few of our Japanese friends took us to Yoyogi Park for a picnic. Thankfully, it was a beautiful day, and to top it off, there was such of variety of people and activities going on. After eating a delicious lunch, I finally took a thorough look at my surroundings. There was a class finger painting, a man reading “The Rainbow Fish” to some small children, a couple juggling bowling pins, a man playing the drums while resting against a tree, a group of foreigners playing with bubbles (heh, I know), and a group of businessmen throwing a blue ball back and forth playing a mix between catch and volleyball. The very idea that we were all in the same park but reveling in our own respective activities was fascinating to me. I mean, what really got me though was the fact that even businessmen could make time to just enjoy going to a park to play catch. I was astounded. And before I knew it, I found myself laying on the blanket and watching them enjoy themselves; and it turns out that I was having fun just as a spectator. I felt like I had caught a glimpse of what Japanese “harmony” is – seeing that even outside of the work place, the men were just as united in their game of catch as they would have been while working on a business proposal. And once I realized just how comforting it was to relax in the park, I understood how fortunate I am to be able to take time out of my busy schedule to relish these peaceful moments. I don’t always have to be on the go doing something to feel that my time here in Japan has been fulfilling.

Akira-san's Finished Work

Yukinko Akira-san’s Finished Work

Saturday had to be one of the most relaxing days I have spent in Japan so far. And I am so glad that I was not in a rush, or else I really would have missed out. Take for instance, what happened to me before I had gotten to the picnic. On our way to the gathering, a friend and I came across a street artist. What drew our attention first was the techno-like music we could here when entering the park that was otherwise pretty quiet. That is when we saw Yukinko-san, the artist, dancing to the beat in front of a blank canvas. He was holding something like a knife, and would cut a part of the paper in rhythm to the music. It was quite entertaining, actually (I was even tapping my foot and rocking my head along). After we thought he was done, we clapped and started to leave, but then he brought out some spray paint. I thought about whether or not I should just head over to the picnic, but I wanted to see the finished product. Long story short, he finished the piece several minutes later, and we were so impressed that my friend and I went to tip him. Before the money could even drop into the bucket, he asked us to stay after for a few minutes. In the end, he gave us his finished piece for free. I’m not sure if he will ever know the impact his gesture made on me, but it set me in quite a refreshing mood for the rest of the day; and I never would have experienced that if I had been in a rush.

Yomiuri Giants vs. Hiroshima Carp

That is not to say that the only moments in Japan worth experiencing are the peaceful and relaxing ones; after all, what’s life without a good thrill? To finish off my weekend, I went to a baseball game with the girls on Sunday. I had already been looking forward to it for about a month, and let me just say, it did not disappoint. The excitement of the stadium was contagious. Hearing the fans sing at the top of their lungs, screaming out the cheers, clapping our hands in tempo to the beat, it was amazing. I had forgotten just how “alive” watching the games in person could make me feel. Even the strong scent of beer filling the air was not enough to deter my enthusiasm. I found myself shouting in Japanese whenever a player made a hit – my voice joining with the crowd. And the sigh of disappointment that we all let out in unison if he got out was enough to make me laugh. There I was, sitting in the stands, eating takoyaki, fully engrossed in the game, and wishing more and more each minute that I had found some way to fit my glove in my suitcase so that I could find somewhere to play softball. And if that was not enough excitement for the night, after that we went on Thunder Dolphin (a roller coaster) for one final thrill. Even though the girls said they were scared, I must say, I am quite proud of my friends – they braved through that admirably. The only way I can adequately describe my weekend, was that I experienced the best of both worlds. So get out there, smell the roses, scream at the top of your lungs, relax, enjoy, breathe, live.

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