Saturday, September 28, 2013

Knock on Wood... But Where?

I took this picture when I noticed that all the electrical lines for this train station were incased in rather strange concrete "pipes" that snaked through the entire station. It seemed like concrete was an overly cumbersome material to use as an electrical casing. 
A few days later I was walking across the KGU campus with a friend and in conversation, she used the phrase "knock on wood". It was then that it occurred to both of us that there wasn't any wood in sight. After walking for a bit we found a singular tree to knock on, but clearly there was no wood used in the construction of the campus. 
Since then I have been more aware of the fact that new construction in Japan utilizes very little wood. Of course the old, traditional houses that still stand are absolute masterpieces of carpentry, but that tradition seems to have died out in the construction of new, economical houses.
Returning to the train station, one day I happened to look down at the tracks and noticed that all the railroad ties were made out of concrete! I've often thought when looking at wooden railroad ties in America that such large pieces of wood would be hard to come by now. In Japan that indeed seems to be the case. I would imagine that in Japan natural resources can run out a lot quicker than in America, so when deforestation became a problem, an immediate shift to other materials was probably necessary.
I hope that in the future, America will be more open to making drastic changes when it becomes necessary to protect the environment. knock on... concrete?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Beauty Where You Least Expect It

Though even the suburbs of Osaka are tightly packed and extensively paved, nature somehow finds a way to work itself into the surroundings. Many of the native plants that you might call "weeds" are actually quite beautiful. I've seen white flowers like this growing in the most unlikely places. Even though Neyagawa, where I live has around the same population as St. Paul, MN, somehow it feels more alive and natural. It probably helps that this region of Japan rarely sees temperatures below freezing. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By Popular Demand...

Finally what you've all been waiting for... my Bathroom!!!

I live where my host family's 3 children used to so I have my own bathroom. In Japan, the toilet is almost always separated from the rest of the bathroom and mine is no different. The sink/mirror/shelf combination is very convenient and the head of the faucet comes off with a flexible hose for doing things like washing your hair. If you have hair that is.

As you may have heard, Japanese toilets are technological marvels. This one is controlled remotely via the panel on the wall. The toilet has a seat heater as well as a deodorizing feature. The thing I find most interesting about this toilet is the miniature sink on top of the tank. While I'm not sure exactly why this is a common feature of Japanese toilets, when you flush, the water that will re-fill the tank comes out of the faucet on top allowing the user to wash their hands with the water before it enters the tank. Kinda nifty though not super useful in my opinion. 
Toilet paper in Japan isn't always perforated so the dispenser has teeth that grip the paper when you pull up, making it easier to tear.

Like many toilets in Japan, this one has a bidet feature. Though I haven't been brave enough to use it, it appears that from this panel, you can control the angle, as well as the temperature of the water. 
You flush the toilet by pressing one of the two button on the top of the panel. To save water there are two flushing options, a large (大) and a small (小) flush. I'll let you guess what each one is for. I've seen this feature on a few American toilets so I hope it's catching on outside Japan.

Truly I'm living in Paradise. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Residential and Commerical

I'm not sure if this is explicitly written, more accurately, not written into the zoning laws, but in general, residential and commercial properties are fairly mixed in Japan. I live in a fairly residential neighborhood, but even here we have little pockets of business. Around the KGU dorms, there are houses and businesses in about a 50/50 mixture. It's also pretty common to see a tall building with a restaurant or liquor store at street level and apartments above.
The building pictured here is near my house and is an interesting fusion of a residential home with a commercial facade facing the street.

Becoming a Train Otaku

Well, not really, but I can see why some people find the train system in Japan so fascinating. This is a picture of the control panel at the back of the train. It's identical to the front so the trains can easily reverse. 
At the back there's a man who watches to make sure everything is safe before closing the doors. When the man at the front of the train wants to depart, he rings a bell twice which the man at the back hears. He checks to make sure no one is in a dangerous position and pulls a lever to close the doors. Once the doors are closed, the man at the back rings the bell twice and the train takes off. 
Being on time is extremely important in Japan. All the employees carry pocket watches which I would guess are closely synced. On the right of the picture you can see a green space recessed into the control panel. That's where the man at the front of the train would set his pocket watch so it's always visible. 
The train moves at different speeds between different stations, the fastest speed I've see is when this picture was taken. The train is moving at around 92km/h (57mph). There's no way you'd ever be able to get going that fast on Japanese streets. 

My Home In Japan

This is the place I currently call home. It's tucked in behind another house and has a long driveway that my host father uses to store stuff he's collected from his business as a carpenter. He built the entire house himself and has gradually added on to it over the years. It's a unique house, not especially Japanese but not especially western either. I think it can be best described as "utilitarian." At some point, my host father installed solar panels on the roof which he says generate more than enough electricity to power the whole house. There isn't really a yard to speak of, but I don't really mind. You could say it's nestled in to the surrounding neighborhood.

It's subtle, but having a real house to call home in this foreign land makes me feel just a bit more comfortable as I explore Japan. I feel like I'm not just a tourist. I'm someone who wants the real Japanese experience and is taking steps towards achieving that.

Here is a link to my house on google maps. It's the one with the solar panels. You can see from the picture that it's tucked in behind another house and the long driveway makes it possible to access the street. I can't imagine such an arrangement working out in an American suburb, but it's the norm over here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Social Donuts

I went to Mr. Donut again today, this time with a friend. That makes it OK right? I still have all of my teeth as of this moment.


My host mother makes the most amazing 朝ご飯 (breakfast) for me. This morning I had Orange Juice, Plain Yogurt with Strawberry Jam, Lettuce, Pasta, Bacon, Scrambled Eggs, a Banana, an Apple, and an English Muffin. Quite a bit better than the usual 1-2 PopTarts if I do say so myself. 

Tight Spaces

As you probably know, in Japan there isn't a lot of free space. This manifests itself in some interesting ways. For example, I've seen this in a few places where a person owns a car that doesn't quite fit in their garage and so the front of the car sticks out slightly. Because of this the garage door can't be fully closed. Owning a car in Japan is can be pretty inconvenient at times.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Donuts, Again.

I had lunch at Mr. Donut again. It's interesting, when I was in the US I would never go out this much or spend this much money. Maybe my days of eating peanut butter out of the economy-sized jar for dinner were in preparation for my time in Japan.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rising Water after the Typhoon

The other day I took a trip through the flood channels around Hirakata. The water was probably around 1ft deep and there was space on both sides of the channel before the second incline up to the road.

I found this strange tower which I believe is used to measure and report the current water level of the channel. Here it is before the Typhoon.

And After

Where I was standing for the before picture is now completely under water. Though this is already a drastic increase, judging by the sides of the channels, the water can get much higher.

The リサイクル Shop

It's taken me a while, but I finally found the Japanese equivalent to a pawn shop. They're called リサイクルショップ (recycle shop) and it turns out there's one in my city. I visited it the other day and was blown away. On the first floor there were appliances, camera stuff, and a surprisingly wide variety of fancy teacups. The really cool stuff, though, was on the second floor.


Lots of them. I have my eye on a couple, but I'm going to think a bit more before making a decision. There were a lot of really cheap Fender and Gibson knockoffs that are probably illegal in the US.


Oh so many figures. The ones that don't have a box are ridiculously cheap. For example, that giant Master Roshi is around $9. 


They really had everything. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

Yesterday I went to the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri. Basically, it's a festival where various neighborhoods run their own portable shrine (Danjiri) through the town. The Danjiri are pulled by often hundreds of members of the neighborhood all wearing their guild's "happi" coat. Most of the time the Danjiri are pulled slowly, but at specific locations, often corners, the Danjiri stops, and after waiting for a few moments, the musicians change their beat and everyone tries to pull the shrine as fast as possible around the corner as the individuals on the roof jump around. Even I got caught up in the excitement, it really was quite the spectacle. The Kishiwada festival is a huge attraction and there are many traditional as well as contemporary food vendors scattered throughout the streets. Just like in America, most of the food was overpriced, but hey, it's a festival!

I chose this photo, not because it's especially aesthetically pleasing, but because I think it gives a good sense of what the festival is actually like. In the middle of a modern city, hundreds of individuals in uniform pull these traditional shrines through the streets while thousands of plain-clothed Japanese watch.

I'm not sure but I think there were 20 or so Danjiri rolling around the city. It was really cool to see just how important traditions like this are to Japanese people. I admit I felt a bit left out as there are few things with such deep history in American culture. I felt a bit out of place until a clearly drunk man with a plate of cups of sake offered me one and seemed overjoyed when I accepted. I think a good time was had by all.

Friday, September 13, 2013

View from my host family's house

I took a panoramic shot of the view from my house. We're close to the top of a hill so the view is pretty amazing in my opinion. With any luck, this photo will soon appear on google earth when people navigate to this area.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Cool Scene

The flood channels around Osaka are interesting places. When it really rains, the water can rise up to the wall at the top of the photo.

It Must Be Perfect!

This guy was clipping this tree from the time I left for school at 9:30am till the time I got back at 3:00pm. Must be serious business. All of this house's plants are similarly well-groomed.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


No big deal, just a Citroen 2CV sitting in a parking lot near my house. Seriously, the cars here are too cool. There's also someone who parks a 1997 RX7 outside one of my classrooms. Unbelievable! It's my sense that in Japan, owning a car is so cumbersome, you might as well get a cool one.

Fat, Sugar & Salt in Japan

In the 2.5 weeks I've been in Japan, I've had the opportunity to try a lot of new food. Most of it has been delicious. Some quite healthy, and some a little less so. In general though, I've noticed that when Japanese food companies use fat, sugar, and salt in their products, the tend to try to make the most of it. What I'm getting at is that, in Japan, if it's not good for you, it better be pretty dang tasty. In the US, I feel, there's lots of super fatty, super sugary stuff, that only tastes ok. That doesn't seem to fly in Japan.

For example, Mister Donut makes various sugary pastries that sometimes resemble donuts. Their products have some fat and sugar in them, but they make up for it with an amazing, slightly crunchy, texture and many interesting flavors. Similarly, the hamburgers at McDonald's seem to be of somewhat better quality. I would imagine the fatty American version of the McDouble wouldn't be received warmly in Japan.

It's also possible that I'm just trying to justify all the crap I buy to eat between the wonderful, healthy, meals my host mother makes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Cats

I am extremely fortunate in that my house has 3 wonderful cats. My host mother found them as abandoned kittens and nursed them back to health. From top to bottom: Marou, Luffy (like from Onepiece), and Koban. It took a little while, but they're all used to me now. In fact, Koban is so used to me, he decided to mark my closet with his unique odor. Koban isn't neutered and apparently my room has traditionally been off limits for the cats. I let him in and he decided to make himself right at home. Lesson learned I guess. In any case, they're super adorable, and from time to time they jump into this cardboard box with a rope attached my host father calls a "cat boat", you'll see.

I couldn't ask for a better host family methinks.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Real Thing

I've settled into my host family's house. The first night they invited their son and daughter who live in Kyoto to come and welcome me. We had a giant meal with Takoyaki and sushi. I was stuffed! My family is very nice and I'm getting lots of practice speaking Japanese every day. We took a more formal picture, but I think this one more accurately depicts my family. I feel like I'm going get the real Japanese experience living with them. My host sister's husband is interested in cameras so we had a good chat about them, in Japanese would you believe! Classes are starting now so I probably won't have as much free time, but I think it will be a pretty awesome semester.
From left to right: (sister, mother, me, father, brother, sister's husband)