Week 15: Thank You | ありがとう

I almost couldn’t escape this country. Hokkaido tried to kill me multiple times, with the final attempt as a savage blizzard assaulting quaint Hakodate, exposed on three sides to the sea. In the floodlights you could see snow streaming sideways, passengers in hurried transit. Yet somehow, just 90 minutes late, a JAL flight landed in the midst of tempest. An hour later, it was my plane to Tokyo, ready to take off.

Hokkaido felt like a somewhat different animal from the rest of Japan. The scope of valleys, forests, mountains, and even the coursing flow of the ocean waves felt grander. A certain Japanese sensibility felt flimsier only in the mundane, practical architecture. The more interesting buildings had an international flair in Hakodate and Sapporo alike, and the snow-capped mountains by the sea beats just about any scenery I’ve witnessed to this point. I’m still angry at Hokkaido for making me miss about two flights and giving me a three-inch-radius bug bite on my thigh, but I’m going to go back some day. The skiing was excellent.

Hokkaido did, however, put me firmly back in the realm of tourist, which I hadn’t been for more than four months. I really did feel like a student living in Japan, for which all credit goes to CJS at Nanzan University and the Light Fellowship. Japan is a special place to me–I think Americans can learn a lot from its culture, history, arts, lifestyle, and manners. On the other hand, I know very well now that Japan is far from a perfect place. The education system, working culture, and political system are all deeply flawed. But to me there really is nothing else in the world like relaxing in an onsen, or walking through a zen garden, or enjoying Japanese hospitality and bottomless beverages at a nice restaurant.

But “Thank You” goes to the people, not the country. Thank you to Mr. Light and the Light Fellowship staff for letting me come back over here. Thanks to all the hard-workers at CJS for helping exchange students live in Japan legally with health insurance and all that important stuff. Huge shout-out to my Japanese teacher, Okada-sensei, who is a wonderful person and helped me improve my Japanese in countless ways. At YKK we also had four elderly Japanese managers of our dorm, who varied in their personal traits (cough cough @ strict af Yamada-san), but all were dedicated to helping us live in an enjoyable and convenient dorm.

And FRIENDS! STRANGERS! Why was everyone at Nanzan so nice? I thought Japanese people were supposed to be formal and impersonal! (I mean sometimes stuff was awkward, but, しょうがなない、ね?) I joined jazz club and jammed with a bunch of first-years who had never spoken to a foreigner before; Japanese students came every week to our class to help us practice and chat about fun topics; a girl named Mariko went out of her way to help me volunteer at an elementary school; Tam and Momo invited me to the club every weekend; Billie-Jack was always hosting cooking parties with delicious food where everyone was welcome; Asuha was always down for some Super Smash Bros; Keelan always had wine to share; Pia laughs like an evil Disney-witch at last turned good; Saho and Sayaka and Haruka and Yukimi were always bright faces to see at Stella at lunch time; the list goes on and on and on and on and… it simply doesn’t stop. To every single person: ありがとう。

To Japan: また、ね。

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Week 14- A Semester in Nagoya in Review

Last week I listed the top foods. This week it’s the top places. I’m talking the GO-TO places in Nagoya. I’m talking the DEFINITIVE list. It’s right here, folks. I’m talking, if you’re in Nagoya, this is your schedule. Take it or leave it.

Honorable Mention: An Aeon Near You

Aeon is more than a mall. It’s a place for friends and family. It’s a place to buy 64 Liter jugs of Jim Bean for 2000 yen. Come for the free samples and stay for the free wifi.

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Inferior Aeon: Aratama-bashi Aeon

Superior Aeon: Yagoto Aeon

Top 3 stores: Stationery store, pet store, 100 yen store

 

#10: Atsuta Shrine

One of the most important shrines in Japan, Atsuta Shrine affords a breath of nature in the city and a chance to experience primordial Japanese architecture.

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The sounds of the chiming bells: Rattly and yet somewhat moving

The sounds of the chirping birds: Notably moving

X-factor: A thousand year old cypress tree

 

#9: A Sento Near You

Sento (銭湯) is a local bath-house. It functions essentially the same way as an Onsen but the water doesn’t actually come from the deep bowels of the earth, which technically means there are fewer health benefits, but unless you’re some kind of Onsen-expert, you won’t be able to tell the difference.

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Ambience: Aesthetic

How it feels: Like heaven

X-factor: Hydration and electrolytes at the many vending machines

 

#8: Higashiyama Park

Featuring a tree-lined pond and the (for some reason) Japan-renowned Higashiayam Zoo, Higashiyama Park is the perfect place to take your Sunday stroll.

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Highlight: Sweet lizards at the zoo

Lowlight: The zoo animals are in small cages and therefore stressed out

X-factor: There are snack stands

 

#7: Hoshigaoka

Hoshigaoka is an atmospheric strip of stylish boutiques and restaurants just twenty minutes out from downtown.

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Ambience: Aesthetic af

Impact on your wallet: Considerably damaging

Added bonus: Western atmosphere if you’re home-sick

 

#6: Fushimi Park

Fushimi Park is itself a gorgeous and spacious park right in the center of Fushimi, a neighborhood famous for its museums and relaxing shopping and dining, a breath of fresh-air from the craze of Sakae.

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Coolest thing: Sandwiched between Art Museum and Science Museum

Lamest thing: The large fountain only occasionally shoots powerful jets

Weirdest thing: The high concentration of tropical plants

 

#5: ID Café

Arguably the best club for foreigners to go to in all of Japan, you can get in before 8:00 for free if you’re a girl and for 1000 yen as a guy. Do you want to be at a club that early? Of course you do. You can watch middle-aged men breakdance for a little bit and then surrender yourself to what inevitably will be an incredible night as young people gradually flux in. There are six floors featuring all different kinds of music.

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Crowd: Young, foreigner-friendly, and generally not-creepy

Bartenders: Willing to befriend you if you put in some effort

Best floors: Floor 1 from 7:00-9:00, Floor 3 from 9-11:00, Floor 6 from 11:00-1:00 (Saturday only)

 

#4: Oosu Kannon Arcade

Kimonos. Pizza. Spunky fashion. Maid-costumes. Kebabs. Used clothes. Collector-edition Bionicles. Used CDs, DVDs, and comic books. People walking around in cosplay and purple mohawks. Oosu Kannon is where you want to be.

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Deals: Excellent

Style: Straight-Up Ninja

Flair: Unmatched

 

#3: Inuyama

Inuyama is technically outside of Nagoya, but it only takes 40 minutes to get there by subway. This is your “ye-ole” Japanese experience in Nagoya, with a castle, amazing street food, and traditional crafts.

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Castle: Unrenovated, hella old, not even that stanky

Effect on your wallet: Surprisingly minimal

X-factor: SNACKS ON STICKS
#2: Sakae

Sakae is where you want to spend your Thursday-Saturday nights in Nagoya. It has it all: luxury department stores, bargain shopping, tiny back-alleys full of mom-and-pop restaurants, top-notch clubs, seedy bars, a six-floor Don Quixote, Book Off, and food from all around the world.

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Ambience: 21st century urban paradise

Top department stores: Maruzen and Mitsukoshi

Effect on your wallet: Astronomically disastrous

 

#1: Your Local Conbini

Well, it may be anticlimactic, but this is the most important place you will ever go in Nagoya, or all of Japan for that matter.

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Ambience: Just like true home

Products: Always exactly what you need

X-factor: ATM, hot coffee, and bathrooms

A Semester of Food in Review

My time in Nagoya is almost over. For the next two weeks I’ll start to go over some of my most memorable experiences here—this week food, and next week places. Feel free to take these lists as recommendations and inspiration in your own future Japanese travels, or just to get a little taste of abroad from home. Here is four months of Japanese food in review—the ten most delectable delicacies I have eaten while in Japan.

 

Honorable Mention: Ise Udon (¥400)

A local brand of udon wrapped in tofu skin and served in a delicious soy broth.

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Aesthetics: Pleasing

Originality: Mind-boggling

X-factor: A 90-yen side of shrimp cake in broth

 

#10: Fruit Parfait (¥700)

Japanese fruit parfaits are notoriously aesthetic.

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Fruit Variety: Surprisingly high

Fruit to cream ratio: Well-executed

Secret ingredient: Sneaky Japanese tea-bean-stuff

 

#9: Fancy Tofu Dinner (¥???)

When the Light Fellowship takes you out to dinner, you accept.

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Flavor: Subtle

Aesthetics: Wabi-sabi

Conceptual mystery: More plates -> more fun -> ??? -> profit

 

#8: Miso Katu (¥1300)

Nagoya is famous for its miso, and a local store hidden in a winding alley downtown delivered.

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Miso flavor: Spectacular

Pork quality: Seems to be no problem here

X-factor: A fluffy orange egg

 

#7: Soft-Serve Ice-Cream (¥300)

Japanese ice-cream is creamier than American ice-cream. ‘Nuff said.

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Iciness: Top-notch

Creaminess: Top-notch

Secret ingredient: A small crispy slice of bread

 

#6: Homemade Hot-Pot (¥400)

Buy packets of spicy sauce to prepare vast vats of hot-pot with friends. Add only the ingredients that you want to eat (more bean sprouts!). The possibilities are endless!

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Key flavor: Kimchi

Key ingredients: Bean sprouts, regular tofu, tofu skin, the circular tofu thingamabobs, the other kinds of tofu

Added Bonus: The pleasures of social interaction with other human beings

 

#5: Nagano Mushroom Soba (¥800)

Nagano’s soba noodles are renowned throughout Japan, and its best to eat them with their wonderful earthy cousin, the mushroom.

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Nagano soba relative to other soba: Tastier

Nagano mushrooms relative to other mushrooms: Mush tastier

Ambience: Rustic farmside mountain shack

 

#4: Adorable Omelet Rice-Curry (¥1200)

Japan can makes things cute like no other country, and believe it or not, this also applies to omelet rice.

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Omelet: Perfectly scrambled eggs

Rice: Chicken-chunked spiced-up rice

Secret ingredient: Symmetry

 

#3: Kajikken (¥700)

Welcome to the world of abura soba, ramen noodles prepared in pork fat.

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Before you eat: Looks OK

The moment you eat: It’s so GOOOOOOOOOOOD

Much later: SOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD

 

#2: Unagi-Don (¥2200)

Boiled eel on rice is one of Japan’s most famous dishes, and with the ongoing eel shortage (for real), you best get in on this trend before all the eels are gone 😦

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The taste of unagi: Like good fish but buttery and gently charred

How much can you eat before getting sick: A little more than this much

Secret ingredient: A mysterious salty delicious fresh plump tomato as an appetizer

 

#1: Endless Yakiniku (¥3000)

It hurts me to rank something so expensive at number 1, but if the place is any decent, all-you-can-eat Japanese barbecue will send you straight to heaven.

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Sauces: Various and ideal

Flavors: Meaty and ideal

X-factor: You get to participate and cook your own meat!

Week 12- Food Review: Coco’s Curry

Tuesday is Coco’s night at the YKK dorm. Why exactly, I do not remember, but it has become a tradition for a group of guys to go to the local Irinaka branch of the Japan-chain Coco’s Curry on Tuesday. I went for the first time about ten days back, greatly excited because I love curry, and also because there undoubtedly was some reason behind all the love for the Irinaka Coco’s.

“What level are you gonna get?” my friend asked me. According to his explanation, at Coco’s you choose your spice factor from 1 -10. Given it’s Japan (things aren’t very spicy in Japan), I went for a seven, whereas two of my friends boldly went for the 10. The rest went for 一番甘い (sweetest and least spicy possible option).

Now, there are a lot of great things about Coco’s. The rice serving is decently sized, and they have a ton of different options for what you get to put on your curry- any kind of fried meat, hamburger with melted cheese inside, asparagus and tomato and spinach, potatoes and peppers, squid and sausage, shredded cheese. They also provide free honey-sauce to sweeten the load, and delicious daikon in enormous quantities. I go for the cheeseburger-asparagus-tomato combo, and everything is looking just dandy. Six of us at a table, joyfully chatting as the servers deliver fresh and steaming plates of brown pork curry and rice.

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It’s not fancy but it does the job.

Within five minutes, the scene is drastically changed.

Across from me, six-foot-five and looking extremely unhappy, is Kyle. He has eaten no more than 25% of his level 10, eyes watery, and his typically gentle voice is even softer, a scuttling mouse afraid of other mice.

Next to him is DiAndre. DiAndre ordered a level 8. Despite being well-adapted to the chile of his Arizona hometown, he has eaten just two bites and is as red as a strawberry.

Finally, next to me is Rob. Rob ordered level 10 and is furiously eating. He consumes squid and sausage and rice and curry and daikon, more machine than man. His eyes burn with passion (or is that his eyes have turned red?)! Far ahead of the rest of us, he’s eaten nearly half of his order. Suddenly he looks up at me. He says that he can’t feel his hands or arms. His body has gone numb.

Meanwhile, I am doubled over. Fire rages in my stomach as electric pins consume my tongue. I devour heaps of sweet daikon to quell the inferno. I hear the welling of blood circling through my body, rushing in and out of my ears. I have eaten five to six bites.

I turn to my curry. It innocently lays stilly in the white plate, wafting aromatic cumin towards me as if it were an ordinary meal and not the devil incarnate. Nevertheless, I raise my spoon to strike again. I deliver a 3:2 rice to curry ratio into my mouth.

In the midst of the ensuing quasar, I transcend to another plane.

All is peaceful here. White clouds drift through the sky like swans, and verdant, soft grass rolls out in waves beneath my feet. The sun sparks and in the brilliance of the glare I do believe I see a God unfurling there, a black thunderstorm descending on a valley.

Our friends order us milk.

I stop eating the curry.

The pain of Coco’s is neverending. For that I reward them four out of five stars. Coco’s has one purpose: to provide Japanese-style curry that is actually spicy. In this regard, they fulfill their own mission perfectly.

If you do go, simply order the normal level of spice. No need to modify it with this whole 1-10 thing. Just order the curry. It will be perfectly fine as it is.

This week’s photo gallery: Nagano Autumn Colors

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Week 10: A Trip to Ise Shrine

Last weekend, I took a trip to the most sacred shrine in Japan, Ise Grand Shrine. Ise has existed in the same architectural form since time immemorial (or 4 BCE), enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu in a mirror, and is rebuilt identically every 20 years.

This shrine comprises a unique and powerful a statement on history, culture, and identity. For two thousand years, adhering to an essentially primordial set of aesthetics, while the rest of the forest, river, and natural site remains undisturbed, one of two side-by-side plots of land has contained a shrine. Approaching modernism in the simplicity of its design, since photography of the shrine itself is permitted, I am unable to show you the pure white field of stones and the elevated, unfinished wooden structure with a thatched roof that comprises the most significant shrine in Japan.

Think about it for a moment. Out of the deepest bowels of history, something approaching 9 times the length of the history of the United States, people have been building the same shrine over and over again. It represents an act of preservation–preserving values, beliefs, rituals, aesthetics, and morals–through rebuilding and renewal. The original Japanese landscape and the 神 (Gods) present within, at Ise at least, have been maintained straight out of the prehistoric Jomon period.

I’ll post my photos from the trip below. The natural site feels pure to the point of sacredness, with a clarion river and trees as big as the redwoods of California.

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The river at Ise.

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Garden-side stone paved walkway to the entrance of the shrine. Past the first set of Torii gates, three more sets of gates remain.

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Just your average typical thousand-year old Ise tree.

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Shinto architecture.

 

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The entrance to the Inner Shrine. Last spot to take pictures. 

 

Other fun things about Ise: delicious seafood, a massive street of snacks and crafts just a few minutes away, close to the seaside, Onsen pearl baths, reasonable food prices, bordering on hundreds of square kilometers of pure and wild woods.

Week 9: Us Americans Really Like Conflict

Three weeks ago in my Japanese Literature class, we were talking about Mono no aware, an ancient Japanese aesthetic. It was a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. According to mono no aware, the sparkling evanescent morning dew is of course beautiful, but more importantly, the bitter brevity of human existence symbolized by the dew is also beautiful. This is called 無常 (Mujou) in Japanese- transience, impermanence- and it’s undisputedly a good thing.

In an American perspective, the recognition that the bitter longing for the ephemeral is present in all facets of human existence, far from being important, is deemphasized. Americans tend to focus on optimism and permanence, and longing for the quickly vanished certainly isn’t seen as a positive in American culture. Still, this class left me wondering if, similar to mono no aware, in American culture there existed a similarly trait, commonly perceived as “negative/bad”, that we actually emphasize as an essential part of America.

Before coming to Japan, this thought did not so much as stir in me. But nowadays, I think I have an answer.

After leaving Literature class that day, I walked across campus to go to the gym. It was a clear day, so plenty of Nanzan students were out and about with their friends. While I looked around, something came to mind. I wondered, why was everyone wearing the same type of clothing and even carrying the same type of carefree attitude? If this was America, students would be wearing all sorts of clothes, but more so at a mere glance I could observe the stress, joy, contentedness, frustration, sadness, bitterness, and anxiety on a dozen different faces. If I had to put a label on the typical Japanese character, you could probably say that Japanese people are often so polite and friendly and inclined towards conformity that they work hard to hide their actual feelings and intentions. This “mask” might stem from a will to show consideration towards others, but can nevertheless be strongly felt in Japan.

America’s the opposite. I like to think about the movie The Breakfast Club. In The Breakfast Club you’ve got four characters: the cool jock, the stylish girl, the degenerate, and the smart nerd. Even though they’re completely different, by working together they’re able to help each other solve various personal problems. In fact, it’s exactly because they’re different that they’re able to help each other. A story like this is as American as apple pie.

In American culture, we of course put great emphasis on the individual. But more than that, I’m wondering if you could say that the conflict that arises between people that are different from one each other is necessarily a bad thing. After all, this conflict between different people ultimately leads to reconciliation and societal advancement in America–or at least its supposed to. For example, in America, it’s worse to have no opinion on politics than a poorly formed one, and you’re definitely doing worse for yourself in class by not taking at all than bullshitting a few points–self-assertiveness, especially if it leads to conflict–is by no means a bad thing. On the other hand, in Japan, you’ve got to preserve the wa, the harmony. And in order to preserve the wa, submissiveness and obedience are considered virtues, and an individual acting as the “lone wolf” is thought to inevitably bring about discord. (And what’s loved more than the lone wolf in American culture? Literally think about any movie.) In Japan, consideration and harmony are tops. In America, even if conflict results, individuality and self-assertion are essential. So I’m thinking… us Americans do really like conflict, don’t we?

I say this because nowadays, the heart of America is in conflict with itself. After Trump’s been elected, we’ve been forced to ask ourselves: is America a country for white people?– or a country for all people? But not just nowadays–since the civil rights movements and antiwar protests of the 1960s (and long, long before), up until the woman’s marches of 2017, it seems like we’ve always been fighting with each other.

It was only Japan that really made me realize this. After experiencing a country where harmony is emphasized to the point of inconvenience and sometimes stagnation, I recognized really how different American people are. In that way, when you first visit Japan, and see that it’s easily as developed as America, the cultural differences start off as disguised.

It’s a stretch, but I’m wondering if in the same way mono no aware is an essential part of Japanese culture, the benefit of conflict arising from difference is an essential and viewed as “good” in America.

Tomorrow, I go to Ise Shrine.

日本語の翻訳:

三週間前、日本文学の授業で、もののあわれについて話し合っていた。私のアメリカ人である自分にとって、不思議な概念だと思った。すぐ逃げる夜明けのちかちかする露が美しいのだけではなく、その露が象徴している人間の人生が短く、辛くても美しいという意味そうだ。この「無常」が悪いことではないというわけだ。

アメリカの立場から、そんな感じ方があり得ないほど珍しい。アメリカの価値観が楽天的どころか、辛さや悲しさや失いは全く良いことではない。それでも、アメリカの価値観で、もののあわれと同じような悲観的な大切だと考えられていることがあるのだろうか。

日本に来る前に、これは考えもしなかったけれども、最近、答えが身近ように感じている。

その日、文学の授業は終わってから、トレーニングルームに歩いて行った。天気が晴れていたから、学生さんの皆は喜んで友達と歩いていた。学生達を見ながら、考えを思いついた。なんで皆が同じような服を着て、同じような態度もありそうなのか、と思った。これはアメリカなら、学生達がまちまちな服装をして、一見すると色々な態度が見えるはずだ。日本の空気、雰囲気、日本人の性格について考えたら、どちらかといえば、日本人はそんなに丁寧、優しくて、本音や真意を隠すようにしているかと思う。

アメリカは逆だ。大切なアメリカの高校の映画について考えるとする、「ブレクフアストクラッブ」というの。登場人物が4人だ。一人はクールジョック、一人はシャレなビジン、一人はゲス、一人はカシコイオタク。一人一人が全然違っても、一緒に協力して自分の問題を解決するというストーリーだ。違うからこそ、相手に助けてくれることができるというストーリーだ。こんなストーリーは、英語でいえば、「アズ・アメリカン・アズ・アップルパイ!」、つまり、アメリカらしいことの辞書にある定義だと言えるだろう。

だから、もちろんアメリカで個人が大事だと考えられている。というより、悪いわけではないことは、人々の違いから来る対立ということではないだろうか。アメリカで政治的な意見、過激な意見でも、持っていないのは、「ダメ!」と思われて、授業で間違ってもたくさん話さなくてはいけないのだ。日本とは、逆じゃないのか。日本で、「和」を守るために、服従、忍従は美徳で、一匹狼は人間関係の摩擦を生みると思われているようだ。日本で、配慮、調和、立派だ。アメリカで対立や摩擦の結果があっても、シュタイセイ、ジュヒョウゲン、エッセンシャルだ。何と言っても、アメリカ人が対立が好きだと思っている。

言う理由は、最近、アメリカの心は自分と喧嘩していることだ。アメリカ人は特にトランプさんが大統領になってから、アメリカは白人の国なのか、皆の国なのか、ということについて考えさせられた。だが、それだけではなく、1960年代の公民権法から今年のウーマンパワーのプロテストまで、アメリカ人はズットズット自分とせめぎ合いがあるようだ。

気付かされたのは、日本。調和が重視されている国を経験しなければ、アメリカ人がそんなに人々の意見の違いが好きなのを気がつけない。こういう「対立が良い」ということは、もののあわれの「無情が良い」ということと同じだと言えないまでも、どちらの国でも普通に思われる悪いことは基本的に悪いことではない、と言えるではないだろうか。

Week 8: A Midterm Acrostic + Halloween Photo Gallery

Apparently Japan really likes Halloween, so in addition to Halloween festivities at school and downtown on the 31st there were celebrations going on all weekend. As a result I’ve got a nice little photo gallery that I will share at the bottom of the blog.

Meanwhile, it’s November 3, and I’m just over halfway through my time in Japan this fall. I’d love to share some general thoughts, experiences, observations, worries, and so on and so forth in a mid-point-reflection-blog-post-dealio but to make it more fun, let’s do an acrostic in a weird Japanese/English hybrid! I’ll name a Japanese word that starts with each English letter that explains fun/weird/intriguing stuff about my time here so far this semester. This will be fun.

Aアイデンティティー Identity, for which there isn’t a suitable translation in Japanese, and which I keenly feel as the lone Jew in the city of Nagoya

B美徳 Bitoku (Virtue) Traditional Japanese virtues include 我慢 (patience) and 服従 (obedience)

C地下鉄 Chikatetsu (Subway) The Nagoya subway is clean and beautiful but always costs at least $1.75

D男女別 Danjyobetsu (Separation by gender) Married women in Japan do an average of 25 hours of housework a week, as opposed to an average of 4 hours a week for men

Eエリック Eriku, my Japanese name, I think is pretty cute

FフロリダFlorida, Japanese texting slang for “Ima a bath now so brb”

G型 Gata (type or model) You can buy lunch boxes (bento) online that look like traditional Japanese dolls!

H配慮 Hairyo (Consideration for others), to be distinguished from 考慮, or internal pondering/consideration

I イギリス Igirisu (England) Two students in my Japanese class of 12 are from England

Jジャズセッション Jazz session, which I participate in everyone Wednesday and it’s the same as America but people don’t applaud after every solo (????!)

K紅葉 Kouyou (Fall colors) are just getting started here, and fingers crossed that they will last for two more weeks when I get to travel to the Japanese alps

L ラインLine, the messaging app that everyone uses in Japan

Mもののあわれ Mononoaware, a Japanese aesthetic that admires the beauty and tragedy of the transience of human existence

N握り Nigiri, little delicious snack triangles of sushi that everyone buys at the convenience store

O岡田先生 Okada-sensei (Prof. Okada), my excellent Japanese professor, who makes low-key brutal remarks in the gentlest, airiest, friendliest Japanese you will ever hear

Pペラペラ Perapera (speaking Japanese well), which I may or may not be able to do

R連想別 Rensoubetsu (separation by age) Shockingly, more Japanese young women under 30 want to be housewives than women between 30 and 60

Sスシロー Sushiro, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant that I have now been to twice and eaten a combined 17 plates of sushi

T太鼓 Taiko, big-old traditional Japanese drums, which I’m playing in a flashmob for the upcoming school festival

U海髪 Ugo (seaweed) The image of the tides drawing seaweed in towards the shore and back out to sea represents lovers meeting in traditional Japanese poetry

V ビクター Victor, a Spanish exchange student and beautiful human being who is really 頑張って-ing (doing his best!) because upon arriving he could barely speak Japanese or English

W和 Wa (Peace, harmony, Japan) One key point about being a foreigner in Japan is to not disturb the wa, or Japanese-style orderly peacefulness

Yヤッホー! Yaho—!, a cute and casual way to say hello

Zざあざあ Zaza, pouring, typhoon-style rain that’s been hitting Nagoya once a week at least this autumn

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Week 7- A Bagel in Nagoya

Whenever I try to explain Philadelphia/Judaism/myself to any Japanese person, I never fail to mention bagels. Bagels come up for a lot of reasons. You don’t find many bagels in Japan (certainly not at a grocery store or bakery), so they’re interesting to Japanese. But more importantly bagels are a surprisingly essential component of my identity.

For one, they’re emblematic of Ashkenazi Jewish culture, with bagels and bagel culture being truly delicious and widespread only in the densest patch of Ashkenazi Jews in America—a narrow band stretching between Baltimore and New York (Sorry Slifka Center, the bagels at Bagel Brunch are not delicious. I blame Connecticut). In America I eat at least four or five bagels a week. So by bringing up bagels I can explain my hometown, Judaism, and my own lifestyle in one fell swoop. I am grateful to bagels for this.

Alas, when I was explaining bagels to a Japanese friend at Inuyama Castle last weekend, a nearly apocalyptic thought struck me. How long has it been since I have had a bagel?

I froze as my mind spiraled through the calculations. Could this have been the longest in my life I have gone without eating a bagel? I left America on August 23rd (so I probably had a bagel on August 23rd), and that day was October 21st, which runs up to 8.5 weeks. That’s a long-ass time. At that moment I touched my face and stomach, genuinely surprised to find myself still a living, breathing, fully functional human being. I would have expected my body to develop a physical dependency on bagels and accordingly deteriorate upon separation.

Ultimately, it was the second-longest time in my life without bagels (the record is from May 12th to July 24th 2016, a whopping 10 bagel-free weeks), because I took swift action to remedy the derelict situation. I located the lone bagel store in Nagoya, BAGEL & BAGEL, and went two days later.

I had my fair share of concerns, admittedly biased ones. Considering my own life experience, in which no one outside of that patch between Baltimore and New York seems to know how to make a good bagel, it seemed thoroughly unlikely that ones on the other side of the world were going to be any good.

Oh, how I was mistaken.

The sesame bagel—not toasted, but soft and dense without being hard or chewy—with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and onion was so delectable and reminiscent of a solid B+ Philadelphia bagel that immediately after inhaling the first I ordered a second (resulting in a stomach-ache that I was not necessarily unhappy about). It turns out you can make a good bagel anywhere, even in Japan.

The hot-take moral of the story is that globalization and cultural exchange is one of the most wonderful things in this world. And that a self-proclaimed Bagel Aficionado M.D. puts a B+ stamp of approval on Nagoya’s BAGEL & BAGEL.

Notes & photos from the last week:

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*Visit to Inuyama, an Edo-style preserved town with the oldest standing wooden castle in the world (somehow hasn’t burned down since being built 500 years ago)

*Took two midterms and will take two more next week

*Halloween Party at Nagoya Koryu Kaikan (girl’s dorm). I was a dog, not a cow.

Week 6- Poems

八事日赤 7時44分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 7:44 A.M.)

wind passage

life out there among the vines

in bed

waiting

 

八事日赤 7時56分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 7:56 A.M.)

a big throated bird

standing on knotty tightrope hung across the glass

starts to caw and shriek.

it caws and shrieks,

and caws and shrieks,

and stops

 

 

栄 20時38分 (Sakae, 8:38 P.M.)

we eat fried vegetables on sticks

and again

we eat lamb curry on buttered naan

and burn our tongues

we say hello and wonder

and again

 

八事日赤 8時17分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 8:17 A.M.)

in the morning my focus loosens

—an insect on the futon, a haunted monk—

I quickly lose sight of vast distances

 

新幹線、名古屋行き 14時22分 (Nagoya Bound Shinkansen, 2:22 P.M.)

time passage

dead leaves there on coiled roots

red leaves on the smoking mount

insufficient to express

the time it takes to take a train

to Nagano

in the autumn

 

ミッドランドスクエア 21時12分 (Midland Square, 9:12 P.M.)

on the 42nd floor

gold thread unwinding

clings to a river’s shadow

cloud mass approaching

brings the molten gray of rain

 

ミッドランドスクエア 21時29分 (Midland Square, 9:29 P.M.)

on the 42nd floor

I remember the electricity

inherent in two touching fingers,

I remember

many clouded touches

long since turned to rain

 

八事日赤 16時50分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 4:50 P.M.)

dream passage

violent urges to make mistakes

foolish correspondences between fiction and reality

running over too-steep textured asphalt hills

I find a forest in this city in which I want to lose myself

 

伏見稲荷大社 16時16 (Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, 4:16 P.M.)

the spider is the size of a quarter

and reigns over these dead

like a kite over its shadow

(having passed through a thousand crimson gates)

I am halfway up the mountain