Monday, January 30, 2012 life...

So I was going to have a post up today, but then my laptop decided now would be a great time to get fried* for absolutely no reason.**

That's why I'm currently typing this from my old laptop, which I brought along as backup.

Good grief, I had forgotten how bad this computer is.  It's not bad as in BAD, but more bad as in OLD and excessively asthmatic.

So, yeah, that's a huge pain.  So no new post today, because I will instead have to spend my evening retyping all my interview questions.


*It won't turn on.  I've tried taking out the batteries and putting back the batteries and forcing a reset and yelling at it and pleading and crying and threatening to disown it, but all that happens is the power button flashes at me.  If anyone knows a solution, lemme know, yeah?

**Okay, the only trigger I can think of is that I accidentally spilled some tea on the supposedly spill-proof keyboard.  And then I mopped it up and it was fine.  And then it wasn't fine.  Maybe it picked up a virus somehow?  A virus transmitted by tea?

Update: So I've gotten it to start up again in safe mode, but if I try to start it up normally the screen goes all weird and it crashes.  Looks like it's got a bug, basically.  I'm running some scans, so hopefully it will pick up whatever the problem is and CRUSH IT INTO PULP.
In the meantime, I'm copying down my interview questions and backing up my files and all that fun stuff.

And another update: Scanned my computer, nothing came up, shut it down, started it up in normal mode again, and now everything is back to normal.  I don't even know.

And a final update: So after everything was working fine, it stopped working fine, which is to say that my touchpad got possessed and Chrome stopped letting me switch tabs?  I don't even know.  But now it seems to be working again, so...I dunno.  I'm glad I don't have to send it in for repairs!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Adventures in mochi

So last night Louki and I went to the mochi party at the Nagoya University international dorm.  On the way there, Itou-san regaled us with stories of when she went to Izumo Taisha (with her brother as a sort of college roadtrip) and managed to not stay in a hotel room...or pay for showers...or pay for food sometimes.  Needless to say, there were extreme hijinks which involved bathing in rivers and sleeping in cars.  Man, it makes my adventures seem so boring in comparison.

Anyway, we got to the mochi party where everyone from the Tomodachi no Kai (literally "the club of friends," but they host events for international students so they can practice their Japanese) was still setting up.  We got to see a mochi machine in action!  It is the craziest thing--sort of like a cross between a rice cooker and a bread machine.  Basically, you throw your mochi rice in with water and once it has cooked, the machine starts spinning like a washing machine and the rice turns into mochi.  CRAZY.

Also, as it turned out, they needed someone to make an announcement about the party over the dorm intercom in English, and Itou-san elected me to do it, so I got to announce the party.  It was exciting.

Once the mochi was done, it was time to eat SO MUCH MOCHI.  You have never seen so much mochi in your life.  We had mochi with black sesame (definitely my favorite) and mochi with ground soy beans and mochi with red beans and mochi with grated daikon and mochi with spinach and fish flakes and mochi with cheese and seaweed (which is strangely delicious?).  Oh, and one of the students from Laos brought some kind of excessively delicious soup that I might have been way too into.
Also, while eating the cheese-and-seaweed mochi, something went horribly wrong and Louki wound up with both her hands stuck to the mochi...which was also stuck to her mouth.  The fact that she was laughing while trying to get unstuck wasn't really helping matters.  Itou-san decided to be helpful by taking a picture.

Also, all the guys in the Tomodachi no Kai kept telling us, "Mochi has twice the rice of normal rice,* so don't eat too much or you'll get fat!" and all the women kept telling us to eat more.  Clearly the women had their priorities straight.

As it turned out, most of the students from Nagoya U. who came speak absolutely no Japanese.  (Literally no Japanese at all.  I have no idea how they take classes, but maybe Nagoya U. offers them in English?)  Some of the Tomodachi no Kai members speak English, but a lot of them speak very minimal English, so they were THRILLED OUT OF THEIR MINDS when they discovered that we could actually understand what they were saying.  So a whole bunch of people came over to talk to me and Louki about a whole bunch of things, which was pretty cool.

...also there was this really awkward moment where this old guy asked if Louki and I were planning on getting Japanese boyfriends, and Louki (very sensibly) gave a very noncommittal answer while I said I already had a boyfriend.  Then he told me that Japanese boys were cool.  And I said I was sure that was so, but I kind of like my boyfriend 'cause he's pretty awesome.  And then he told me that when I break up with my boyfriend I should let him know so he can hook me up with a Japanese guy.  One of the older women overheard him and was horrified and told him he was horrible and made him apologize.
It was exciting?

There was also a guy who kept trying to convince Louki that Japan has significantly more equality than the Netherlands by citing the fact that less than half the population in the Netherlands is allowed to go to college.  Except, of course, that's not true and we have no idea where he got this statistic from.  (He appeared to believe that certain people are forced to become farmers because of their social class?  Maybe he was confusing the Netherlands with the Edo period...)
The same guy tried to convince me that atheists don't exist.
It was an exciting conversation.

But I had a cool conversation with a Japanese woman who just finished up her master's at Nagoya U. in foreign language studies and with a bunch of older ladies who foisted food on me and with some Chinese master's students in engineering.
Also, this random guy called me cool?  He said, "You strike me as the kind of person who, if a cockroach suddenly appeared, would calmly kill it while everyone else freaked out."  Ahahahahaha.  That's definitely not happened before.

So, yeah!  It was fun!  We ate SO MUCH MOCHI.  And it was delicious.  And we were invited back any time we like.  Apparently they have activities every Thursday, so I might start going to those.  It seems like a fun group, even if some of them are committed to seeing me with a Japanese guy.
I...I really don't know what to say about that.

Anyway, I am currently writing this post from a hotel room in Izumo!  I took three trains (uggggh don't even talk to me about it) with my advisor and Torii-san (the only other girl in my advisor's seminar) to get here.  It was about 8 hours in transit.  UGGGGGH.  There was some serious freaking out on the way (not on my part) 'cause there was no snow in Nagoya and then there was SO MUCH SNOW in Gifu and somehow my advisor heard that there was a foot of snow in Izumo and when we got to Tottori there was about a foot of snow and it was snowing and everybody (except for me) was freaking out everywhere...and then we got to Izumo and there was no snow at all and it's above freezing.  LAME.  I miss snow.  Which is ironic because I've only really had one winter with proper snow.  BUT WHATEVER.

Tomorrow we're going to see Izumo Taisha and also a museum related to Lafcadio Hearn...?  And probably other things that I don't know about yet.  But hopefully it will be exciting.  Two of our other classmates are taking a night bus up, so we'll see how awake they are...

*I think they meant that because mochi is basically super compacted rice, it's twice as dense as normal rice...?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recap: Life after the S-As' departure

Last time traveling post for now, so might as well enjoy it while it lasts!*

Some stuff that has happened since Nick left for home:

1. My new suitemate came.  Her name is Louki, she is Dutch, and she cleans things when she is bored.  Needless to say, we get along well.  Also, our suite is significantly cleaner and sometimes I don't have to wash a sink full of dishes every time I want to make dinner.

2. The semester ended.  Our Monday and Tuesday classes were definitely not parties.  I could see how an outside observer might think they were parties, but that outside observer would be wrong.  Definitely very serious classes.

3. Tuesday-sensei apparently knows someone who wants an English conversation partner, so he said he'll put us in touch.

4. I finished my graduate school applications.

5. I wrote an article for The Fulbrighter.
5a. I found out my article is going to be published.

6. I set up an interview with a priest at Ueno Tenmanguu for next Tuesday.  Hopefully it will go well.  I'm trying to type up and revise my interview questions so that I make sure to hit all the important points in a single sitting.

7. I was told that I must have been Japanese in a previous life.  (This is the standard response when people can't figure out why the heck I would be interested in Japan.  Never mind that it's interesting or anything.  I MUST have been Japanese in a previous life.)

8. I read Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan, which convinced me
A. I really don't want to join a millenarian movement
B. I really don't want to engage in any research where my research subjects are likely to try to murder me.

9. I tried Dutch licorice.  It is...really odd.

10. Itou-san invited me (and my roommates, so Louki is coming with me) to a Thing at Nagoya University tomorrow.  It involves mochi and foreign students aaaaaaaaaaaaand that's pretty much all I know.  But it should be fun!

11. I had penmanship class and somehow managed to screw up the kanji in my calligraphy name as well as the stroke order for pretty much every kanji ever.  MY SHAME IS UNBEARABLE.
It got to the point that Nakano-san would be chatting to the other ladies, and it would sound like, "Oh, did you hear that Suzuki-san is STROKE ORDER, DANA-CHAN moving to Hokkaido?"
11a. On the upside, Nakano-san gave me two children's books that are published by a publishing company that is associated with a shrine.  Needless to say, they're supposed to teach kids about Shinto.  The one I'm currently reading is about a hinoki (Japanese cypress) tree growing up in a forest.  Thus far in the story, the wind has taught the hinoki about the kami and how everyone has a meaning in life and the hinoki's best friend (a dung beetle) dropped dead from the cold. kind of morbid yet happy?

12. I bought a tea pot!  So now I can drink SO MUCH TEA.

13. I developed a minor addiction to kinkan, which my dictionary tells me means "kumquat" but is definitely not a kumquat.  Or at least what we think of in the states as a kumquat.  It's about twice as big and DELICIOUS.  I would eat a million of them every day if fruit wasn't so darned expensive.

14. I found out that the Fulbright mid-year conference is going to be on March 22, so I will be in Tokyo March 18-23 at the very least.  Might be there longer, depending on whether some other things pan out.  I'm definitely going to try to hit the Ghibli Museum and Washinomiya Shrine (the Lucky Star Shrine) while I am there, though.
14a. I found out that at the conference I have to give a presentation on my research...that is 3-5 minutes long.  I AM GOING TO GO INSANE.  How can I say anything worthwhile in that space?  lskjskhekrhaea
14b. I'm going on a tour of Nikko, sponsored by the Tokyo Fulbright Alumni Association, March 18-20.  It should be cool.

15. I apparently caught Steven's post office curse**, because when I went to the post office to get a customs declaration form so I could send (really late) Christmas presents home, they were convinced I actually wanted a box.
"I need the form you have to write the contents of the box on." 
"You mean a box?" 
"No, it is paper. If you put noodles in the box, you write 'noodles' on the form." 
"You mean a box?" 
"NO, it is a FORM for WRITING WHAT IS IN THE BOX. You post it on the box when you send things out of the country." 
 "You mean a box?"

So, yeah.  It hasn't been all that crazy exciting, but I've had some time to sit and read and do all the things I wasn't doing while I was traipsing all over Japan.  Tomorrow I've got the mystery mochi thing in the evening, and then Friday through Sunday is the fieldtrip to Izumo Taisha.  Updates will come...when updates come.

*I totally had this stuck in my head about a week ago, so now I will INFLICT IT UPON YOU MWAHAHAHA.

**Every time Steven goes to the post office, it inevitably ends in disaster and suffering.  Last time he went, their ATM malfunctioned.  Clearly the post office curse is contagious.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Recap: Bonfires, Tokugawa Garden, and Inuyama

Dear everybody who commented on the "lung" at a noodle place in the last post; that was a typo. It should have read "lunch."  To be fair, before that I wrote "dinner" and then in my half-asleep state realized that it didn't make sense to eat dinner twice.
...although I may or may not have eaten lung before in that sketchy "it has organs in it" meal.
But, no, no lung this time.  Yay, typos.

Also, HAPPY NEW YEAR by the lunar calendar.

ANYWAY, now that that has been cleared up, it is time for some more time travel,* back to Saturday, January 14, 2012.

Most shrines in Japan have a day about halfway through January when they burn a whole bunch of stuff from the previous year, like old omamori and ofuda and decorations that were used during the New Year, etc.  Saturday was Gosha Shrine's giant bonfire day, so Nick and I headed over there to check it out.

See that giant tarp full of stuff?  They were burning two of those.  (The stuff, not the tarp.)

There were a bunch of people who came early to clean up the shrine, which meant sweeping up all the leaves that had fallen.

These people were trying to break up the kagami mochi which had basically become as hard as a rock in the two weeks since the New Year.  They were using hammers and saws and chisels and some sort of cutting contraption (like a paper cutter but for cutting more intense things) and the kagami mochi was still winning.

So there was a short purification ceremony, but I was all the way in the back, so I couldn't see or hear much.  But after that was when they started burning things.


Here's the kagami mochi, after they had managed to subdue it somewhat.

Then they cooked the kagami mochi.  And ate it.  Both in zenzai (a kind of sweet red bean soup) and on its own dipped in soy sauce and sugar.  DELICIOUS.

Meanwhile, lots of things were burning.


They were using this bamboo pole to poke the fire...but it kept catching on fire...

Also, as we were all chilling, enjoying the fire, a group of guys walked past with a 25-30 foot bamboo pole and a hacksaw.  Apparently they were cutting down a bunch of bamboo which was growing on the side of the shrine, cutting off the offshoots (to throw in the fire) and then storing the bamboo by the side of the shrine office for...something.

More excitement occurred when Nakano-san, apparently seeing that many of the children wanted to throw things in the fire (despite their mothers' wishes) told all of them to write something on paper to burn in the fire, and so that their handwriting would become better.  Cue a mass exodus for papers and pens and very little interest in throwing other things in the fire.

That's kagami mochi cooking on the bonfire, if you couldn't tell.
Also, apparently eating the kagami mochi cooked on the fire (or with coals from the fire, in the case of the other picture) will keep you from getting sick for the rest of the year.

If you want more pictures of THINGS BURNING, Nick took about a million of them and posted them here.  He actually knows how to take pictures, so you should go check it out.

Anyway, after that we decided to hit Tokugawa Museum and Gardens, which was in Nick's guidebook.**  In any case, the museum was okay, although nothing to write home about.  They had a lot of really cool artifacts from the Edo period (1603-1868) and a big exhibit on swords, which I feel I would have gotten a lot more out of if I actually Knew Things about Swords.  It turned out, though, that entrance to the museum is free for Nanzan students, so yay for that.

After that, we wandered around the gardens for a little bit.

They had a thing for waterfalls while designing the gardens, apparently.

They also had a bunch of roses (or what I assume were rose-like flowers) blooming in little straw hut things...presumably to protect them from the cold.


These are winter sakura, which have been blooming all over the place.  They're really tiny, but still pretty.

...and this is not a very good picture of them.  Oh well.

Random spurts of water from between rocks!  I dunno.

So, yeah, that was the garden and museum and the end of our Saturday.

Sunday we decided to go exploring, so we took a train up to Inuyama, which is right at the edge of Aichi Prefecture.

You can see Gifu Prefecture right across the river.

This is the Kiso River, by the way, which is the sixth longest river in Japan, or so I have been told.

And that was our goal, Inuyama Castle, also known as the oldest castle in Japan.

I am not fascinated by strange rock formations in the water, I SWEAR.

There are a bunch of shrines all clustered at the bottom of the hill that the castle is on.

They were doing some sort of earthquake retrofitting, and so there were bracers up everywhere.

Yes, it is called "the pine tree of fate and the vagina rock."


Nope, not seeing it.

This is not actually a hand-washing place, despite what it looks like. It's for washing your money.  If you wash your money here, it will multiply many times!  Or so the sign next to it said.

This is a rock which you are supposed to lift.  If it feels really heavy when you lift it, it means your wish won't be granted.  If it feels really light, your wish will be granted.

It was really heavy.
Oh well.
I guess I am screwed.


This is sacred sand.

Or so the sign said.

Views from high places, Inuyama edition!

I like how what's written in Japanese is completely different than what's written in English.

In Japanese:

How to pray
Two bows  Bow deeply twice
Two claps  Clap twice
One bow    Bow deeply twice


Apparently this was put together as part of a prayer day/festival for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in March.

This may be one of the coolest sacred horses I have ever seen.

So then we went up to the castle.  When I went to buy our tickets, the woman at the ticket counter said that there was an English-speaking tour guide coming in just a few minutes if we wanted to wait for him.  I said I didn't need a tour guide, since I can read Japanese just fine, but Nick said he'd like to have one.



As it turned out, our English-speaking tour guide didn't...actually...speak English.  He was certainly very enthusiastic, but it was fairly clear that he didn't understand any questions Nick asked him in English.  He also couldn't actually give a tour in coherent English.  Much of his tour sounded a lot like, "Map!  Old map!  Map battlefield.  Sekigahara.  All battlefield map.  Wow!"  It was very unfortunate.  I feel like I could have given a better tour in Japanese without looking up any of the necessary vocabulary first.

BUT the castle was pretty cool, and we got a nice view from the top floor!

PEACH ON THE ROOF.  It's a guardian peach.  For fighting off demons.***

These stairs were TERRIFYING.  I thought I was going to die.  I am growing increasingly convinced that Japan is just excessively bad at stairs.

This is a tree which was REALLY OLD except then it was struck by lightning and died.  But it's now sacred because the tree was the exact same height as the turret of Inuyama Castle, so it took the hit instead of the castle.

This is a stele which was put up to honor the lord of the castle at the time of the Meiji Restoration, who refused to let the castle be destroyed, even though the Meiji government wanted to destroy all the castles and get rid of the old feudal system.

So then we went back down the hill and got lunch and I discovered the glory of nabe udon.  And then we found another shrine.

Oh, hey, a peace memorial!

...right next to a stone for remembering the glorious war dead.


So then we went on a stroll through the town nearby, where we happened on a tiny temple:

You won't be senile!

It's a chair of passing tests!

It's a "definitely pass" Jizo!

So then we walked all the way across town to a bunch of temples on the mountainside.

There was a sort of hill + statue + garden thing as you climbed up the mountain.

We were pretty high up.

The big temple in the area had a big Buddha statue at the top of the mountain.

I think that the lines and lines of little Jizo down there are a mizuko memorial.  I'm not entirely sure, though.

Temple parking lot!

This is what happens when you try to sneakily take a picture of Nick.

They're gathered around two pots with burning incense.  At a fair number of temples they have purification by incense instead of purification by water.  I prefer water purification, even if it's really unpleasant in the winter, because it's significantly less likely to make me have an asthma attack.

I don't have an obsession with heights, I swear.

This was another temple to protect against senility.  This is a serious concern now that the population is aging.

Hey, look, it's a tiny shrine!

A tiny Inari shrine, to be precise.

I believe these statues represent a variety of different Buddhas and bodhisattvas as well as some prominent samurai from the area?  I should have taken a picture of the sign.

On our way back to the station, we passed this:

I assume it was the remains of a kagami mochi + mikan set-up from New Year's, but all that remained was an incredibly tiny mikan.  So sad.

So then we hopped on a train and rode back to Nagoya.  We had dinner at a pretty awesome tempura place by Kanayama station, which was really cheap AND had vegetarian options!  Very exciting.

The next morning I saw Nick off to the airport, although we had some excitement first when there was an earthquake (that neither of us noticed) and all the trains were delayed.  There was some minor freaking out, but in the end he made it to the airport ontime and there was much hugging goodbye and definitely no crying down shirts because we are tough like RAWR.

And thus ends my adventures with the S-As.  It was fun, guys!  We should do it again!

*Emily asked for more Doctor Who, so she gets it...sort of.

**Which, it should be noted, described Nagoya as "gray."

***The story goes that after Izanagi seriously ticked off his dead wife by looking at her maggot-infested body (long story) she decided to send the armies of the underworld after him.  After a long and somewhat convoluted chase scene in which he threw various articles of clothing at them (which turned into grapes that they stopped to eat) he grabbed three peaches and fought of the hordes of the underworld with them. Because he could.
I feel like maybe I should do a post on the Kojiki at some point.  I'm not sure that would make anything make any more sense, though.