Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shimabara adventures

Greetings, from "balmy" Kyushu, where the temperature is approximately colder than is entirely comfortable!  I arrived on Friday night and told bad jokes at Mary and made her spew her tea everywhere.  It was exciting.

Saturday I was feeling a little bit under the weather, so we had a fairly quiet day in.  We did make a chocolate decadence cake though, which was sooooooooooooo tasty, and I attacked Mary with ponies, because I will shakubuku her like WHOA.

Today I was finally reunited with Alyssa, another Fulbrighter, who I haven't seen since orientation in September!  Alyssa is based out of Fukuoka and doing really cool research on pottery and also speaks the most gorgeous Japanese ever.  Whenever she opens her mouth a flock of angels flies out.  JAPANESE-SPEAKING angels.
Alyssa and Mary and I were kidnapped by Tatara-san and taken to Shimabara, which is waaaaaaaaaaaaay to heck and gone, but we drove along the Ariake Sea and it was BEAUTIFUL.  Unfortunately, I got carsick and pathetic on the way there, as I am prone to do.  But we stopped at a convenience store and I bought gum and then I wasn't as pathetic anymore.

Anyway, finally we arrived in Shimabara, where we went to a random hotel with attached restaurant.

And we had shabu shabu, which is where you dump a bunch of vegetables in boiling broth and then you take thin pieces of pork and swish them around in the broth (making a shabu shabu noise) and EAT THEM ALL OM NOM NOM.

And we also had nabe, which is where you throw a bunch of stuff in a pot until it is cooked and then EAT IT OM NOM NOM.

Also, the shabu shabu pot was adorable.

This was the view from the restaurant.


As you can probably tell, though, the weather was kind of lame.

Mary and Tatara-san!

They are pals.

The decor was REALLY INTERESTING.  I am a fan of the tree-columns.

...look at me failing to take pictures of the food until after I have eaten all of it.

Zenzai for dessert!  OM NOM NOM.

Mary was enjoying her zenzai way too much.

...or maybe I was making dumb jokes at her.


This was the front of the hotel.  GORGEOUS.  They had a table that was basically a giant chunk of wood that had been varnished and had a castle wall carved along the top edge.  SO COOL.


This is Mt. Unzen, which SUDDENLY EXPLODED 20 years ago and wiped out swaths of land with FIERY DEATH.  Fortunately, a nearby mountain protected most of the town from FIERY DEATH, so only about 40 people died.

Also, it is the cause of the worst volcano-related disaster in Japanese history?  Yup.

This rock is staring at you.




Then we went to a random park where they preserved a bunch of the houses which were hit by FIERY DEATH.

...yes, the ground is exactly where you think it is.

I would not want to be in that house while it was being hit by FIERY DEATH.

...because people will always throw money at things.

I don't even know.

So theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen we went to Shimabara Castle.


Suddenly, we were attacked by NINJA and SAMURAI and A GUY DRESSED LIKE A EUROPEAN????

I really like the guy in the back with the spear.

P.S. I totally stole Mary's jacket and it doesn't fit me.

P.P.S. I always seem to steal Mary's clothes when I come over.  HMMMM.

The castle had a collection of fascinating Hidden Christian artifacts,* including a bunch of statues of the Virgin Mary, which were disguised as statues of Kannon.  They also had these weird/terrifying/interesting stained glass windows which depicted people accused of being Christians being tortured by having boiling water poured over them and being burned to death and being drowned.  Not the prettiest sight.  The whole exhibit made me wish I knew more about Hidden Christians, so I'm probably going to check the Nanzan library for a book on the subject.

Views from the top of Shimabara Castle!

Silly fence, getting in the way of my view.


Also, it was really cold.

So then we got back in the car and drove and drove and drove and I fell asleep, and then we stopped and got CLAMS for cooking later, and then we drove and drove and drove some more and got lost in a rice field and then drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and finally arrived back in Takeo.

Man, so much driving.

By the way, this is the chocolate decadence cake we made!  We gave some to Tatara-san (and I also gave her omiyage from Nagoya).

And now I am staring at Mary and wigging her out.





So, yeah, that's what I've been up to!

*The Hidden Christians were people who refused to give up their faith even after the Tokugawa shogunate outlawed Christianity, and came up with all sort of interesting places to hide crosses and statues of Mary and Jesus.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fun with statistics

Greetings!  This will be short.  I just wanted to remind everyone that I will be leaving tomorrow for Kyushu, so I might not have Super Huge amounts of time on the computer, which means that I might be slow about responding to emails and stuff.  Yay.

Also, I had a lovely dinner and English practice with Kocchan this evening.  I learned the Japanese word for "color blind": 色覚異常, color-sensing abnormality.  We both decided that "color blind" is a way better name.  Also, I had no idea what movie "Abata" was until she said, "You know, with the blue people...the one that's a rip-off of Princess Mononoke."  Ahahaha, that's one way to describe it.
Also, she taught me this song, which is about Hina Matsuri!  I think it's really pretty. (I asked about it because I keep hearing it every time I go to the grocery store...)

And now, random post padding statistics!  Blogger gives you certain stats, which allows me to tell you that:

1. People have found my blog through the following keywords:
"nude men"
"genze riyaku"
"dared to eat natto"
"a brief history of shinto"
"shrine hopping"
(among others)

2. In the last week, 5 people in Russia have viewed my blog.  SERIOUSLY, WHO ARE YOU GUYS?

3. My post on genze riyaku suddenly got a huge number of hits...right before finals...mostly through the keywords "genze riyaku" and "define: genze riyaku" and "significance of genze riyaku."  Dear people, I hope you cited me if you used anything I said.  If not, I will hunt you down and EAT YOU OM NOM NOM.

4. 6% of my total readers have viewed my blog on an iPad.

5. The most views my blog has ever gotten in one day is 46.

6. My most viewed post is about genze riyaku (seriously, I hope you cited me) and my second most viewed is about butts.
Draw whatever conclusions you will.

On a final note, I started making a mental list of everyone in Nagoya I need to bring back omiyage for, and it's preeeeeeeetty long.  Which makes me very, very happy.  It's nice to have people to give omiyage to.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeey, everybody.  Guess who was actually accidentally food poisoning herself the whole time.
Hint: It's me.
So, uh, after eating more servings of pork noodles than I care to freely admit* and wondering why every time I ate them I started feeling horrible afterwards, it suddenly dawned on me that sometimes correlation is causation.  What I think happened is that my pork went bad, 'cause it was in our sucky fridge** and then I cooked it into a huge batch of noodles and then the noodles became a breeding ground for bacteria and...well, anyway, the lid of the container looked like a petri dish when I finally threw it out.
All together now:

Fortunately, I stopped food poisoning myself in time to be somewhat recovered to meet Kocchan on Saturday for Crazy English Practicing Times, which was actually more like 45% English, 50% Japanese, 5% unintelligible Japanglish (on my end).  I also discovered that matcha lattes don't actually have coffee in them, and are really good at settling upset stomachs.  Crazy!  But anyway, after I got horrifically lost on the subway (oh gods, don't try to navigate the subway while you're sick) and Kocchan was nice enough to not punch me for being 30 minutes late (HOW COULD I MISTAKE TENMACHO FOR YABACHO I AM A FAILURE slknrekbarebjareha;) we had a nice chat and talked about moose and practiced being cooperative in English.  And then we went to Loft, which is a very difficult store to describe, except that it is like someone decided to pack RIDICULOUSNESS and FUN into a store.  It has things like Taiyaki costumes (which Kocchan got a picture of me in) and Mount Fuji costumes (which I got a picture of Kocchan in).  Also, we practiced using the word "majestic," as in "that taiyaki is SO MAJESTIC."  I teach important English phrases.***
...also on the way to Loft I got stopped on the street by this girl who said I was adorable and asked me to model for her because apparently she's an artist at a famous beauty salon in Sakae????  And she asked me if I was half and I said I was half SOMETHING but that something wasn't Japanese.  And then I said I was very sorry but make-up makes me break out and thus being a model is not the greatest idea and her response was, "Oh well, you're cute anyway!"
So that was a new experience for me. Nobody has ever asked me to model for them before.  And I can probably count the number of people who have non-ironically called me cute in the past five years (without following it with "in a really scary way" or "but terrifying") on one hand.  So, uh, yeah, it was kind of nice?****

What else have I been up to?

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm, I stopped food poisoning myself.  So pro.
I foisted books (specifically Powers and Feed, go read them) on Louki and apparently she is some sort of reading demon because she has already given me Powers back.
I am reading The Basic Eight, which has once again convinced me that I Did Puberty Wrong, because I did not spend a great deal of time skipping school to go shoes shopping.
I went to the Immigration Bureau today to get a re-entry permit (for when I go tour grad schools), which was a lot easier than I expected it to be.  Everyone I've spoken to has described it as being like visiting the DMV and has also said that it takes hours and hours, but I was in and out in 15-20 minutes.  It really wasn't bad at all.
I bought my Shinkansen tickets for my upcoming crazy travel,***** which was kind of like carving a section out of my arm, except that I cannot ride in comfort across Japan on a section of my arm.
The dorm had a nabe party tonight, where everyone brought a single ingredient.  If you've never had nabe before, it's basically throw-stuff-in-a-pot-and-cook-it-until-it-tastes-good, so in our case it was kind of like Stone Soup and also SO DELICIOUS.  Oh gosh, I'm going to try to recreate a couple of them 'cause they were amazing.

Also, I bought NEW HEADPHONES.  My headphones, being cheap and lame, finally bit the dust, which is to say that the sound on the right side died which made me very confused when a friend sent me a comedy routine in which apparently half the dialog was silent.  But now I have NEW HEADPHONES which were also cheap and will probably break at some point, BUT THEY ARE SO NICE.  I've been listening to my music, and SUDDENLY I CAN HEAR ALL THIS STUFF THAT WASN'T THERE BEFORE?  Like whole countermelodies?  And suddenly there's a bass line?  Which makes me believe that A. my old headphones were seriously lame and B. my computer speakers are cheap and lame.
...of course, Geoff just sent me a load of MLP:FIM fan music, so I can revel in good music AND my glorious new headphones.
...I am not obsessed, I swear.

*四回食べちゃった.  Yeah.

**I could write haiku about why our fridge is so sucky.

Our fridge likes to freeze
everything solid sometimes.
Oh no, not the ice.

I am not sure how
cold our fridge is normally
but it seems warm-ish.

Cold fridge turns my food
to ice but warm fridge is a
breeding ground for yuck.

You may shower me with praise now.

***Okay, to be fair to my English teaching skills, apparently Kocchan actually used stuff I taught her on her written test and she passed with flying colors, so I am not a TERRIBLE teacher.

****Actually, it's just generally nice hanging out with people who think I'm kind of quiet and shy except when I'm super enthusiastic about something (which is pretty often) rather than people who think I'm scary/intense/terrifying/[whatever other adjective].  Being "scary" is vaguely amusing for a while but then it just gets really isolating.

*****Tentative plans are:
February 24: Travel to Takeo!  Crash.  Hope Mary doesn't draw on my face while I'm sleeping.
February 25: Adventures with Mary in Takeo!
February 26: Adventures with Tatara-san and Alyssa and Mary!  There will be CASTLES involved.
February 27: Adventures with Alyssa and Sara in Fukuoka!
February 28: Adventures with shrine priest Tatara-san knows!
February 29: Adventures with Alyssa and Sara and Alex in Beppu!
March 1: Travel to Osaka!  Adventures with Nellie!
March 2: More adventures with Nellie!  Return to Nagoya.
March 3: Recover.  Oh wait, I mean Hina Matsuri.  If anyone's doing anything for Hina Matsuri.  I haven't heard anything yet, but that doesn't mean much.
Hopefully somewhere in there: Hear back from grad schools????

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kojiki (part two)

Academic post #8
Kojiki (part two): This is basically why you should always keep peaches on hand

Previously on the Kojiki, Izanami died after giving birth to the fire kami.

Izanagi decided to follow his wife to the land of the dead, which was called Yomi.  Izanami came out to greet him, whereupon he said to her, and I quote, "O, my beloved spouse, the lands which you and I were making have not yet been completed; you must come back!"
...well, so much for love.
Unfortunately, Izanami had already eaten food from Yomi so she could not return to the land of the living.*  However, moved by her husband's bravery, she decided to go plead with the gods of Yomi,** but before she left she told her husband not to look at her.
You know how this is going to end.
Anyway, Izanagi waited and waited and waited and eventually he couldn't wait any more so he broke off the tooth of the comb in his hair bunch and lit it on fire and turned around to look at Izanami.  What did he see?  Well, the maggot-infested corpse*** of his beloved, of course.  Izanagi, being somewhat understandably super grossed out, turned and fled.
Unfortunately, fleeing from your spouse's grossness after she explicitly told you NOT to look at her is not the greatest idea, and Izanami was royally ticked.  She sent the hags of Yomi after her husband, beginning perhaps the greatest chase scene ever written.
(You might want to put on some exciting music at this point.)
Izanagi ran from the hags!  He undid his hair tie and threw it on the ground and it turned into grapes!  The hags stopped to eat the grapes!  He fled!  But the hags finished eating the grapes and started chasing him again!  So Izanagi grabbed a comb from his hair and threw it on the ground!  It turned into bamboo!  The hags stopped to eat the bamboo!  Izanagi got away!
But he wasn't safe yet!  Izanami sent the hordes of Yomi after him!  (She was really, really ticked.)  Izanagi unsheathed his sword and fled while waving it behind him!  It...did absolutely nothing, actually, as far as I can tell.
Suddenly, Izanagi arrived at the pass back to the world of the living!  He grabbed three peaches and lay in wait for his pursuers!  THEN
(dramatic pause)
Have I mentioned that I love reading this book?
To be fair, the peach thing isn't as totally random as it seems, because peaches were believed to ward off demons and evil spirits in China, so presumably the idea was imported and integrated into the story.
Still, it gives you a new appreciation for peaches--they can save you from the hordes of Yomi AND make a tasty snack!

So anyway, then Izanagi grabbed a giant boulder and rolled it in front of the entrance to Yomi.
Izanami was ticked and said, "If you don't move this boulder I will strangle a thousand people to death every day."
And Izanagi said, "Fine, then every day I will build one thousand FIVE HUNDRED birthing huts."
(This scene was used to explain the rapid population growth which occurred with the beginning of agricultural practices in Japan)
And then Izanami became the main kami of Yomi.

Izanagi decided that because he had visited Yomi, which was full of decay and death and roaring maggots, he had to purify himself.  So he went to the river and stripped off his clothes (thereby creating a whole slew of kami) and waded into the water to purify himself.  As he bathed, a whole bunch more kami were born, but the important ones were born when he washed his face.  When he washed his left eye, Amaterasu (the sun kami) was born; when he washed his right eye, Tsukiyomi (the moon kami) was born; and when he washed his nose, Susanoo (most commonly identified as the kami of storms or wind) was born.
Izanagi rejoiced to see these three children, because apparently the other eleven he had just given birth to weren't as interesting.  He proceeded to command Amaterasu to rule the high heavens, Tsukiyomi to rule the realms of night, and Susanoo to rule the ocean.
Amaterasu and Tsukiyomi, being fairly obedient children, went to rule their realms, but Susanoo wept and cried and howled.  Susanoo's tantrum was so bad that it caused all the rivers and seas to dry up and the plants to wither and natural disasters to occur all over the place.
Finally, Izanagi asked his son, "What is your deal?"****
Susanoo said that he missed his mom and wanted to go visit her in Yomi.
Izanagi was so disgusted that he said, "Fine, go visit her!  You're not allowed to live here any more!" and threw him out.

Before Susanoo left, he decided to say goodbye to his sister...but that is a story for next time.

*YES, the same as the Persephone myth.  NO, there is no connection between them.  The same sort of myth also exists among the Maori, Chinese, and Ryukyu Islanders, among others.

**Who are they?  Dunno.  And neither did whoever was writing the Kojiki apparently, because later Izanami is referred to as the head kami of Yomi.

***From page 62:

At this time, maggots were squirming and roaring [in the corpse of Izanami-no-mikoto].

I'm trying to figure out what a roaring maggot would sound like.  Ideas?

****Okay, so he actually said, "Why is it you do not rule the land entrusted to you, but [instead] weep and howl?"  But he was probably thinking, What is your deal?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Trash talk

Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, everybody!  Guess who's sick!
Hint: It's me.
Don't worry; I haven't figured out how to transmit germs via the internets yet, so you are (probably) safe from Extreme Queasy Madness.*
Of course, the fact that I have been a useless lump for the past three days means that if I wrote a blog about what I've been doing, it would read something like this:
I woke up, was pathetic for a couple of hours, fell back asleep, woke up again, stood up, decided standing up was a horrible idea, fell back asleep...
In other words, it would be REALLY BORING.
Also, Louki says I am allowed to be pathetic because I am sick but seriously I AM MISSING FIELDWORK BECAUSE OF THIS.  I was going to go to fieldwork later this afternoon, but then I stood up for fifteen minutes and started feeling really ill again and decided that that wasn't such a hot idea.  And, no, Mom, I'm not dehydrated and I even convinced myself to eat something, so I dunno what's going on.

Anyway, since writing about how pathetic I am is BORING, instead I will write about...trash.

Trash in Japan is so complicated.  We have to sort and deal with our own trash in the dorm, which means that I get to take the trash out once a week.  We have four trash days a week, which are:
Burnable garbage
Recyclable garbage
Non-burnable garbage
Burnable garbage (again)

Burnable garbage basically means any garbage that you could possibly burn.  In my dorm, that's mostly food scraps, used tissues, pizza boxes, those weird paper things they use to tie noodles in bunches, etc.

Recyclable garbage means garbage you can recycle (NO WAY).  But there's A LOT MORE you can recycle than in the States.  Pretty much anything plastic can be recycled.  That includes things like those weirdly shaped clasp things on produce bags, produce bags, pretty much any food packaging, etc.  That's pretty nice, since food in Japan comes in SO MUCH PACKAGING. It's kind of insane.  I don't know why everything has to be packaged in separate plastic bags, but I guess the fact that they can be recycled makes them less ridiculous?  (But still pretty ridiculous.)  You can also recycle normally recyclable things like PET bottles (plastic bottles that drinks come in), cans, glass containers, paper, cardboard, milk cartons...  Basically, when Tuesday (recyclable garbage day) rolls around, get ready to haul SO MANY BAGS.

Non-burnable garbage is only picked up once a month, and it's basically all the weird stuff that you can't burn or recycle, so stuff or broken plates.  There aren't really thrift stores in Japan (I've found one sort of thrift store-ish place), which means that if you have clothes you don't wear anymore you just...throw them out.  Guh.  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

There's also sodai gomi (粗大ゴミ) or "oversize garbage," which means things like refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, etc.  It's picked up really infrequently...and you might have to arrange a special pick up.  I dunno.  We have a dead refrigerator, but we still haven't gotten rid of it for some reason.  In other news, "sodai gomi" is also a way to refer to your useless husband!  The more you know!

There's also Extremely Dangerous Garbage (not the real name) which is for hazardous materials like aerosol cans and batteries, but apparently our dorm doesn't do that?  I don't know why.  It's very confusing.

Oh, and in case you are sitting here thinking to yourself, "Well, if you're gaijin, you can just dump everything wherever and pretend you didn't know," that is a terrible idea because A. it's a jerky thing to do and B. there are garbage police.  I am not even kidding.  They go around checking to make sure that people dispose of their garbage correctly, and if you don't there will be a RECKONING.  Seriously, you don't want to mess with them.

And now I shall end this post with pictures of...

Dutch food.


Pancake quesadilla things!

The ones on the bottom are plain.

There were also ones with apples on the inside, so they were like German apple pancake, except not as sweet.

...but we ate them super fast so I don't have pictures.


Not actually Dutch, but still delicious.

NEWS FLASH: Just got a text from Kocchan, who, if you'll remember, asked me to look over her essays for an interview.  Anyway, she passed the first stage of the test!  Not that this is surprising, but YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

...this blog post is hopping all over the place.  LIKE A FROG.

...and now I'm actually getting hungry so I'm going to try to convince myself to eat again.  Yay?

*I was going to call it "Extreme Pukey Madness," but then I realized that was misleading since I've only actually puked once.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So many sweets

Oh geez, I haven't written anything in here in a while.  Let's see what interesting things I've been doing the past few days...

Friday was Dutch Food Night, which meant that Louki and Kim made all the Americans Dutch food in repayment for American Food Night.  Apparently you can have pancakes for dinner in the Netherlands?  SO DELICIOUS.  Also, Dutch pancakes are really thin (more like crepes*) and not particularly sweet at all.  And sometimes they have cheese inside, like pancake quesadillas!  MMMMM.  And sometimes you cover them in caramel and powdered sugar and roll them up and eat them like burritos.   P.S. We are totally adults.

On Sunday we went on a big adventure over to Nagoya Station to visit Sweets Paradise, which is an all-you-can-eat sweets and pasta.  Unfortunately, when we signed up slightly before 1 p.m., our slot was for 4:20...and nobody wanted to eat lunch, so we just sort of snacked and tried not to feel hungry.  But in the meantime we went on an adventure and I FOUND A TIGER AND BUNNY KEYCHAIN.  It was a mystery box, which meant that I had no idea what I was getting until after I bought it, which is why I now have Yuri Petrov** hanging from my wallet.  Not who I would have chosen (okay, so I totally would have gone for Saito if I had a choice, because I am totally okay with having an overweight balding nerd hanging from my wallet), but he's a pretty interesting character (and also the character who my favorite episode revolves around), so it's all cool.

Anyway, after that we finally went to Sweets Paradise.  You basically have 70 minutes to eat, which means that you attempt to eat as much as possible as quickly as possible.  I have to say, I liked the real food better than the sweets (they had THE BEST fried potatoes), mostly because I am realizing that I am just not super into Japanese cakes.  Part of the problem is that Japanese cakes seem to consist mostly of air--especially chocolate cakes--so eating a chocolate cake gives me the same amount of chocolate as eating, say, a single square of chocolate from a chocolate bar.  If I wanted to eat a single square of chocolate, I would...wait, what am I saying?  When would I EVER want to eat a single square of chocolate?  Sheesh.
Also, Sweets Paradise appears to be a popular date spot, because, as one of the other girls pointed out, what could possibly more romantic than watching your date stuff his/her face?
So, overall, an interesting experience, but not likely to repeat it, simply because I am not into Japanese cake enough for it to be cost-effective.

Anyway, after that we went to the onsen because we are all about onsens and also it's cheap SO YOU CAN'T STOP US.  And I tried a sauna for the first time ever, and have decided that I am not particularly into saunas.  They have two saunas there, and the steam one made me feel like I was suffocating, and the dry one made me feel like I was suffocating...just more slowly than the steam one.  I would be willing to try Finnish sauna'ing, though.  YEAH, I KNOW I'M CRAZY, but it sounds better than suffocating.

Monday was the farmer's market at Kawahara Shrine, and a bunch of the girls from the dorm wanted to know where to get cheap vegetables, so we trooped over there.  I got kinkan, because it's not an addiction and I can stop any time I want.  The guy at the fruit stand gave me extra, which was nice of him, so I got something like 60 kinkan for 300 yen.  (He also give some of the other girls a "gaijin discount.")
Anyway, I had omiyage from Izumo for Itou-san, so I dropped by the shrine office to see if she was in.  She wasn't, but one of the women called her up...and next thing we knew all of us had been invited inside for a chat and some tea, which turned into an expedition into the honden (second group of gaijin ever in the honden? yeah) and Storytime About the Shrine and Its Kami.  As it turns out, two of the kami enshrined at Kawahara are the kami born from Izanami's urine and faeces when she was dying from giving birth to the fire kami.  (Itou-san: Yeah, kids think it's very funny.  "They're the poop and pee kami!")  The more you know!
...and then Itou-san took us out to lunch and a couple of the girls attempted to convince her to let them pay for themselves but she would have none of it.
...also, somewhere in the course of lunch Itou-san totally made a joke about Kim and Louki being lesbian lovers because they were the only members of the group who didn't have boyfriends.  FIRST TIME I have ever heard anyone joke about homosexuality in Japan.  It was...weirdly refreshing, given how incredibly uncomfortable it seems to make pretty much everyone else.
So, anyway, what was supposed to be a short trip took up a huge chunk of the morning and afternoon, and Itou-san has been voted the nicest lady ever.  This coming from the girls who were terrified when they were invited inside the shrine office, because they didn't know how to talk to priests.

Monday night was the dorm's Valentine's Day potluck.  The boys were supposed to make real food while the girls were supposed to make desserts and sweets.  I was thinking about rebelling and making real food ('cause we have so few boys in the dorm, and also because I CAN), but then Hi-chan told me that our microwave can be used as an oven????  Why didn't anyone think to tell me this before?  Anyway, I decided to make a chocolate decadence cake instead (Louki and Hi-chan helped), which was a hit and made Kim attempt to convince me to make another one.  (First she told me it was her birthday and then she said actually it wasn't and I said it was going to be my brother's birthday very soon, and she said, "You should make a cake for your brother and then send him pictures of us eating it!"  What do you think, bro?)  There was also this AMAZING pasta dish which I really want to learn how to make.  I am going to have to track down the guy who made it and ask for the recipe.

Today was Valentine's Day, and I avoided all the Valentine's Day-related things, because if you think Valentine's Day makes single people feel like garbage in the States, you should really not come to Japan.  I'm not really into making anyone feel like garbage, especially not people who don't buy Ghana chocolate.  There are literally advertisements saying, "If you really love him, you'll buy him Ghana chocolate."  Um, WHAT.  What if my hypothetical he is allergic to chocolate?  What if he doesn't like chocolate?  What if I don't feel like giving him Ghana and want to give him Meiji instead?  Sheesh.  And, yes, I know it's an advertising ploy, but seriously, it rubs me the wrong way.
Bah, heteronormativity and chocophilinormativity.***  Bah.
I feel like such a Brown student.

*SURVEY: Do you say "crape" (rhyming with "scrape") or "crep" (rhyming with "step")?  Merriam-Webster says the first pronunciation is correct, but I'm meeting a surprising number of people who go for the second...

**If you haven't seen the anime, DO NOT LOOK HIM UP, 'cause SPOILERS.  He looks like this, though.

***Totally made this word up, but everybody should use it.  All the time.  That's so chocophilinormative!  Let's make this a THING.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kojiki (part one)

Did you wake up this morning thinking to yourself, Man, I really want to read about the Kojiki?  Well, if so, today is your lucky day!  If not...DEAL WITH IT.

Academic Post #8 (aw, geez, I am so slow at this)
Kojiki (part one): Oh boy I guess this is what happens when you pay attention to anatomical differences

So in case you've forgotten, the Kojiki is one of the oldest extant Japanese documents.  It's a sort of creation-story-history-genealogy thing written in 712. It was intended to clarify the history of the imperial family (as well as the aristocratic families) and give an explanation for their ruling Japan.  It also recorded a bunch of native myths/songs/stories.  So an important document all around!  The stories continue to be fairly well-known in Japan today, a little bit like Greek myths in the US (although kids don't study them in school).

So, with that out of the way, let's dive into the story!

The Kojiki opens with a bunch of chapters* that nobody really cares about or bothers to remember.  Basically, at the beginning of the universe, suddenly three kami came into existence and then, while the land was floating around like a jellyfish, there were suddenly reeds and two more kami sprouted from the reeds.  They were called the '"separate heavenly deities."  Suddenly, a bunch more kami, called the "seven generations of kami" appeared!  Where did they come from?  Not important.  You'll never hear about most of them again.  Let's move on.
If you haven't already guessed, a great deal of the Kojiki just has things happening for no real discernible reason, and nobody really bothers to offer an explanation (or if there's an explanation, it just makes the reader more confused).

The only two kami who are actually important out of this bunch are Izanagi (male) and Izanami (female), the last of the seven generations of kami.  The separate heavenly kami said, "Hey, you guys, go solidify the land!" so they grabbed a special jeweled spear and dipped it into the brine and stirred a bunch.  When they lifted the spear out of the water, the brine that dripped from the spear formed an island.  They descended to the island, erected a pillar, and then the following EXCESSIVELY EROTIC scene occurred:

At this time [Izanagi-no-mikoto] asked his spouse IZANAMI-NO-MIKOTO, saying:
"How is your body formed?"
She replied, saying:
"My body, formed though it be formed, has one place which is formed insufficiently."
"My body, formed though it be formed, has one place which is formed to excess.  Therefore, I would like to take that place in my body which is formed to excess and insert it into that place in your body which is formed insufficiently, and [thus] give birth to the land.  How would this be?"
IZANAMI-NO-MIKOTO replied, saying:
"That will be good."
"Then let us, you and me, walk in a circle around this heavenly pillar and meet and have conjugal intercourse."**

Ancient Japanese erotica, ladies and gentlemen!***
One of the really interesting things about Shinto is that most religions have Strong Opinions about Sex (and they are usually sex-negative).  Sex is bad!  Sex is evil!  Sex is dirty!  Sex is okay but only if you're doing it with your spouse in order to have children!  Shinto on the other hand is kind of like, "I dunno, do whatever you want.  It's cool.  Sex makes babies sometimes I guess."

Anyway, after that incredibly erotic discussion, they walked around the pillar, Izanami greeted**** Izanagi and then Izanagi greeted Izanami and they did the deed.  But their baby was born a leech child and their second baby was apparently a failure of an island.  After setting the leech child adrift in a reed boat (whoo, infanticide!), they go ask for advice (from the heavenly separate kami) on how to actually make babies correctly.  As it turns out, the reason that their babies were fail babies was because Izanami spoke first, and when women speak before men, they have fail babies.

Interestingly enough, the male supremacy bit seems to be imported from China, as there are some records of the story without the entire leech child chunk.  There are a couple of other sexist chunks of the story that appear to be later additions influenced by Chinese schools of thought/Buddhism.

Anyway, Izanami and Izanagi did their whole walking around the pillar thing again, except Izanagi spoke first this time so they had moderately acceptable babies.  Anyway, they proceeded to have SO MANY BABIES, which is to say that they gave birth to all the islands of Japan and then a whole slew of kami.  Just as the reader is falling asleep from the excessive listing of all their children, Izanami gives birth to a fire kami who burns her genitals and she falls sick.  She vomits and kami are born from her vomit and she defecates and kami are born from her faeces***** and she urinates and kami are born from her urine and then she passes away.
Izanagi, understandably, was not so thrilled by this turn of events, and wept bitterly (giving birth to a kami from his tears).  He then buried his wife and cut off the fire kami's head with a sword.  The blood on the sword and the dead kami's body all turned into a bunch of other kami, which are then all listed.

And then Izanagi goes to the underworld to try to win his wife back, but that will be a story for next time.

If you want to read ahead, the best translation (that I know of) of the Kojiki into English is this one.

I leave you with this incredibly dumb comic Ellie made me draw.

(Click on it to make it bigger.)

*Each chapter being about a page long.

**From page 50 of Kojiki.

***I made Louki read this passage.  The look on her face was brilliant. I wish I had a camera.

****The actual dialogue from the scene goes something along the lines of:
"Whoa, this guy is hot!"
"Whoa, this girl is hot!"
Not even kidding.

*****The classiest word for poop!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

American food, ponies, and taiyaki

Dear everybody who listed all the synonyms for buttocks I missed on the last post:
I am so glad you like butts and know many, many, many, many words to talk about butts.
...I really don't know what else to say about this.  I am clearly not as into vocabulary for butts as you are.  And I am totally okay with that.

Also, my blog has officially gotten hits through the keywords "nude men."  WHOO.


So Wednesday night was American Food Night, which is to say that a bunch of American girls in the dorm cooked American food for Louki and Kim (the two Dutch girls).  I made "American" food, which is to say that I made food that Dana makes in America, which is not really all that American.  As it turns out, Japanese squash is much sweeter than butternut squash when boiled, plus I was missing some spices, so my vegetable soup didn't taste exactly the same as it does in the States, but it still tasted pretty okay.  I also made renkon and satsuma imo, which is not American but I DON'T CARE.  Anyway, we also had macaroni and cheese (actual macaroni and cheese, not out of a box; it was amazing) and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and s'mores (made over the stove, which was exciting and involved lots of things catching on fire) and random American candy Hali's parents sent her and peanut butter cookies (om nom nom nom) and mugicha (barley tea), because that is TOTALLY AMERICAN.
And then Ashley and I began phase one of Our Dastardly Plan to Turn Louki into a Brony.  And it worked. Bwahahahaha.
...and then we watched Fern Gully for some reason?  You can just watch the Nostalgia Critic review to get a sense of the entire movie (but don't watch it near sensitive ears, as there is swearing out the wazoo).  Uh, yeah.

Today we were going to go to an arcade, but we actually wound up going to the arcade for about twenty minutes and then spending the rest of the time wandering around Osu Kannon while some of the girls went clothes shopping.  Also, I had cookies and cream taiyaki,* which was DELICIOUS.

In completely unrelated and totally random news, this morning I had an epiphany and realized that bronyism** is structurally similar to a Japanese new religion.  Think about it.  There's a doctrine (the episodes) which are based on the experiences and thoughts of a founder (little bit of a stretch, but read any of Lauren Faust's articles about why she wanted to make the show the way it is) and expanded by the select few in the upper echelons of the movement (the animation team, Daniel Ingram, etc.).  Those in lower positions in the movement also release publicity materials (so much fanart and fan music) and add to the established canon (Derpy...I mean, seriously, Derpy).  Those in the movement do everything in their power to convert everyone they come into contact a series of steps eerily similar to shakubuku in Soka Gakkai.  ("Do you watch ponies?  No?  You think it's dumb?  Well, I'm going to tell you every reason why it isn't dumb...over and over...every time I see you...and eventually I will wear you down enough to watch the first episode...and then I will cajole you into watching more...until eventually you are hooked...and then you can go out and win more converts!")  The community exists at a national (and international, thanks to the internets) level, but there are also local communities which will have meetings (to watch new episodes, nerd out, sing "At the Gala" to each other and freak out everyone else in the room...not that I have ever done this).  And before anyone says, "But this metaphor doesn't make ANY SENSE because MLP:FIM is NOT a religion!" I would just like to say you have obviously not met a devoted brony.  MLP:FIM is a WAY OF LIFE.
So, not a perfect match, but with some tweaking bronies could qualify as members of a religious organization in Japan?
And thus concludes my nerdy rambling.

On a final note, I've added some new pages to the blog, if you haven't already noticed.  They're on the sidebar on the right.  Man, I'm suddenly all productive on this blog.  HOW CRAZY.

**That is, being a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

*Taiyaki is a kind of fish-shaped pastry, normally filled with red-bean paste.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beans and Bums

Note: Some people will find the content of this post offensive.  To discover whether you will be offended by this post, please read the following sentence:


We good?


So Friday was Setsubun, which is a holiday that falls on February 3 every year.  Basically, you're supposed to chase out any bad luck from the old year and welcome in good luck for the New Year.  The way you do this is by throwing beans.
Yes, beans.  Soy beans, to be exact.
When celebrating at home, the father (or other male in the household who doesn't mind a little pain) will usually dress up in a demon mask, and the kids will throw beans at him while yelling, "鬼は外" (oni wa soto; "demons out") and then throw beans inside the house while yelling, "福は内" (fuku wa uchi; "luck in").  Then everyone has to eat the number of beans corresponding to their age plus one (for luck).

Anyway, I decided to check out a couple of different Setsubun festivals in the area.

First stop of the day was Ueno Tenmangu, for an 11 a.m. ceremony.  There was already a pretty big crowd by the time I arrived.

As you can probably tell from the pictures, they had put a banner up along the edge of the roof, and were preparing to throw beans from there.

They also had some people from 7-Eleven selling a special kind of sushi that you eat at Setsubun.

People on the roof!

Since the festival was in the middle of the time when most people are at work/school, most of the attendants were retired or young moms.

There's been an explosion of dolls at the shrine since the New Year, probably because the dolls come with omikuji, and buying omikuji is a common activity during the New Year's festivities.

Someone made a snowman.  Can you guess what it's supposed to be?
(If you need a hint, just keep looking through the pictures.)

All ready to go!


(They were in little plastic packets, so people didn't have to worry about how sanitary it was to eat them.)

They also threw candy.

The only guy who shouted anything was the guy with the microphone, and I think they were supposed to throw in time to his shouting, but that mostly failed.

Catching beans is serious business.

I caught one!

Big black print: good luck bean

Red print on right side: safety in the family

Red print on the left side: opening luck beckoning good luck

Everybody counts up his/her spoils...

So then I took some pictures of little dolls, because THEY ARE WORTH TAKING PICTURES OF.  Or something.


And is drooling on them.


Uh...did you guys get lost?

One of these things is not like the other...

So that was Ueno Tenmangu.

Second festival of the day was at Shiroyama Hachimangu at 4 p.m., so after the time when all the elementary students (and college students) got out.

They also had a convenience store selling sushi, but this time it was Family Mart.  And one of the employees was wearing a demon wig.  'cause, you know, you want to buy sushi from demons.

There was still a fair amount of snow on the ground.

I arrived about half an hour before the actual bean-throwing started, so all the bean-throwers were filing into the honden for a purification ceremony beforehand.

This guy was making announcements during the ceremony on a microphone.

So many people!

This was the first set of bean-throwers.  There were three sets total, probably because the balcony around the shrine wasn't big enough to accommodate all of them at once.


(They also had a guy on a microphone chanting, but they weren't throwing in time either.)

There was a kind of dangerous amount of pushing going on...although fortunately nobody got knocked over.

I caught some!

There were a bunch of little kids with demon masks, so I think that probably a preschool in the area was making them that day or something...


So that was Shiroyama Hachimangu.

On my way back to my dorm, I ran into Kocchan, who had apparently texted me the previous day but my phone, being amazing, didn't think to deliver her text until about ten minutes later.  Anyway, she's interviewing for a job teaching English, and part of the interview is writing an essay in English in fifteen minutes.  Yes, fifteen minutes.  It's insane.  Anyway, she wanted to know if I could look over one of her practice essays, and I said sure.  It was pretty exciting.  She also writes better essays than some college honors English kids?  Yeah.

Anyway, after that I put on even more layers than I was already wearing and headed over to Gosha Shrine for their 7 p.m. Setsubun/Star Festival combo.  There were only about thirty people there, mostly the older gentlemen who are the shrine's soudai, but there were also some women from the neighborhood and a bunch of little kids.  There was the standard purification, and then Nakano-san asked everyone who had been born in the year of the dragon (it was two kids and one woman) to step forward and offer a tamagushi together.  Then everyone who attended got to throw beans and yell, "鬼は外、福は内."
After that was the Star Festival, which is for one of the kami (a star kami, if you didn't already guess) enshrined at Gosha Shrine.  It was a fairly standard ceremony, except that Nakano-san's younger daughter was there to perform kagura, which was cool.
Afterwards, everyone got a little bag of beans and hot amazake, which is a kind of sweet sake.  BUT the kind that they had was non-alcoholic (so the kids could drink it), which meant that I could drink it too.  And it was DELICIOUS.  It makes me wonder whether the alcoholic stuff tastes as good...but I'm not wondering hard enough to try it.

I made it back to my dorm without tripping and breaking my neck on the icy sidewalks,* which I think is an achievement.  There I ran into Louki, who asked if she and "some other girls" could come to Hadaka Matsuri with me, and I said sure.

Well, as it turned out the next day, "some other girls" meant eight girls total, which meant we were a female gaijin SWARM.  Apparently no guys were interested in coming to the festival.  Why?  Well, here's where the bums come in.

The festival is called 裸祭, which literally means "naked festival."  No, it doesn't involve any actual nudity, but it does involve guys running around in a special kind of loin cloth...which, as you will see shortly, gives you a much more...expansive view than normal loin cloths.


When we made it to the train station, there was a poster up for the festival.  And there were apparently special trains running to the festival too?  It was exciting.

This is what it looked like when we hopped off the train.

Soooooooo many people!

There were food stalls set up on pretty much every street around the shrine.

The first of the semi-naked dudes!

Each group of semi-naked dudes was carrying a pole-like structure.

Which they would occasionally set up and then (sometimes) one of the guys would try to climb it.

It should be noted that it was only slightly above freezing, and they were dressed like THAT.

This would be why so many of them were really, really drunk.

Well, also, they had to drink sake as part of the purification ceremony before the festival.
But they kept drinking throughout the day, which meant that the groups got significantly more drunk as time went on.

Also, while carrying the pole, they'd swerve back and forth between the two sides of the street.

We wound up moving down to get a better spot, and also I got some fried satsuma imo dipped in sugar, which sounds bizarre but is delicious, I swear.

All the groups had to pass over this bridge, but because it was slick from mud (and got increasingly slippery over the course of the day), people kept falling on the way down.


If you'll notice, almost all the guys are wearing headbands and most of them are carrying other scraps of cloth as well.  A big part of festival is that the guys will rip off strips of cloth to pass among the audience.  The strips of cloth are like omamori, and are supposed to protect you from bad luck for a year, so you want to gather as many of them as possible.
Basically, this means that every time a group of guys passes, everyone starts yelling, "Oniisan, choudai" ("oniisan" is a polite way of saying "big brother" and "choudai" just means "please").

There were little kids running around semi-nude too.

Abby, Kim, and Meredith, all having a good time.

Meredith and Kim, being the members of our party who looked the most gaijin, definitely got the most attention.

These guys were having a blast.

If you'll notice, some of the guys had stuff written on their backs and fronts and arms and faces and...just generally all over.


...and climbing...

...and climbing...


Here's one of the guys who gave us strips of cloth.

Also, that carton he's holding is full of sake.

It's the REALLY COLD little kid team!  Some of the poor kids looked really miserable.

A bunch of guys were SUPER EXCITED to see gaijin and came over and tried to talk to us in English.  It would usually go something like this:
Us: Hi!
Louki and Kim: The Netherlands!
The rest of us: America!
Us: ...okay?
Guy: HERE.  *thrusts a bunch of strips of cloth at us*

These guys were tearing strips off their flag for us.


Sometimes people would pose for us.

People falling up the bridge...

...people falling down the bridge...

At about this point, this random group of guys stopped in front of Meredith and Kim, whispered among themselves, and then screamed, "BEAUTIFUL!" at them, before running away.


Let's face it: that kid has amazing hair.

Aaaaand falling down the bridge.

It was impressive how many of the guys were covered in mud/blood.


D'awwwwwww, small children.

This guy tore a strip off his loin cloth for Meredith.
Apparently it's really lucky?

This guy had "onna zuki" ("likes girls") written across his chest, and, of course, a couple of the girls in our group started screaming, "ONNA ZUKI!" at him, so he came over to talk to us.

He also had his phone number written on his arm.  Just in case you wanted to get in contact.

This guy is having fun, even if he's probably FREEZING.


A tide of FALLING semi-nude men.

At some point in the proceedings, a guy proposed to Kim.  Not even kidding.  He apparently told her that she should marry him because it would make him happy.  I don't think that's how marriage is supposed to work, but what do I know?

Does this picture make you feel awkward inside?
Or have you gotten used to it by this point?
As one of the girls put it, "I have seen so many butts today that now I don't even notice them. IT'S LIKE THEY'RE NOT THERE."


(That was actually what he was saying too.)

Anyone who has seen Madoka will recognize what's on his back...

The unfortunate thing about drunkenness + mud is that it means a lot of falling over.
Mud and blood, like I said.
A couple of guys fell down the bridge and face-planted right in the mud.  Ouch.

Yes, that guy has Chopper on his back.

And more phone numbers.  A lot of guys had phone numbers written on their backs, actually...  Some had addresses too.


That is a cask of sake.

Like I said, some people were REALLY DRUNK.


A bunch of the girls on the left side (I was on the right) got called "bijin" (beautiful people).  They also got SO MANY omamori.  Like DANG.  Some of them got whole flags and headbands.

Also, the groups that were passing us kept high-fiving all us gaijin.



...then some guys started trying to kiss the girls on the left...

Most of the girls were pretty okay with kisses on the cheeks, but apparently a guy called Kim a "baka gaijin" (stupid foreigner) for not wanting to kiss him on the mouth.  And Grace had a guy grab her and kiss her.  EW. glad that most of them didn't notice me.  Probably helped that all the other girls looked waaaaaaaaaaaaay more foreign than me.

This guy was an English teacher who came over to talk to us and then posed for us.

Poor little kid wearing a jacket... don't want to know the story behind this one.

Let's just say oh geez oh geez.

Dang, these kids have MAD SLEEPING SKILLS.

It might be hard to tell from the picture, but this was the second guy who was carried away on a stretcher (that I saw).  Alcohol poisoning = not fun.


We were getting really cold at this point, so we decided to head back to Nagoya.

Ashley decided that the best possible thing she could do with her haul was use them as hair ribbons.

By the end of the train ride, her ENTIRE HEAD was covered in pieces of cloth.

After that, a bunch of us wound up going to the onsen in Ueda, which was fun, and then we went to get parfaits, because we are totally responsible adults and responsible adults eat parfaits.

So that was our Saturday!
Man.  That post took a really long time to upload.

*Has no one in Japan heard of salting the sidewalks?  I mean seriously.  Some people were hosing them down.  Because, you know, that's such a great idea.