Monday, April 2, 2012

Down, but not out

It has been a while!

Some time ago—in December I think—the Japanese government shot down the possibility of offering free flight tickets to tourists. Being a young blue-collar worker, this hurt my plans and made me consider backing out.

After months of serious consideration, I have come to this conclusion: everyone has a dream of some sort, but not everyone realizes that you can't just wait for it to come and slap you in the face, like I thought was happening to me. No one is going to make you dream come true for you, if you won't help yourself.

Naturally, my progress has been severely hindered by my hesitation, and I will have to recalculate my required expenses now that I have no hope of getting a free flight. It's possible that I won't make my November deadline, but I will move ahead all the same.

So, that's that! I won't be adding money to my fund for a couple of weeks, since I had ceased to be as frugal as I had been when I was actively contributing to it, and I now need to play catch-up with my income. I don't expect to be able to contribute $200 weekly again for some time, if ever.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Cake: The Results!

So, Christmas has come and gone. Whatever happened to that cake I promised to make? How did all of my hopes and dreams of becoming a master sponge-cake chef resolve? The drama? The intrigue? The whipped cream and strawberries?!

Find out about all this and more after the jump! Well, maybe not all that stuff about drama and intrigue...

(Note to RSS readers: You may or may not have to visit the blog to see the rest of the article.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Merry Christmas!

You can probably guess, even if just by looking at the picture to the right, that Christmas is a little different in Japan than we know it here.

The broad strokes are still there - families and friends sometimes exchange gifts, and houses are decorated with Christmas lights.

But the types of gifts, when there are any, tend to be "cute" (or, as the Japanese would say, かわいい; kawaii), typically being things like teddy bears or scarves — things that we Westerners might give on Valentine's Day. Inexpensive gifts are also given around this time of year, more due to the upcoming new year than to Christmas, to less intimate friends. Here's an interesting excerpt on that subject:
More obligatory year-end presents are given during this season as well to people who have done you a favor during the year, however, in contrast to Christmas presents, they are given between companies, to bosses, to teachers, and family friends. These presents are known as 'Oseibo' and are generally things which are perishable or which wear out quickly for which the price can readily be checked because of the system of 'on' and 'giri' (loosely translated obligation and reciprocity). These presents are usually purchased at department stores so that the recipient can check the price and return something which relates to the scale of reciprocity.
Billy Hammond

More significant than the difference in gifts are the differences in actual tradition. The Japanese often celebrate Christmas with two signature foods. The first is a Christmas cake, a sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries (click the picture for a recipe). By the way, I plan to make one of these myself for Christmas - I'll post the results, wish me luck!

The second, bizarrely, is Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC managed to hijack Christmas with a very successful ad campaign some decades ago, and now takes reservations for "Christmas Chicken" as early as October. Many Japanese believe that this is how Westerners celebrate the holiday as well.

Hmmm... this post is getting a bit too long for me to talk about New Year's in Japan, like I originally planned. I'll leave that to my next entry, and I'll close this one up with a Christmas song straight out of Japan. If you want to read more about Christmas in Japan, check out the links below the video.

Christmas in Japan:

PS: My savings have passed 25%!

First image retrieved from Unusual Life.
Second image retrieved from Japan Guide.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Torii, Rainbow Bridge, and some J-Pop

The archway in the picture, and others like it, are a sort of symbol of Japan to us foreigners. So elegant, and yet so simple, torii (literally meaning "bird perch") are usually found in or around shrines and temples.

I'll readily admit that I had no idea what these things were until a few hours ago, even though one is prominently displayed in this page's background. But, thanks to the power of Google, I was able to learn that they "symbolically [mark] the transition from the profane to the sacred" (Wikipedia). Aside from doing that, they make good postcard material.

rainbow bridge
Moving quickly onward, I have decided on one thing in Tokyo that I absolutely must see: the Rainbow Bridge.

During the day, it's a rather drab, white-ish bridge. After sunset, though, it becomes the stunning work of art that you see in the picture. It would be sin for me to be in Tokyo and not see this in person!

So, I'll squeeze that into the itinerary box on the right side of the page. Also, now is a good time to mention that I added another $50 to my travel fund, bringing me to 19%. It's not much, but every penny counts!

Now, let's bring this entry to a close with the song below, called 負けないで (makenaide, "don't give up"), by Izumi Sakai.

First image retrieved from Sydney Morning Herald.
Second image retrieved from Flickriver.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oyakodon and days of the week

Oyakodon (親子丼) is a simple dish, consisting of chicken, eggs, green onions, rice, and such like. The reason why I mention it isn't that it has some amazing flavor that we westerners shouldn't live without, but rather because of its name.

The first character in the word oyakodon is oya (親), meaning "parent". The second is ko (子), meaning "child". The last is don (丼), meaning something like "bowl". So,  oyakodon is the "parent and child bowl", because we eat the parent (the chicken) and the child (the egg) in the same bowl. Horrible, right?

japanese desktop
Anyway, moving on, I now use my laptop and iPod entirely in Japanese. No, I really can't make sense out of most of the text, but I am slowly learning useful new words, such as 時計 for "clock" and 天気 for "weather", through forced immersion. The most immediately useful thing that I have learned this way, though, is the days of the week:

  • 日曜日 (nichiyoubi) - sun day 
  • 月曜日 (getsuyoubi) - moon day
  • 火曜日 (kayoubi) - Mars day or fire day
  • 水曜日 (suiyoubi) - Mercury day or water day
  • 木曜日 (mokuyoubi) - Jupiter day or wood day
  • 金曜日 (kin'youbi) - Venus day or metal day
  • 土曜日 (doyoubi) - Saturn day or earth day 
It's worth noting that their weekday names are very similar to ours. Our first day is "Sunday", which is followed by "Monday", and our last day is "Saturday". This is no mistake — it would seem that the practice of naming days of the week after the visible planets was borrowed by China and Rome from Mesopotamia and Egypt, and then eventually was delivered in whole to Japan and in part to us. For comparison, here are the Latin day names:

Dies solis - "Sun day"
Dies lunae - "Moon day"
Dies martis - "Mars day"
Dies mercurii - "Mercury day"
Dies iovis - "Jupiter day"
DIes veneris - "Venus day"
Dies saturni - "Saturn day"

Well, I'd better stop here. I am about to fall asleep on the keyboard! I really need to do this earlier in the day.

First image retrieved from
Second image is my own

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Recent news (最近のニュース)

Note: This image of my favorite punctuation mark is irrelevant. However, I thought that I'd take this opportunity to say that every picture in every article here is set to display a description or some other sort of message when highlighted by the cursor. Now, moving on...

I'm sorry for having gone so long without posting — I'm trying not to give my first readers too much to catch up on.

First off, let me say that I updated my funds again. I managed to add another $200 this week, bringing me to $600. However, I think that this is the last consecutive week that I'll be able to add so much. I'll have to slow down considerably in order to have enough left to live on before the trip!

A week ago or so, I subscribed to all news articles with the keywords "free tickets Japan" through Google News. Since then, I've received two relevant email updates. Let's see what we have:

PR Newswire: American Airlines and Japan National Tourism Organization Offer Tips for Making the Most of Travel to Japan

Traveller: Room at the inns 

ryokan room
The first includes good tips for a Japanese vacation, but it seems to be targeted more at people coming this winter whereas I intend to visit in the spring or fall. The second shows the devastating effects of March's disaster on Japanese businesses, especially the traditional ryokan inns.

These, together, show just how badly Japan not only wants, but needs tourists. They need to dispel the fear that outsiders have of earthquakes, tsunamis and radiation. This is why they are planning to pay for the flights of ten thousand visitors — they need people like us to tell the world that Japan is a great place to visit.

First image retrieved from The Realm of Ryan. I wouldn't want to steal credit for his hard work!

Second image retrieved from My Rooms Japan.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

First stop: Tokyo!

After some deliberation, I have decided that want to take the bull by the horns and start my vacation in Tokyo!

For some time, I had considered that it may be better to save my stay in Tokyo for the end of the vacation — sort of "saving the best for last", if you will. Today, though, I have decided that I want my vacation to start with a bang. After coming out of my culture-shock induced coma, I should be thoroughly converted to Japan-mode, and I think that I will actually better appreciate the rest of my trip after partaking of the vital essence of the capital.

While I'm there, I plan to rendezvous with my friend Suzuki-san and see if I can't coax him into showing me some of the city. This might well be the highlight of my trip!

That's all that I know. I haven't decided how long I will be staying in Tokyo, where I will go next, or whether I will return before flying home. Once I have put together a comprehensive plan for my time in the capital, I'll try to make these decisions. Suggestions are more than welcome!

Now, before I end this entry, time for a status update. I have added $200 to my travel fund, bringing me up to 12% at $400. I have also decided to wait until spring before exchanging my dollars for yen, since I might get better rates then.

That's it for now. またね!

Image retrieved from Wikipedia.