Saturday, March 31, 2007

Meeting the Host Family

FANCY CASH REGISTERS will "suck" your money like a vending machine, and then pop out the correct change so the employee doesn't really have to do anything!

MONEY PLATES are 4 x 7" trays with soft teeth on the bottom, and they are in every store. You place your money on the plate, the employee takes the plate, and returns the plate to you with your change.

WHEN YOUR TABLE IS MESSY at a restaurant, the waiter pulls out a metal "crumb brush" and scoots the crumbs off the table.

Yesterday we met out host families. Mine is really neat- they are very similar to my folks! Shigeo-san (host father) is a famous graphic designer, and he wakes up at 5am every day! Yukiko-san (host-mother) is a Japanese teacher and she likes to wake up late when she is on vacation, but Shigeo-san usually wakes her up earlier!

For lunch, Shigeo took me to a fancy Italian restaurant. There were *real Italians* running the store! The food was absolutely the best Italaian food I've ever tasted. We had margherita pizza and ban... something which had capers, fish and oneion! They also served us a delicious appetizer of marinated veggies and smoked fish. After, we had yoguru-tsu ice cream, and "co-hi" (coffee) which seems to mean ANYTHING with coffee. I told him that in the stats, "coffee" means only black coffee, and all the fancy things have other names (latte, expresso, specialty drink). Shigeo is learning Italian, and he and Yukiko like to eat Italian food. On Sunday, I plan to cook Chris and I's special pasta for them!

My house is really interesting. Shigeo-san designed the stairs, which I'll have to take a picture of. The bookcases are neat too, and there is art everywhere! Shigeo-san wants to take me to mueseums and sight-see by foot. I might teach him to play the piano.

They call themselves unusual because Yukiko works outside the house and Shigeo works from home- he has an office downstairs. Yukiko cooks and Shigeo cleans the dishes, much like Vickie and Doug.

Surprisingly, Shigeo is taking Opera-singing lessons, and loves the Opera. I told him that I had seen Carmen.

They have three adult daughters. One is married to a Canadian and lives in Boston. One is married to an Englishman, and lives nearby, but they used to live in Portland! (Small world, huh?). One of the dauthers (the Bostonian?) has a baby. Shigeo talks to all the kids we see on the train or streets; I think he likes children.

Last night, we had tori-niku (I think that's the name). Yukiko and I prepared raw veggies and meats (scallops, beef, shrimp), and we all cooked it on the table on a round electric griddle. It is served with a sauce that is very tasty!

Apparently I made a taboo yesterday, using too casual of language with some store clerks. Shigeo seemed rather upset and told Yukiko san. They explained it to me repeatedly... ooops.

I have to take a placement test today, bah. Might go to Harajuku, the young people/fashion district, with a friend of one of the Oregon students. Well, I'm off to seize the day!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Akihabara, Hanami...

We found our way to campus today, had orientation, blah blah blah.

The exciting part was the afternoon: Marie (our "program coordinator" AKA helper-lady) went sight-seeing with us!

The electronics district, we visited a tall building where you can buy warming toilet seats, washers, nintendo games, kids' toys, TVs... anything that runs on electricity basically. The walls of the building were covered in signs...

"Cherry blossom viewing", Marie took us to a famous spot to look at the blossoms. It is illuminated at night, and quite spectacular. It was difficult to take pictures thought because of the crowds and the policeman telling us to keep moving. Forecasters say it will rain tomorrow, which might destroy all the cherry blossoms-- which is probably why there were so many people there tonight. We had to wait in line (!) just to see one side of a public park!

I thought I knew all about crepes, but I was wrong. Japanese crepes are filled with whip cream and "sa-su" (sauce) of your choice, and sometimes fruit. Totally delicious!

We bought our commuting passes yesterday and learned how to use them today! Passmo and Suica are basically the same: both are "debit" or pre-paid accounts to pay for subway tickets. Instead of having to figure out the cost for your route, you "touch-n-go" your card to some sort of RFID reader in the turnstiles, ride, and then "touch" again to leave the station. The system automatically deducts the additional amount over what your commuter pass pays (only a certain route). Pretty nifty!

Yeah, oops. Everyone walks on the LEFT side of the sidewalk, escalator etc. Just like the driving situation. Surprisingly, most sidewalks have grooves on them, which supposedly guide blind people who walk with sticks; they can follow the grooves.

Yay! for fresh fruit. Three of us ventured out early this morning. We saw a equestrian center (in Tokyo city limits!), a tennis club and a vegetable/fruit store. So relieved to actually eat a banana that didn't come from cellophane.

SHIPPING: Drivers' licenses are really expensive (over $2000), so not very many people have cars. So, what do you do to take luggage from one place to another? Ship it! There's a shipping company to pick up and drop off your bags!

RAISING KIDS: Really expensive in Tokyo! Babysitters cost about $20 an hour, and you usually have to go through a company or nanny service. You don't necessarily get the same babysitter every time !

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Just looked up my grades: looks like another term on the Dean's List! Four A's and a B+ (from the snarky ex-coast-guard prof who has a superiority complex), and that's while taking 20 credits!



Today was a blast (minus several hours of orientation without food). We met up with Japanese students who showed us around, buying our commuter passes, and studying the art of cell phone buying, tied up with a delicious Japanese meal of soba (noodles in broth). We did registration today, and saw the campus. Very pretty, lots of flowers, and sakura (cherry blossoms) are out!

Interesting things I noticed today:

Uniforms: all workers wear crazy uniforms, like the ticket-selling ladies who wear bright orange coats and wide-brimmed hats with black ribbons.

Signs on the sidewalk: "no-smoking here", "smoking station soon"

Automatic glass doors that slide when you touch the door, very James-Bondy

Train ticket machines: you stick your ticket (kippu) in the machine to get in, and scan the ticket to leave the transit system-- if you ride too many stops you will be stopped and charged the difference.Combini: convenience stores are really handy. They sell everything from natto (yucky fermented soybeans), to yogurt, pencils and magazines. Surprisingly, you can eat pretty cheaply from a combini .

Bakery food: soo tasty! We found a bakery (called Saint-Germains) this morning (after asking a policeman!). Very French (croissants, baguettes) and some Japanese influence (skinny hot-dog-esk wrapped in phyllo pastry dough).

Policemen: they're everywhere. They seem to patrol a certain block.

Outfits: I saw a gal wearing pantie-shorts (I'm not sure which), a bejeweled belt, knee-high stockings and an overcoat. Hmm.

Japanese Cell Phones: super cool! You can buy some for 1 yen, the one I like is about $21. The Japanese students helped us so we can find a cell phone to use for just 4 months (most have 1 yr contracts). Surprising how many phone designs they have. I saw over 4 cell phone (keitai) shops where there must be over 200 phones on display! They look so much cooler (kakkoi) than American cell phones!

Hotel Escalator: the hotel only has one escalator. In the morning it goes down and at night it goes up!

Tipping: I've found a place on Earth that you don't have to tip!! Even at restaurants. And I *think* the sales taxes are built into prices!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You can call me!

Hi everyone! You can call me for free through google-talk or Skype, of course that only works when I have internet access (ha ha).

The benefit of Skype is that you can see me on webcam!

Just go to and download, and you can see me (tamapple) and call me for free!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ready for Adventure!

Passport, check. Visa, check. Walking shoes, check. Sanity, um....

I packed like a mad hatter today: quarantining liquids in my 3 quart bag, deciding whether art supplies are carry-on or checked, and choosing scarves to match the shoes to match the shirts to match the skirts to match the jewelry. Oops, still need to pack that.

Stay tuned to see evidence of my study-abroad in Japan! I'll try to post pictures and stories whenever I can find internet.