When subjected to culture shock over a longer period of time... culture shock can turn into a persistent state, a syndrome.

My hope is that through an objective look at the next 3+ years I will be staying in Japan, I will be able to circumvent these symptoms and provide valuable insight to others who may look to follow a path similar to my own.
>>gaijin syndrome explained<<

second chances in nagoya

I know this post is long overdue, but hopefully I can remember all the best details from my stay in Nagoya, now one month ago. I am working on getting Internet at my apartment, so I haven't had the best conditions for blogging regularly.

Anyway, a photo album of the stories in this post is linked below!!


After my stressful, but fun, four days in Tokyo, I jumped on a bullet train and headed inland to the less crowded Nagoya city. Nagoya is known for being one of the wealthiest places in Japan since ancient times, so it is no surprise to learn that Kirin beer and Toyota motors both operate in Nagoya. In fact, Nagoya castle has two gold "dolphin" statues at the very highest points that have been targeted (unsuccessfully) by ninjas and thieves throughout history.

When I arrived in Nagoya, my friend was waiting for me at the station in his black salary man suit. Keisuke is a good friend of mine from my time studying in Japan three years ago. Now he lives in a studio apartment and works everyday at a typical overworked, underpaid Japanese business man's job. I am slowly coming to understand why it is that a working man/woman in Japan is willing to work 12+ hours a day for salaries considerably less than what might be found in the U.S. and not be seriously unhappy. Contributing factors include relatively socialistic values, the fact that cost-of-living is partially covered by the employer, and the family-like development that occurs between co-workers. I could write more about this, but I don't want to stray too far from my travel log.

Friday, my first full day in Nagoya, was spent entirely on my own since Keisuke had to work. I first found my way back into the heart of the city where the central station is surrounded by high class shopping and dining. Walking around, I took my lunch at a noodle shop where the staff were so well coordinated and efficient, customers were moving in and out like a well-oiled machine. But at the same time they were patient and friendly. It was at this restaurant where I discovered that I, too, can be patient with my own ability and ask for small favors, such as how to pronounce certain words, or to describe something I don't understand. Even now I'm learning what it is that people really mean when they say that I have 'very good' or even 'perfect' Japanese. I believe it is my pronunciation that they are talking about, so I shouldn't get frustrated with disappointment when I find myself unable to form my ideas into Japanese sentences.


Once I was full and ready for my adventure, I headed off in search of the Nagoya City Science Museum, next to the large 'white water' park downtown. The museum has 7 stories containing exhibits from different scientific disciplines, a planetarium, and a wonderful automated fountain display out front. I bought a general ticket for the exhibits as well as a planetarium ticket for the show of the month, "The Disappearing Rings of Saturn". The presentation was 50 minutes long and I learned in Japanese how every 30 years (one revolution of Saturn's orbit), the tilt of Saturn's axis with respect to the Earth gives the impression that its rings have disappeared. After the presentation, I continued to climb the many floors of the museum until I eventually got tired of science and wanted to get back to sightseeing Japan.

I walked many blocks back to the central station where I boarded a train that took me west of Keisuke's apartment to a large shopping mall and movie theater. I spent some time in the theater, amusing myself with the Ice Age 2 Japanese trailer before heading into the shopping mall. Shopping in Japan is especially fun for me because of how well the clothes fit me. When I'm able to find a shirt with wide enough shoulders, it really fits nicely over my slim, seemingly non-American physique.

Aside from clothes, other shops I found in the mall included a pet store, massage parlor, and a delicious restaurant that was at the time promoting a variety of matcha (green tea) desserts. The massage parlor was tempting since my feet were starting to hurt from nearly a week's worth of walking around Tokyo and now Nagoya.

In the end, I found out from Keisuke when he would be home from work and headed back on foot towards his apartment. In retrospect, I probably should have found a bus because the return trip took nearly an hour and I walked a stretch of a couple miles at least. My legs were ready for a night of rest by the time I finally made it to the apartment.

That night, Keisuke had his friend over and I enjoyed practicing my Japanese with the two of them. They were equally delighted to hear my native voice read the English that was printed on the label of a cafe latte that Keisuke's friend bought from a convenience store. And now, my promo video for Mt. Ranier coffee may very well be floating around on the Internet somewhere. Additionally, I discovered how to make Japanese puns, a.k.a. "old man gags".


The following day the two of us met up with a friend of Keisuke's from his college days, and a friend of mine from Rochester. The four of us first hopped on the train and headed to a restaurant that is known across Japan for having weird foods. This is where I got to try some spaghetti that tasted like sweet melons with wipped cream on top, and a red bean paste stew with rice pudding inside. Both tasted delicious in small quantities, but the plates were large enough to make it a meal.

Afterwards, we headed to Nagoya castle and made it 15 minutes before closing. The castle is tall enough to see across the city from the highest story, and other four stories contained exhibits from the samurai era. After a while, you start to see like you've seen it all when it comes to museums of the old like the ones in every castle. But this one also had a replica of the golden dolphins from the roof, which you could climb on and get your picture taken.

From there, we out into the rain and back downtown where I had my first Japanese movie theater experience. The theater was a small room with a big screen and the movie was called Oppai Volley - "Oppai" meaning breasts, and "Volley" being volleyball. The movie is based off a true story about a group of high school boys who had little to no motivation at anything. Then a beautiful new teacher joined and was put in charge of the volleyball team. The boys where then motivated when she said she would do anything to make them want to win, and they asked her to show them her breasts if they do win. It was a hilarious movie, and I had a pleasant time with as much Japanese as I could understand.


Sunday was another adventure as Keisuke and I hopped on the train again and rode south towards the bay. We met up with my same friend from Rochester, who drove us in his brand new car to his parents bamboo farm. The three of us plus his uncle and cousin walked around for a while digging up bamboo shoots, which were later boiled and seasoned for a delicious Asian treat. Keisuke and I also got to cut down some bamboo trees and Keisuke took some pieces home to decorate his apartment.

After the farm, we drove down to the fish market and ate some sashimi fresh out of the water. The fish was delicious, even though I nearly lost my apetite towards the end. Keisuke had ordered the shrimp (which comes as it does out of the water) and managed to eat most of it without incident. One of the last ones, however, thrashed in his hands as he started to split it open. But that didn't deter him from continuing to rip it in half and eat it anyway. That's a real raw diet!

From the market, the three of us when back to my friend's parents' home to enjoy the boiled bamboo sprouts. We also met some more of his aunts and cousins at a warm family gathering where they were making tako-yaki (breaded balls with octopus inside). Everyone was very friendly and curious about me. So I indulged as much as I could and turned to my friend for help with some of the translations. In the end, it was a nice homely way to come down from my stressful time in Tokyo.

The following day I got up early and caught a train to Kanazawa, my final destination. To see an album of some photos I took in Nagoya, follow this link.

But the adventure wasn't over yet! I only spent two days in Kanazawa before climbing a mountain to the snowy peaks with a group of other foreigners from the school. That's a story for another post that will involve some subject matter about gaijin syndrome.

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first taste in tokyo

See below for a link to the photo album for this post!

Now that I am settled a bit and started working, I have found some time to sit and recount my first week in Tokyo. As I mentioned before, arriving at Narita was a familiar feeling for me and my excitement for being back held off my eventual defeat from jet lag for the first train or two. At the baggage claim I caught up with a Japanese teacher from my company from back in Rochester and her husband, who came back to Tokyo for spring break on the same flight. We exchanged phone numbers before I said goodbye and met my friend for pickup.

The fight with jet lag that night was an arduous one as I had only slept for three hours on the flight. My arrival day was a Sunday and my friend who came to pick me up couldn't get any time off that week, so it was our only available time to hang out. Back at Naoya's house, I managed to get by with a nap only to wake up after the drinking had already started. Needless to say hilarity ensued between an exhausted Rob and a drunken Tetsuro.

After Tetsuro had left and I got back to sleep, I was woken up once more around midnight when a new visitor had arrived. Hearing the voices, I recognized it as my English conversation partner for two years back in the States. We had become good friends and I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to see him in Shizuoka after my stay in Tokyo. His work schedule wouldn't give him any free time to hang out if I stopped in Shizuoka on my way to Kanazawa. It turned out that his work had made Monday a holiday, so he drove two hours to hang out with us in Tokyo!

View from Tokyo TochoOur first stop the next morning was Shinjuku. We climbed to the top of the government building there, the Tokyo Tocho. Supposedly we could see all the way to Mount Fuji when the weather is nice enough, but it never cleared up enough during my four-day stay. After gazing at the cityscape from the observatory, we jumped back on the trains to head across the city. In Akihabara we found a maid cafe where the all-female waitstaff dresses in French maid costumes and serve you coffee in the cutest way they can. At 5:00 there was a change of shift and the maids were replaced by cosplayers. Suddenly we went from classical music and French maids to j-pop and sailor moons. Afterward we did some shopping in Akihabara's electronics town, Harajuku's popular fashion street called Takeshita-dori, and Shibuya's much more expensive clothing shops. Back at Naoya's apartment, I ate a few bites of food before succumbing once again to jet lag.

Relaxing in the Imperial Palace GardensOn Tuesday my friends had to return to work while I went to meet up with another friend from my time studying in Japan three years ago. Takuya met up with me at the Shinjuku train station and after a brief reunion, we decided to make the Imperial Palace our first stop. Most of the palace buildings from the Tokugawa period burned down long ago and were never rebuilt, so our site-seeing was predominantly gardens and stone walls, but gorgeous nonetheless. Just a short walk away was the Tokyo National Modern Art Museum that contained some amazing traditional folding screen.

The Thunder GateFrom the Imperial Palace, we headed towards the oldest shrine in Tokyo, located in Asakusa. The shrine is most famous for its large gate and hanging lantern at the start of the long road leading up to the shrine. The street is lined with many shops that sell traditional and characteristic souvenirs of Japan, including ninja shuriken and folding fans. It began pouring during our visit and we sought shelter under the gate in front of the shrine. While we sat there, an old drunken man approached us and started talking to us in Japanese that was so slurred, my friend couldn't even understand most of it. One thing came out clear: he liked my teeth. We quickly retreated back down the street, laughing as he shouted more random things at passerby while keeping pace with us surprisingly well.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the unifier of JapanMy last full day in Tokyo was spent mostly on my own, but I got to meet up with the Japanese teacher and her husband from from the airport. We walked around Ueno park and saw a number of musical performances that included a three-stringed Japanese guitar called a shamisen, and a choir of middle-school students. My companions recommended the Tokyo-Edo Museum as my next sight-seeing stop and I complied. The museum had many exhibits from both before and after Japan came out of its isolation period, including authentic katana blades and the document of surrender from WWII. Taking a brief rest near the gift shop, an old man sitting near me struck up a conversation and it took all my concentration to try and follow what he was saying in Japanese. He knew quite a lot about current conflicts and events in the world, which I had thought I had left behind in the US. I could do little more than agree with what he was saying but he seemed content enough to just talk about recent events with a foreigner.

Finally on Thursday I hopped on a train to Nagoya, which was a whole new adventure. For a full album of photos showing the events in this post, you can follow this link and enjoy.

Hopefully in the near future I will be posting twice more--once about my time in Nagoya and once about my trip up into the the mountains of Toyama. Thanks for reading!

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