Sunday, 26 January 2014

Kendo Zenzaikai (ぜんざい会)

While I was at Kendo practice yesterday, I was asked whether I would be attending the zenzaikai today. I'm afraid my reaction was "huh?". It was only later that I remembered I actually received an email about this much much earlier. This is the perfect example of how I'm absent-minded and need to pay more attention to my surroundings (or life in general).

Apparently, the zenzaikai is for the new year, as a way of saying that we will 頑張る (work hard) for the year. It sounds fun, and I also used my attendance as a way of getting a few of the kids to let go of my iPad. 

So today, I rushed off after Church and was only five minutes late! Because I got a little lost, but Google sensei knows all and thanks to Google Maps, I managed to make it there. For some reason though, when I arrived, the main reaction went something like this.

Me: Konnichiwa! 

Person I'm speaking too: ... ... Chin-san?!?! 

And the primary school kids (the girls) I practice with went all kawaii on me, which goes to show that even kids younger than me find me adorable. I think I really project the "little kid" aura. 

Do I look that different? 

Left: How I look today. Right: How I normally look at Kendo practice.
Side note: When did I become such a selfie taking person? Must. Learn. Control. 

Side note 2: Because I haven't asked permission from the kids and their parents, I'm not uploading any of the photos with their faces in them. The photos I'm sharing today, well, I've tried to make sure no faces were shown. Hence the small number - I took a lot of people photos today. 

Instead of sitting at the adult table, I opted to sit with the kids because:
a. They're adorable
b. They really are adorable
c. I practice with them. 


Lunch was basically karaage, fries, takoyaki and butajiru. Oh, and for dessert, grilled mochi in anko soup! 

Does anyone know how to turn a photo 90 degrees? 
The mochi was grilled outside the hall/lunch area:


After lunch, it was time for games, so I went around taking photos! And of course, my iPad was very popular. At one time, I saw three groups: the middle schoolers playing cards, a bunch of primary school and younger kids playing a game and the rest of the kids huddled around my iPad. 

Sometime later, they started arm-wrestling contests. If you beat a teacher, you could choose a prize. Watching that was actually a lot of fun.

Sadly, I had to leave before it ended because I needed to study. For some reason, I concentrate best during the day, and with my exams coming, I need to use as much daylight as possible. <- That sentence makes me sound like a plant. 

It was really fun there. I got to talk with the kids I practice with for quite a lot and they're all really cute. Normally, only a few brave kids will come up to talk to me, but ever since my brother came, I've been talking with them a lot more. 

今年も剣道頑張ろう!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Kyushu University Lessons: 日本事情

クラス名前は? 日本事情
いつ? 前期(2013年の場合、水・5)
先生の名前は? 高松 里 先生

Alright guys, I did say that I'd be recommending/reviewing classes, so here's the first class that I want to share with you: 日本事情.

Now, throw away your experience of what your 日本事情 class in TUFS/Handai was like, and believe me when I say - this class is really really fun! It's a class for us 留学生 and you should definitely take it.

Why?

For one thing, this is one class that you can definitely get in. It's a hugely popular class, but not all Japanese students get in. In fact, the number of Japanese students is limited to the number of foreign students in the class.

So what's it like? 

I call it "お菓子と話時間”. We're split into groups (equal numbers of foreign students and Japanese students, and if possible, equal numbers of guys and girls) to do group activities. These groups/teams are changed three times in the course. And guess what? You're totally encouraged to bring snacks to share while doing these activities. The activities are quite interesting too, even the normal 自己紹介 was interesting to me.

And of course, you can even propose activities for your team to do. My friends and I proposed (and was allowed) to make Hiroshima okonomiyaki.

Working on the okonomiyaki, together. 
How is it graded? 

Your marks come from attendance (there are report cards you have to fill in every week) and from a final report. The topic for my final report was to go somewhere with my team (team 3) and use that to talk about how to build better ties between foreigners and Japanese. As you may know, we went to 白糸の滝 and had an awesome time. Pictures are encouraged in this report.

This is a picture I took on our trip.
This quote came to mind. 
So how strongly do you recommend this class? 

Take it. No excuses. And I recommend it strongly enough that I even bolded the words for emphasis (ok, that didn't take much effort but just imagine me putting lots of energy into it).

For more in this class, look at this link.
For the syllabus of Kyushu University, take a look at this page. 

That's it for this post. Let me know if there are any classes you want me to review. If I took it, I'll definitely review it for you. And if you're a MEXT scholar thinking of where to go, I hope this helps! (Sorry for all scholars entering university this year - this is way too late for you guys).

Monday, 13 January 2014

成人の日 (Seijin no Hi)

This post is for Nic, Bekah and Raychel. Thanks for always being there (on our first trip to Japan, and now, through the wonder called a smartphone. I feel like going for seijinshiki means that I went as our representative. 

今日は成人の日なので、成人式にでました!せっかく日本に来たし、成人式が一生に一回なことだから、振袖をきていくことにしました!はじめての振袖なので、とても楽しかったです!友達と一緒に行ったから、成人式後カラオケへ行きました!写真は以下、英語の文章と一緒に貼ってあります。

As you may or may not know (well, if you have +R. K. MacPherson in your circles you will know) that today is seijin no hi. It's basically a celebration for all the people who are turning 20 in one specific year. And guess what? Today's my year!

So, since I'm living in Japan and all that, I decided to splurge and rent a kimono to attend the ceremony. I got up early this morning to do my hair and everything.

And due to the combined hard work of Iwashita-san, the makeup lady (who has a tough job, considering that I don't like makeup and the lady who helped me to put on the kimono, I ended up like this:

And they helped me take the photo :D 
Thanks so much :')


And by the way, my hairdresser is... I don't know what the English word is, and the only word I can think of is 灵 (ling, which incidentally is part of my Chinese name) which means, according to the dictionary, "quick, alert, efficacious, effective, spirit, departed soul, coffin." Whoops, that took a dark turn. Oh well, I'm probably using the word wrongly. All I know is that as soon as he started to do my hair, he commented "Oh, you washed and dried your hair yesterday" and he was right.

But he did an awesome job on my hair ^^
I finished in the morning, yet by the time Long Fei, Hazel and I got to the hall, the ceremony had already started. Although I didn't realise it at first, because this:


I do believe that most people spent the entire ceremony outside instead.


The theme for this year was 感謝 (kansha - thankfulness) and the ceremony was actually better than I expected (then again, I expected a really boring ceremony).

We entered during the opening act. 
After the ceremony, we braved the crowds again and went to a nearby Karaoke where we sang for about two and a half hours.

This is us braving the crowd. I asked one of
the professional photographers to help me take a picture
using my camera(; 
The only thing of note about the karaoke is that I found one of the songs that my little brother wanted to sing the last time he was here.


Wait, or is this the song that I wanted to sing to my brother but couldn't find?

We ended pretty late, which is how we stumbled upon some pretty illuminations, and of course, we took photos there too.


I was really tired by the time I got back, but getting out of the furisode and undoing my hair was way more complicated than I expected (I spent about two plus hours putting it on, I suppose expecting to take it off in two minutes is delusional).

This is just for my hair. The thing on the left is supposed to add volume.
At first, I didn't really know if I wanted to spend the money for a furisode and go to seijinshiki, But I'm really glad I did.

Friday, 10 January 2014

SSAJ Trip to Kanazawa (Part 2)

And now we're back with part two (and the final part) of my trip to Kanazawa!

The first place we went to was the ninja temple.


It looks nondescript on the outside, but trust me, if you go to Kanazawa, you have to go here! True, there aren't any ninja's hanging about (sadly), but it's still one of the coolest houses/temples that you will ever see. It's even got a death chamber for Seppuku (you can't open it from the inside, so once you're trapped inside....). 

Two words: MUST GO. 

After the ninja temple, we headed for lunch. We searched high and low for a good shop and finally stumbled across a sushi shop. 

You have to walk over a bridge to get to the shop,
way cool. 
The staff were really friendly and the food was excellent! Take a look at my sushi:

The green thing isn't wasabi (like I initially thought), it's miso-crab. <3
And my dessert:


Are you hungry yet? 

After that, we headed to Nagamachi Samurai District. It's just full of houses from when there were samurai. There is a pottery shop and a cafe, but other than that, not much. 

I am extremely fascinated with the straw coverings though. 
But once you leave the houses (and get to a road), there is one of the top three gardens in Japan, whose name eludes me for now. It's next to a Japanese sweet shop, so you can get your shopping and sightseeing done in one convenient place. 

Last, we headed for the Chayagai. It's basically a shopping place, and I ended up buying more fukubukuro's. You'll also notice that Kanazawa seems to like to sprinkle gold flakes on food and put it into soaps. 

It's got a cool retro vibe
There's also a geisha house, so if you have time, you might want to go there. There's also a really cool ice-cream shop with flavours like Soy Sauce and Amazake (sweet sake). And nope, the soy sauce was excellent, not gross. 

We got around Kanazawa using a loop bus, which cost 500 yen for one day (you can ride it as many times as you want). Mind, it only goes one way, so if you want to head in the opposite direction, you'll have to figure out which other buses the one day pass applies to. In the end, we just took a taxi back to the hostel, since we were rushing for time. 

I really wish I arrived on time during the first day. I'd have loved to explore more! 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

SSAJ Trip to Kanazawa (Part 1)

Since the 2013 SSAJ exco had both Nicholas and Matthew in it (and they had to take the two top posts), I was connedforcedpersuaded to make the trip from Hakata to Kanazawa for the yearly trip. But as it turned out, I'm glad that I went.

Oh yes, and since school started, I haven't had time to edit the photos. So you'll have to make do with the photos as I took them from my camera. 

The trip was a short, one night trip. Which is why I was very annoyed and frustrated to arrive at Kanazawa five hours later than I originally planned, and ended up missing the entire first day.

Why? Oh, that's because there was a fire in Tokyo. Which stopped all trains for two-and-a-half hours and messed up the train schedule for the whole day. While I did get some money back, I also had to wait for an interminable amount of time to get it. If you have me on Google Plus, you would have heard my complaining and seen the pictures.

In hindsight, I should've bought something.
But who knew about the train stopping? 
So yes, it was a very grumpy and hungry Eustacia that arrived in Kanazawa (take note that I didn't expect to be late, so I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. And breakfast was a glass of milk). Thankfully, I was given food as soon as I arrived. I suppose all those messages that alternated between "go ahead without me", "I'm sorry" and "What is there to see at night??? I need to see at least one attraction" communicated my hunger to the SSAJ exco. Thanks guys, that saved me. That and the fact that I didn't have to carry my luggage to my hotel :D

After a quick dip in the hotel ofuro, there was dinner!


I ate till I couldn't eat anymore.

So now that I was satiated and happy, we decided to add one item to our itinerary and see Oyama temple at night. Since we turned out to be a small group of nine (for which I'm grateful, since I don't like crowds - more on that later), deciding to add stuff was a very quick decision.

Just before we entered. 
And even though I already had dinner, I was drawn to the candied fruits stall like a moth to a flame.

It's also brightly lit. 
They have apples,


 Strawberries,

And mikan (mandarin oranges)

The mikan are the small things on the top left side. 
They even have a cute, eight-year-old dog called Coco (don't worry, Coco was kept away from the food)


I actually had a nice chat with the ladies running the stall, and learnt things like "the red is from the strawberry flavouring that you put in kakikoori". And my sweet tooth demanded I buy something, so I got the mikan and strawberry.

When everyone was done, we headed back to the hotel. There was a drinking session going on, but after last year's, I stayed away and just went to sleep early. I never knew sitting in a train for so long was so tiring.

To be continued. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

House Hunting in Japan for Students (A Guide)

Congrats on getting your university postings (the first round) today! This is for all of you. And special congrats to my awesome cousin Charmaine and my awesome junior Tung for getting into their uni's. You girls are smart and you rock(:

Now that everyone is in the last semester of TUFS/Osaka University Language Program (wait, what is the proper name for this anyway? Handai something something?), I'm guessing you're starting to think about housing. I know I was worried about this time last year, and I'm pretty sure my cousin is looking too. So for her and all you kouhai's out there, here's a simple house hunting guide.

Step 1: Rent an Apartment or a Dorm?
The first thing you need to decide if you even want to rent an apartment. Some schools let you stay in a dorm for all four years, some only allow you to stay two years, some only six months - you should have all these information from the 大学説明会 last year.

For me, I didn't want to have to move twice, so I decided to rent an apartment. However, if you don't mind moving, or if the rent is too high (I'm looking at all you people in Tokyo), you might want to stay in a dorm for a while. Another reason why you might want to stay in a dorm for the first year is so that you'll know the place much more thoroughly and figure out where you really want to stay.

And even if you don't want a school-dorm or an apartment, don't worry, there's a third option. While I was searching for an apartment last year, I came across student dorms. These are privately run, provide meals, and you can stay there for four years (although the contracts are normally two years). The website where I got information about a few dorms are here: 学生寮 (gakuseiryou). The link leads to the Fukuoka site, but you can switch regions easily. Most of the dorms will send you an information packet (you can request it online, and they'll mail it to you, and you can even visit the dorms in person - one of the things you should do on your recce [I just realised this may be Singlish. Recce means the trip you take in preparation for the actual trip.] trip).

Step 2: Finding an Apartment
Congrats on choosing to rent an apartment! If you're going to stay in a school dorm, you won't have much problems and you can stop reading. If you're going to stay in a private dorm, you can skip to the part about the recce trip.

Unless you're living in Tokyo, you'll probably have to do some searching on the internet. I really suggest using a real estate agent and then emailing them about the apartments you're interested in. I used Mini Mini Fukuoka (they have branches all over Japan, so just search "mini mini (insert place)") and had a pretty good experience. Another site which seems to have really cheap apartments is Smile Plaza, although it might be limited to just Fukuoka. Keywords for your google search would be "(insert uni name)大学生アパート" and variations of it.

Now, where are you going to stay?  Obviously near your campus, but if you're like me, you might have two campuses which are far apart. In that case, you have to choose whether you want to stay in the middle, or whether you want to stay near one, then move two/one and a half years down the road. Or you could just choose to stay near a shopping district :p. It's worth googling for advice, and for me, I actually decided based on the info provided by Mini Mini Fukuoka (which is why I chose them as my real estate agent). I should add now that I'm not being paid or compensated in any way to promote them, and they don't even know that I'm writing this post. It just happens that I had a good experience with them last year.

Next is, what to look for in an apartment? It depends on the person (some people need a separate bath and toilet, some don't. Some want auto-lock, others are fine without it), so it's good to make a list of what you want. Do you need internet? Lots of sun to dry your clothes? Enough space to put a piano? An oven? Try imagining, or noting down your daily routine and figure out what you need in an apartment. Most apartment descriptions will include if there's TV and Internet access (you can also ask your real estate agent for details).

A word about rent. Apart from looking at rents, you need to check whether there's 礼金 (reikin), which is money you have to pay to show you want to rent the apartment. There are apartments with zero reikin, like mine, which will help reduce your initial expenses. Another thing to check is for 共通費(kyoutsuuhi), which you'lll pay monthly for maintenance of your apartment. It's normally near the 家賃 (yachin) rent part.

Oh and please, please check how far you are from the nearest train station. And convenience stores. And supermarkets. It will be written down, and living near these three will make your life more convenient (yes, you can ride your bicycle, but it's nice to be able to just walk to a convenience store/supermarket for emergencies).

Step 3: Finding Guarantors
Ok, it was a neglect (or perhaps a willful denial) of this that led to a lot of panicked days on my part. If you're a worker here, your company tends to be your guarantor. If you're a MEXT scholar, MEXT is technically your guarantor, but you can't put MEXT down (Trust me, I checked). And a guarantor is a huge huge responsibility, so unless you have family/family friends here, it's not something that many people will take up.

So what resort do we have? We have 生協 (seikyo). Yes, the seikyo is more than the place where we buy books, snacks and stationary. The school (via the seikyo) can be your guarantor. If you're not sure what to do, ask your real estate agent. This is also why you more or less need to have your future university decided before you even start to house hunt.

Oh, before I forget, this is what you need to tell your real estate agent. Say "I am a foreign student. I need an apartment that will rent to foreigners." I couldn't rent the first apartment I wanted because the landlord wasn't willing for the seikyo to be my guarantor - he wanted a real person. And there are people who don't want to rent to foreigners (it's sad, but it's a fact of life).

Step 4: Recce Trip
This is the trip where you'll go down, view the house, make the down payments (if all goes well) and all that. Assuming you're staying a night, this is what you'll need to do: Buy air-tickets (go for JetStar or Air Asia or some budget airline), find a hostel to stay in for a night (unless you have friends/seniors that will put you up) - I used Hostel World -, and make an appointment with the real estate agent/dormitory.

You may be wondering if this is necessary. Trust me, it is. Firstly, pictures may or may not be inaccurate (depending on how old they are) - you'll definitely want to see the room in person. Second, seeing the room is how you know it's the right one. It's corny, but for me and my two friends, we fell in love with our apartments once we saw them. So far, we're really happy in our apartments. We all have lofts too (I'd totally recommend them if you want more space). LOFTS.

If you like what you see, you may want to make the down payment straight away. You can do it through a bank transfer, but keep in mind, the Post Bank (where all our MEXT money arrives), isn't set up with a bank transfer. And if I remember correctly, you'll need to have lived in Japan for a year before you can transfer money. I paid cash, and since there are Post Bank ATMs everywhere, there's no need to carry a lot of cash with you. Don't forget to email the estate agent and find out what you need to bring - if you don't have it, you can always fax it to them, but still, that's kind of troublesome. At the very least, bring your 外人カード(Gaijin card), and proof that you're a student here.

When the paperwork is done, all that's left is to decide when you want to pick up the keys and move in.

And that's it (save some paperwork left)! You have rented an apartment all by yourself :D

It's a bit messy, but it's home. 

P.s. leave a comment if you want a post on moving (like what companies to use, when to move, etc. It may not be as comprehensive as this guide, but I can share my experience and what companies I used). 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

It's 2014 already? Happy New Year!

明けましておめでとうございます!Happy New Year everyone! Woah, this is the 2nd new year that I've spent in Japan. Last year, I shared this awesome drawing that my cousin did, but sadly, I don't have any cool drawings to share this year. I will, however, share with you how I spent the first day of this year.

Shopping.

I really hope this isn't indicative of how the rest of the year will be. Because really, I can't afford to shop this much.

One thing about the new year in Japan is 福袋 (fukubukuro - lucky bag) and 初売りセール (hatsuuri sale - first sale). Since I live near an outlet mall now, I was really excited to grab a lucky bag.

Sadly, I didn't get the one I want. And to think I arrived within half an hour of the store opening.

But, I did get two other lucky bags (I really wanted a coat ok?)

It was like Christmas! But on New Year!
Here's a math question. If the contents of these two bags are worth 100,000 yen, how much did I pay?

It says made in China, but the price tag.... And to think everything
in that bag was above 10,000yen. 
The answer is 20,000 (excluding sales tax)!

Can my excuse be that sales-staff are really friendly here? And that I really, really like their clothes?

Lucky bags are often placed outside the store, to
attract customers. Well, some anyway. 

Megaphones are involved. Many, many megaphones. 

And banners, don't forget the banners. 

This is a very good lesson for me. I should learn to not spend money in November/December, then buy all my clothes today. The savings today were actually pretty good.

Of course, there is also the temptation to buy things you don't really
need because they come in pretty boxes. Don't worry, I resisted this 5000yen temptation!

And after this, I really don't have an excuse to not buy the sewing machine I want/need to use to make clothes and stuff. It just goes to show that I'm a lot more prudent with money that I don't have in my hand.