Friday, 29 March 2013

Lego Exhibition (Valentines Day/White Day)

So in Japan there is Valentines Day on February 14th where girls make and give chocolate to guys they like, and White Day a month later on March 14th when guys give something white or chocolate to the girls they like/got chocolate from. It's pretty big in anime so a lot of foreign anime fans know about it. And because Wes and I are in Japan I did Valentines day (cooked dinner, made him chocolate, treated him to Kappa sushi lunch, went to a book shop together, gave him manga), and Wes did White Day. Wes made me cooked breakfast with beans, got me a figurine, and then after school we went for a date in Tenjin, got cold stones icecream (the shop attendants SANG!!) and what's more romantic than going to a lego exhibition!? It was pretty shiny. After that we also went to mandarake and then got okonomiyaki which was amazing~

But this post is mostly about LEGO! The exhibition was in 2 different buildings it was so big and the models were all of famous places in the world or built by famous artists. Being paid to build lego must be the best job in the world....until you step on them that is...

(Life sized Lego Buss and Woody!!!Squeee~)

Cycling to Fukuoka Tower

Wes and I got our shiny bikes within the first week of arriving in Japan in order to save money on trains. Wes got a shiny green bike and I got a shiny blue one. So we decided to try cycling to a few places. Many of them ambitious so to start of we decided to go to Fukuoka Tower which is on the other side of the city (about 8 miles away).

So March 9th we wake up and news on the internet is warning about the high pollution that's blown in from China and that people should avoid doing a lot of outdoor exercise. But because there wasn't any news on the TV we decided what the heck we'll give it a go anyway. Yes there was a slight haze is the sky over the city but apart from that it was a hot sunny day.

From our house it took about an hour and a bit to get to the other side of the city. But we didn't go straight to the tower. In the bay area is the huge baseball dome and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks mall (yes the baseball team here have their own mall). It was actually quite small with not that many interesting shops, so we wandered for a bit had lunch and cycled off to the tower. On the way though we cycled along the beach which I wasn't expecting cos Japan isn't much of a sunbathing on the beach kind of country.

Fukuoka tower was (we learnt from the attendants there) built in 1989 for the Pan-Asianic Games (I think). From the outside it looks like a bunch of offices but inside it really is just the lobby, hollow tower structure and then 3 viewing floors at the top (the second floor is a cafe). When we got there we were umming and ahhing about whether to go up because of the cost and the haze blocking the view, but after getting a picture with the tower's mascot Futou-kun we decided to go for it! And we were pleasantly surprised to get a 10% discount for being from America! (Ok I didn't say I was from the UK cos Wes answered first)

When we got up there there was indeed a haze of pollution over the city that wasn't as noticeable from the ground but the view was still pretty impressive. Fukuoka's a small city, it's got a lot more green than Osaka and Tokyo, the people are nice and it's a really relaxed city to live in. But it's still Japan and they have weird things all over the place including a section in the tower called "Lovers Corner" where couples pay for a heart shaped padlock which they write their names on and clip to some rails. It was cute and kinda weird/creepy at the same time. Not the padlocks themselves, but just the set up with a large heart and signs saying how they want to spread love...

At the bottom of the tower there was a huge statue of a camera with a weird set up. We watched an elderly couple as they set up their camera on the statue, set the camera onto timer and got a shot of the two of them infront of the tower. Genius idea! They were sweet enough to explain it to us afterwards so we got our own photo too ^-^

After Fukuoka tower it was still early in the day so decided to cycle over to Tenjin (10 mins away by bike) to check out the book shop and to get a crepe. When we arrived there was a huge crowd of people walking down the street with signs and a guy with a mike shouting stuff. It was obviously some kind of protest but I had noooo idea what for. And the people who were doing it were mostly middle aged people who even had a few kids with them. A very strange sight. 

We then took a different route home (stopping off at another book shop) and got home pretty late so we decided to finish the day off with some Kappa sushi~ I think we'd cycled in total about 21miles and walked ontop of that. It was tiring.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Japanese Speaking Salon

I'd like to introduce to you the Japanese Speaking Salon in Fukuoka. I'd first heard about it in the first few weeks we were here, but due to bad timing and a cold Wes and I didn't get round to going until mid-February. It's basically an event that's held every first and third Thursday of the month in Tenjin by volunteers who support international exchange within Fukuoka. Snacks and drinks are even provided which is great! Foreigners and Japanese people of all kinds of ages turn up and talk Japanese for several hours. Although the majority of foreigners are young people normally studying at a school in Fukuoka and the Japanese people are either students or retired people (well it is in the middle of the day so no surprise there).

So Wes and I turn up to our first Speaking Salon on the 21st February and there's about 15people chatting. We sign in and get given pieces of paper to write our names and country on to have in front of us when we're talking to people. Then we sit down at a table with two elderly men and a young girl. Conversation is then mostly run by the older guy and I begin to feel sorry for the younger Japanese girl as they point out how strange young people are and how much like a non-traditional Japanese girl she is and assumes that her mum does everything for her. I quickly deduced that when old people are talking there's nothing you can do about it, and an elderly person is higher up than the younger generation. (This happened the second time Wes and I was there with the same elderly man and a young man, and the elderly man began to prod and pick at the younger guys suit explaining how Japanese men dressed for work and the younger man just sat there and let him do it). So I moved over closer to the younger girl when there was a gap in conversation and while the older men talked with Wes I chatted to her about the UK and Korea and stuff.

Half way through the afternoon and everyone swapped tables/seats to mix things up a little (I was quite sad that they didn't do that on the other 2 times we're gone). I ended up talking to a younger Japanese guy who was really nice and spoke a good speed and would even correct my Japanese when I got it wrong! This was great because people won't correct you if you say something wrong, they just nod and smile and you think you've said what you've meant to say (which means the possibility of making the same mistake again without realising it).

The second and third time we went (7th and 21st March) Wes and I took other people and both times we got stuck with the elderly men, which was ok because although they talked a lot one of them gave Wes and I a lot of advice on businesses within Japan. Well he mostly gave Wes advice, I felt a bit ignored but I think that might be because of the subconscious hierarchy of Asian -> Man -> Woman. Basically if you're in a restaurant in Japan and there's an Asian person in the group the waiter will address them first assuming that the other foreigners don't know Japanese and not realising the Asian person he's addressing is Chinese/Canadia. And so on. This is a personal theory based on a few observations and isn't the rule for every Japanese person, and it's not because anyone's being racist or sexist, it just makes sense to assume that a) Asian person in Japan is probably Japanese and can speak English, or B) the man is paying/in charge so they should address him. And this was an elderly Japanese buisnessman who was probably once the director of a trading company so I wasn't particularly jaded by the fact that he was addressing Wes a lot more than me.

Anyway, I'm rambling. The third time we go Wes went off to do something else before hand so it was just me and a new girl talking to him. This was a bit easier as we were joined by another elderly man and they were talking to the new girl because her Japanese wasn't so fluent. So conversation was slow and simple at first but as they got carried away they began speaking super fast and every now and then I'd turn to the new girl Kate and translate something which she'd make a note of to study later.

What was weird about the last meeting was what happened afterwards. Now the whole time Wes had been on another table talking to other people who then invited us out for pictured with the cherry blossom which are coming out right now. So a small group of us walk down the road and get some random pictures with the cherry blossoms. I'd only just met these people and wondered if it was ok...well, for a short while but then I got distracted by someone walking their dog and a group of people who'd just finished their shift at H&M and wanted pics with the blossoms. Two of them could speak english so we ended up chatting for a short while. It was all very random.

I also didn't take my camera on any of those days so I sadly have no photos, but Wes and I will be going again hopefully every time they hold an event.


And because someone requested me to translate this into Japanese I've decided to give it a go...







Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Izakaya/Japanese Bar

So my interactions on the Language Exchange site have bore fruit once again and I was finally able to meet up with a woman I'd been looking forward to meet for a while (mainly because she had an awesome self introduction). Wes and I finally met Mami in Yakuin, an area just outside Tenjin which we hadn't explored yet, on February 9th (pretty late cos Mami had to finish work first).

Mami wasn't exactly what I had imagined but was pleasantly surprised by how nice she was and how good her English was even though she'd only been learning for 2 years. We didn't know the area well so left it up to her to take us somewhere for dinner. So after wandering the back streets (and getting a bit lost) we approach a short dark shady looking Japanese style fronted place with barely any signs on it. Mami opens the door and we're hit by a wall of cigarette smoke. The place was an izakaya, a Japanese bar that had low ceilings and could have probably fit no more than 20 people. I was grateful Mami was there cos we definitely would not have found/entered the place on our own.

We sat down at a table in the middle of the room and Mami informed us two of her friends were coming at some point. In the mean time we ordered drinks (umeshuu is the best drink ever) and some food. Izakaya food is a bit like a tapaz bar where you order lots of small plates of stuff and share them between the table members. We got to try oden (boiled veg in broth), peppers stuffed with pork, yakisoba, salads, fried chicken and lots more throughout the night that I can't remember.

After an hour of chatting Mami's friends turn up and we order more drinks and food. Up to this point Mami had been speaking almost completely in English but with the influence of her friends we all end up speaking Japanese the rest of the night. I can't exactly remember what we talked about but I do remember the fact that these 3 ladies were hilarious and wonderful company.

Towards the end of the evening things were winding down in the bar (it was a weekday and the last train time was approaching). A businessman and two office ladies on the table next to us get up to leave, but one stumbles over with a cake in her hand saying how they can't finish it and would we like it? She also takes that opportunity to ask our company about Wes and myself and she is soon joined by her slightly drunk co-workers. Conversation was mainly along the line of where we were from, how good our Japanese was and how cute Wes and I was.

(Wes took a stalker pic of the buissness group on the table next to us)

The atmosphere was good and as it hit 11pm we decided it was time to go home as we all had work/school in the morning. Mami's friend was kind enough to drive us back to our apartment as well so we even managed to get to bed just before midnight!

We actually met up with Mami and one of her friends from the bar Saeko this week (Sunday 17th March) to sing a stupid amount of anime songs and hang out in a cafe. I'm really, really, really enjoying their company and will hopefully have more adventures with them soon (including Hanami and a sake tasting event).

Friday, 15 March 2013

Class Trips: Tenjin Shrine and Hakata-eki / Disaster Prevention / Beer Factory

Tenjin Shrine and Hakata Station 27th Feb 2013

As I mentioned in a previous post the shinto god Tenjin has a number of shrines, not just in Dazaifu, and the area Tenjin in Fukuoka is named after him. So no surprise then that there is a tiny shrine dedicated to him in the middle of the Tenjin area. It is tiny in comparison to Dazaifu Tenmangu. A small space tucked between the skyscrapers. Really pretty though. Obviously because of it's size we didn't spend much time there. Showed new students how to wash hands and pray at the shrine (there were also instructions in Japanese on signs which were the first I'd ever seen).

So because we didn't spend much time there we got a bus and rose it all the way to Hakata Station. Which I didn't write about before but Wes and I cycled to it from our house one weekend and explored. It's basically a really big station/shopping mall. So because we'd been there I introduced the others to kaitenyaki (round cooked dough with azuki beans in the middle) and we all headed up to the terrace where you could see the whole of Fukuoka.

(Lady making and selling kaiten yaki. Omnomnom.)

After the station it was time to head back but because we had two new students I stayed in Tenjin with them to show them all the important shops. Wes had to skype so he left and it was just 3 of us girls which was fun. We basically spend hours in Mandarake and the Bookoff Bazaar (only the two most important shops in Tenjin). Needless to say when I returned home I was a lot poorer than I'd planned to be ^^;;;

Fukuoka Disaster Prevention Centre 6th March

A week passed and it was another trip! To be honest I thought this sounded really boring at first but after hearing a description of the Disaster Prevention Centre I got really excited. It's a facility that teaches people how to prepare for disasters, and it's not just boring lectures, they actually have simulations so it feels like you're in a disaster. Let me elaborate. The first thing we did was watch a short video about the different disasters in Japan (very much a everyone you love with die if you don't prepare kinda video that was a tad OTT). But, the second thing we did was go into a fire simulated maze. It was a number of rooms in the dark filled with smoke (but not to the level that would kill you cos that would be stupid) and you had to find your way from one end to the other but finding and following emergency exit signs. There were rooms in pitch black, doors that you could't open cos there was 'fire' (red lighting) behind it, and a number of doors so you could get lost. It was a small maze but so cool!

The next thing we did was taught how to use fire extinguishers which we tried out on an interactive (water proof) screen that showed had a video of a bin fire. Then there was a room that had a typhoon and an earthquake simulator. It was educational and a lot of fun!

(Old Japanese guy shows us how to put out a fire)

Then after the centre we walked down the road to the Hakata Museum, which on the outside was huuuge but there wasn't much inside which I was a bit disappointed about. What was fun was a room where you could touch a load of stuff like musical instruments from SE Asia, and clothes from all over the world.

(I tried on a Chinese dress and Wes tried a hat)

Asashi Beer Factory 13th Feb

Asashi is a pretty famous beer not just in Japan but all over the world but I had no idea there was a factory for it in Fukuoka 10mins from the school! We had another new student so the 7 of us (including one of the teachers Yamauchi) went. The factory tour was mostly colourful pictures and videos about how beer is made (kinda reminded me of the Cadbury chocolate factory in the UK). And there was a part where you could see the beer being boxed but it was a maintenance day so it wasn't running :( But at the end we got free beer and juice! Only had 20 mins and max of 3 1/2 pint glasses. I tried a glass and almost threw up...I really, really, really hate beer. But it was free so I couldn't help it >_< Wes had to finish my glass off for me. Luckily juice was unlimited so a downed 2 cans of apple juice which helped a lot. Yeah I'm never gonna try liking beer ever again...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Class Trips: Fukuoka Archaeology and Making Okonomiyaki

So because I've been incredibly slow updating the blog I'm cramming a load of events into a couple of entries! Yay! This ones about two of the trips and activities we've been doing with NILS.

Fukuoka Archaeology 13th Feb

The first we did recently was go to the ruins of Fukuoka castle coincidently the week after we went with Eiji and Erika! Within the grounds of the castle (which is now a huge park) is an archaeological dig and small museum of the Fukuoka Korokan which was a guest house for foreign emissaries and merchants from the 7th to 11th century. The remains were only found in 1987 and they're still digging them up. Apparently there were some in Kyoto and Osaka but only in Fukuoka has remains been found.

(The Korokan museum - the most of the dig site was outside)

After having a gander at that we wandered over to the castle ruins where all the plum blossoms were coming out. The area was once again filled with Japanese people with huge cameras. Funnily enough there was one Japanese guy who was taking pictures of the blossom with his phone who began talking to Hirose-sensei, and to me in broken English until he realised I could understand him better in Japanese. He then proceeded to take me around the area showing me and Hirose the different types of trees and what shots of the blossoms would make good pictures. Apparently there were 16-18 different kinds of plum tree in the park and they originally came from China.

(Awesome old Japanese guy shows us blossoms)

More wandering happened as we walked through the park to the other side where the Fukuoka NHK building was. For those who don't know NHK is like the BBC in Japan and they have a station in Fukuoka that airs to Fukuoka and the area and that's free and open to the public. Well the studio where they were filming's not open unless you get there before the show starts but there's a glass wall so you can see filming going on. We were going to sit in on a show but there was a horde of small children who were going to take up all the seats, so we just looked around at the displays (including their long list of morning and historic dramas) and then headed out to the shrine next door. (It's Japan, there are shrines everywhere)

This shrine was one that Hirose had been to a lot when she was young to feed the pigeons which is what we did too!!! While Wes and I were distracted taking pictures Hirose had wandered off and bought each of us pigeon food. We were immediately swarmed (in a non-terrifying way) and fed them and they ate out of our hands and it was awesome!!!

(Me being amused by pigeon on hand)

Okonomiyaki 20th Feb

The next activity a week later (20th Feb) was making Okonomiyaki in the class room!!! Beforehand though we had to go over a huge list of cooking vocab (that I still need to memorise). With Hirose and Gaku's guidance we then made okonomiyaki! Now Hirose had already admitted to us that she still lives with her family and cannot cook at all, so this was certainly an entertaining endeavour. Or at least I thought it would be when it came to her turn to cook. Turns out she made is better than me! >_< Mine was too big and needed 3 people to help flip. Wes made his perfect (of course) so from now on I'm getting him to make all the okonimiyaki for the two of us.

Oh, what is an okonomiyaki? Well it's one of these:

A lot of people say it's a pancake but it's really not. Here's a recipe that gives clear directions for anyone who lives near an asian market/Japanese supermarket and wants to make them at home.

How we made it was first shredding up a huge amount of cabbage. 

Then whisking the okonomiyaki flour with water. 
Then we chopped up some squid and fried it and stuck it on a plate. 

We each got our own bowl and put some of the mix in with a huge ton of cabbage and an egg and mixed it all together. 
Then we friend some bacon, added the squid, covered it in the okonomiyaki mix and 

Then cooked til golden brown and not soggy (or if you're me, really soggy and bairly cooked)
(This was Wes')

Then cover it in okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo (cannot be western style), seaweed flakes, bonita and things that taste like deep fried rice krispies.