Reflections Abroad: Sep.5-Sep. 12

Hazelnut Oreo McFlurry, a Japan-exclusive treat. Photo taken by me.
Hazelnut Oreo McFlurry, a Japan-exclusive treat. Photo taken by me.

I swear I’ll post more pictures of places soon.  But, to be honest, food is one of the main staples of any culture.  It displays personality and geography and class.  So, yeah.  I’m not exactly an Instagram user that posts food all the time, but it’s with good reason.

Yet before I continue to apologize, I do have something to celebrate.

I was once in Japan five years ago for two weeks.

This week, I’ve broken my record.

September 5, 2015: McRelations

As I mentioned before, one of culture’s main methods of expression is food.

And while in Japan, I’ve made a bit of a rule for myself–a rule that says I will try to eat the most Japanese things I can while I’m here.

Of course, I have broken this rule.  I did have a shrimp pasta from the 7-11 convenience store one night.

But for the most part, I’ve managed to keep to my standards, especially in McDonald’s, the most American place I know.

It’s rather funny, because while I was in America, I swore I would never eat McDonald’s again.

Yet now that I’m in Japan and have access to things like the Shrimp Fillet and Tonkatsu burgers, I’m reconsidering my stance (at least for Japan.  America, still on the fence).

I’ve also learned that Japan loves hazelnut and autumn as a couple, hence the Hazelnut Oreo McFlurry in the picture for this week.  It has tiny bits of Oreo cookie, caramel, and mocha flavor combined with vanilla ice cream.  And because of it, I know exactly what autumn tastes like.

Sweet, musky, and strong.

September 6, 2015: Drying Off

This Sunday was cold.  It made drying my hair quite hard.  My hair, and my roommate’s hair, is quite thick and takes a long time to dry, so we thought, perhaps, that turning on the heater would speed things up in the room.

But, I suppose like the dryers here in the dorm, they heat up things more than dry them.

It makes me wish I brought my soft bonnet hair dryer with me.  But it’s not as bad as it sounds.  I will survive.

September 7, 2015: Beowulf

Ah, yes.  My first class abroad, in which I read something I’ve never read before for any of my prior English literature classes: Beowulf.

It’s quite tragic how parts of Beowulf as untranslatable, because the only manuscript there was of it was damaged in a fire.  The parts of Beowulf that I read, I thoroughly enjoyed.  It’s the precursor for every dragon-slaying adventure ever, I believe.

And, as my professor put it, it’s really like a video game.  The titular protagonist, with his strength and wisdom, fights a demon descendant of Cain and a dragon.

I’d like to read the rest on my own time when I can.

September 8, 2015: Japanese 6

Japanese 6 is hard, but just hard enough to motivate me to push even harder than before.  I’m determined to study on my own and make sure that I know how to write all the standard-use kanji, Chinese characters that the Japanese language borrows.  Turning my phone into a whiteboard and using electronic flash cards is proving cheap and effective.

I’ve been studying Japanese for about nine years, and I have experienced vastly different language education systems both in the United States and abroad—in Japan itself! Each system is unique. Here, at the university where I am abroad, the instructors (yes, multiple instructors) seem very nice and want to make sure that you, personally, are understanding the language and the course itself.  There is a brief tutorial period at the last class of the week, where you can meet one on one with an instructor in your section, and talk about weak points and difficult points in the homework.

They don’t tell you what you did wrong, or get upset if you ask a question.  They make it their priority to help you.  The grading is a little strict, but it’s really up to you to do well.

September 9, 2015: Japanese Society

My professor for this introductory sociology class had to leave early because of how Japanese society affected his livelihood.  Because of the lack of daycares in Japan (along with other reasons), the birthrate is notoriously low in Japan.  He had an appointment to get his kid from daycare, and ended the class early.

I can tell this will be a pretty interesting class.

September 10, 2015: Tight Squeezes

Sadly, two of my class happen on the same day close together, not giving me much time for lunch.  I learned my lesson about onigiri not being refrigerator friendly, and thanking the  bookstore for selling snacks on the second floor of the main academic building.

If not, I would have been terribly hungry the rest of the day.

I wonder what I shall do about it the next Thursday.

September 11, 2015: M’s Insight

On Friday, I have two classes as well.  But the break in between them is much nicer.

But that was far from the highlight of my week.

Because I got together with my roommate and M in the common room, and talked about our stories.

Oh, and I will refer to my roommate as “Ni”.

Ni writes stories, like M and I.

You got those letters straight?


Anyhow, I told M about my novel, and she gave me much insight into my own novel and what I need to work on.  One half of my story seems lacking at the moment, and while I don’t want to rewrite the plan for the first draft of my story, there are other avenues of exploration that I definitely want to explore if I want to make sure my novel is rich.

I can’t thank her enough, and I can’t thank Ni for sharing her story as well.  It was quite the entertaining night, critiquing a book M was reading, glancing at the TV a bit.  I stayed up quite late–till midnight or so.

I wish I hadn’t for what was to follow.

September 12, 2015: Badge of Honor

Around 5:49 AM, Tokyo felt a 5.4 earthquake.

And by Tokyo, I mean me as well.  So much for sleeping in.

Confession time: Where I come from, earthquakes are quite frequent.  You’re drilled on earthquake preparedness the moment you’re put in school.

I was dreaming about something, perhaps being inside an anime game, when all of a sudden, the dream stopped.  And the shaking started.

The shaking wasn’t powerful, but it was enough to remind you that you were on a planet rather than a rock.  Like a mother trying to wake you up before school.

My roommate told me that as the earthquake was happening, she was in denial.  Yet once the shaking continued, she exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”

I was still in bed, feeling a mixture of confusion and clarity.  I didn’t know exactly what was going on, because of the sleep.  But I knew exactly what was going on as the shaking intensified slightly.

Once I heard my roommate exclaim, “Oh, my God!” I snapped out of my paralysis.  I lifted my eye mask, took out an earplug, and told what felt like both of us, “Under a desk!”

The moment I heard my roommate, this feeling of needing to protect her took me over.  It got me out of my dazed paralysis, and gave me focus.  The need to make sure she was okay gave me the ability to get out of bed and make sure that I was okay.  The earthquake was not powerful enough to issue a tsunami warning, and the dormitory where we were staying was not near a tsunami zone.  Just four years ago in Tohoku, there was an earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  Just three days ago, there was a typhoon that caused flooding in Ibaraki and Tochigi that did not affect me.  But nonetheless, should anything have happened, I wanted to be there for her.

For someone.

I know I sound really dramatic after a 5.4 earthquake, but that’s what I really felt.  I’ve always liked helping people from a very small age.  And if you think I felt that way because I wanted to be a hero, well… yeah.  Maybe that’s the case—some sort of psychological phenomenon that takes over people—but I don’t think so.  I think psychologically, I don’t want to be the dead weight in the crisis.

Slowly the shaking stopped, and with some anxiety both minutes after the earthquake and hours after at night, I went back to sleep and continued with my week.

I consider it a badge of honor having survived my first earthquake in Japan, and to know what it means to have lived here for a good three weeks.

Onto the next week.


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