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Sunday 11th January 2009 - 19:43

After leaving the new version of Lotaku in a reasonable state after pure destruction, I looked out the window and saw some incredibly fine looking weather. The sun was out, not a cloud in the sky and it looked genuinely warm. The weather for Osaka was predicted to be cold, but since I saw no signs of that I took it to be a balls up on the weather man's behalf. Dressing lighter than I had been later (eg without a scarf) I headed out and realised it wasn't quite as warm as I'd let myself believe. Don't get me wrong it wasn't as cold as it had been, but I could definately feel the nippiness.

Making my way to the local shrine where the Ebisu Matsuri was being held (check the last entry for details on that), I gave a small offering and prayed to Ebisu, participating as much as I possibly could without having a clue as to what I was doing. I was happy to see some of the things I'd learned in my religion class in practice, such as the Kagura and why the shrine maidens were performing it.

I then went for a look around the usual festival stalls, as usual lots of different foods were on offer as well as a range of games and souvenirs for sale. Having known how most of these games 'work' I decided to try my luck at the shooting gallery. After shooting off a few light-boxes winning myself some sweets, I had a crack at the impossible stuff. I knocked over the marker for a Nintendo DS, but the rule is that it had to fall off the shelf rather than just fall over. I didn't mind, of course, I had my sweets.

Winnings - 1 x Milky, 1 x Choco Ball (yoghurt flavour), 2x Fuppii Ramune

I then proceeded to walk south to meet some friends at Osaka Castle. I hadn't been there before and only had a brief idea of where it would be, so this was definately another one of my fun adventures. Unfortunately for me the glorious sunny (yet frickin' cold) weather that had been brightening the day went behind some clouds and the cold really started to kick in. From checking the temperature daily on google I knew that last night it was actually colder than back in Telford, but I wasn't preparing for the snow that began falling from above.

Yes, this was the last thing I was expecting for Osaka. Hmm ... well, maybe not the last thing, I've still not seen any ... um ... well, moving on. I rang a friend in Kobe and discovered that it was also snowing there, and from the sounds of it it might have been snowing heavier. Just as quick as it started though, the snow ended. Not even leaving any damp patches on the floor. This was a snowfall for the moment, for the memory.

I met my friends at Osaka Castle but because I decided to visit the shrine (and faff about on a website) beforehand, they'd already been up and around. Not wanting to spend money to run around it while they waited, I made myself pleased to be able to take some awesome photos. Even though this was the first time I'd been to Osaka Castle, it's a walkable distance from the dorm so I can always come again another (warmer) day.

I decided to have dinner at Matsuya again tonight having with hands so cold they make ice get jealous made using chopsticks a nightmare. Thankfully a spoon was on hand as I'd ordered my old favourite, curry rice.

Going back for a second, I noticed when I was doing the new Lotaku site how easy and useful Wordpress was. This being the case I've decided to make Darlo's World a wordpress site. I don't know when I'll convert it over, I don't know when I'll have time, but the end result will definately be a nice touch.

Friday 9th January 2009 - 5:55pm

Well I've been back at Uni for three days and in turn my New Years Resolution has gone to squatt. Yeah I could claim that covering new Japanese grammar points or learning a new kanji character counts, but sod that, they're boring. Except for the takoyaki onigiri, that was pretty sweet. I guess I'm just trying to get around to the fact that life in Japan is mainly now consisting of a combination of trying to learn, matched with my trait of forgetting everything ... and commuting.

One of the main problems with living in a dorm compared to a homestay is the lack of information you are given or have access to. Had it not been for a lesson on popular Japanese religeon yesterday, I wouldn't have known that there was an Ebisu Matsuri at the Nishinomiya Shrine today. I didn't go for various reasons, but had it not been for my own complete and utter boredom and looking for a certain 100 yen shop, I wouldn't have found out that a shrine somewhats near the dorm was also having an Ebisu Matsuri. Why didn't I go? Well, I walked around a little but I don't know, I guess I didn't really feel the mood.

It would be easy to say that if you want to experience things like this just ask around and turn up to things. Trouble is, how would you drop it into conversation? "Oh by the way, are there any traditional events or festivals coming up" I'll say to a friend out of no where while they're trying to work. Or walking past a temple or shrine I see activity and decide to tag along, only to realise it's a private funeral function as I'm being ushered away. Not having 'an introduction' doesn't limit itself to things like this. There are a lot of small bars and restaurants in my area but without wanting to get the skipped record effect there's no possible way to go in. At least with a host familly, a member could go with you on your first time to help people get used to you. I have done it (gone into a random place) and at first it's always an incredibly tense and awkward feeling. Sometimes that tension eases, sometimes it does not. I've yet to go anywhere a second time.

Since it's the weekend and I have no plans that involve me actually going anywhere and/or spending money, I'll be sure to upload some more photos.

Wednesday 7th January 09 - 4:25am

I didn't intend to start yesterday looking for places one could get their kicks, but it's weird how circumstances can throw you that way. Who knows, if I had the money maybe (and the company of a nice girl) I would have gone that extra step and had a little fun ... maybe I should have.

It started out innocently enough, me waking up at four in the morning due to a very early night's sleep, like today, and deciding before going into University I'll shop around to see what shops had the Kanji in Context texbook that we needed for the Leeds exam. I left the dorm at around 9 o'clock under the daft expectation that shops opened around that time or 9:30. When I hit the first bookshop at about 9:15 and saw the sign saying it opened at 10, I quickly realised I should have dropped my daft misconceptions and tried to get a bit more sleep before venturing out into the cold.

It was at this point I thought about taking a little walk around some of the areas of Umeda that I'd not yet previously seen, and stop at a cafe or somewhere for some food as I was pretty hungry. Reason for hunger was I'd only had two pieces of toast for breakfast, the rest of the food included mayonnaise so ratehr than take a plate and throw two thirds away I just thought "sod it" and stuck with the bread.

Whilst walking I passed a number of hostess bars that would normally be enticing people to go in and spend money whilst gawking at the respectable staff members, however this was early in the morning so the only thing they seemed to be enticing were the men carrying drinks boxes to and from vans out the front. Still, mental note made where these were and since one of my friends was looking to visit a gay bar I made a mental note of where the one and only "boys bar" was ... thankfully I quickly forgot this after telling her.

After passing a few other bookstores that were yet to be open I soon found myself in what can only be described as Love Hotel Avenue. Having read a little about these establishments in the Manga Sutra I was (and still am) somewhats intrigued about their insides. Apparently as well as a bed where the obvious happens, there're usually games consoles, karaoke, and a selection of other fun things incase you don't actually feel like getting your kicks. From the outside the hotels genuinely look like nice places one might want to stop. The main way you could tell that these were hotels of the romance variety was in their pricing structures that were on their walls. For example one hotel's prices were "Rest: 3,300 yen; Stop 4,400 yen".

After shops had started opening and I had all but failed at finding my textbooks at any stores (for some reason they loved stocking Kanji in Context Workbook 2 ... but I needed Workbook 1), I popped into a manga shop located just off a highstreet. This wasn't your basic manga shop however, this was a doujinshi shop. If you don't know what doujinshi is, I recommend you don't type it into google when you're at work, school, on your nan's PC ... you get the gist. While it was true that the vast majority of customers in the shop were male, there were female customers too, something I had the pleasure of telling one of my friends who insisted only men would go into that kind of place. Looking around I wasn't really surprised to see so many pictures of women (and the occasional man) dripping with this, that or the other, or preview videos showing clips of how they came to be covered in this, that or the other, but I was mainly surprised at the prices. I'm not sure if their priced on volume or 'quality' but some ranged from incredibly cheap (I'm talking the price of The Beano in the 90s) to the incredibly expensive (the entire Minna No Nihongo workbooks we needed for Leeds last year).

For the record I bought nothing.

I went into Uni and managed to buy my textbook from the university bookshop, which is a relief as everytime I've been in they didn't have it in stock and this was the last copy of workbook 1. I sat in the Ajisai room speaking with a few Japanese friends and set about working on the website for the new Lotaku manga. Want a sneak peak? Click here. I didn't have lessons that day, they start today, but I wanted to try to get back in my routing of using about 2 and a half hours a day to travel to uni. Plus as I've said in many previous entries, Uni seems to be the only place I can freely speak Japanese.

One final thing before I go. If you go onto YouTube looking for the animatic to my Please animation, you'll find it's not there. It's been removed by YouTube for copyright reasons which although I'm a bit dissapointed about it (seeing as there are copyrighted clips which are way more popular on there that haven't been 'caught' yet), I fully accept it's removal. I'll probably whack it on Metacafe or the like some other day.

Sunday 4th January 2009 - 10:45pm

It turns out more people than I realised read this journal about life in Japan. One of those people must control my sense of "oh really, we'll see about that" because since writing about how I'd managed to get into a better sleeping routine yesterday, that theory has gone what is scientifically referred to as Tits-Up. Instead of sleeping last night I once again had a night where I just didn't feel the need to. That is until about 10 o'clock this morning when I crashed onto the bed, not emerging until about half past 8 tonight. I'm back at uni this week, hopefully that can sort me back out.

With this being the case, my new discovery of the day was limited to another walk around my local area and the Tenjimbashisuji Shotengai, the world largest covered shopping street. As it was late most of the stores had already closed for the day, though many still remained open. Cutting in and out of side entrances and back-alleys meant that I could see a lot of the smaller shops, restaurants, fetish bars and pet shops, though I didn't go into most of them. I did stop by a couple of UFO Catcher (arm-grabber) arcades, including one that seemed incredibly posh. It was so fancy not only were it's prizes things like gourmet cakes and chocolates, it had a dance floor on a mezanine!

To be honest that's where this entry ends, for today, but I do want to ask you to open your minds to the fact that although Japan is probably very different to the country you live in, don't believe in all that you hear from movies and so on. Not only is the number of people who have asked me if "every Japanese person is tiny" getting pretty bad, but one person even asked me if the monks I saw were awesome because they "knew thousands of kinds of martial arts". Now, I don't even know if 1000 kinds of martial arts exist, that's not my specialist field (like I even have one), but they had watched Bulletproof Monk and succombed to that idea.

For the record, the "Nameless Monk" was not even Japanese, but a Tibetan Buddhist.

Saturday 3rd January 2009 - 5:23pm

Sleep can be considered a very important aspect of life by most people. Not me. Personally I'd rather be doing stuff than spending the recommended time, 8 hours (a third of the entire day), doing something else. An overdue essay, a drawing, sending the Christmas gifts that you should have sent (before Christmas), these are just a few of the things I've been having to put off lately because my body demands rest. Ironically when I do submit and go to bed, it usually takes another hour or so to actually get to sleep. This being said however, I have finally managed to sort myself out a (somewhats) regular sleep pattern, aswell as finishing that damn essay.

Technically speaking I've moved again. I'm in the same room, only I'm not sleeping on the bed anymore. A few nights ago I wanted to keep up late working but I was getting too tired. I compromised with myself that I'd have a little kip, but would sleep on the floor where it would be colder and less comfortable, meaning I could get up easier when I did drop off. Twist of fate would have it that it's actually a really comfortable floor, and I've been sleeping there ever since. Now all I need is a proper futon, and not just a blanket, and then I can tick off another box of daily achievements of Japanese lifestyle.

My new years resolution (aka the thing which I'll actually just do for the first few days of the year and then agree to sod it) is to do or go somewhere new every day. So far I've managed to keep that resolution; the first two days I explored new spots of my local area and today me and some friends went to Kyoto. Overall, though it was marred by cold and damp weather, the environment and scenery were very easy on the eye.

I did however rekindle my old hatred of tourist areas due to the kind of people they attract the most. Tourists! I know initially this will sound very hypocritical, me being a tourist most of the time, but the vast majority of tourists really do my nut in. Their attitudes and lack of a moral and social conscience not only leave a negative impression for all people wanting to visit an area, but also ruins the days of pretty much everyone (unless the weather got there first). Personally I'd like to see some sort of tourist licence that meant that only people who understand that going to a new place doesn't mean that everyone there is your servant, can go and visit places. I know this sounds just more like a rant, and I guess it kind of is, but as my time passes in Japan I certainly want to try to leave a positive impression of foreigners.

This isn't to say that all the tourists I encountered got me irritated. I was incredibly impressed by one American woman (I think she had a Texas accent) who couldn't find her way to a shrine and asked us if we knew where it was (as I said in a previous entry, this I don't mind, but foreigners coming up to me wanting to just speak to me because I'm foreign I generally do). Not only did she ask us in a very polite manner (scoring major points in my book anyway), but she asked us in Japanese. It was very simple Japanese, clearly she'd learned a few key phrases, and this was a huge impression left with me. To be honest when I first saw her approaching with a map, I had a vague idea that she'd be asking directions, but well done that lass for going that extra mile. For the record we directed her in English.

I'd first discovered Fukubukuro when reading Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei a couple of weeks ago. A fukubukuro roughly equates to a lucky bag, and come New Year shops start making and selling these depending on what kind of store they are. Nozomu Itoshiki (aka Mr Despair) basically describes them as a way of getting rid of the stores junk and unwanted items, and walking around Kyoto today I saw them at almost every single store, large or small. Prices of these lucky bags also varied depending on what you might expect to get in it, with the most expensive one I saw at 80,000 yen (just under £570) at a jewellery shop.

I'm pretty much open to trying anything at least once, especially with food (unless mayonnaise is involved, then it can go get stuffed) and in the past have enjoyed weird combinations; cucumber dipped in apple sauce and KFC with maple syrup to name a couple. So today when I saw a new flavour of ice cream I felt I had to give it a go. Personally, the taste wasn't so great, but in reality I don't think many people could eat Pumpkin and Chestnut Ice-Cream. Giving it to my friends there was a mix of reactions, but at least I know now to stick to mint chocolate-chip.

Thursday 1st January 2009 - 0040hrs (twenty to one in the morning)

Happy New Year to everyone. Before I recap on what I did yesterday I just thought I'd share that greeting with you.

One thing I forgot to write about in the last entry is about the kindness of others here. On the train to get our hair cut, we were sitting across from and elderly woman wearing a facemask. Facemasks are a common sight here as people wear them to either try to stop the spread of any disease they have (or have been in contact with), or to try to help them avoid a common illness going around. As we were leaving the train she tapped me on the arm and held out a mandarin and a biscuit. I couldn't translate what she said well, but she was giving them to us as a gift. We were stunned and had absolutely no idea why, but this kind of generosity back home would have caused a lot of scepticism.

Wednesday's nightclub was a lot of fun. I've forgotton the name, but it was in the Shinsaibashi area of Osaka popular for it's shopping and clubbing. The club played R'n'B, Hip-Hop, and Reggae tunes, though thinking about it I can't actually name one Reggae song played. Drinks were on par with most places that I've been to in Japan (expensive), so I stuck mainly to the cheapest beer on the menu. All the guys working there were awesome and friendly, frequently giving us free drinks and conversation.

When I walked into the club though, I wasn't expecting to end up playing Connect 4 with a tremendous amount of effort and determination. This came about about half an hour or so after we arrived when the barman (who I don't think was native Japanese) began to set up Connect 4 on the bar and started playing people. He went undefeated for bloody ages, and I lost on numerous occasions to him, often losing by my own stupidity, but he really is good. After a while he pulled out a bottle on wine on ice, offering it as a prize for the first person to beat him.

Enter my one friend who it turns out was a Connect 4 champion when she was at school. They played a number of games with the barman getting the upper hand on each one. Until she finally managed to turn it around and scored us the win(e). Pretty much from then on I found myself getting hooked on the strategies of Connect 4 in a way that I hadn't felt since I was at the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships back in 2005. By the time we left (at about 6am) I was rather drunk and was pleased that I'd given my mind a good workout.

Before heading home we (the three of us from our group who stayed that late) went to a little place for some food. Customers in there seemed quite stunned at our level of Japanese, which was probably aided by our alcohol induced confidence. I decided to munch on Curry and Rice, fearing that if I were to have a hangover (or worse), it'd help keep everything settled.

I got home at about 9 o'clock yesterday morning and didn't wake up until about 7 o'clock that evening, New Years Eve.

Because of the fact that today is New Years Day, the most important occaision in the Japanese calendar, I wanted to make sure I could get some food ready incase the convenience shops are closed (which in fact they aren't). I was told about a cheap supermarket down the road by a friend of mine, but unfortunately it had already closed. Venturing further down the way I came across a Lawsons 100 yen store. Score!

To let in the new year, a friend and I wanted to go to a temple to hear the 'banging of the giant bell'. We found a nice little one and joined an incredibly long line outside. I should point out that we didn't know what we were actually queuing for, but thought it was more curteous than just going straight in. Getting a few stares, something I'd not actually had in a while, we felt that this was probably not a time for 'tourist style picture taking' ... so I just got the one photo from outside the temple.

It turns out we were in line to ring the giant bell, which even though it seemed every was doing it, felt like a great honour for me to participate in. I did some praying in the various areas of the temple, and was given some Nihonshu (Japanese sake) also. It's nice because now that I've been to this temple I feel that I would be able to return to it again one day. During the next few days I'll be going to some different temples, as is the tradition in Japan.

We came home feeling pretty cold, though I'm pretty certain it's not as cold as it is back in Telford.

Today, I'll probably try sleeping and relaxing. I've still got to finish my essay for Leeds, but I think I want to enjoy the little bit of free time I have.