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Tuesday 30th December 08 7:44pm

Yesterday, after shaving the remainder of my beard some eight hours and several weird glances later, I headed off to the shop in search of munchies for today. Once again I let my eyes guide as I wandered down a new road and a new shopping area. I grabbed a few supplies and headed back home.

Breakfast (aka lunch) was at a place down the road called Matsuya. I'd been wanting to try the food their for a while, so today was the perfect opportunity. Buying food is quite simple. You go in, head to the vending machine, and buy a ticket for what you want. You then grab a seat and give your ticket to a member of staff. Just after I'd got settled (put my coat away) my food was ready and waiting. Seriously, it was fast! I ordered the Curry Rice, no shock there, and it did taste good. However I still hold out that the best curry rice I've had so far was when I went to Higurashi.

I made plans to get a hair cut today, thus completing my head shaving for a while. We went to QB House in Nishinomiya Gardens, the place that cuts your hair for 1000 yen in 10 minutes. Needless to say we were somewhats worried by the fact that they advertise by giving away plasters. Put two and two together and you wander what they sacrifice in order to make it in ten minutes. Ears?

Truth is QB House gave me an awesome hair cut in record time. Yeah it wasn't an adventurous style, just my usual head-shave, but I was still amazed. The location was clean, equipment kept sterile, staff friendly ... for what I wanted, everything was perfect. Oddly enough this was another location where a vending machine was used to take payment rather than a staff member. I'd definately recommend QB to anyone needing a quick cut, my friends took a mere 8 minutes. I didn't time mine, but it was definately fast.

Tonight we're off to a Japanese night club. We'll let you know how that works out.

Oh, I've also updated various missing sections of the site, such as the manga and comics section and the Olde Darlonian Sayings. Feel free to nose around a bit ^_^.

I'll leave you with a clip from an awesome Japanese prank show.

Monday 29th December 2008 17:30

This isn't going to be much of an adventurous entry like some of my previous ones. Reason because I've barely left my room. Unintentionally (mainly due to the cold weather, a lack of money, and generally not really wanting to go anywhere), I have been experiencing a bit of a Hikikomori lifestyle. The only exceptions being where I popped to the shop to stock up on orange juice, and going down for meals (of which there was non yesterday and because of New Years there won't be for a few days).

It's had it's high parts. Because of the cold I had I really think staying inside in the warm has helped me on the road to recovery, and what used to be a succession of snot filled sneezes has died down to a sniffle. Likewise I have saved a lot of money by not venturing out into the world, as I discovered it's very hard to actually go anywhere and not spend anything ... unless you're very boring (ironic yes). I've also managed to make a dent in my essay which is due for Leeds, stopping just short of the half-way mark before i felt a sudden urge to stare at a strange mark on my ceiling. On the scope of studying I did also manage to put a dent into the kanji we're going to be tested on in the first week back. This again came to a hault when I stumbled across a chocolate bar I hadn't seen in a few weeks. Artwise as well I managed to put a start on the Lotaku project, but soon stopped. Why I'm not sure.

It seems the majority of the low parts of my shut-in lifestyle consist of me quickly growing bored of whatever I'm doing and getting a desire to do what could be considered even more mundane. Right now whilst writing this entry I'm also playing a game over poker online (not gambling of course, that's illegal here). Not to mention of course, my sleep pattern. It's been well documented that my sleep pattern is as smooth as 80 year old skin, but this last couple of days I've been going from the dead-tired to the super energetic in an eye blink. I didn't sleep last night, going to bed at around 10 o'clock this morning, getting up about half an hour ago.

Remember a few entries ago (scroll-down if you don't), I said I was considering doing the half-beard? Well, guess what I did!

Friday 26th December 2008 - 11:40pm

So Christmas Eve was spent doing my usual last minute Christmas shop, but it seemed very different this year. Obviously I was in a new country and so things would inevitably be different, but what struck me was the fact that people weren't fighting each other to get that last toy on the shelf, or turkey in the freezer. It was pleasant. Though the gifts I'm sending home won't get there before new year (and probably my older sisters birthday ... crud, forgot about that), I did manage to finally get some postcards sent. It's definately an interesting feeling going to the Post Office on Christmas Eve.

I spent Christmas Eve night in my favourite (aka cheapest) bar, the 280 place. That isn't it's real name, but I tend to forget it's real name everytime I go to say it and make something up for it instead. Ironically that's how I get by in a lot of the Japanese I speak; if I don't know a word, I make one up and occaisionally I get lucky. I was quite gutted at the fact that I couldn't seem to drink two giant beers as I normally would, but I'll put that down to the slight cold I've got.

On Christmas Day I woke up bright and early (7.30) and went down for some breakfast. After which I then proceeded straight back to bed. Oh the life of a single man is truly a tough one. Emerging from my pit I did a ring around (via text message) to see who else fancied a traditional Japanese Christmas lunch at KFC. No, I'm sorry, I still can't type that (let alone say it) with a perfectly straight face. Anywho, moving on.

Three of us in total went into Umeda to get some chicken and share the season with one another. I also took the opportunity to try something American that KFC served, a biscuit.

Now don't start lighting pitchforks declaring the only true biscuit is along the lines of a Rich Tea, Custard Cream, or the debatable Jaffa Cake. What the Americans consider to be a biscuit is totally different. It's like a Jamaican fried dumpling, only lighter and less crispy. Why they're called this I have no idea, and why Japan's KFC has one with a hole in the middle stumped my one friend, but tastewise they're really not bad. KFC also gave us some maple syrup with the American biscuit (which again confused my one friend) but we tried an experiment.

Ladies and gentlemen boys and girls. Maple syrup goes amazingly on KFC's chicken. Yes that's right, we've found a way to give it even more calories and even more flavour. Don't believe me? To be honest I don't blame you. From the sounds of it you'd think we were drunk and had nothing better to do. Well, we weren't drunk that's for certain. It's the kind of flavour that you'll either enjoy or dislike. It's not as comparable as the love it-hate it relationship which Marmite (hate it) has, but it's probably not for everyone.

After saying goodbye to one friend, off to get his hair cut, my other friend headed off to The Room of Living Dolls. He hadn't seen it, and I wanted to see it with my eyes open. It was while we were waiting in the queue we realised something that had been muttered to us earlier. Christmas in Japan was more a time for couples, especially young couples, and as we looked around all we could see were couples holding hands or being romanticy (probably not a real word). Here were were, two foreign men with identical hair (mine being a lot shorter) going to one of the scariest attractions in Osaka. I'm pretty sure we recieved a few unheard comments.

Christmas dinner was an amazing curry, but I felt I loaded my plate too high as it took me arounf 50 minutes to get through the whole thing. I'm not going to say it's better than Christmas dinner would have been at home, but it was definately comparable.

Which brings me to Boxing Day ... that's it. With the exception of making a new forum for the guys who're studying at Konan, I've slept most of the day away. I wish I could have more exciting things to bang on about ... but really, that's all. So here's a video explaining how takoyaki is made from Cooking With Dog!

24th December 2008 - 8:41am

No your eyes aren't deceiving you, it really is morning. Which means it's about 11:41 last night back in England. Today's Christmas Eve, but it's business as usual in Japan.

Without breakfast yesterday, with it being the Emperor's birthday and all, I did enjoy a nice lie in. I'd made plans before hand to meet with friends in Umeda and head to the Umeda Sky building to see the German christmas market. Yes, what better thing to do on your first (and hopefully not only) trip to Japan than visit a German Christmas market ... the exact one (though a different branch) that came to Leeds!

My friends enjoyed the delicacies like Glue Wine (yeah that's spelled wrong for sure) and sausage, while I took up my usual hobby of photography. Unlike Leeds, this market had a staged area with live performances. It was both entertaining and good listening practice. After a trip to Yodobashi Camera where we tasted Mango wine, we said farewell and parted company.

Going to bed last night I wished that I'd wrapped up warmer, as my nose was beginning to block and my throat began to feel groggy. Well, at least if I get sick now I'll have some recovery time.

I've made a start on the main Japanese page of the site, which ties in well with my agenda for today ... kanji practice!

22nd December 2008 - 11.27pm

There's a lot to be said for going home the long way. Yesterday I took a trip to a huge 100 yen shop. To be honest I didn't intentionally go there, I was looking for a bookshop which was totally over shadowed by it. After having a nose around looking for Christmas gifts to send home (which will probably arrive sometime in 2009, hopefully before I do), I started heading back to the dorm.

I reached a set of shingou (traffic lights) and had to wait. I then realised that I could cross the road (a crossroad) another way, due to the priorities that were given. I took that way and instead of crossing again to get to my originally desired location, proceded to walk down the road.

My area, Kita-Umeda, is without a doubt very big. I could have chosen better words to describe it there, but no I'll stick with simple (he says reaching into the fridge for a cold can of Clear Asahi beer). The way that I went home had me walk past an array of temples, small shops, random things thrown away (including a large Stitch cushion ... had it not been raining I'd have probably taken it with me) and was a genuinely pleasant walk.

Today one of the Konan teachers held a Christmas party at his home so we walked there. It took a while to get there from a combination of slow-ass walkers and the fact that we didn't really know where we were going, but his house was awesome. Lots of food was eaten ranging from pasta to pizza (it wasn't all Italian), many songs were sung with the accompanying music from the piano, and many different (and I mean that in all shapes and forms) conversations were had.

When it was time to go I walked with a friend to Hankyu's Mikage station, and decided to walk to Okamoto (saving 150 yen). After about 30 seconds I started to feel a bit energetic so decided to push myself. I started running. It was a cold day and I'd been into uni that day, so I was wearing many layers and was carrying a back pack, and here I was running through the dark. I'm somewhat surprised I didn't have the police stop me to be honest.

I reached Okamoto station 13 minutes later dripping with sweat just in time for the train to arrive. If Wikipedia's measurements are to be believed, Okamoto is 2.2km away from Mikage, thus I was running at an average speed of 10.2 kmph (6.34mph). Which brings me to why I'm now going to bed. Tomorrow's the Emperor's Birthday (a national holiday) so I won't be getting food from the dorm again, but at least I'll be getting a nice lie-in.

20th December 2008 - 14:27

Sitting here chomping on a rather large niku-man from the 7-eleven, I'm happy to be able to say that I'm now well again. So catching up from last week, I did try to relax and sleep most of the weekend away and that (combined with the 4 different medicines I was taking) was just what the doctor ordered, literally. Come Sunday afternoon I was feeling much better and managed to keep down some small foods, though it did leave an odd feeling in the bottom of my gut.

Monday morning was the day of my make-up test, obviously my confidence was taking a trip that day. Harsh as it may seem, I was kind of hoping that other people may have been ill on the Friday so that I wouldn't have to take the test alone. But no, no one else. There's something incredibly weird about having to take a test alone. The room had no clock and my watch had died some time before, so I had to try to estimate how long I was taking on each section. When the test was over I handed in my paper and headed down to the Ajisai room.

As I've previously mentioned, the Ajisai room is one of the few places I can talk to native Japanese speakers in a relaxed atmosphere. I feel kind of guilty asking friends to come all the way to Osaka from Kobe for the mere purpose of hanging out, and on the reverse side of the coin I really don't always fancy going to another prefecture for the same reason. Once again my random conversations were had and a few games of Mario Kart DS also.

Since my Japanese language classes were over for the year, I only had my linguistics assignment left to worry about. Well, that and my assignment from Leeds that's due early in January. Thus between this and sleep, not a lot's actually happened this week.

On Wednesday we had our final Business class, and since the last exam was already done and dusted we had a little bit of a party. Our sensei brought in a range of Japanese munchies and we had a bit of a quiz (on the subject of mergers and acquisitions). Winning myself some a red-bean mochi, by answering that Nestle were the only foreign chocolate maker with a base in kansai, I started to unwrap the squidgy food.

This is the first time I'd tried mochi and to be honest it was probably the last. I've not been a big fan of red-bean paste since first trying it in a donut some time ago; I find they remind me too much of kidney beans, which I do like (with rice) but not in a sweet sense. The mochi itself consists of a gelatinous rice which I'm told has been pounded repeatadly to give it its form. It is a very chewy and powdery kind of cake, but for me it didn't really have enough flavour.

Next year my classes and class times will be changing, so Thursday was the final time I would be going to my Practical Athletics Training class; where I am the only foreigner. To mark the occaision I decided to really push myself and improved on all my levels on each piece of equipment. I won't say what they all are (because frankly I don't remember them but have them written down at the gym), but do remember that I 'abcrunched' 56kg. Bare in mind I'm only 66kg myself.

This was also the day of the last Linguistics class, which in turn meant that my linguistics assignment was due the following day. After working through the night, napping on the floor at times, I had my essay finished at about 7 o'clock on Friday morning. Throughout the essay I discovered an extra thing about Chiri Kitsu, a character in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and an extra about the Itoshiki family, that I didn't research online.

Firstly, thanks to a friends linguistic project on mimetics, I realised that 'Chiri' can also mean curly or frizzy. This is a reference to Chiri Kitsu's true hairstyle, rather than the straight, perfectly split down the centre look she usually goes for. As for the Itoshiki family, well when you combine the kanji used for the family name (a running joke in relation to all the family members), and add the kanji for home (read as ie), then you are given zekke, meaning extinct family. I would have put those up here in their kanji versions, but not everyone who reads this can view kanji properly on their computers, so the links will have to do.

I got my marks back from Japanese and although they seem to be quite low compared to the status quo, they do seem to be a vast improvement to my marks at Leeds. Personally I could argue that this is because at Leeds everything was new and here for the first part of the year we covered old material, but would like to think that being in a country where I can put my degree topic to use on an almost daily basis had something to do with it too. Once again my speaking saving the day over all, which is ironic when you think about it.

On the subject of speaking, a few times yesterday I have had encounters of speaking with people I didn't know, and with me still being alive and well, I can only assume that I did well. I first had to go to the local ward office to change my address details for my National Health Insurance, then on the way back home I had a good conversation with woman selling tokoyaki. I know this chat went well because she threw in some extra pieces for free, calling them a welcome gift. Finally last night I went to a bar a few doors down the road where I was enticed by the fact that they advertised selling Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer. The conversation was great as I was the only other person in there (this has become something of a habit, being the only other person in a bar) and the Red Stripe was good, though very expensive.

Recently I've got back to playing a bit of old school gaming with Rockstar Games giving away it's original Grand Theft Auto and GTA 2 via download. It has been a nice stress buster aswell, giving that you can easilly go on a murderous rampage for little to no reason whatsoever and then turn off and go on your merry way. Of course, that is if you're over 18. Let's face it, when people moan that the youth of today are being warped because of games like this, we really have to look at how they're getting them, and in many cases it seems to be the parent's buying them for them. I've included the the links for them above, so do enjoy going back in time before realism was all that people wanted in games like this.

Finally, Christmas is coming. Though I've never been a fan of Christmas back home, everyone getting into a "gimme gimme gimme" attitude, the cold weather, the fact that starting in October everywhere shoves Christmas lights so far down your throat that you fart out sparkles, here it's been quite different. The main thing I've noticed is the disctinct lack of a Christmas atmosphere. Yes there are lights, but you don't feel blinded everywhere you look. Yes there are people dressed in santa outfits, but they're minimal (I don't mean their height). And yes there are signs advertising things that would make for good christmas gifts, but this is over shadowed by the fact that in Japan it is New Year which is the key focus of the winter break. Christmas here is not a national holiday, so we will be getting food at the dorm.

I'm still going to KFC for lunch though, as it appears to be something of a Japanese tradition.

13:24 - Saturday 13th December 08 (not November)

Ok, mistake number 1 has been rectified, I have changed the month of the previous journal to December. I'm not sure why I did write it as November, maybe I'm just trying to turn back the clocks so I can stay in Japan for as long as possible.

For the vast majority of the week I've been either revising for our end of semester Japanese exams or taking said tests. Starting with the Kaiwa (conversation) test on Wednesday, I chose not to volunteer to go first like I did for the mid-terms. Instead going 2nd to last thanks to the reverse alphabetical order system used. Still, I was pretty pleased with how I performed. However, shortly afterwards I realised that a lot of what I had said was complete and utter non-sense. Still, I hope what I managed to blather on about can save me again, just as it did in Leeds last year.

Thursday was the usually dreaded Kanji test, where we were tested on the first 3 chapters of AIAIJ; the 102 pre-requisite kanji, 125 written kanji and 101 kanji readings (though some of the kanji readings do cross over into the written kanji). Although Wednesday night I did work my ass off trying to remember as much as I could, with time restraints I could only get as far as mastering chapter 1 (50 kanji). However, realising it was possible to master a chapter of kanji in one night made me realise that given the coming winter holiday it just might be possible to really buckle down with kanji practice, something I've always struggled with.

Thursday was also host to our reading exam, where we were given two short stories to read and asked various questions upon them. One story was about a trip to ... somewhere and it was ... cold or something ... yeah I don't really remember that well. The other story I remember more about because it was quite funny. A foreigner (aka one of us ^_^) was talking about how trains in Japan are different to whatever country he's from (it's not mentioned). One time he noticed someone couldn't get off the train (due to it being totally packed) and they looked like they were going to cry. But then at his station he couldn't get off either. As it looked like the doors were going to close he wanted to say "Oroshite kudasai!" (please let me off) however in his confused state it came out as "Koroshite kudasai!" (please kill me). This in turn made everone get out of his way.

Yesterday was going to be the final test day, where we have a listening test followed by the main grammar test (aka The Biggie). Normally after this day's testing we can relax a little more, or work on the one or two projects left outstanding. Due in next week is a linguistics project where I look at various aspects of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye Mr Despair), but more about that another day.

The reason I used "was" is because I didn't get around to taking them. Yesterday at around 3 in the morning I woke up and had to be sick. To put it in the nicest possible way, I had to make several trips to a toilet throughout the morning.

When it came to my usual time to leave for uni, I considered the possibility of staying home, but given that the test was that day I decided to 'man up' and head in. After stopping at two stations (for reasons that should now be obvious ... hmm ... from now I'll call it 'painting the bowl', it sounds a lot more pleasant) I managed to get to Uni five minutes late, not yet missing the first test (listening).

After hamming my way through the listening test we had a short break. I used this time to go and paint the bowl. When I left the bog there was a member of the KIEC staff waiting for me. I was told that I didn't have to do the test that day and could take a make-up test on Monday. Knowing this was the case, I wanted to get myself properly checked over so asked if there was a doctor nearby who understood English.

Being sick is no fun, but being sick in a country where English isn't the primary language is not only no fun, but it's also difficult. Don't get me wrong, I know I'm in Japan and people shouldn't have to be able to speak English just because I don't speak Japanese well (something some of the other exchange students need to learn), but I thought going to an English understanding doctor could at least be a little bit easier on me.

Ironically throughout this whole excapade I found myself using Japanese for the vast majority of conversations with doctors, staff members and so on, and even learned some new vocab that wasn't covered (i don't think) in my text books, such as tenteki (drip).

To cut down what happened yesterday I went to the doctor, was put on a drip, slept, went to the Uni's sick room, slept, went back to the doctor, was put on another drip, slept, got a taxi home, slept.

Today I went with my dorm manager to a local hospital to get checked up, but thankfully needed no more drips and was told I could start eating again. After that I came home and had a quick rest before writing this.

I really owe a huge thanks to all the KIEC staff members, my dorm manager and doctors for helping me out during that tricky period, especially those who accompanied me to the various locations.

Thank you

In other news, I probably won't be able to walk to Shirakawa this side of new year. It's not because of health reasons, but I'd forgotten that I actually had another assignment due for Leeds Uni shortly after New Year, so I really should get that done as a priority. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to do the walk, it just means it'll be a little bit warmer when I do.

Oh, I've still not got around to having a shave yet, but here's an animation of a beard design I considered.

And on that note, I'm off to bed.

Friday 5th November December 21:33 (Japanese Time)

Well ...

Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to December. Yes, it's a slightly late welcome I'll admit that, but the truth is when you move home things generally get a little sidetracked ... especially when it's not in your native country. We (myself and some other exchange students) bid our farewells to Kamishinjyou on Saturday, leaving behind the place we first called home in Japan. This of course is not counting the hotel we stayed at for the first few days.

Everyone's reasons for changing dorms varied. For me it was mainly because of the location of the other dorm that the university's exchange students reside in. As some of you know I'm a fan of city life much more than town-esqueness. Kamishinjyou was fun to a degree but when you have to walk 10 minutes to get to the train station when sit for another 20 or so to get to the fun area of Umeda (admitadly Juso isn't bad but ... meh) and to top it all off you have to pay 150 yen to do so then I'd rather just stay in home and faff about, which in fact is how I ended up spending a lot of my weekends.

The move itself went really well. I'd made a few visits to the new dorm at Kita-Umeda beforehand so I could deliver some things and make the last day of moving much easier. This in turn saved me the embarrassment of having too much stuff to fit into the taxi on moving day, though I was still bringing a fair amount of stuff.

As a way of thanking our former dormitory manager I gave him a box of Earl Grey tea (though I really didn't have the heart to tell him that I don't know any British people who actually drink the stuff) and some flowers. My fellow movees also offered gifts. We had some staff members from the University come down to help out with the move, they also brought a gift of thanks. Though it was a simple handing over of the keys, it still seemed to be somewhats ceremonial ... ish.

For the record, although my room was untidy for over 99% of my time at Kamishinjyou, I left it spotless ^_^.

As for my new room? Well ... it was clean when I first came with my first load of things, then it became ... um ... personalised. It's not that it's intentionally untidy, I'm just still in the process of unpacking.

So what of my new area? I love it here. With Umeda a 15 minute walk away (compared to the 10 minute walk from Kamishinjyou dorm just to the station), I don't feel as isolated here. Also the moment you step out of this dorm you're right in a busy city atmosphere, and I love this kind of buzz. It's exciting. I went into one shopping centre about 4 minutes walk away, and it was looooooong. Apparently it's the longest in Japan, but I've not checked wikipedia yet to confirm that.

Unfortunately all of the above along with my usual load of work and attempts at preparing for the end of semester exams has left me with not much time to keep you guys in the loop.

The showing of the TV show that I was on went well. I wasn't featured as much in it as a lot of people here thought and made it out to be, but you do see me screaming in the Room of Living Dolls. Scary as it is I do love that place. But yeah now that it's been shown I could tell you what we did ... but I'll wait until it reaches YouTube first.

In creative news I've finally started to edit episode 2 of Gyamball, but because of the fact that next week's pretty busy, it probably won't be until New Year that it gets to be online.

Finally, remember my pointless 7 hour walk to blow off some steam? Well, I'm planning on going one better. One? Hmm ... maybe 8 or 9 better actually. I've come to the realisation that I'm not going to be able to do the majority of my 'When in Japan' list, so I might as well go all out and have a hell of a lot of fun doing just one thing.

On my list was a visit to the village of Shirakawa in Gufu prefecture. My reasoning was it was the village that Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni's village (Hinamizawa) was based on. An odd reason as it may seem, but for me it's worth walking the 190 miles to go there.

... *pauses for a moment so reader can get up off the floor* ...

Yes, since I had no plans for Christmas and no familly to spend it with, I wanted to do something exciting. Why not get the train you say? Well, I'm planning to get the train on the way back, but I noticed on the walk from Okamoto to Juso that you can see so much more if you make the effort to travel manually. Yes it's going to take much (MUCH) longer than the train, which normally takes 4-5 hours, and I'm estimating it will take around 10 days for me to get there. On route I'm planning on sleeping at hostels, so don't worry I won't be sleeping in bus stops and what-not. Also if things do get too tough, then the train awaits.

I realise in the end it's going to cost me more going this way than getting the train, due to hotel fees and such, but since I've come to terms with the fact that I probably won't be going to Tokyo and other things from The List during my time here I think it's well justified.

And on that note, I'm off for a drink ... of good ol' cheap water.