Sunday, January 31, 2010

Buying a Kimono

So, my girl's night out has continued on to today, making it, I suppose, a girl's weekend. Me, my host mom and her friend, the feisty Murata-san went out to a Kimono shop today to fit me for a tailor-made Kimono to wear for my debut in July (when I'm giving the tea ceremony to the public). Going to buy a kimono is sort of like going to buy a wedding dress. In fact, it's a lot like it. You go with your family or friends, 'try on' lots of different patterns of kimono, and never get out without buying all the little accessories (shoes, tabi socks, obi, cords, etc.), all of which cost well over $100. As you can see in the first picture here, I'm on my third try for the kimono. I first tried on a gorgeous turquoise colored fabric which I absolutely fell in love with, but my host mother didn't seem to like it, and like my real mother, went out into the store and came back without about ten more spools of fabric to try. For some reason all the ladies think I'm fitted for black, so we tried a few of those, before finally settling on either the pink one, which you see there, or a lovely ivory colored one that had lavender flowers and a trailing brown design. While the latter was quite pretty, it was more 'grown woman' than 'young woman,' and after some deliberation (mostly on mine and Murata-san's part), we all agreed that the pink one suited best. Note the fabrics behind me in the picture. Gorgeous aren't they? These are typically for the kimonos worn by girls for the festival that just took place, a nationwide celebration for everyone who turned 20 that year. It's a coming of age holiday and all the 20 year old girls get dressed up in beautiful kimonos made of the fabric you see behind me. These fabrics in the picture START at $2,000.

Moving on...
Though it looks like, in the picture, that I'm actually trying a kimono on, it is actually just a long thin strip of fabric folded in such a way as to resemble a kimono from the front, to give you an idea. Once we had finally decided on the pink, Murata-san, my host mom, and the young girl who was helping us (very trendy and chic, and my same size only shorter), went about picking out obis (the things you wear around the middle). I tried on a few I didn't prefer, then it came down to a gold one with cats on it, and then this blue one, which we chose. After that we picked out the center cord and the tie thing which you tuck in the obi. Then, while I was getting my measurements taken, my host mom, Murata-san and the guy at the counter started talking about prices. At first we were going to have a 'one piece' (not sure if that's what they're called) kimono made, and a one piece obi. The difference is that they're made in such a way that you can dress yourself without the help of a third party because they are already cut and folded, with velcro and such on the inside. The only problem is, it costs more to have it made that way. Finally I convinced my host mom that I didn't need the ready-made kimono, though she insisted on the ready-made obi (which in hindsight, is probably for the best because you've no idea how hard it is to do the obi, especially when you can't see behind you). All together, everything came to about $800 or so, but because it was the last day of their big sale, we got it for just over $500. Does my family rock or what. So, it should be in around April and we'll see then. Anyways, I'll post again later on boring, need-to-know-to-live-in-Japan stuff. Until then!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kento's ~ Where the Oldies are ~

So, today's word of the day is: Saikou (最高) which more or less means, the bomb, or the best. Like to give an example, tonight my host mother, her girlfriends and I went to Kento's for drinks and it was Saiko...aka, the best.

I believe...

I believe that when you can go to a blast-from-the-past gin joint and watch a full band (complete with sax, trumpet and trombone) dressed in zoot suits playing Engrish versions of Super Freak, I Will Survive and Shake Your Bootie under the glow of the mirrorball, you have moved closer to heaven. And when the next band up is a doo-wop group decked out in baby blue 40s suits (their dancer/singer girl in a right-out-of-Grease poofy skirt), with their hair pomade-ed up a mile high like Presley, singing One Fine Day, Ba-ba-ba-bamba and Shake, Rattle and Roll, I think you're there. Such was my experience in a place called Kento's. Evidentally a chain, with locations in Roppongi (where we went), Ginza, Yokohama and Shinjuku, Kento's offers a haven-space for the over the hill crowd, where everyone can pack into a far too small area and dance to the good-old oldies (most, if not all of which are English). Kento's seemed to be a dazzling mixture of both bar/live house/disco, alternately becoming one or the other ever few minutes or so. While the clientele were mostly made up of people over the age of 40, the staff, strangely enough, was quite the opposite. The bar master didn't look a day over 26, and all the waiters (all male but one), were far younger than him. Which I found interesting. The place itself is a small, smoky bar, basically, decorated with old Kellog's and Coca Cola posters from the 50s, and old rusted license plates that read "Too old to Rock and Roll, Too young to Die." There is a constant rotation of music, where the band of the night (or if you're lucky like us, two) come up on the stage (or the step if we're being literal), play about six songs, during which the entirety of the audience (except for me), gets up and boogies, and then the band finishes for a while, allowing the audience to sit down and talk and order more drinks. Perhaps because of the age of the clientele, it was like a club in that everyone gets up to dance and they all go wild, but it wasn't like a club in that you don't have to worry about anyone trying to grab your butt, which is nice. (Though a random guy asked Horita-san, my host mom's friend, for a slow dance!) It would seem that the Kento's in Roppongi usual has the band Scarface (one of tonights' bands) play, and they do mostly disco music. Since my host mom likes disco and motown, they go alot, in fact, they even have point cards. All in all, it was a total blast. While watching Scarface (all older musicians) do the Saturday Night Fever dance was too amusing, I still like the Doo-Wop band better, just because I'm older at heart. And strangely enough, that band was mostly young folks. Very odd.

Before our trip to Kento's, we went to dine at the Akasaka Grand Prince, in a restaurant overlooking the whole of the city from the 40th floor, housing a buffet sporting king crab, filet mignon and flame-cooked foi gras. Oh yes. I love my family. Coming to Japan has bumped me up a few rungs on the social ladder, and I'm not entirely certain I'm going to like being bumped back down again, once I come home. I mean, what am I going to do when I can no longer go shopping for $500 kimonos, eat at 5 star restaurants, hobnob with celebrities (that's another story) or go on weekend trips to far off places. What will I do with myself. I think the only solution is to marry a rich husband. It must be done.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Odaiba again

Can you tell it's my favorite place? Oh yes, we went today to celebrate my fellow American's last day in the country, which means no more whiteys for me. So sad. We made the usual rounds, eating at my favorite restaurant called Gigi, though I could be wrong as their card has 3 different tames on it. They have the best carbonara in the world. Really. So we saw the Ferris Wheel, the Toyota show room, the Statue of Liberty and of course (because it's me), FujiTV where I dropped too much cash on merchandise for two comedy troupes I currently love called Hannya and Shizuru. I also went up for the very first time into the giant ball that's the landmark trait of the Fuji TV building, and let me tell you, it wasn't worth the $5 I paid for it. Tokyo Tower, heck, even the Ferris Wheel, have pretty much the same view, and there was nothing else really up there. We also made a pitstop in the game center (aka Arcade), for today's Word of the Day: Purikura. Purikura is a photobooth (you might already be familiar with), where you go in with your friends, take wacky pictures for too much money ($4-$5), then afterwards add hearts, backgrounds and words to personalize it. Another great thing about them is, they make you look better than you really do (though I don't know how). Purikura machines, like vending machines, are truly all over the freaking place in this country, but the arcade under the Ferris Wheel just happens to be a hub for them, having easily 12, if not more, all unique. If I might slightly digress now...

When I came to Japan, I was expecting a technological space age country where your cell phone could set you up on a blind date, make you reservations, charter you a helicopter and then fly it for you, all with the click of a button. I at least expected DVR and Blu-Ray, high definition TVs and a society thriving on digital downloads. I mean, if a country can produce a robot that can tell you when it feels pain in the dentist office (which I can, I saw a special on it), I was expecting to be wowed, to feel shock-and-awe at how behind America really is. And I was sorely disappointed. I'm not very confident that DVRs actually exist in this country. From what I've seen from my family and my teachers, if someone wants to tape something, they do it on a VCR tape. Yes. Their cell phones are only infinitisimally (?) better than ours, and only if you buy the $600 one (their phones are also about 3-5 times more expensive, excluding phone plans). People use their cell phones a lot, more often than not to play solitary, cross words, or watch TV programs. The PSP and Nintendo DS are popular on-the-train time wasters. So, in other words, when you come to Japan, don't expect lofty, super technology. It's pretty much the same as ours, only different brands. What led me to this digression, however, is the purikura machine. Different machines all pretty much do the same thing (they're photobooths), but they have their own style to try to lure you to one particular machine over the other (one's punky, ones traditional, one looks fancy, with prom dresses on the pictures, etc). That being said, we did run across one today that, unfortunately, we did not use, but which still amazed me. Said purikura machine actually changes your physical features. You go in, take the pictures, then during the part after, when you usually draw hearts and stars on your pic, instead you draw makeup on yourself. This machine also literally enlarges your eyes to be almost surreal looking, and if I understand correctly, will change your hair color too. If I ever go back there, I'm definitely going to have to try that one.

Besides the purikura, that arcade is massive, with vending machines, ping pong games, pachinko and more. They even have these animals, about the size of a go cart (giraffe, bear, etc.), which you put a coin in and get on and it will actually walk you around the entire place. I have a picture of me on an inanimate one, if you are interested in seeing it, though I never rode the thing for real. Anywho, I suppose that's really all for now. Tomorrow I'll post about yet another headache involving coming and going between countries and whatnot. Things here are never easy. Also, I forgot about ever posting about the day I dressed in a full kimono (took 45 min. for someone to dress me), I sat through my host mother (the tea master's) tea ceremony, and went out with everyone in our class for a very expensive course menu with 14 courses (literally), all made of tofu. Anyways, here's a pic of me in the kimono. I added a few more on my photobucket. したらね!

Monday, January 25, 2010


What ho, friends, Romans, and countrymen! So yet again I must apologize (can we see a trend forming), for being so long between posts. I suppose my lack of motivation and my lack of having anything interesting to report are just testaments to the fact that I've finally settled into my life here. The glamour of a trip to the grocery is now no more than a crappy chore I have to force myself to do. As with the locals, I'm even beginning to ignore the fact that the ever-glamourous Shibuya is just one stop and $1.30 away because, really 'What do I need there? I can buy toilet paper across the street and Shibuya's just a busy place for trendy teenagers. Kyominai (not interested)." Well, perhaps I'm not THAT far gone yet, but the days of me going on trips every day off, or actually appreciating my prime living location (walking distance to Shibuya, 5 min. by train from Harajuku/Ebisu/Yoyogi Park/Omotesando) are long gone. I've even started sticking my earphones in, when I get on the train, and pretending to be asleep. I am a local. They even broke my spirit and led me down the path of doing something I had vowed never to do (and bravely put off as long as possible): wearing a face mask. But alas, I came down with a cold, and following my host mother's advice (as one really should always do), I wore a freaking mask. And I didn't mind it. You garner less attention that way.

All that being said, after the plague passed over our house, I did manage to make one sidetrip with my mother this past Sunday, to a place called Shimokitazawa (or just Kitazawa, not sure which). Rather than taking a train (the Odakyu line), we decided to walk there, and it was quite a hike, even for me. However, the walk was pleasant, following the river (which became more of a stream), running along a protected, well kept path almost like a path/park, covered by a canopy of cherry blossom trees which, I'm told, are quite glorious come the time for them to bloom. We followed the little stream, which was rather picturesque, with stones and small fish and hermit crabs (really, think of a traditional Japanese garden and you've got the idea), for a long, long way (about 30 min.), then we finally turned off of it, crossed a big street to a 7/11 and then proceeded through a rich subdivision sort of area, where I saw my first real two-story private residence. Usually buildings with multiple floors, even ones built like houses, have multiple tenants, but because this was where the 'really rich' people lived, they had landscaping (on a smaller scale since Tokyo hardly has those things called yards), and massive private entrance gates and two stories. It was all very plush, though one wouldn't think so judging by America's standards of a rich person's home. It was also explained to me that Daigo's (a musician/idol that's popular here) grandfather, who was prime minister, was relocated to this area we were in because as a rule, all cabinet members must live in a house with a police box out front. A police box, by the way, or Koban, is like...if you imagine the little office in a train station for the trainmaster/lost and found, a Koban is like that, but for cops, where they sit around, can go out if the need arises, and people can come in if they need directions/help/etc. So in other words, the moral of that story is: my chances of meeting my beloved Daigo (for he has grown on me immensely since coming to live here), are fractionally bigger now (though still one in fifty million).

So, moving on, we walked past a shrine, and next door to that a Buddhist temple that, strangely enough, had a kindergarten attached. Not much further and we were finally in Shimokitazawa. As a young man in a restaurant once explained it to me, it's where all the young people go to hang out, and while being very similar to Harajuku, is more like a local version. And I would say that's a fair assessment. For those of you in St. Louis, it is more or less like The Loop, only on a much larger scale. It's where all the yuppies and young dreamers come to get together, perform liberal arts, open really unique, independent stores, and overall bask in that 'generation of the future' feel. You see all sorts in this area, from guys with dreadlocks, dressed like hippies, to young trendy girls in the latest fashions. There are a handful of very, very small independent theaters here, the most well known being the Honda theater (not the car company), which coincidentally is also where, in a few months time, Daigo will be playing Seymour in a musical production of Little Shop of Horrors, which I'm determined to get tickets to (see how it all ties together). There are ballet shops, shops selling theater makeup, shops selling handmade clothes, vintage clothes, cowboy boots, dreamcatchers, incense, quirky random cutesy things like dishes and stuffed animals. There was a store selling old vintage 50s/60s American fabrics and knick-knacks like Raggedy Ann toys and antique jewelry. Restaurants here are also frequent, and rather cheap, ranging from American style food to Italian, to bakeries...just about anything but Japanese. Cafes, naturally, and lounges selling alcoholic treats are also in plenty. Basement live houses (music stages) are another thing you might check out, if that's your things. Another thing that seems to be a frequent occurence is young people, typically outside the station, singing or playing their guitar, or handing out politcal fliers. When we went there were two young men, sitting just beyond the station steps, one with a guitar, the other with a fiddle, both with a can of Asahi beer sitting out by the empty guitar case, playing Irish music. And beside them, separate, were two girls with a big poster they had made, handing out flier advocating the end of nuclear weapons, the spread of peace and the improvement of our environment. It was a really quaint, hip place, larger than I could have ever imagined and certainly too large to ever see the entirety of. So, that was my adventure of the week. Hope it was interesting to read. Sorry I don't have any pictures, but my host mother and I were too busy talking/bonding for me to stop and snap some shots. So, I do apologize. Well, したらね!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Well, I just got back from the Takarazuka Revue, and man, what an experience. I went into it not really knowing what to expect, and was still surprised by what met me. First of all, the Japanese Takarazuka fans take the concept of ‘fan’ to a whole new level. It was like a feeding frenzy inside the gift shop, and, I might mention, even that you had to show you’re ticket to get into. It was all very high profile and fancy, what with the piano just inside the doors, the red carpets going up the stairs, and the massive crystal chandelier hanging two stories that threatened to blind you if looked at too closely.

The shop was, as I mentioned, packed with people, and besides the things I had expected to find on sale within (DVDs, Cds, phonestraps, pictures and posters), there were also year calendars highlighting your favorite star, blotting paper with promo pictures of the currently running show, strange handkerchiefs like you make from a kit that had scenes of shows played out on it side-by-side with other handkerchiefs made (coincidentally?) by a company started by some of the actresses. There was even a Takarazuka Hello Kitty that, if it had been instantly recognizable as Takarazuka (say, with the frighteningly outrageous makeup), I would certainly have bought. Throughout the whole shopping bit of it, I only had to marvel at how Japan seems to be the land of expensive hobbies, and Takarazuka is just one more cash cow (1 DVD costing over $100!).
After carefully removing myself from the shop, show pamphlet in hand, my host parents and I went up to the 4th (which they said was the 2nd) floor and took our seats, and soon after, the show began. It was on a grander scale than I ever could have hoped to imagine. At home, we have a rather large, nice theater where big shows come through, but this one put that to shame. I can only imagine comparing it to a real Broadway show, as it had a rotating stage, out of which two one-storey tall rooms could be raised, endless floating panels, the whole nine yards. As the play was Casablanca, the rotating stage was a circular set of Rick’s Café Americain’s front, the inside, the hidden back room for gambling, and then a raised area in between, so that, when the stage started moving, an actress could run into the Café, through the dining room and into the back room, all without breaking a step. Even the backgrounds were astounding. For example, the scene when Ilsa gets on the plane at the end, they had a remarkably lifelike CGI video of a plane driving forward projected onto the white backdrop boards, and then it came to a stop so that the door on the CGI plane was actually a door in the wall. It was very creative and clever. And they had a real, old timey car they drove on stage.
Of course, being Takarazuka, it was a cast of all women, so that even Rick was portrayed by a girl with a deep voice, and such an invention is very truly only to be found in Japan. Even so, the plays that Takarazuka usually perform focus on Western stories (Hamlet, the Rose of Versailles, Elizabeth), and failing that, they at least are usually set somewhere outside of Japan, and at a different time, so that you’re hard put to find an actress with straight, black hair. The play was good, if a little long, and, full well knowing that they were all women, I still caught myself at times forgetting that completely; some of them acted so like men. And is the custom, after the play was over, the digital plane in the distance and Rick walking off, singing, on a stage shrouded in fog from the smoke machines, the Revue part started. Which to me is strange and hardly fits in with the rest of the experience. It reminds me of those odd bits in the old classic musicals, like Singin’ in the Rain, the one song and dance that just didn’t seem to fit, that seemed to be an attempt at avant guarde. But regardless, the Revue itself was like a mix of Cabaret and I don’t know what, with flashy, sparkly, puffy outfits, choreographed dances done by large groups, and songs that mostly consisted of Reprises of the songs during the play. And then, at the end, when everyone came out for the finale, the greatest sight of all appeared before my eyes. Almost impossible to believe, the lead Otoko-yaku actress came out, dressed in a suit because she’s always the male protagonist, but with, and I kid you not, 300 or more peacock feathers nestled into what must have been two ostriches worth of ostrich feathers. The effect was like that of a disgruntled ostrich, with all his heckles up, only times two. How she even walked in it, I can’t imagine.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Hey guys. This isn't gonna be much of a post, cause, as the title suggests, I'm sick. You know how in Korean and Japanese dramas, if a person is out in the rain more than 59 seconds, they catch a terrible illness? I used to think that was hockum. Well, it rained the other day, was cold and calling for snow, and I hadn't realized about the rain, so I'd forgotten my umbrella and had to run from the school to the station in the rain before I could buy an umbrella, then I waited in an open air train platform for over an hour for a friend (didn't show), so by the time I got back to the apartment, I LITERALLY couldn't feel my toes. And here we are...I have a cold. I also thought the reliance on humidifiers in this country was silly, but now I understand. Oh what I would give to have a humidifier. The air in here is as dry as paper practically. Well anyways, so that's what's up right now. I'll talk to you guys later! I haven't forgotten about you!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

AC Remote and getting to Narita

Hey there! So, I'm going to do this blog for people coming to Japan, so if you're just my friends/fam keeping up with me on here, this will be dull as dirt, but I have some links I want to delete from favorites, so I'm going to put all the info up on here real quick.

Ok, one of the many battles I've fought since coming here, was trying to figure out how to switch my AC to a heater once the cold weather finally hit. Before, all I had to do was hit the yellow button to turn the AC on or off, but the heater, being the same machine, was a bit more tricky to figure out, so I got on the Internet and found these things, which correspond to the buttons on my remote. I'm just going to go ahead and post them here.
エアコン(eakon) = air conditioner
運転モード(unten mo-do) = operation mode
暖房(danbou) = heating
冷房(reibou) = cooling
送風(soufuu) = air blasting
風向(kazamuki) = wind direction
風量(kazeryou) = air volume
午前(gogo) = a.m.
午後(gozen) = p.m.
おやすみ(oyasumi) = [good] night
運転(unten) = on, operation
停止(teishi) = off, stop
切換(kirikae) = switching, change
設定(settei) = configuration, setting
取消(torikeshi) = cancel
自動(jidou) = automatic
予約(yoyaku) = reservation
タイマー(taima-) = timer
温度(ondo) = temperature
時計(tokei) = clock
入(iri) = on, in
切(kiri) = off
もどる(modoru) = [go] back
すすむ(susumu) = [go] ahead
微(bi) = faint, very weak
弱(jaku) = weak
強(kyou) = strong
パワフル(pawafuru) = powerful

As far as getting to Narita airport, there are various different ways you can go. Most people, I think, use the NEX (the Narita Express), which is a train, though despite the name, it goes to other stops and beyond Narita airport, and I've been told that getting on the wrong one can be tricky. You can reserve tickets at Midoriguchi, found in select stations, and can get on some stations, though Shinjuku is your best bet. The NEX website has timetables. I find this route too confusing, so I would suggest not using it. Another option is using the Limo Bus. There are various areas it picks up and drops off (Cerulean Tower and Marks City in Shibuya), but these aren't always regular. The two above mentioned run every half hour. The best way to get there, I've found, is by using the TCAT station. On the Hanzomon line (the purple line), ride the train to Suitengumae (水天宮前). Once you get off, go all the way to the left exit and the signs will show you the way from there to the TCAT station (the signs have a plane on them). One you get to the 3rd floor, you'll see the counter and say 'Narita ma de' or probably just 'Narita' would work. From there it costs $29, which is the same as the NEX, and they have 3 stops: Terminal 2, Terminal 1 South and Terminal 1 North. If you're flying to America, you'll be in one of the Terminal 1 stops, but they are airline specific, so see whether it's north or south at Narita's website. Buses run every 10 min. at the TCAT station, starting at 6 am I think, and ending late. You give them your bags at the bus, and they give you a ticket, which you give back when you get off to get your stuff back. And that's it. Coming from the airport, you find a limo bus booth out of Immigration's exit and say where you want to get to and the ticket is $30 and you line up at your bus stop and get on. Anyway, hope that was helpful!

PS. Got the AC info from:
This one's also good:

Traditional Theater in Japan

Hey there everyone! I've had a super long and exhausting day, having finally donned a real kimono in full, participated in ceremonies, went out to eat at a 14 course meal and tromped all the way from Aoyama to Harajuku and came back. I'm bushed, so I'll blog about that adventure soon. Instead, I'm going to take the easy way out, and just make a short blog about some stuff I've learned on traditional theater here in Japan. There are 3 traditional types: Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku. Noh and Kabuki came about during the Edo Jidai, or Edo time period, which was just before Perry landed the black ships (and the Americans) here in Japan and led to the Meiji Restoration/industrialization of Japan. Bunraku, however, goes much farther back. I think I heard 800 or 600 years farther back, but I can't clearly remember and am too lazy to look it up. Bunraku is entirely done in Osaka-ben (which is the Osaka dialect, similar to how we have Boston accents in the US), and it is a theater of almost life-sized dolls. The dolls are quite intricate and each one has a team of three people to maneuver it (left side, right side and head). All but one of these puppet-masters has their face covered in black. On to Kabuki. Kabuki is a type of theater still quite popular today, made of an all male cast with all male musicians. In truth, Kabuki started out as all female, but when audience members started chasing after the actresses, the government forbade women from the theater, so Kabuki naturally became an all male enterprise. The makeup in Kabuki makes it easy to spot from any other type of theater because of the very dramatic, unrealistic faces (similar to what you see in old paintings). White characters are good people, typically, red are bad. Women characters also often pop up. Another characteristic visual attribute of some Kabuki roles is a huge, fuzzy white wig, which you can buy at a shop in Asakusa. And lastly is Noh, which I know (pun intended) little to nothing about except that it also began in the Edo time period, is also pretty much all male, and is particular because in Noh theater, the actors wear particular masks which tell about their character, and they wear these througout the performance. The most often seen Noh mask, I would say, is one called Hannya, which looks like a demon and is supposed to represent a woman turned demon because of anger or jealousy. Most of the scariest ghost/demon masks are of wmen. Incidentally, in Shinto wedding ceremonies, the bride's wedding dress has a large hat like thing tucked over her head that is supposed to cover her horns. Strange huh? Very different. Anyways, so there you have it: Bunraku (Puppet Theater), Kabuki (All Male Theater), Noh (Mask Theater). Sorry if this was a boring post!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!!!!

Omedetou Gozaimasu! Happy New Year everyone! Well, I'm finally back online. I safely got my family back to the old U S of A, despite the crazy new airport precautions, and have a lot to report about Christmas and New Years in Japan. Christmas I think I've more or less talked about already, so I won't waste too much time on that, but New Years was a whole new experience. New Years in Japan is a lot like Christmas in the US in that it's the big holiday where everyone makes the long trip back home to spend it with their family. It's riddled with lots of traditions and you get off lots of work for it. Festivities start at 11:45 on the 31st, where the night owls trudge out in the cold to their local shrine and wait in a line (of 2000 people here at our shrine), for the Taiko Drums to signal the start of the New Year, and then everyone proceeds up the steps of the shrine to pray to the god of the New Year, asking for luck and fortune. After this, they proceed to a tent erected especially for the occasion, where the shrine staff (myself included) have stockpiles of charms and fortunes to sell. You see, all the religious memorabilia that people have bought in the previous year are thrown away in a special basket, and new objects are bought at the new year (often with that year's symbol on them [i.e. the Year of the Tiger]). Some of the goods we sold were typical Omamori (cloth charms for specific needs like luck in studies, safety on the road, fortune, love, etc.), small tiger statues, banners with tigers on them, arrows with wooden prayer placards fastened on, wooden praying boards, Daruma (specific dolls, where you draw in one eye and make a wish, and then draw in the other eye when it comes true), and then fortunes, where you shake out a stick with a number and get the corresponding fortune paper. I manned the fortunes until 2 am, before turning in. Other things about New Years: offerings of double-stacked, round mochi (chewy, beaten rice) are offered to the god of the new year on altars in the shrine and in houeholds, and are then eaten on the 7th, ending the New Years festivities. Special chopsticks are used from the 1st to the 3rd, when they are discarded. Special bentos (lunch boxes), filled with specific foods (all of which have a meaning) are eaten. Every morning for 7 days (I think), people in the family wake up and, using a special pot and stacked cups, drink sake for the new year. White folded paper is tied on everything in the shrine to indicate that god resides within. On the days leading up to the 1st, families perform 'spring cleaning' to encourage the god to enter their home. I'm sure there's more, but I won't ramble any longer about that.

In other news, January 2nd is the big shopping day. It is Japan's response to America's "Black Friday," only on a grander scale, if you can imagine that. Today's word is: fukubukuro, which means a grab back. In conjunction with sales, most big name stores, even brands like Gucci, etc., offer grab bags, which are suprise bags, usually costing between $50 and a couple hundred dollars, though the mysterious contents always add up to be much more than what you pay for. Some stores' grab bags, or fukubukuro, are so sought after that people line up two days before to be sure that they will get one. I, myself, participated in this crazed shopping frenzy in a much smaller way, by going to Shibuya with my mother and buying a $50 grab bag from my very favorite store, FrancFranc, which is like a trendier, better version of Pier 1. Inside a nice sized, zip up picnic basket, I discovered two cup and plate sets, gray and pink, two face towels, gray and pink, bath fizzes, gray and pink, something else I've forgotten, and a Panini maker. Wow! I was so excited. I love FrancFranc. Anywho...5000 people packed into the 109 building to secure their grab bags that morning, and everyone else came out later I think, because boy was Shibuya packed.

Well, I've got one more month left of classes before my two month long spring break, and it's officially crunch time. I'm desperately trying to find the motivation to write my big research paper, but I keep putting it off. Gosh I hate school, and to be honest, I think I'm officially ready to come home. Oh well, what's another 200 days, right?

In more important news, I have just finished the first Korean Drama I've watched in probably a year (oh how I've grown to hate the formulaic, sappy Kdramas). I must have taken temporary leave of my senses to be goaded into starting one, but the promise of only 16 episodes (as opposed to 26), was tempting, the storyline sounded diverting, and it was sealed by founding out the guy from the Itaewon Homicide movie was the lead (a man who, I have since fallen in love with). And the reason I bring this drama up is to encourage anyone and everyone to watch it. It is, by far, the best Kdrama I think I've ever seen. It does have it's stereotypical moments (it's a Kdrama, what do you expect), and melds Goong with Coffee Prince, but does it better. And what-ho, it actually had a satisfying ending, something I'd all but given up on for Korean shows. So, I encourage everyone out there to go to and watch it right away. You won't be disappointed. It's called "You're Beautiful" and it's about a would-be nun/young girl who, because of reasons I won't bother with, must pretend to be her twin brother in a boy band, thus dressing up like a guy, but of course, our hero (a guy with a troubled, painful past) soon uncovers the truth, and together they go through hijinks with the other main characters to try to keep her real identity a secret until her brother can take his rightful place in the band. And of course, it's a love story too. I mean, take a look at this guy. If he's not enough to make you want to watch the show, I don't know what is.

PS, I uploaded more pics here:

And here's a preview for the drama. It's a little long, but (ignoring the first 40 goofy seconds) it basically sets you up for what the show is like. If you end up watching, you have to keep me updated with what you think!