Saturday, 25 March 2017

I've Graduated! 卒業しました!(Next steps?)

Hey everyone! Just a quick post to say that after five years, my journey as a MEXT scholar has come to an end. Yesterday, I graduated from Kyudai, ending my university studies.


I have wondered about what I should do after I graduate (I do have some travel posts which I plan to finish but who knows whether I'll do anything other than work once it's April), since this is blog was started mainly to chronicle my MEXT journey. So if you have any ideas/suggestions, please let me know. And let me know if you're interested in a more detailed graduation post - I'm currently travelling with my family and don't have much internet time or I would have spammed you all with photos right now.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Kuroshima - Island of Faith (Part 2)

Hey everyone! Here's part two of my trip to Kuroshima, continuing from where I left of the other time. After lunch, the guide brought us to look at... trees! I know it sounds boring, but the history behind them is pretty interesting.

This is a camellia tree that will bear white flowers. It's not the season now so it looks pretty ordinary, but I was told that when the tree is in full bloom, it looks really beautiful. The tree was actually brought over as a fully grown tree so that oil could be made from it. It's crushed, steamed and then pressed. The oil was use for cooking and the remains after pressing were used to wash hair.

Back when oil was precious, they would cut off all the buds before it bloomed, but the island no longer makes oil, so the flowers are left in peace.

This tree is an Akou (アコウ) tree and the roots grow down. It's normally placed south of houses to help block the wind and almost every house has planted one. When the Christians were hiding here, they couldn't live closely together like the Buddhists. Instead, they had to live far away, and to try to hide themselves and protect themselves from the wind, they would plant trees like this. 

I also learnt that the Christians here considered themselves 潜伏キリシタン (senpuku christians). It's slightly different from the more well-known word 隠れキリシタン (kakure christians). The Kakure Christians continued on Christian rites while pretending to appear Buddhist, while the Senpuku Christians were a bit more complete in their cover as Buddhists, holding their faith in their hearts until the day the persecution stopped. At least, that's how I understand it - I did some searching and it seems like a lot of people also use the words interchangeably. 


Our next stop was a monument called 信仰復活の地 (shinkou fukkatsu no chi).

It was originally called 信仰発祥の地 when it was built in 1956, which basically means "place where the faith started". However, after a few years, everyone decided to change the name to the current one, which means "place where the faith was revived" because the people here have always been Christians, so to called this the "starting point" wasn't so accurate.

So what was the deal with this place?

This used to be where the home of the Deguchi family was. Deguchi and his son were Christians who, having heard that there was a priest in Nagasaki, sailed from Kuroshima to Nagasaki under the cover of darkness to inform of the priest that there were believers. Back then, baptisms were done by senior members of the island, so while the people of Kuroshima considered themselves to be Catholic, they also knew that the baptisms done weren't 'official'. By bringing a priest over, everyone could be rebaptised and join the Catholic Church. In addition, each family was teaching the next generation the prayers, and so the Deguchis also learnt the proper prayers and taught that to the rest of the island. Lastly, the first mass at Kuroshima was also held at the Deguchi home.

Right now, six different families take turns to maintain this memorial. If you look closely, you can see where the words have been chipped off and the new ones added too.

I wanted to finish everything today, but I'm back in Fukuoka and using a pocket wifi (that has a limited data plan) so I better stop now. I'll probably blog about my graduation ceremony since that's happening next, but I'll finish blogging about this trip after that.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Kuroshima - Island of Hidden Christians (Part 1)

Since my sister is here, I wanted to bring her somewhere special. A little googling led me to Kuroshima island, which is famous for being one of the places where Christians hid during the persecution in Japan (mainly in the Tokugawa era). Another place would be the Goto islands, which is mentioned in Silence, but this seemed to be easier to get to. Because I didn't know how to get around the island, I decided to book a personalised tour from a minshuku called Tsurusaki (site is only in Japanese, as is the tour). We just asked for the tour of the island, but you can add options like making tofu or the local speciality buns. You can also get more information from the Kuroshima Tourism site - this has multiple language options.

To get to Kuroshima, you need to take a train to Ainoura station and a ferry from the terminal there. There are only three crossings made a day, so you absolutely do not want to miss your ride.

It costs 1,370 yen for a round-trip journey. The boat also has a heated rug, which is incredibly comfortable to sit on (or sleep on, if you're very tired). Boarding starts 30 min before the ship sets sail.

We were greeted by the guide and after a short stop at the minshiku, we started on our tour! I took lots of notes, so I'm breaking this into two blogposts.

Kuroshima Catholic Church

Kuroshima Catholic Church is 114 years old. Since the island is 90% Catholic, you can basically see everyone if you stay long enough for mass (in the evening and in the morning). The Church was built in two years with help from the parishioners. Those who could give money, gave, while those who couldn't give money donated their time. According to our guide, the cost of the Church would have been much higher if there weren't volunteer builders.

If you look closely at the windows, you'll notice that they look boarded up. The stain glass is visible from the inside, but these "boards" (it's more like an extra frame?) were added later because Kuroshima experiences some pretty intense typhoons and the branches from the trees next to the Church (they are just visible on the right side of this photo) would break off and hit the windows.

Back of the Church
The cost, if you're wondering, was 15,000 yen, which translates to 300,000,000 yen of today's money (1 yen back then is worth 20,000 yen today).

Front of the Church
Some of the bricks were baked on the island! The guide pointed out the field that they were baked in, which is at the back of the Church:

But, because the volunteers weren't professional builders, the bricks were burnt. If they were to use them all in the same place, one section of the Church would have looked weird so they spread the burnt bricks all over the Church.

Spot the burnt bricks!
These stones are also from the time it was built and they are from the island! The stones are called 御影石 (mikageishi) and when they are polished, they are really beautiful! The alter inside (no photos were allowed, sadly) was of polished stone and I really couldn't believe that these were the same stones!

These "windows" were bricked in because the Church didn't have enough money and couldn't afford to put in the stained glass that they originally planned.

And this is the rope that rings the bell! The sisters are in charge of ringing it every day.

You can't see the inside, but they actually etched patterns on the wood, to mimic the look of tree rings. This leads to some rather odd patterns (for example, some of the "rings" are only possible if the tree is sliced horizontally, which would make it a circle), but the Father that built this Church wanted to make it as nice as possible. The designs were made by adding some kind of lacquer and then running combs through it. Fun fact: the main doors have the more detailed attention but the side doors and ceilings have simpler designs.

Oh, and the basin that holds the holy water for parishioners to anoint themselves are made with large shells from the island!

The Father that I mentioned is Father Marman, who was a French priest (if I remember correctly).

Last few notes that I have:

- The Church still sits men and women separately, which is why there are two areas for confessions (and the confession area isn't a confession box, which means that you make your confession in front of everyone in the Church). The women also wear veils over their head.
- Just in front of the Church is a building where funeral services are held. They used to be held at the homes, but the homes are rather small so this was built to accommodate everyone.
- The tiles in the front are made in Arita and they are a specially commissioned design with crosses within crosses.

Local Graveyard

I would just like to say that I did have permission to take this photo:

This is a graveyard for the Catholics on Kuroshima. The black stones are imported stones, while the grey stones are the local stones that I mentioned earlier. And the taller graves are the more recent ones, while the smaller graves are older.

According to our guide, the flowers at the graves are fake because while the Buddhists are concentrated in one area (and can tend to the graves every day), the Catholics of Kuroshima are spread out and can't visit every day. Hence, they use fake flowers that can last. They also add stones to the vases if there aren't enough flowers so that the crows can't steal them.


Our third stop was lunch at Tsurusaki. This lunch only cost us 1,200 yen per person, which I find incredibly cheap! I don't have the number for the tour at hand, but I'll have it to you by the next post. And now, pictures of the food!

The sashimi was incredibly fresh and delicious (locally caught food!)

Homemade tofu which my sister and I both loved. It's sweet and slightly salty at the same time and I wish that we did take the tofu making course because that would mean we get to bring some home.

The fish is lightly steamed and that's all it needs. According to our guide, the fish is freshly caught (they have a deal with one of the fishermen because there aren't any supermarkets on the island which means they need to be self-sufficient.)

And these are incredibly juicy oysters. I think I forgot to take a picture of the miso soup, but it was sweeter than normal, possibly from the fish that was inside. It was, altogether, an extremely satisfying lunch.

We also saw this at the doorway! It's the parable of the good and bad seed, as well as the parable of the man who built his house on the rock. It's drawn by our guide's grandchild!

This is all for the morning, and I'll continue with the afternoon portion of the tour next time.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

We Tried the Recommended Sasebo Walking Route

Since my sister is here and I'm not familiar with the area, we decided to explore Sasebo using a map. There was a guidebook, and they gave this "model course" for Sasebo city:

If you can't see it, the course goes like this: Sasebo station → Tunnel Yokocho Arcade →  Hario Market → Sasebo Bridge → Former Sasebo Navy Station (Sasebo Culture Hall) →  MSDF Sasebo History Museum (Sail Tower) →  Main Gate, US Naval Base →  Sasebo Park → Kukken Plaza

We started out with a slight detour to Miura Catholic Church, which is on the way to Tunnel Yokocho Market. I didn't take any photos here, but it's possible to just admire it as you pass by. There is a small explanation of the Church so if you're interested, you should climb up the steps.

The official first stop was Tunnel Yokocho Arcade and Hario Market (I know they're separate places, but they're so close they might as well be one). We kind of entered from the wrong entrance and got a little confused, but it's basically a wet market. We did find a store that sold really good (but cold) chicken that we considered buying back.

I just realised my sister (who took the photo) didn't get to
take the store name, but the phone number if there if you ever need to find them!
Personally, if you're staying in a hotel near Sasebo, it may be a good idea to just come here before lunch/dinner/breakfast and just buy some food to bring back to wherever you're staying. As a place for just wandering around... we finished in about 5 minutes.

From the markets, we made our way to Sasebo Bridge with the help of map. Google Maps turned out to be useless because it turned up 0 results for "Sasebo Bridge". But when we got there...

This is my sister looking unimpressed with the bridge, and I felt hte same way. It's not a bad bridge - the lamps are rather pretty, but I wouldn't make a trip just to see this.

Luckily for us, this is on the way to two other stops so we carried on.

We didn't go into the Former Sasebo Navy Station but it was rather pretty, I guess.

Luckily, entrance to Sail Tower (which was along the same road as the Former Sasebo Navy Station) was free so we decided to go in. There are only two places where you can take photos: this photo corner at the first floor

And the scenary at the seventh floor.

The seventh floor has a mini theatre, but the videos are pretty long (I think over 40 minutes) so we just watched the later half and left. It's basically about the current Japanese marine self-defence force. The rest of the floors was about the history and development of Japan's navy, and unlike many of the museums I've seen, there are English explanations for many (perhaps 80-90%) of the exhibits. Unfortunately, videos are not included, but it is possible to come here without knowing any Japanese whatsoever.

By the time that we were done, it was time for lunch and we decided to try some Sasebo Burgers! The guidebook had a very vague dot near Sail Tower, but we soon found a shop:

Actually, there were two shops so we just picked one at random. Log Kit is over the top American and it's rather endearing.

We decided to order the original Sasebo burgers on the advice of the cashier. And don't worry, there are vegetables in it, but my sister and I aren't fans of raw lettuce in burgers so we asked to have them removed.

These burgers are HUGE (the size of my sister's face!) and really good! And rather messy to eat, if I'm being honest. If you're a small eater, you might want to just get one burger and split it in half. It took a lot for me to finish mine, and my sister gave up after eating 2/3 of the burger.

We also got the twister fries and onion rings! The twister fries had a seasoning that my sister called "strange but addictive" and after thinking about it, we agreed that it tasted like Carl's Junior's chili cheese fries. The onion rings were very sweet, but once they cooled down, the oily taste was very strong. So you should definitely finish these while they're hot.

The next stop after lunch should have been the main gate of the US navy base, but my sister and I weren't really interested in looking at a gate, so we just skiped that. Instead, we headed to Sasebo Park which is spacious and a good place to just chill out in good weather.

We also saw the Albuquerque Bridge and that was a little bit more interesting than Sasebo Bridge:

We ended by walking back to the station via Yonkacho, and we came across this group of school children trying to raise money to go to a baseball tournament.

My sister just about melted, and she couldn't hold it in when they took off their caps to say thank you to her after she made a little donation. I think I've found her kryptonite.

The overall verdict? It's not a bad walking route, since we got to see Sasebo, but some of the stops were less than impressive. But if you're interested in the navy or you like Sasebo burgers and plan to head to general area of Sail Tower, there's no harm in following the route and taking in a few sites.

P.s. We saw this street that had sakura trees that hadn't bloomed so I added in the flowers for you.

P.p.s. I found a tree that was actually blooming (not sure if it's sakura or not because I wasn't paying much attention) so I also took this picture for you.

Monday, 13 March 2017

第2回 きもの美人大賞

昨日、第2回 きもの美人大賞を参加するために、福岡に戻りました。優勝しなかったですが、先生から「頑張った特別賞」(正式名前ではない)をいただきました!

Yesterday, I took a two hour drive back to Fukuoka to participate in a Kimono-related event! It's supposed to be some kind of contest where you wear the kimono and get judged on how well you wear it, but I ended up getting a lot of help towards the end.

Even my hair was done by some kind people because I am terrible at doing my own hair.

Anyway, the point of the whole thing was to get on stage and answer a few questions. I got asked about why I liked Japanese culture, and about the time that I went to my cousins' wedding in my kimono. I don't know if I answered them appropriately, but I felt like my coordinate (of Kimono + Obi + small items) was the worst of the 6 contestants.

But for some reason, my teacher gave me a prize! I think it was for trying, because I was one of the most inexperienced contestants.

The prize is a meal at one of the restaurants in the hotel! I didn't have a chance to use it, though. And my coordinate for the day:

Notes from my sensei's speech

The goal of this event is to get people to wear kimono more often, and so my sensei made a speech (this was before the contestants were interviewed). She wants us to think of kimono as one part of a wardrobe because it can be comfortable.

And I should add here that Sensei is kind of a traditionalist in that for her, kimono is worn a certain way and the updated things are the fabrics and accessories. And even then she finds things like the Swarovski kimono garish. But Japanese youth are updating the style in different ways and really, both ways are perfectly fine. It's how culture is.

Anyway, she says that the main problem with kimono nowadays is that people think it's hard to wear. And it's really not, because with her style it can be done in 10min and it's really comfy (ok a bit of self-promotion here but it really is the most comfortable style I've tried). She has basically worked to make wearing the kimono simple, and she believes that if we follow our body line, we can wear kimono (aka there are no unsuitable body types)

And she also mentioned that kimono is a hidden culture (隠す文化) and that it does evolve, though slower than western fashion. For example, people live in cities nowadays, and kimono colours and textures have adapted to concrete and glass.

The last part was mostly advice on wearing the kimono, especially in formal occasions. She repeated something she said in class: "an expensive kimono is not necessarily a formal one".

One Digression: Kimono and Yukata
I've seen articles on the internet (in English and Japanese) claiming/questioning if Yukata and Kimono are one and the same. One person put it as "kimono is formal and Yukata is casual and they are different things". So I checked with the finishing school vice-principal as she was helping me and she said that:

A Yukata is a type of kimono. If you think of it in Western clothes, it's basically t-shirt and fbts and flip-flops. You won't wear that to a restaurant or a hotel. And there are many types of kimono, from casual (aka a day out with friends) to black tie/wedding formal, so you can't just say that "kimono is formal" unless you specify what kind of kimono you're talking about.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Moving Out of the Prefecture (A Guide)

Alright, it's time to talk about moving. Although I have technically moved once, from Tokyo to Fukuoka, that was four years ago. And I had a lot less stuff (books) then, which made the move relatively simple. This time, I was bringing a lot more books and a piano and quite a few kimonos as well, which made things a lot more complicated.

So this is what I did before and after the move and hopefully any kouhai's who are moving (to a new uni, or to work within Japan) will find this useful.

Before Moving
Luckily for me, I made a Google Keep list so I know what I did.

1. Hire a moving company
The smart thing to do would be to get a few companies to come and give you estimates, and then choose the best, but I just went with the company that was affiliated to the real estate agent. The company was Sakai and I got a free bag of rice when they came to give me an estimate.

Moving was not cheap though - it was definitely the biggest expense at 81,000 yen and this was after a discount.

I have heard that the earlier you book the company, the higher the chance of getting a discount, so try to get this settled one month in advance (I did actually do this). The company did provide me with cardboard boxes, though they weren't sufficient. And if you run into the same problem, try going to the nearest supermarket because that's where I got extra cardboard boxes (of course, some companies may not allow this so do check first)

2. Send in your notice to move to your present landlord

Ok that was some awkward phrasing there, but basically, you should notify your landlord (via your real estate agent, depending on the circumstance) at least a month in advance or however far ahead you have to. It might change according to your contract, so once you're starting to look for a new house, it might be a good idea to send your estate agent an email or call them to see how much advance notice you need to give.

3. Break Electricity, Gas and Water

This should be done about a week in advance, so that you don't get charged for utilities after you move. I think some of the services have the option for you to do so online, but to be honest each call took less than five minutes each and I found it to be hasslefree.

4. Call up your new utility companies

I did this the same time that I called to stop the utilities at my old place. This is really because you want to be able to have electricity and water and gas on your first day. Although in my case, I found out that my house didn't come with lighting fixtures after I moved it (after the sun had set, I might add) so the electricity was... okay it was useful because I had to charge my phone and used it for my electric blanket.

5. Paperwork at the City Office

To be honest I am very bad at paperwork so what I did was to go to the City Hall and tell them I was moving and did everything they told me to do. I might add that if you turn 20 in Japan, you might want to settle your 年金手帳 (pension booklet?) before you move. I didn't know about this and after I moved, I realised that everyone gets this (except me, apparently) and because you'll want to get an exemption for your student years, it's really a good idea to settle the paperwork for this while you're in the same city as your university and in the same place where you turned twenty. Remember to bring proof of schooling (how long you are enrolled) when you do this.

Of course, if you're really smart, you'll settle this once you turn 20 because apparently you have to apply for the exemption on a yearly basis.

6. Set up mail forwarding

This can be mailed in, done at the post office or over the internet but I think doing it at the post office might be the most convenient. I did it online and the 全角数 requirement caused me quite a few delays because the system would not recognise what I put in (even though I double checked and was using that. It was really strange - I think I switched to my handphone after a while because of that). Apparently it takes about one week for this to process so make sure you allocate time for that.

7. Internet?

This is a tricky one. Do you want to get a new contract, or just move? I ended up with a new contract but that left me with over a week (maybe 10 days? I'm not sure I blocked that out) of living with absolutely no internet and 15 days without wifi. The only reason why I didn't go half a month without wifi was because my new provider sent me a free mobile wifi router to tide me over and that took quite some time to come. So if you're getting a new provider, make sure you do this well in advance.

After the move

1. Register yourself at the new city

To be honest after the move is the easiest part (Except when you unpack and realise that you need to buy furniture). The only paperwork that I remember doing is registering myself at Sasebo City Hall, but that took two or three hours because of the pension thing so yeah, please don't learn from me.

2. If you have a driver's license, you need to get the address changed

This can be done at the nearest police station, and you need to bring documents that show your new address, so this is definitely something to do after you register yourself with the city and have your address officially changed.

I have heard of people who decide on a house and move in two weeks and to be honest I have no idea how they do that. Most of the paperwork might have been done a week in advance, but the packing took a very long time (or maybe it's just me) and I wouldn't want to have to search for a moving company with so little time.

Anyway, this is what I did and I think that covers all the bases. Hopefully it can be a checklist on what you need to do when you move, and if you can think of anything else, do let me know! Here's a photo taken near my new place to end this post:

Saturday, 4 March 2017

My New Apartment!

In my usual topsy-turvy fashion, I'll be sharing photos of my new place before I share about how I moved and all that. Mostly because I already have the photos ready while all I have for the other post is a list of things that I did before and after I moved (also, if you have any questions about how I moved, now would be a good time to ask).

I don't think I've told anyone yet, but I've moved into a bigger place. My new apartment has two rooms, though I'm really just living in one room:

The panorama makes it look bigger than it is. 
And the before picture:

This is my bedroom for two reasons: the fact that the closet is here and the window sill.

I suppose I could have done something more with it but I basically put some of my favourite books (and Totoro) there, so I'll always have reading material on hand.

And the rest of the room:

The cabinet, rack and kotatsu are all new but they've proved to be invaluable. Especially the kotatsu - I'm starting to wonder how I lasted five years without it!

(Also, eating ice-cream under the kotatsu is really shiok)

The other room is the room with the aircon and access to the balcony, where my clothes are hung. This is the room when I moved in:

And now, the wall on the left looks like this:

I have to use headphones with my piano though, that was the condition that was set before I moved in.

And the window now has curtains!

The last part of the house is the kitchen area and that is probably the part that still needs work. It looked like this when I moved in:

And it pretty much looks the same, except for the fact that there is one more cabinet and I placed my stove, fridge and microwave there.

I really want to get a gas stove (and a new microwave that has a toaster oven fuction) but for now, I am most proud of this cabinet.

It took me three hours to build and my back was aching by the time I was done (I guess this means I'm old?) But it hasn't fallen down so far so I guess I managed to do everything correctly.

And out of the whole cabinet, my favourite area would be this area:

This is where all the tea is and I'm already out of space. I'm trying to drink them as fast as possible, but I like to get two or three cups of tea from one tea bag so it's pretty slow going. Hopefully the rate at which I drink will greater than the rate at which I drink even more tea.

And speaking of tea, this is what I made this morning (If you follow me on Google+ you'd have already seen it):

Thank you Elvirayunitan for this! And thank you for reading both my blog and Dayre! I can't say this enough - I really enjoyed this and I think it's extremely pretty to look at(: