New Blog!

Hey there! I've decided to continue blogging at a different blog. The MEXT archives and some of my travel posts will remain here, but I'll be moving some stuff over. Hope to see you there!

Friday, 31 March 2017

Graduation Post

I got back to Sasebo yesterday (almost typed Fukuoka out of habit) and finally have time to write this post. So as you probably know, I've graduated!!! And I managed to wear a hakama for my ceremony, something that I've been wanting to do.

+Whitney Yee I went to go research about Hakama, like I promised. There's a wikipedia page, but it has the "additional verification" thing needed so I searched in Japanese instead. According to this page: a hakama is something worn over the kimono (for girls). There are two types of hakama like 馬乗袴 (umanoribakama) and 行灯袴 (andonbakama). The hakama for males are different too.

As for its history, it was first worn in the 古墳時代 (kofun era) as a sort of trousers. In the Heian period (平安時代), girls of high status started to wear them. And then it was banned in the Edo period, except for court ladies. And then I think it started trending in the Meiji era. And now it's what most girls wear for their graduation.

Luckily, I had my own kimono, so all I needed to do was to rent the Hakama (which was more like a skirt than pants) and have my hair done. Final version:

Graduation Ceremony:

I just realised that I only asked one friend if I could upload the photos I took to this blog, so I guess it'll be scant on photos of people wearing Hakama >< Sorry everyone!

The ceremony was held at this hall and only students were allowed in. Family and guests had to go to lecture hall to watch from the TV screen.

Luckily my bear made it in! It's a present from my cousin :D 
And this is the inside of the hall:

The ceremony was split into two sessions. The morning one was for everyone and the reason why I didn't get enough sleep (because it's held at Ito campus, thus adding to the travel time). The ceremony started with a performance by the philharmonic orchestra. Next, we "received" our degrees, with one person (the one with the highest GPA) from each faculty representing all the students in said faculty. After that, the principal made a speech that was basically "here is what happened in the past and here is what we're aiming for" and then one student rep made a speech on our four years of uni life. After that it was time for the various awards for extra-curricular activities and special programs and the entire thing was done in an hour!

Also, my friend looked really pretty and we all gathered to take photos of her (and then with her) and she said I could post the photo here!

The afternoon "ceremony" was really just us getting our certs and the school making sure we returned our student IDs and filled out the "what are you doing after graduation" forms. Oh, and we were heavily encouraged to join the Old Boys/Girls' Association, and I have no idea if I did or did not.

I actually thought it was pretty nice of the school to give me an English copy of my graduation cert, since everyone else only got the Japanese version.

And this marks the end of my university journey. I can't believe that it's been five years in total - it feels like I just started this blog last year or something (and then I get asked something about my application to MEXT, realise I've forgotten and then I feel the five years). I have been extremely lucky to meet tons of amazing people who have been incredibly supportive and friendly. If it weren't for them, I probably would not have done as well in school and I probably would have had a pretty miserable time as well. And though it was pretty tiring to take two zemis at one go, I am glad to have taken them and worked with my classmates and I would absolutely do the same thing again in a heartbeat.

To end things on a practical note: I rushed to the immigration office right after the ceremony (arrive 20 minutes before it closed) because I needed proof of graduation to change my visa status and my company wanted me to change it as soon as possible. Luckily, I managed to get it done and I'm getting ready to start working in Japan!

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.