Saturday, August 30, 2008
Miyajima: The Gate
When going to Fukuoka, I only booked a one way bus ticket. I ended up visiting Hiroshima on a whim and because I procrastinated on buying a bus ticket back to Tokyo. By the time I tried to purchase a direct bus ticket from Fukuoka to Tokyo, they were all sold out. This actually worked out for the best because I decided to take a bus to Hiroshima and then to Tokyo, with a 2 day stay in Hiroshima. Not only did this plan give me time to visit one of the places on my must visit list, but it was actually cheaper to take a bus to Hiroshima and then to Tokyo than it was to take a direct bus from Fukuoka. I also got lucky with the hostel I stayed at. It had just opened that week and I received a special 'we just opened' discount.

So why is this post titled Miyajima and not Hiroshima? Well, after getting into Hiroshima late I ate some okonomiyaki for dinner, grabbed a 2 day free travel pass from the hostel desk, and got some shut eye. The first thing I did in Hiroshima when I woke up the next morning was leave it to check out Miyajima. Miyajima, otherwise known as Itsukushima or Shrine Island is located in the Hiroshima Prefecture and is only about an hour or two away from the city of Hiroshima via train and ferry. The island is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine which is a UNESCO world Heritage site and is one of the most photographed icons of Japan, right behind Fuji and the geisha. It's also famous for it's maple trees, maple leaf shaped custard snacks, deer, and wooden rice spoons.

They day started out well. I hopped on the train and headed to the port. From there I took a ferry over to the island, taking quite a few pictures as I went along. The travel pass I got the night before covered the cost of both the train and ferry. It was really convenient. This was also the first time I really traveled anywhere in Japan by myself. Yeah, I did some things alone in Fukuoka, but I knew I had friends nearby. I didn't know anyone in the Hiroshima area. But it was very easy to figure things out and a very easy city to see by oneself.

After getting off the ferry, I grabbed a map and headed to the shrine. I passed a ton of deer along the way, many of which were hassling various visitors. I even saw one deer grab onto this guys shirt and wouldn't let go. It was hilarious (for me at least, he did not seem to pleased). I got to the shrine at high tide and got some really nice pictures of the famous red gate and in the shrine itself, they were performing some type of ceremony that was interesting to watch. After that, I wasn't quite sure what to do next, so I let the map be my guide.

Eventually I decided to climb Mount Misen, which is the highest point on the island. There is a rope way that will take you close to the top and from there it's about a 30 minute hike to reach the summit. The rope way is pretty spectacular in itself. You get a really nice view of the Seto Inland Sea. After making it to the top and hanging out with all the deer, I headed back into town.

By this time, it was low tide and you could actually walk out and touch the red gate, so I did. The gate close up is pretty cool. There are a bunch of rocks placed on the support beams and also a ton of 1 yen coins stuck into various cracks in the wood.

After that I did some shopping and watched various machines make these maple shaped snacks filled with custard. I actually don't like them, but it's fun to watch the machine that makes them. Then I headed back on the ferry. On the train ride back. I hopped off at the Hiroshima Dome exit and took a few pictures of, well, the Hiroshima Dome. Its the site where the atomic bomb dropped. At that point, the weather went a bit south and it started raining, so I headed back to the hostel.

My plan was to just bum around for the rest of the night, but I ended up making friends with two of the girls staying in my room and one of them suggested we all go hang out with her and one of her friends staying at a different hostel later that night. I had no reason to say no, so off we went. We started with some dinner at an okonomiyaki place at the station. It was amazing, but so huge that I couldn't finish.

After that we wandered around for a bit and decided to go bowling at a local gaming center. The wait for a lane was a little over an hour so we hit up a local combini for some chuhis and drank the wait away. At the combini I found the most amazing drink ever! A melon soda chuhi. If I had the space, I would have bought them all and taken them back to Yamanashi with me, because, of course, I have yet to see a melon soda chuhi here.

Once we finally paid for our lane, we were really confused because we couldn't figure out where to get our bowling shoes, but eventually the Japanese girl who was with us figured out that we were supposed to get them out of these locker looking machines. Strange! Bowling was fun. While it was my turn though, the bowling alley went all crazy with the lights flashing. None of us knew what was going on. Later we found out that the crazy lights signaled the start of a mini game that we had won. So while they were taking our picture to put up on the wall and giving us a mini prize (a box that you pressed a button and it would make weird noises) they explained the game. Basically, the score of the bowler after the crazy lights thing happened is compared to all the other bowlers at the alley and whoever has the highest score is the 'winner'. And the guy who bowled right after me got a strike!

After that, we all headed back to the hostel and shared contact info. Over the course of the evening I made plans with another girl to go to the Peace Park and museum. We made plans to meet up the next morning for some breakfast and then hit the sack.

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posted by am at 9:51 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, August 29, 2008
I know I said in my last post that I would fill you in on all my Fukuoka adventures, however, I waited too long to post and have forgotten a bunch of what I did, so I will let the pictures I took speak for me.

After checking out the school and getting settled into my apartment, it was time to hit the town with my fellow Yamanashi JETs Jamie and JD along with some others from the school. There is a really nice mall-like shopping area that has a movie theater, game center, and a bunch of stores and restaurants near the school. The shopping center was really pretty at nice, so we just walked around to enjoy the view and then decided on okonomiyaki for dinner. I believe it was my first time ever trying okonomiyaki. It's bascially like a pancake, but made with more savory materials. Good stuff.

On my daily walk to school I pass a few interesting sites. One is these giant streamer things. Not sure what they are for, but there is a whole walkway of them and they look really cool. there is also an awesome field of some type of flowers across from the school too.

The school offered a quick little trip to interesting places around the school, the main attraction being a small, local, temple. Many of the students in the group had never seen a temple and were quite impressed. After having seen so many, I'm starting to develop the opinion that they all look the same. This particular temple did have 2 things going for it though. One was this really cool zodiac wheel on one of the gates ceilings. You probably wouldn't notice it unless someone pointed it out, but it was definitaly one of the coolest things I've even seen in a shrine. There was all this large float display with tiny dolls that I'd never seen before.

I did a lot of exploring of the city and also did a bunch of shopping. I bough some poster for my room back home and had a ton of different foods. One of my favorite places to eat was this custom ramen place callied ichiran. I loved that place! You basically go, sit in you little box, fill out a sheet with how you want your ramen, and then it magically appears a few minutes latter. I really like the extra garlic and spicy options.

School also did a karaoke night, which I attended. Not so much fun karaokeing with a huge group of people you don't know though. I don't even think I sang a single song the entire evening and it was like double the price of any other karaoke session I've been too. However, it was fun to meet new people and do a bit of hanging out. After karaoke a bunch of people decided to go clubing, but I called it a night.

Looking through my pictures makes me feel like I didn't do that much while in Fukuoka, but then I realize that I was busy with class many of the days and wasn't in Fukuoka all that long. Plus, a lot of the thme I was there, it was pouring down rain anyway!

Some more random pics of that field by the school and the fish tanks at the train station.

I decided to walk along the field of flowers one day to see what I could find, and low and behold there was a really big park at the end. It's a pity that I found it towards the end of my trip or I would have done my homework there instead of going to my apartment to do it. I walked around the park until it started getting dark just enjoying the scene.

Even though I think that all temples look the same, I could not resist one last visit to a temple that I heard about that was nearish my apartment. Its a temple that is famous for studying. Many students go to the temple to pray for sucess in their studies and as I was a student at the time, I figured it couldn't hurt to check it out seeing how is was only about 15min. away.

One of the last things I did before leaving Fukuoka was to visit the Fukuoka Tower. I took a bus from the station and on the way past the Yahoo!Dome. The view from the tower was really nice and I had a coupon, so getting to the top wasn't all that expensive. However, while I was up at the top, it started to rain. So, I also decided to grab dinner and a drink while waiting for the rain to stop. It never really stopped, but did move from the pouring categorupy into the light drizzle categroy, so it wasn't too bad.

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posted by am at 9:49 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Genki Jacs
I knew after several months of studying Japanese on my own that I wanted to try and attend some type of intensive Japanese language course over the summer. While I am studying on my own, I feel that I would be learning more if I were in a classroom setting. Summer break is almost a month and a half long, so I knew I would have some time. I did a bunch of research online to help find the right school for me. Most of the schools I was looking at were in Tokyo but they were quite expensive and either required that you find your own accommodation for the duration of your study period or were for a minimum of 4 weeks. I was looking for something in the 2-3 week range to give myself enough time to go back to Colorado for a visit and for something that took care of all the extras, like accommodation.

During my research period, JD, a fellow JET, posted about Genki Jacs. He attended the school last summer and wanted to go again this summer and was wondering if anyone else was interested because groups can get discounts. I read up on the school and everything looked good. Plus, I figured it would be nice to attend a school where I knew at least one other person. Before I knew it, 2 other people also decided they wanted to attend. In the end, Yamanashi had its own crew of JD, myself, Jamie, and Jack attending Genki Jacs.

The school had everything I was looking for. They took care of providing texts and accommodation. They are also located in Fukuoka, which is on Kyushyu, a part of Japan I had yet to visit. Thus, travel opportunities were abound. All I had to do was show up.

I signed up for their Beginner Conversational Japanese course and also signed up for the optional exam skills class. I took the exam class option to help me prep for taking the JLPT4 exam in December. The total for my 2 week learning adventure came to 106,100 yen. Not too bad for a 2 week vacation. I also had to snag an overnight bus ticket from Tokyo to Fukuoka which ran me about 12,000 additional yen. I only booked a one way bus ticket to Fukuoka for myself and Jamie and figured we could work out getting back to Kofu at a later date.

After a rather harrowing bus trip to Fukuoka in which Jamie ended up getting left behind at a rest stop, leaving me to convince the driver to go back a pick her up (which he did thankfully) we arrived in Fukuoka. Getting to our apartment was easy as we simply shared a cab. The dorm was nice and the people running it were great. When we arrived they helped us with our bags and gave us a quick tour of the facility. Genki Jacs had several different dorms to choose from, including a few girls only dorms. We went with the closest co-ed dorm, which is called Cool Reve. The 12,100 yen cost per week was included in the cost of the school package, so we didn't have to worry about paying. From the dorm to the school we took a train that took about 15 min and 240 yen to get to the school. The train station was a short walk from the dorm and ran more than often enough. Here are some pictures of the apartment.

The school is located in a very central and convenient location. It is about a 7 minute walk from Tenjin station and there are plenty of restaurants, shopping, and combinis nearby. There is also a really nice park and temple within walking distance of the school. Here are some pictures of the school.

When I first arrived, they did a sort of orientation to go over the school rules. Then they had us all take a placement test. After I bombed that, all the girls were given loud noise making rape alarms. My kids all have these on their backpacks and its basically a little box with a pin and if you pull out the pin, it makes a really loud, annoying noise until the pin is replaced. I'm still not quite sure why the school felt the need to pass them out. Mine was hello kitty themed.

Once they figured out our class levels, we received out class schedule and textbooks. The school uses the Genki textbook series. I saved some money by bringing my own. The schedule is pretty simple. 4 hours of class a with different classes focusing on grammar, conversation, and listening skills. I also had my exam skill class on Tuesday afternoons. I was placed in the second to lowest class level.

Overall, the school was quite nice. They offer a decent range of services, including cultural activities and trips to local attractions. A nice thing to offer people who have never been to Japan and might be to self conscious to explore on their own. Most of these tours cost extra, but a few are free. I went on the free Fukuoka area tour they offer to new students to help me get familiar with the area. In class was a bit lacking however. While I know I probably learned more than if I had studies on my own, I felt the pace of the class was too slow. On the website, it clearly states that students should know hiragana before attending school. However, in everyone of my classes there were at least 3 students who could not read hiragana and thus the class moved really slow. Also, the max number of students in each class is capped at 6. All of my classes had the max number of students. And, while 6 isn't too bad, I felt I didn't get as much speaking time as I would have liked. Also, while homework was assigned, it was too simple and never seemed to be checked, which was really frustrating to me. The one class I really felt like I was learning was the exam skills class, as it was one on one teaching. Here is my pro/con list for the school.

Studying everyday = good, and not something I would do on my own
They take care of housing
Excellent location
Offer planned activities
International students, often fun to hang out with

Teacher contact was relatively low (I suspect this improves if you stay longer)
Homework too easy/not checked/not enough
Rains too much

Overall, worth it. I had a great time in Fukuoka and the school was really helpful with all of my questions. The dorm was fine and there was plenty of things to do. I didn't do as much learning as I hoped, but it was still better than studying alone.

My Fukuoka adventures are for another post.

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posted by am at 9:49 PM | Permalink | 5 comments