Tuesday 5 June 2018

Shiisaa yaibiimi?

Going through my photos, I realized I'd really taken an awful lot of pics of the different shisa statues in Okinawa. Shisa are a variation of the guardian lion statues of China. They're usually in pairs, flanking the gates to houses (or on rooftops), with the left shisa having a closed mouth, the right one an open mouth. Everybody has these in Okinawa. Just about everybody.

This one... is fighting a losing battle.

And this (no offense) looks like it was made by me. >_>

These two were at the Ryukuan village at the Ocean expo Park.

At the Imperial Palace in Nara.

A family of three?

A few pictures from the Tsuboya pottery museum in Nara.

Sunday 13 May 2018


Alright. Finally trying to get some final views of the classes I had down in writing. First, Japanese.

Japanese, Intermediate I, 8hrs

As I said before, this course took place twice a week, with two 90 min classes on both days. There is also a 4 hours/week version, in the case you stay there whole year. The course wasn't too demanding, and if you do well the practice handouts dealt out before every exam, you'll do fine. Some of the exam questions (if not all...) are straight from them. Also, during one of the classes we always had to do a short sakubun. If there was sakubun in the exam, the topic was one of those done in class before.
Having three different teachers for the course was quite nice, as they all had a bit different style. The long classes didn't feel quite that hard, thanks to that.

Kanji, intermediate I

In this class we went through about 15 kanji/week. This is the highest level kanji course offered in Kyodai. So, if it's kanji you're after, maybe this is not your place... (you might want to note that you do not get enough kanji here to compensate Japanese 3 in Helsinki Uni.) There were little tests in the beginning of every class, which were fine, but the end exam was pretty hard. It was similar to the other tests, but much longer, page after page... There were too parts, one where you just have to add the missing kanji to correct slots, and then the reading part - but when there are something like 75 kanji to read it gets tough. For me at least.


In addition to the actual Japanese class and one (and only one, you weren't allowed to take more) kanji class, you can choose from reading, listening, writing and conversation. I ended up taking listening, because the other classes collided with my KUINEP courses. We went through two listening exercises during each class. The books used were 毎日の聞きとり50日 、毎日の聞きとり plus40 and いつかどこかで, though luckily we didn't have to buy them ourselves.
In the exams we always had some texts we had listened before, and some new ones.

That's it for Japanese classes. I had 12 hours of them altogether... and then there's another 12 hours of the KUINEP courses, as you have to take at least 6 of them. So yes, if you're a Japanese major going into the KUINEP program, be prepared for lots of classes. Especially if you're there for only half a year.

The KUINEP classes I had:

Religion in Contemporary Society

When I first wrote about my classes I said that this was at the moment my favorite course. It still is. In fact, this is easily one of the very best courses I've ever had anywhere (and keep in mind I already have one master's degree, am now working for a new one). Of course, it's not really an Asian studies course, if that's your major, but even so I would rec it. First the lecturer always talked about the subject (like religion and technology, religion and science, religion and terrorism etc.), and after that we were divided into groups to discuss a given problem. There were different strategies for our discussions. At the end of the course we had two debates, and also had to write a short essay. These classes were quite relaxed but also thought-provoking, and I truly like the lecturer and his style to do this course.

Introduction to Classical Japanese Literature

This course somewhat divides opinions. I enjoyed it, others found it extremely boring. The greatest trouble I had was that the lecturer couldn't quite keep the schedule, and so we barely made it out of Heian period, though we were supposed to talk also about later literature. We read bits and pieces of poetry and longer texts, the lecturer analysed them quite thoroughly (too thoroughly at times), and also gave us small group exercises to discuss about. This course required an essay, 10 pages, but with double spacing. Seriously. Double. Spacing.

Introduction to Japanese linguistics

This was an interesting course, and also one of my favorites. The classes were lectures with no discussion (though of course you can make comments or ask questions). There was an exam at the end, and some minor homework questions for each time (though the lecturer stressed that he is not expecting "correct" answers from us, just some insights.) The class isn't that advanced - it is an introductory course, after all - so if you've already studied linguistics, you'll get lot's of repetition. There were interesting insights into Japanese language from the point of view of linguistics, though.

Introduction to Japanese Politics

As I said when I first wrote about the classes: I am not interested in politics. This did not change. It was so hard to try to keep my eyes open during the classes. Even so, this was a good class, I think. I did learn stuff. Not sure how much I remember, but that's surely not the lecturers fault. But I guess I do know now more about Japanese politics than of Finnish. xD If you are interested in politics at all, take this course.

Culture and Traditions in Japan

This was a nice enough course. Interesting tidbits about Japanese culture. There were group presentations, and a little bit of writing... Pretty easy class, in the end. Don't have that much to say about it, really.

Current Issues in Japan

This.... I'm sorry to say, this class I truly can't recommend. In fact, I'm afraid I have to recommend trying to avoid it. Here is what I said after the first class: The lecturer had a work trip or something, and so next two classes were cancelled. The first class was, maybe because of this, quite rushed and full of info, as if giving a peek into all matters that will be discussed during this course, or at least it feels like that.
Nope. It had nothing to with work trips. All lessons were like the first one.You get a huge pile of papers that have all kinds of graphs and statistics, and the teacher goes them through really fast. If I didn't really concentrate, I couldn't really understand what he was talking about. In fact, even when I did concentrate, most of the time I was just as lost.
The best part of this class were the student presentations. Other than that, what I learned I learned on my own, when I tried to figure the graphs and things out after class. (The ones he pointed out, saying they'd be in the exam.) Keep this as the last option. Or go take a look at the first class, and see if you feel  like you can deal with it.
...the exams (there were two) will be like the handouts. Lots of graphs you have to try to figure out.

Sunday 1 April 2018

Recs & stuff

Ok... here is a bunch of things I've been meaning to talk about. I'll still make one more post about the classes one of these days.....

Practical things

At least for Kyodai, already during the application process you'd better be prepared for long waits, after which you suddenly need to get things done really fast. It's best to take care of all obligatory things as soon as you can (the doctor's certificate and language tests and such), so you won't have to suddenly rush with them.

Also, after Japan I won't be complaining about Finnish bureaucracy ever again. You'll need to go to your ward office to get your alien card stamped with your address and to sign for the national health insurance and the pension system (the latter of which you won't have to pay because students are exempted, but it's still obligatory. Remember to take your student card with you so you won't have to go there again for that... as a certain someone had to do..... >_>)

In any case, it will take some time and involve filling all kinds of forms, but it's best to get it done as soon as you can. There was a big group of us going to our ward office on one day (a Monday, it was, after we'd moved to our dorm on the previous Thursday), and at least our ward office was prepared for us. They took us all to a separate room to fill forms, and there was even someone there to explain everything in English. And of course, when you leave from Japan, you've got to go to make the moving out notice, and cancel the pension and the health insurance. >_> That took at least an hour and a half, and involved filling forms and queuing at least for four different desks....

JASSO & Japanese bank account

If you're lucky enough to get JASSO, congrats! It does make life quite a lot easier... Be prepared: you're going to need to get a Japanese bank account. (This might be true for also other Japanese scholarships, I'd imagine.) And you might not have too much time to do it... I was told about it on a Thursday, Friday was all booked on all kinds of info things, on Monday I went to take care of official business at the ward office... and I needed to have the bank account by next Thursday. Not too many days to do it.

I considered between some options, but ended up going to the JP Post Bank. It was a good decision, I think. There's a post office at Hyakumanben by the university, you can do it e.g. there. I had Japanese friend with me, just in case, for I  really wasn't confident about going to take care of bank business in Japanese, but in the end I would have managed fine on my own. They do know what they do there - I bet they get quite many exchange students who need bank accounts there. Of course, it was still kind of nice to have someone reading the papers over my shoulder, as I had no clue what I really was signing under there. xD

But anyway, the Post Bank doesn't require you to have hanko or Japanese phone number, so it was the simplest place to do it.

Oh, and one thing about JASSO: the way it works is that you've got to go to sign a paper in the beginning of each month, and then they pay it for you at the end of the month. You have normally until the 9th or so to do it - but don't plan for a long trip in the beginning of the month, or you'll lose the money. Also, you just need to be there on the first day to sign the paper, whether you leave home right after that or not doesn't matter. So if for example you are, like I was, there for the autumn term, you can still get the JASSO for March if you just are there signing the paper on March 1st. Of course, it will be paid on your Japanese bank account, but at least in the case of the Post Bank you can just leave the money to lie there, waiting for you to come back to Japan, or then you can arrange it somehow with friends.

The dorms (of Kyodai)

I, like pretty much everyone I talked with, had put the dorm on Yoshida campus as the first option back when we were applying for dorm places. In the end I'm kind of happy I didn't get there. Of course, the location would have been great - we actually had our Japanese classes in the same building. But just because of that I'm glad I was somewhere else. Do you really want to live in your school? I was quite happy to get out when the school day was over...

I lived in Shugakuin, and for me that was the perfect place. The only downside of Shugakuin is the location. It's not far from the uni, only some 3,5 km if   I remember right (15 min by bike, easily - once made it in 10), but it's 3,5 km to completely wrong direction, away from downtown, which would be the same distance to the other direction. But it was quite cheap, and also, as I'm clearly older than most other students, I was able to get friends of my own age there, for there are also researchers living at the place. It was more like living in an ordinary apartment house than in a dorm. (Of course, that might be just me. I'm such a recluse, barely ever going to the common room.)

I also visited Satsuki, which is more like a student dorm, and it has really good location and really nice and strong community spirit, so to say. If you want people to party with, try to get there. Also Misasagi seemed like a similar, nice place, but I went there only once so I don't know much about it. One thing: there's an insanely huge hill on the way there. Seriously. It took four minutes to come downhill on bike, and I didn't stop a single time. (Had my phone recording when I came down...) Be ready for exercise if you're going there. xD The good thing about Misasagi is that the electricity is included in the rent so you don't have to pay for that yourself...

And that made me think I could say a word or two about

 Living Costs...

Electricity is one thing. As I said, Shugakuin is a cheap place, but you've got to pay for the electricity, and there's one thing about Japanese houses: they're cold. Seriously cold. When I returned from a week's trip to Okinawa in February, it was 11C in my apartment... And heating is done by air conditioners, so it's not that cheap. So either you're cold or you pay a lot. (Buy hiitotekku at Uniqlo! xD) My electricity bills during winter were 40-50 euros per month... but I did have the married couple room (bigger area to try to keep warm, in other words) and though I didn't heat that much, at some point I kind of got tired of being cold...

As for food, Japan isn't exactly cheap, but you've got to find the right things. Fruit and some vegetables can be quite expensive, but other things are really cheap, like some mushroom and sprouts. Also, there are more little stores in Japan than in Finland, and there might be big differences between them. There were three on different sides of the same crossing near Shugakuin: I bought my fruit and veggies in one of them and drinks at another. Also, there are French bakeries here and there, buy your bread from them, if you want to have any kind of proper bread.

Local traffic & bikes

The buses within Kyoto have standard pay, 230 yen. You have to pay with exact amount when you leave the bus, but you can also change money (not the bigger bills) in the buses. I rarely used bus, though, as they're so slow. From Shugakuin it's handier to go by the Eiden/Keihan train both to the uni (though there's a short walk at the other end) and to downtown. To uni it was only 210 yen, to Sanjo 400 yen. You can buy a travel card (ICOCA) from some of the ticket selling machines. It's handy to have, you can load money there and then you don't need to worry about whether or not you've got cash with you.

But anyway, I would tell you to get a bike. Right away. I used bike always and everywhere, if I just could.... They're not that expensive, either. There's one place on Imadegawa pretty close to Kyodai (Eirin, they have stores also elsewhere.) My (new) bike was almost 12 000 yen - and they bought it back for 5000. Just remember to take good care of the papers they give you, or you might not be able to sell it back, at least not for such good price. Also, you need your alien card when you're buying your bike. It's best if you have already taken care of all business at the ward office, so that you've got your address stamped on it, but it's not obligatory.

But remember, though it's easy to go from one place to another by bike in Kyoto, you can't park your bike just anywhere. If there are "no bikes" signs, it just might be a good idea to pay attention to them, even if (no if about it, really) others have left bikes there, too. It just might be your bike won't be there anymore when you return, and you'll need to go to pay the fine somewhere to get it back. There are parking lots for bikes here and there, they're not that expensive so it's better to use them.

Travel & hike recs

I'm still kind of sad I couldn't do the hike between Kurama and Kifune, because a typhoon had felled trees on the path. It's usually done from Kurama to Kifune, but I was planning on the opposite, as I wanted to go to the Kurama onsen after the hike. I did walk as far as you could, and go to the onsen too, and that I can rec. Go there in autumn, the foliage is amazing! And talking about onsens, the one in Ohara was wonderful too!

Also, climbing on Hieizan was quite great. I've written a long post about that, so I won't get into it here. Note my trouble in getting down from there..... xD

The  river boat ride on Hozugawa was awesome as well.

Kobe and Osaka are kind of matter-of-fact places. Of course, Osaka is the place to go out in the evening, but I also went there for kabuki, and had great okonomiyaki there at a place called Chibo.

And Okinawa! There were so many places where I'd have wanted to go but didn't have time (or money) to go everywhere.... but I'm so happy I did go to Okinawa. It's a paradise. I went there in February, to see sakura blooming (second week of Feb is good time for that), and it was so beautiful, and the weather was perfect for me - warm but not hot. Of course, the sea is so beautiful there, but it was a bit too early to go to beach then...

Other than that, I only went to Hiroshima. By shinkansen.... which was an experience in itself, but I confess, I wouldn't have done that on my own. (I went there with my father, and he bought the tickets......) It's expensive, but if you've got the money, it's definitely, as I said, and experience. We did only a day-trip there, so there wasn't time to do much. It would be worth it, I think, to spend a weekend there, if you can.

ETA: Oh, I forgot about Takatori! It was a great little trip! They have the samurai festival in autumn, in the end of November (23rd, I think), and I'm so happy we went there! So much fun. And it's kind of... not so touristy. Me and my friend were basically the only foreigners there. And in any case, Takatori is a really nice little town, so even if you can't go there for the festival, you can go there just for fun. There are some castle ruins we didn't have time to go to see....


This place definitely deserves a mention. I'm kind of sad I started going there only at the end of the year. It's the Kyoto city international foundation. They have all kinds of happenings (to which I didn't go...) for foreigners in Kyoto, but they also have volunteer taught Japanese classes, which cost hundred yen/time. Yep, less than one euro. Definitely worth checking out!

Annnnddd... I just have to mention Cafe Rumbita here, last but not least. ^^ If you have any interest at all in dancing salsa, bachata etc.... check this place out. They have great lessons, lots of really nice people (chance to meet all kinds of locals, young and old), and you can stay there dancing after the lessons. Fun place, I miss it~~~

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Okinawa part II: Naha

First night in Naha.

After Motobu, I returned to Naha. I had only two full days there, which is way too little, but then again, wouldn't be able to see everything in a full week either, so.

First things first, so I started by going to see the Shuri castle. It was the palace of the Ryukyu kingdom between 1429 and 1879. In the battle of Okinawa (1945) it was destroyed almost completely. This, in fact, struck me quite hard in Naha. Not just the damage to the castle, but so many other places and things lost in the war... so utterly depressing.

Starting with this tree:

You could stop for some tea and traditional Okinawan cookies in the castle.

The only room inside where you were allowed to take photos:

After visiting the castle I ate at a place called Ryukyu Sabo Ashibiuna - very popular place close to the castle, so prepare to queue. It was worth the wait, though. Okinawan food, reasonably priced and quite tasty:

Then I spent a while walking all over in the area. Walked first down and then back up the Shurikinjocho stone path road that leads to the castle. It was nice... but based on the comments I'd read I was kind of expecting more about it. Half the time I wondered  if I'm on the right path. xD Especially as there were comments claiming it'd be somehow  a hard climb. Not. At all. But nice.

Visited also the Tamaudun mausoleum. It's one of the three royal mausoleums of the Ryukyu Kingdom, built in 1501. The last burial there was that of Shō Ten, son of the last king of Ryukyu, in 1920. This place too was badly damaged during the Battle of Okinawa, but it has been partly restored.

Also visited the Kannondo temple... and realized I'd left my goshuin book in Kyoto. Typical.

In the evening I ate in an izakaya called Masara, having read good reviews of it online. And I agree with them, excellent place! Near Miebashi station. Also, the review I read mentioned they have no English menu, but this has changed since then.

 Next day I headed first to Yogi park, which would in one week host the Naha Sakura Festival. It was a bit... well, after places like Mt. Yaedake, not that special. (Sorry.)


Then I, half-accidentally, ended up exploring the pottery district of Naha. I'd somewhere seen the add of Tsuboya pottery museum, and as it was kind of on the way when I walked back from Yogi park, I thought I'd stop there. I enjoyed the museum too, but also walking down the Yachimun street, that has dozens and dozens of pottery shops. Dangerous place, though. I'd have wanted to buy so many things... A little tip: if you see something you like, you might want to check the other stores first. They might also have it, but the prices were varying quite a lot. A cup I bought for about 900 costed 1200 and 1600 (!!!) at other places.

And! If you go to Naha, do not miss the cafe called Ball Donut Park. Best doughnuts I've eaten ever anywhere. The coffee was good too.

In the evening I ended up spending some more money, and went to this restaurant where you can follow Okinawan dances as you eat. It was fun enough, and the food was good, but given that I'd eaten my share of Okinawan food by then (though I love it, btw) and that the dances weren't that different from things I've seen before, I think I might have spared that money... Though there I tasted for the first time mimigaa, shredded pig's ear, and to my surprise loved it. The stuff on the right in the pic below:

And then it was the day I was leaving Okinawa. I'd planned in the morning to take a walk in the Fukushūen garden, which was next door to my airbnb... arrived there a few minutes past 9 (when it was supposed to open), saw some people opening the gate... and then they told me the place was closed on that day. :/ So I just had to peek through the little windows...

I'd walked by here many times, thinking how tempting it'd be to climb up here in to the park. Now even more so.... xD

Oh well. Took the Yui rail to airport, Peach carried me back home (eh, to Kyoto), and that was it.

Quite fittingly, the Aqua fantasy thing at Kyoto station was playing Sakura, Sakura when I walked by it.

Shiisaa yaibiimi?

Going through my photos, I realized I'd really taken an awful lot of pics of the different shisa statues in Okinawa. Shisa are a variati...