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Dec. 13th, 2008

House Rocks


Jam #3: Bookin' It

So the weeks are winding down and I am starting to get down to business in preparing for my departure. 

My passport and certificate of eligibility for my visa are somewhere within the United States postal system (or perhaps at the Japanese embassy) and I am going to be participating in some online orientation sessions throughout the next few weeks. 

But ultimately, what am I worried about most?  Well, packing of course!

Ahh yes, the favorite activity of every traveler!  Packing your livelihood into two pieces of beat up luggage, cramming as much stuff as possible without going over the designated weight limit. 

Normally, I would take a minimal amount of clothing and just buy clothes as the year goes on.  However, those of you familiar with Asia may realize that this is not as easy as it sounds.  First of all, a size XL in Japan is about a size medium in American sizing.  Second, Asian girls do not have as much "curve" as I do, in either hemisphere of the human body.  In America, all the pants are wide enough but too tall, in Japan, all the pants are just the right height but my butt won't fit.  Then, there is the matter of shoes.  For a person so short my feet are huge.  I wear a size 9 womens, but the largest shoe size in Japan is about a size 8, labeled LL.  I tried buying a pair of socks once in Japan and my toes ripped a hole in them within an hour.  Three strikes, I'm out.

Also, I have a list of books that I still need to read.  I am going to plow through the library books if I can, but most of these I am going to have to take with me, adding even more weight to my luggage.  Here is a list, because I feel like talking books.

China Road - Rob Gifford.  Currently reading this, and it's quite interesting.  I am making a lot of comparisons between this book and Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson.  In China Road, Gifford travels down Route 312 in China, taking him from Shanghai to the far western border of China.  In Hitching Rides with Buddha, Ferguson hitchhikes the entire length of Japan from Kyushu to Hokkaido.  It is really interesting to compare the two journeys and the two countries.  I could go on and on here, but most likely you don't want to hear it.  ;)  (But if you do, I wouldn't be adverse to a fun conversation on the topic!!!)

Rape of Nanking - Iris Chang.  So why didn't I read this book sooner?  It's only one of the most well known books in the Western World that deals with a topic in Asian history.   I figured this was a must read.  I have had a lot of exposure to Chinese history and culture through my Asian Studies curriculum at Naz, but I have also had a HUGE amount of exposure to World War II from Japan's point of view through my own experience in Japan, research and reading.  It is imperative that I read more about the Chinese point of view (or the Korean POV, for that matter).  It's interesting that I have been spending a lot more time lately reading about China than Japan though. 

Samurai William, the Englishman Who Opened Japan - Giles Milton.  Okay, so anyone familiar with recent Japanese history knows that in 1868 Commodore Perry came with his famous black ships and forced Japan to open its borders to the West.  But way before that, Europeans had already made their way to the Land of the Rising Sun.  This book is a lot about early European exploration in Asia, and the little known history of these men and their interaction with Japan.  I actually started to read this one awhile ago, but put it down in favor of reading the excellent book, River Town, by Peter Hessler.  Speaking of Peter Hessler....

Oracle Bones - Peter Hessler.  I haven't picked up this book yet, and I admit, I can't really remember much about what the book is about.  All I know is that I found Hessler's River Town to be a fantastic read, and I wanted to read more about his take on China.  So I bought it. 

Japanland, a Year in Search of Wa - Karin Muller.  So I admit, I am biased against Western women writing about Japan.  Strange, because I am a woman and I also plan to one day write about Japan quite frequently.  This bias stems from the fact that every book I read about a Western woman encountering Asia focuses way too much on geisha, discrimination and prostitutes.  Hellllllloo, Orientalism!  I especially detested Leslie Downer's book, Women of the Pleasure Quarters, and I spent many a class in Women in Asia (Sociology) bashing it to pieces.  (Apparently, all Japanese women are incapable of love, and are perfectly fine with their husbands having affairs!  Who knew?!)  While Japan is a bit behind on the worldwide gender equality train (I know, I spent an entire semester researching and writing a paper about it), it is about time that these Western women get a new topic of interest besides geisha and drunk salarymen on commuter trains and write about something I haven't already heard a million times.  I am hoping Karin Muller breaks this stereotype.   I have heard the book is quite good, and it was recommended to me by the people at Aeon Amity.  Then again, Amity also sent me a book on Japanese culture that claimed the baseball field Koshien was in Kyushu (it's totally not) and that there were two Nara's in the Kansai area ,one which is apparently located north of Kyoto. 

Confucius Lives Next Door, What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West - T.R. Reid.  Alright!  A book that makes the comparison between East and West FOR me!  No longer will I have to make my own conclusions about the differences between Western and Eastern cultures!  And best of all, it was written by someone with my last name!  Ok, seriously though, this book does sound really interesting.  I haven't come across many books that actually use Confucianism to explain Japanese culture and point of view, since Confucianism is often seen as more Chinese than anything else.  I am really looking forward to this. 

I know there is at least one more book I am planning to bring with me, but I am too lazy to go upstairs right now and check my bookshelf. 

Perhaps I will add more to this entry later...

Dec. 1st, 2008



Jam #2: Coffee Shops and Earthquakes

Well, I am entering the home stretch.  I leave for Japan in less than two months.

There is a lot I have to get done before then.  I have to call up my student loan lenders and get forbearance until March or April.  I have to notify all my credit cards, banks and student loan lenders that I will be moving to Japan.  I need to set up a new bank account, since my current one will start charging me fees once I stop having direct deposit.  This is only the most important stuff, there is much, much more that needs to be done before I leave. 

So for those of you who are curious, I am going to give a little background on the place where I will be living and working for a year. 

About Kobe & Akashi:

Kobe (神戸) is a city located in Western Japan, also known as the Kansai Region (関西).  The Kansai region is most famous for it's unique dialect known as Kansai-ben (関西弁), stand up comedians, great food, friendly laid back citizens, and the Japanese mob, the Yakuza.  When most people think of Kansai, they think of the more famous cities of Osaka (大阪) or Kyoto (京都).  However, Kobe is an extremely important city in Japan, serving as both an industrial center and Japan's primary shipping port until 1995. 

The city of Kobe had its humble beginnings as a center of trade in Western Japan.  The area prospered from Japan opening it's borders in the 19th century, and Kobe soon became a major port for trade with the outside world.  Due to this influence, Kobe continues to be one of the most international cities in Japan.  Within walking distance from the city center you can find Nankin-machi, or Kobe's Chinatown, along with the Kitano district, a neighborhood where European diplomats lived and worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Descendants of the Chinese and Koreans who were forced to relocate to Japan during World War II continue to make up a sizable portion of the city's residents. 

Akashi (明石) is a city located just west of Kobe.  Here you will find the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world.  The city is also home to Japanese Standard Time, as the Japanese meridian (135 degrees) falls within the city's boundaries.  Many visitors to Akashi come for the seafood, brought in fresh from daily from Japan's Inland Sea and sold in restaurants orat the Uo-no-Tana fish market.  One culinary specialty of Akashi is Akashi-yaki (明石焼き), or a fried ball consisting of octopus chopped up and mixed into a batter. 

On January 17, 1995, the region around Akashi and Kobe was stuck by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake.  The area was not prepared for such a large earthquake, and 6,434 people lost their lives due to the quake and its aftermath.  Much of this destruction can be blamed on the flimsy Japanese style houses that were hastily constructed after World War II,  which collapsed and crushed many of their occupants.  300,000 people, including my host family, were left homeless after the quake.  The citizens banded together to survive and rebuild, and even the Yakuza used their power and influence to bring supplies such as water and blankets into the hardest hit areas.  Similar to the United States and Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese government did not respond quickly to this natural disaster, and relief efforts initially relied heavily on local volunteers and help from disaster relief agencies in Osaka.

So there you are, a little background on the area where I will be living and working.  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions.  :)

Aug. 26th, 2008



Jam #1: Attack of the Killer Gooseberries


Let me introduce myself...

So my name is Jessica; most of you already know this.  For this journal, I created a pen name, Akagami Shika, or Akashi for short.  I originally did this is for many reasons.  The obvious reason is that I wanted a cool pen name.  Believe it or not, Akagami Shika is actually based off of my real name.  Akagami (
赤髪) means red hair, which is a play on my last name, Reid (red haired).  Shika (鹿) means deer, and is actually part of a name given to me by my host father from Japan, based on my phoenetic first name. (Jessica = Jie-shika) Cool huh?  
The more practical reason is that I am planning to move to Japan sometime in the future.  In Japan, instead of your signature on official documents you use a registered stamp called a hanko.  You can have pretty much anything on the hanko that you want, it just needs to be registered under your name in some public office.  Even foreigners might need them, so I decided to create a Japanese name so the hanko I use has some connection to me personally.  Therefore, I'm thinking I am going to get a custom-made stamp with
赤髪鹿 written on it.  It's almost like my real name!
I shortened this to Akashi as a nickname, which actually has some connection to me as well!  I studied in Kobe, Japan in the summer of 2007.  Kobe is near the island of Shikoku, and the strait in between the mainland and Shikoku is known as the Akashi Strait.  The bridge that spans the strait is known as the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, and is the longest expansion bridge in the world.  My nickname, Akashi, is tied to my love of the city of Kobe.  Strangely enough, I created this journal two months before I found out I was going to actually be living in the city of Akashi. 

This is actually my second journal. I realized I needed a second, more public, journal than the other one I use. I wanted to make entries that family, friends, or pretty much anyone could see. My old journal just didn't cut it. It's technically a community, not a separate blog, because it is much easier for me to post this way.  I'm the only one who can post though.

I have several plans for this journal. I hope to use it for some intelligent writing, travel accounts, and eventually to keep in touch with friends and family when I am working abroad. Thanks for visiting!

*Eikaiwa (英会話) - An English conversation school in Japan.

PS...Don't ask about the title.  :/