Chris' Kansai Exploits クリスの関西の冒険


November 14, 2010

The title is a really formal way of saying sorry! It has been about a month since I wrote my last post, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I have lost most of my readership.

Unbelievably, I have been in Japan for two and a half months! It still feels like I just started classes at Kansai Gaidai, although I am into week 8 now (I think). The mid semester exams have come and gone and I have already had to submit to the uni my accomodation plans for next semester and decide what I’m going to do in the Winter break! Honestly said, I don’t have any firmly set plans at all. I have thought of  the following options:

  • Go back to Australia
  • Work/ski at Niseko, or some other Ski Resort in Japan
  • Go to Korea
  • Go to China
  • Go to Thailand, or somewhere else in Southeast Asia
  • Travel around Japan

Considering I have only a month or so of this semester left, I should really get my act together!

So, I thought since I would take forever to recount everything I’ve done so far, I would instead add a few pictures with blurbs. Here goes:

Relaxing at Summa Beach in Kobe

After the beach we found a little kushikatsu (deep fried skewers) place with friendly people. We then moved on to Osaka and explored/barhopped. In the end, I got home at about 7am the next morning.

The housing of the 17m tall Daibutsu (Statue of Buddha)

I went to Nara with Lauren and Eriko to check out some of the major sights there. A highlight of the visit are the deer which roam the city parks. You  can buy little wafers to feed them but watch out! Once they see you with food, they will surround you and will harass you until you have no more biscuits. If they don’t bite buscuits, they sometimes bite you, so it’s for the best if you just give in.

I got my first taste of Japanese baseball when I went with friends to Koshien Park to see two rivals, the Tigers and Giants, play each other in the tail end of the season. The home team lost but the atmosphere was great. At the end of the seventh innings, everyone blew up balloons and let them go at the same time. I can’t upload the video somehow, but it was spectacular! This isn’t the one I experienced, but here is a YouTube clip of the same thing:



Ok, I promise to do a more substantial post soon!



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Two weeks already??

September 13, 2010
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Yeah, I’m pretty sure time is accelerating as my exchange goes on. I should be familiar with this given how fast my previous exchange went by, but nonetheless I’m surprised. I think in particular the reason why things have gone so fast is the fact that I’ve been going out and doing stuff every day, whereas last time it was more about going to school and living more realistically (eg. not going out on a Tuesday night). Last night I was thinking of having a quiet one, but I got invited to the local turkish bar (run by not very Turkish-looking people), so sure enough I went and before I knew it it was the early hours of the morning. All I can say is that the special deals at that bar would probably be in conflict with Australian responsible service of alcohol laws.

One of the bars in question

Anyway, to the purer stuff, I’ve started the university semester now and things are going well so far. For the English-language lectures, I’m doing Pacific Rivalry, which so far seems to be a general course on international relations and strategy, and Intercultural Communication in Japan, which appears to be more or less a training course in living and thriving in foreign cultures. So both courses are right up my alley. For Japanese I surprisingly tested into level 4. Most people I know with similar experience of Japanese got into level 3, so I’m pretty happy with how I went. That said, it is a real step up and I’m a bit worried about falling behind. Because the courses are based around a book called Genki, which I didn’t use at my home uni but many students did, it means there are some things I should know but don’t, and some things I know that the others don’t. For example, I know some of the more complicated grammatical features, but I haven’t touched keigo, which is the very formal style of Japanese used to speak to superiors. I did a test on Friday to make sure I’m in the right level. Hopefully I did ok, otherwise I’ll be ‘asked’ to move down to level 3.  I have a feeling that although level 4 is nearly out of my league (it’s expected that our Japanese is good enough to go through the class without speaking a word of English), but I also have a feeling level 3 might be a bit frustrating.

UPDATE: After writing the draft of this post, it now seems I am staying in level 4, yay!

One of the highlights of the week was a visit to Sweets Paradise. What is Sweets Paradise? Well imagine a place like sizzler, where it is all you can eat, with about 90 percent savouries and 10 percent sweets. Now invert that ratio. That is Sweets Paradise. There are some savoury things like spaghetti just so you can say you had something you could call ‘dinner’, but the rest is nothing other than cake, ice cream, fondue, lollies etc etc etc, and for about fifteen bucks you get an hour to down as much of it as possible. And yes, an hour is enough to get you pretty sick.

A sneak peak of Sweets Paradise. Note how cool the Japanese girl is dressed. All Japanese girls dress this cool.

There’s more to write but I’ll end this post and continue with another one soon, I promise!

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Wrapping up the first week

September 6, 2010
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I have to say my first 7 days here have probably been the fastest week of my life. In that short period of time, I’ve been in 3 different cities, tried dozens of new foods and made tons of new friends, both international and Japanese.

This week has also involved LOTS of paperwork, there is form you have to fill out for just about everything! But now at least I have the basics- a phone and a bike particularly- and have just about settled in. We’ve gone out pretty much every time we’re not required at uni, so we ahve had the chhance to do a lot of fun things. One of those things was karaoke. I’d never done karaoke properly before, and thought it would be a bit lame, but in Japan it’s SO fun! We were in a group of Japanese, US, Aussie (me) and Korean people, and just belting out tune after tune shamelessly. We enjoyed it so much we stayed a bit too long- we got back to the dorms about a minute before they locked the gate.

I also got to see a bit of Kyoto, which is a really cool city. We mainly shopped, and it must be said that the Japanese have an amazing taste for fashion. I ended up buying this cool collared tee which has this sort of gradient going from brown to white down it. My other friends also bought some really cool threads.

Shopping in Kyoto

I think it was the next night (everything is already a bit of a blur), we went to a local izakaya (traditional pub/eatery). I had some great grub, including grilled squid and gyoza (chinese style dumplings). I also ordered a shotgun, which was silly since I didn’t know what a shotgun was. It turned out to be one third sparkling water, and two thirds Spyritus (probably spelled wrong). Spyritus is a Polish hard drink which has 96 percent alcohol content. So pretty much I downed a shot of ethanol. Before eating dinner. The guy who took my order seemed fairly surprised.

We went to Kyoto a second time later that week, this time for a more cultural experience. We visited the Kiyomizu-dera, a world famous temple/shrine. Have to say the buildings and the views from them are some the most amazing I’ve seen. Although there were some Westerner tourists to be seen, I noticed that the shrine, as well as other tourist attractions, hasn’t lost its soul to the chase for the quick tourist buck. Most of the signs are still in Japanese, and the souvenir stalls tend not to have so many trashy products and had friendly staff, which is quite different to some places in Europe.

With the guys at Kiyomizu Dera

I know that there were more things that I did that week, but I can remember it for the life of me!

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Osaka and orientation

August 30, 2010
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I now have net access on my laptop so hopefully Some pics will be coming up this post!

Ok, so Osaka! Yesterday morning, some of my roommates and I decided to go and check out Osaka. We went for a walk down the stream towards the nearest station, Makino-eki, to get a train into the big city. Walking there I really started to get an impression of of modern Japan looks like. It’s this strange mix of modern phone towers and factories with rice paddies, houses and really nice natural scenery. I’ve only had prior exposure to Japan through things like video games and the few animes I’ve watched, but just by being here you get a good idea of the inspiration behind it all.

It was also REALLY hot. About 36 degrees meaximum, but the humidity makes it feel much hotter. I’ve also managed to get sunburn on my neck, which is silly. Any way, we got a traing from our home town of Hirakata to Shinsaibashi, a shopping district of Osaka. This was my first train ride here, and I don’t know if it was because it was a Sunday, but it wasn’t nearly crowded as I expected. That said, there were still heaps of people compared to Perth public transport, yet it wasn’t too crowded or anything.

Seriously, it was LONG

When we arrived in Osaka we started to get an idea of how HUGE this city is. We went down a pedestrian mall, and it was so long we never saw the end of it. It just kept going and going and going. I was in a group of people which had both locals and exchange students, boys and girls, and we got initiated into one of the most stereotypical Japanese pasttimes: Purikura.

What’s purikura?? Well..puri kura is a shortened translation of ‘print club’, and is the act of going into one of those photo booths and posing and andding little sparkles and whatnot to the pictures. It’s not particularly masculine to say the least, but it’s one of those things you just have to do. It was kind of fun I guess. I might post the end result if I get hold of the pics.

Austin and Jason Arcade-ing it up

For lunch I had Osaka’s famous tako-yaki, octopus fried in balls of batter. It’s really hot because it comes right of the grill but it tastes great. Surprisingly eating out in Japan can be fairly good value, for example the takoyaki and a large draft beer was less than $10. Also looked at some of the shops and saw how cool Japanese fashion is. Will have to look at my budget first before I start buying clothes, however. We also had dinner there, at a place where you pay about 20 dollars and get all you can eat, and all you can drink for one hour. Needless to say we milked this wor all it was worth.

In total, we spent over 10 hours in Osaka and didn’t even see all of one district! I think that even after a whole year I won’t have seen everything there is to offer there.

Today I did mainly administrative stuff. I woke up around 8.30 and went to a little cafe down the road, where we had breakfast and coffee for around ten bucks. I then had some orientation, where we were introduced to the language learning program on the computer, which seems pretty useful. I also finally bought a mobile phone- my new number is +81 (0)8040286948. Almost melted in the heat, which wasn’t helped by a flash storm that poured buckets on the campus. Also met a lot of people that I had been in contact with via facebook, so it was good to meet them in person. Now that I have a mobile, I can get their numbers instead of saying ‘see you next time I bump into you!’. No, our generation can’t operate without mobiles. The mobile I bought was only 3000 yen ($40-50) and is pretty good. It has an infrared feature that can transfer contact details to other phones, so you don’t have to get your friends to type in your number manually.

Tonight we went to this restaurant near our dorms. I have no idea what it’s called but it has a big picture of an octupus at the front. There’s just one lady and she gooks our meals on the hot plate in front of us and talks to us in Japanese. I know the Japanese can be known to be shy, but they can also be really friendly.

So that’s a bare bones description of what I’ve been up to. I have more orientation tomorrow, more things to do, see and eat!

Until then,


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I’m here!

August 30, 2010
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This is now my second evening in Japan and I’m loving it!

I arrived yesterday morning at 7am to find…the pickup service wasn’t there. I waited around arquardly for a while, then decided to call the uni to figure out what was going on. Turns out the first bus was at 9.30am, so I had to wait a bit. But soon enough, I found some more exhange students (they’re easy to find, they’re the one’s that aren’t Japanese), and I was no longer alone.

Took a bus through the outer areas of Osaka to my new hometown of Hirakata. I must say it was quite a bizarre scene. There was a mixture of major factories, rice fields and golf driving ranges. Hirakata is quite a nice place though. It’s big enough to be called a city, but it’s more laid back. I eventually got settled into my new seminar house (number 3),which is great. It’s all quite modern and we have shared rooms that are connected to a shared kitchen and lounge, apartment style, between abot 8 of us. My roommate’s are really cool and we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well even though I met many of themabout 24 hours ago.

Ok, I’m going to scoot, it’s past 1am! I think I have a language test tomorrow so sleep would be a good idea. I will post more about my trip to Osaka today, which was the best. Will also post pics when my laptop can connect to the dormitory wifi, which might take a few days.

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In transit

August 27, 2010
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I’m currently killing time at Kuala Lumpur international airport, and taking advantage of their free wifi while i wait another 40 minutes for my plane to Japan.
The trip so far has been pretty easy going. The in-flight entertainment was so good I didn’t bother reaching for my laptop, and I even managed to catch a few Z’s. A lowlight however was the ‘Welcome to Malaysia’ song played as we were arriving, courtesy of the Malaysian ministry for tourism. I don’t know if you could call it a song, it was more like a bunch of cliche tourist ad phrases that went to music. For five minutes.
I resisted the urge to buy things I didn’t need at the airport here, so my plans of austerity as an exchange student have gone well so far.
Next post should be from Japan!

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Off I go!

August 27, 2010
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Heading off to the airport, see you on the other side!

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So little time!

August 24, 2010
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So this is possibly the last post I make while actually still in Australia. I’m sure people would rather read some posts that are actually from Japan, but that will come soon- in 2 days, 18 hours and 15 minutes to be precise! Yes, I have a countdown gadget on my desktop.

Pretty much everything is ready now. I have a flight, a place to go, and now some money to survive on. My currency order game through, so I laid my amazing 39000 yen on my bed, drug dealer style:

If only those were dollars....

All right, so it only covers a small corner of my bed, but it feels nice to have a big wad of currency all the same.

I also had a goodbye gathering at my place on Saturday, which went pretty well:

Happy chappies

So I’ve pretty much said goodbye to everyone now. Also bought some little souvinirs to give out:

Overdoing the whole koala/kangaroo thing a bit?

The main drama now is the weight limit (shudder). It turns out that Malaysai Airlines is the strictest in the business- no budging on the 20kg limit, and $42 for every kilo I’m over. This doesn’t work well for me, since ideally I’d like to bring:

  • My Kendo armour and kit, weighing about 8kg
  • My guitar and case, 5kg
  • My saxophone, 5kg

Pretty much have had to compromise. I’m going to have to send my armour in an airmail package, which is a shame, because I can almost pack lightly enough to accomodate it. But then again I do like my clothes. I figured given the cost of getting bulky things over there, I’ll leave my guitar at home for the year, and buy one in Japan. I might fall in love with one over there and bring it back with me. With the saxophone, well I barely play the thing now as it is, so I’ll leave it and maybe it can get posted over if I end up in a jazz band or something.

The thing is, there’s nothing certain about this exchange year. It could be really chilled, with heaps of down time, but it could also be so jam packed that I have no time for the usual pursuits. I’d love to keep practicing Kendo in Japan, so I might end up in a club with really regular training. I had my last major training at my uni on Monday, and one of my sensei said that he might have some contacts in Japan that can help get me in the scene. So with a bit of luck, I might be returning to Perth with some wicked skills. After winning the beginner’s tournament last week, I got asked if I wanted to try out to compete in the national champs. Obviously I had to turn the chance down since I’d be in Japan, but I will hopefully be a good candidate in 12 months’ time.

So yeah, not much to go now, just a couple of little odds and ends and I’m on that plane!


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19 Days!

August 8, 2010

So usually, before big trips like these, there comes a point some time before departure where the reality of it sinks in and you have a wee bit of a freakout. However, with less than three weeks to go, it somehow hasn’t happened yet. It could be because I’ve done something like this twice before- I spent a month in Germany when I was 16 and a year in Switzerland when I was 18. But surely the prospect of leaving to live in a foreign land for another year should at least elicit a shudder? Seemingly not. Wierd. I’ve had anxiety about all the annoying parts of preparation such as visas and weight limits (20kg with a $42/kilo penalty rate, ow), but in regards to the exchange itself I’m fine. My “oh s***” moment still might be yet to come, I’ll just have to see…

Preparations for the exchange are pretty much sorted now. I have my visa, my scholarship cheque is in the mail and I’m looking at how I’m going to get everything over there. I tried contact Malaysia airways to get extra allowance because I was an exchange student, but it seems that trick doesn’t work like it did when I was 18 and garnered more sympathy. I need to get my bogu (armour for Kendo) over there, but that’s probably going to tip the scales past 20kg. I’ll probably have to send a package over there in order to so. Last exchange, I managed to get my acoustic guitar, saxophone and clarinet over to Switzerland, but this time that’s not going to happen. I think I’ll leave the lot at home, chances are I simply won’t find the time to play them all (I don’t even manage here in Perth). However, I need SOMETHING to play over there or I will probably go insane- guitar is probably the best candidate. I figured it would probably actually be cheaper to buy a guitar over there than to bring my old one with me. It’s my very first guitar so I don’t want to sell it, hopefully I’ll still be playing it for decades to come, kind of like how Marcus Miller still performs with the Fender Jazz he got as a teenager. But anyway, if anyone as any tips on getting a guitar over in Japan, let me know!

So all the major things are out of the way and I’ve got a farewell BBQ organised the weekend before I leave. I’ve been waiting forever to finally leave, so it’ll be a relief when everything finally gets kicking!

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July 7, 2010
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Well not quite, but the financial side of preparations for my exchange year is going fairly well. Mainly due to a bit of good news I learned last week- I won a $5000 scholarship from the government! That’ll take a big chunk out of my expenses for the year and is a big relief for me, and perhaps a bigger relief for my parents!

Also, I have so far been getting a reasonable amount of work to save a bit of money. At the moment, I have three jobs: tutoring German, working at City Beach (clothes store) and doing temp work for an architecture firm. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing around 6 days a week, which is pretty foreign to me! The work can be a bit long (8.30-5.30 on some days), but the weeks are flying by and I’m glad to have some pennies in the bank account. It’s also good to have something you could call a cashflow, rather than that thing I called an income when I was at uni this semester! I’ve even managed to buy myself a laptop (with which I’m typing this post), and a couple of things I’ve wanted for a long time. So yeah, just doing what I can to get money in the bank! On that note, I’m probably going to sell my car before I leave, or my parents might do it for me after. It’s a 1994 Commodore stationwagon, let me know if anyone’s interested!

So money aside, preparations are going well for Japan. I’m still waiting on my Certificate of Eligibility, which is pretty much my ticket to a student visa, but apparently that’ll be ready by the end of this week. Other than that, I’m not sure what else there is to be done! Flights are booked, accomodation is pretty much sorted out… just need to do some administrative stuff for uni, pack, and throw a goodbye party! Any ideas for such a party? I was thinking, given the freezing weather, Apres Ski (The parties they have in huts after a day’s skiing)! I could have Gluehwein (hot spiced wine) and maybe a fire going on outside? Ideas welcome.

Well other than that there’s not much to report. This blog won’t really pick up until I have some real events to write about, ie. when I’m in Japan. I can’t really say I’m nervous. I don’t know whether it hasn’t sunk in yet, or maybe I’m used to the whole exchange thing (I’ve already been on a short exchange to Germany and a year’s exchange to Switzerland).

Until then, I’m just saving, practicing Kendo, and trying to improve my Japanese!

Until next time,


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