Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Story about Awaji Island (Ruobing)

I went to the Awaji Island during the vocation. It is a offshore Island which located at the south of Kobe area and eastern part of Seto inland sea. It is also known as the biggest island of Seto enclosed sea. Awaji Shima covers an area of 593 square kilometres, and have a population of 170000.

Overall view of Awaji.
Fukura is the first stop where I arrived because I would take a ship to view spectacular Naruto Whirlpools from here. 

Nippon Maru
The ship I took is called Nippon Maru. The whirlpools are around Naruto Strait. Our ship went cross under the Naruto Bridge which is one of the connection bridge between Honshu and Shikoku and had a close look at those whirlpools. 

Naruto Whirlpools are really spectacular, yet the reason of forming them still remained unknown for me at that time. However, I found out the answer later at the Memorial Hall of Uzushio.

In the memorial hall, there was a 3D movie about Naruto Uzushio. The Naruto strait is one of the connection straits between the inland sea and the Pacific strait in Japan, fluxes are twice a day. Everyday, a large number of water flow from the Seto inland sea into the Pacific ocean, then the water flow from the Pacific Ocean into the Seto inland sea. The changing of water level produced ocean current, so the channel between the Seto inland sea with rapid water flow and the Pacific Ocean with smooth flow of water, formed Naruto Whirlpools. 

The memorial hall is so small and shallow yet there are still a few interesting things can be taken photos, such as the Naruto whirlpool’s poster on the ground or the view from the observatory on the top of the building.

Naruto bridge and whirlpools are worthy to see yet the memorial hall need more professional restoration.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A New Language (Sasha)

On campus the main people who seem to speak in Akita-ben are the men who work at the front desk in Komachi (usually referred to as Komachi-ojisan), the ladies who work at the cafeteria, and the man who runs the nearby convenient store, and the students from Akita, and usually the people in the first two groups do not use it when talking to students. Sometimes it is possible to eavesdrop on a conversation in Akita-ben, but for the most part, it seems locals only use it when talking to other people in their in-group.
I sat down with my friend, Yoh-san, who comes from Akita to talk about the dialect, and he was happy to answer my questions about Akita-ben and even taught me a few phrases.
The word ke evidently has three different meanings in Akita-ben. The first for meaning is a phrase telling someone else to eat. (The general word for to eat is ku). The second meaning is itchy, and the third is a phrase to tell some to come here. The meaning changes depending on intonation, context, and accompanying hand gestures. He also taught me nda nda, a phrase used to agree with another person, and seba, an informal word for goodbye. I found the dialect to be very casual, and Yoh-san said that Akita-ben tends to ignore the rules of politeness levels and puts people on equal ground. Adding su at the end of a sentence makes it more polite, but Akita-ben is usually used when talking to people who are about the same level politeness level or lower.
Akita-ben also has a lot of voiced consonance, which means the hiragana characters that can have their sounds changed (by adding little tentens on the right side), generally do. For example, iku (いく), the word for to go, is changed to igu (いぐ). When I tried speaking Akita-ben, it felt very odd. I was using a part of my mouth I don’t usually use and having one voiced consonant after another was very challenging.

When I asked Yoh-san how the local people feet about their dialect, he instantly referenced his parents. His mother does not like Akita-ben and considers it dirty, and as a result, his family does not use Akita-ben at his house. Instead of learning it from his family, Yoh-san picked up Akita-ben from his friends and mainly uses it with them. He said that learning Akita-ben felt like learning a whole different language, which comparing it to the hyoujyungo (normal dialect), which comes from Tokyo, the two dialects sound completely different.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to Show Regional Pride by Giving the Wee Ones a Lovely Fright (A Marvelous Adventure)

First, I would like to apologize in advance for the length of this blog post, because the title might be longer.

Giant Namahage Featuring Fabulous.
To show you all how Akita prefecture records and celebrates its regional stories, I’ve chosen to talk about the Namahage museum in Oga. While the origins of Namahage are unclear, one cannot deny the influence that it has in various parts of the prefecture.

These White Men Are Dangerous...(Well, were they wrong?)
To clarify, Namahage are young and unmarried men who masquerade as ‘demons’ and visit houses around the prefecture during New Year’s. As they visit houses, the men take on the role of their characters and attempt to steal children from their homes on the claim that they’ve misbehaved and dishonored their parents. The children, who are under the impression that they are really in danger of being snatched away, struggle and plead for their parents to rescue them from their fate. The parents are aware of the ordeal and attempt to hide their laughter as they save their children while assuaging the ‘spirits’ with prospects of food and sake while the children ensure both their parents and the Namahage that they’ll behave and honor their parents’ wishes.  Curiously enough, this event helps inspire faith in the parent and strengthens the bond that they have with their children, fostering a sense of filial piety within the children, a key concept in Confucianism.

As to be expected of a museum, the entrance leads directly to the gift shop where one can find all things Namahage, from hand towels with names embroidered on them, to sleeping masks. But once you’ve had your fix of gifts and souvenirs, you enter a hall filled with an assortment of Namahage costumes that are still used in the ritual to this day, however, to preserve the sanctity and unique essence of the Namahage, it is requested that pictures not be posted on the internet.  Once you’ve exited the hall of spirit shells, there is an actual hallway, depicting the various origin stories of the Namahage on one wall, and on the other, the interpretations of the ritual not only in Akita, but also similar experiences in other parts of the world, mainly Slovenia.

Namahage, Amahage, and Nagomehagi. We Are All Part of the Same Tradition.
From there, you come upon an open room with more costumes lining the wall to create a sense of authenticity as a film plays on a large screen in the front of the room, detailing a contemporary Namahage event in Oga.

The museum, while lacking any magnificent size or grandeur, does a splendid job of telling the tale of one of the region’s traditional tales. Truthfully, the size and appearance add to the importance of the substance of what the museum houses, rather than needing to have a glossy finish or special gimmicks to explain its story and importance in the prefecture.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kansai-ben (Eliza)

Title: Kansai-ben

Part of the reason that I chose to study in the Osaka area is the dialect.  I first came across Kansai-ben in a manga and anime series that I love.  A couple of the more major characters are from Osaka and speak using the dialect.  Living in with a host family, I get to hear a lot of the common phrases of Kansai-ben.  Words like ‘mecha’ meaning ‘very’ and using ‘hen’ instead of ‘nai’ for a negative.  Many of the students also speak Kansai-ben and I hear it all the time on the bus.  One of my friends taught me a phrase that confuses a lot of people from other parts of Japan because it doesn’t sound anything like its standard Japanese counterpart.  ‘ikeru’ is kansai-ben for ‘are you okay’.  Other phrases like ‘nandeyanen’ meaning ‘why’ sound at least a little like their standard Japanese equivalents so are easier for people from other areas to understand. Another one that my friend taught me was ‘seyanen’ for ‘yes’.
A list of phrases in Kansai-ben.
While I would love to become fluent in Kansai-ben, I haven’t gotten into the habit of using it yet.  This might be partly because one of my friends who speaks Kansai-ben always laughs when I try to use it.  When I asked why he kept laughing he said it is ‘cute’ when I attempt to use the dialect.  I plan on trying to use it more in the next two months and maybe I can get to the point where he won’t laugh anymore.  There are other Japanese people who are quite willing to help foreigners learn to speak Kansai-ben and I hope to learn a lot more phrases along the way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Many Faces of Akita (Ari)

When I first arrived in the Akita Prefecture, I ended up staying with my parents by Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in all of Japan. It was quite beautiful, as it was nestled amongst the green mountains dotted with hot springs, and neighbored a historical Samurai village, Kakunodate. Of course I was bewitched by this place’s renowned natural and historical beauty, but what caught my attention in particular was the mascots. Everywhere I looked, I could find chibi art of Namahage and Akita Inus, so I simply assumed that these were the prefectural mascots. 

The most adorable mountain god to ever terrify children.
I really believe that this should be the mascot--I mean, the dog breed even has "Akita" in its name.
However, prefectures generally only have one official mascot, so I decided to research which was the official one and discovered that it was a. . . Cedar tree? 

The actual mascot.
As one can imagine, I was sorely disappointed. I suppose it makes sense, though. Cedar trees are everywhere here.

This was my first step in understanding what Akita is all about. A few days ago, I passed by the Akita prefectural hall to find a large sign above the building that had “nda” scribbled across it like splatters of paint, and I could help but giggle at the sight. Akita is infamous for its thick, unintelligible dialect -- a dialect so impossible to understand that even native Japanese speakers cannot understand it. I first experienced this when an old woman was asking for my help (I think) at a bus station about a week ago. If you have ever seen Finding Nemo, when Squirt tries to instruct Marlin and Dory, and Marlin says, in a sort of anxious confusion, “He’s trying to speak to me -- I know it!”, then you probably understand what I experienced. Of course I wanted to assist this poor little old woman, but first I had to decipher through her peculiar Japanese code to understand what she wanted. I still feel guilty. But I suppose that is why Akita’s dialect is the butt of everyone’s jokes -- it is nice that even the prefectural hall can take the time to laugh at itself.

But even with all of its natural beauty, its scrumptious rice, and its amusingly enigmatic dialect, I have found that what I love the most about Akita is its people. While I was in Tokyo, I often was given demonizing stares and treated as a burden. But here in Akita, I am treated as a welcomed guest. Here, people will help you if you are lost, and you do not have to feel embarrassed asking a stranger a question like I have felt elsewhere. People here are kind and forgiving. They treat me like I am human, and I am extremely grateful for it.
Bonus picture: Namahage night mask, because prefectural pride is important.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Finding Pride in Cute Places (Reid Knight)

While it may sometimes be embarrassing to admit, one of my favorite things about Japanese pop culture is the cute characters it produces. This can be easily observed in my room at home, which is filled with stuffed toys, mostly of Japanese origin. In the past year or so, I have developed a new obsession with” Yuru Chara”, or mascot characters created to represent different cities in Japan. Although these characters are from individual regions, the most popular of these mascots have merchandise that is sold all over Japan! Currently, the most popular Yuru Chara is named Funnasyi; he is the unofficial mascot of Funabashi in Chiba prefecture, and is a sentient pear, since the area is apparently famous for its pears. Almost every store I have entered in Japan sells some sort of Funassyi product; I have seen collaborative memorabilia with Funassyi wearing Hello Kitty and Tamagotchi costumes, and when I went to a nearby festival, the stand selling chocolate-covered bananas had even made one to look like Funnasyi!
The banana in question, which I lovingly dubbed Funassyinana.
As the town I live in, Shiki, is small compared to many other places in Japan, I was not sure if they would have a mascot at all. I was happily proved wrong, however, on my first full day in Shiki, when I went to the district office to register as a resident. One of the first things I saw when I walked into the building was a large statue of a slightly alarmed-looking kappa, which I later found out was one of the THREE Shiki Yuru Chara!

Out of the three Shiki mascots, two are kappa, and one is a seal. The kappa I saw a statue of is named Kazasu-kun, while the other is named Kappi; I still have not learned the name of the seal, and am unsure if there is any significance to these creatures being chosen as the mascots. However, all three mascots are present in everyday life in Shiki; they can often be found on posters, as small keychains in the crane game machines at the department store, and every so often, the mascots will show up in the square of Shiki Station.

I was lucky enough to encounter Kappi during one of these times. Children and adults alike seemed entertained by his presence, and there was many a photo-op. Alongside the mascot was a table selling merchandise. Unlike the Funnasyi merchandise ever-present in stores, this merchandise seemed mostly handmade, which I assume is because of Shiki being such a small town. There were also a group of children that looked like they were in Boy Scout uniforms helping with the sales; I wasn’t able to ask, but maybe they were doing some sort of fundraiser with this merchandise.

Kappi posing for the camera.
Outside of just making money, I have seen the Yuru Chara being used as a public health initiative. One day, a machine showed up next to the ticket machines in Shiki Station; from what I can translate, this machine scans electronic pedometers and awards points for the amount of steps Shiki residents walk, which can then be redeemed for some sort of reward. Kazasu-kun is the face of this endeavor, and I was pleased to see the Yuru Chara being utilized in this way.
The Let's Walk! Kazasu-kun machine.
Whether it’s buying a kappa keychain or encouraging someone to walk a few extra steps, it’s clear that the Shiki mascots do hold an important place in the city. But do people truly identify and have regional pride for their respective Yuru Chara, or is it just another part of the nebulous “kawaii culture” often talked about in regards to Japan? I’m hoping to further research this question in the future, but for now I’ll enjoy my Kappi plushie that I could not resist buying at the merchandise stand.
Kappi sitting on top of a Funnasyi plush I purchased upon my arrival in Japan. It seems I have already amassed a small Yuru Chara collection.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Playing with Kansai-ben (Sarah)

The dialect that is used where I live is called Kansai-ben, and when I first arrived in Japan I thought it would be hard to pick up and learn because the Japanese students or other Japanese people wouldn’t feel comfortable with a foreigner trying to speak in their local dialect. I quickly found out that wasn’t the case. On the day I moved in with my host family, I learned that おるwas the Kansai-ben way of saying いる. And since then, being aware that I probably didn’t understand many of the Kansai-ben phrases, my family has explained other phrases or words that have come up in conversation.
Me and one of my host sisters in a picture we took during the super moon that she then decorated and sent me. My host family in general uses a lot of Kansai-ben, but my two host sisters speak almost exclusively in it, so they have been a big help in getting me used to it.
Beyond just my host family, the Kansai Gaidai students have been enthusiastic in spreading Kansai-ben among foreign students. At first (and still sometimes when I’m using a new phrase) I would feel embarrassed using it in my daily conversation because it felt a bit unnatural, but since then I have become more accustomed to both hearing it everyday and using it myself. That is largely due to the fact that when talking to students, they will more than happily teach me new words. If they use something they think I might not understand they will stop, repeat it, ask me if I know what it means, tell me what it means, and then let me try using it. They then will continue on with what they were saying and stop again later for something else. When I use it myself in conversation sometimes they won’t notice, which is good because that means it sounded natural and fit into the conversation, but often they will. They’ll smile and maybe point out that I used Kansai-ben, or often they will just repeat what I said seemingly amused by it. They’ll often be happy and excited when I, or other international students, use it in conversation.

Me and friends from my club, tabikenkyu-bu, on an overnight trip to Otokoyama. I often hear and learn Kansai-ben from them as well as phrases from the dialects of other areas like Hokkaido. On this particular trip, that night, the six of us spent the evening comparing dialects.
To me it seems like most people are rather proud of their dialect and like that it is very distinctive. And it seems like they not only have no problem with foreigners using their dialect, they encourage it and like it when they do. Whether they like it because it is amusing to hear foreigners using it or because they are genuinely happy to be spreading their dialect. I’m not sure. I think it is a little bit of both, but I’m okay with that because it is fun to use, and it makes me feel a little bit more a part of both the school and the general community when I do.