Live: Alice Nine [Court of 9]

Ever since October, I had been trying to get Alice Nine tickets, in a joint effort with two of my friends. Even between the three of us, we lost out every time! The reason is, when you buy tickets for certain lives in Japan, sometimes you are placed into a lottery. So even if you reserve a ticket, you may still not win the coveted admission. 

The first two times, we lost the lottery to see Alice Nine. Finally on the third try, we managed to win tickets for their live here in Nagoya- and it was the last show of their "Court of Nine" tour.

Read more under the jump-cut!

My First Hanami

The tradition of cherry blossom viewing ('hanami') can be traced back to the Nara and Heian periods,  the 8th-12th centuries.

Today, television reporters give daily blossom forecasts for the height of flower viewing, starting late March and continuing through early April. The 'season' for hanami is short. But for that short time, everyone gathers with friends and family to enjoy a picnic under the trees.

Last weekend I headed out with my friends for a small Hanami picnic. We went to the neighbouring town of Nagakute, to a park with a large lake.

The wind was strong, but several families were also at the park; some with traditional bentos, others with brown paper Mc Donalds sacks. There were young couples, families of four with children, large gaggles of assorted friends and family.

We picked a spot on the bank of the lake, with our make-shift conbini lunch. Afterwards, we joked around, talked story, then took photos. 

A few days later the blossoms were in their prime; fluffy and white, like cotton wads. It was a beautiful sight, and when it rained, the scent of sakura stained the air. Now the blossoms are all ready reaching their untimely end, falling like snow flakes and building up on the street in the same manner. 

Sakura season was something I always wanted to experience, and once it began it all went too quickly. Now that it's ending I feel like I took it for granted, didn't carry my camera on me like I should have, didn't take enough digital photos. But the photos in my head are a brilliant memory I'll never forget; the dreamy scene I couldn't have imagined before. 

Since this entry is all about blossoms, how about some floral lolita coordinates?

I recently found the Angelic Pretty "Sugar Pansy" Babydoll Jsk, in lavender, a wish list item of mine. I've been dying to make pastel coordinates, but was waiting for the weather to warm up.

Here it is, paired with a pink blouse by "Kick Out Regrets", and pink tights from a shop in Harajuku.

And a second option, a purple blouse from "Kick Out Regrets", and mint tights from "Ichigo House" in Oosu. 

Get out there and enjoy the fresh Spring air!

Till next time,

All Bears. All the time.

Before coming to Japan, I heard that you could find a themed cafe for anything... and it seems true! I am always discovering unique businesses I've never seen before.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Kuma Cafe, a three-story restaurant in Sakae filled with bears. My friend and I wore our matching Honey Cake sets from Angelic Pretty, lounging among bear strewn couches beneath a chandelier of teddy bear key chains. 

The menu had lunch sets, dessert sets, and beverages from espresso to mixed drinks. I ordered a Cappuccino and two Ku-macarons.

Raspberry was the first to go. His expression was too perfect.

Shortly followed by his brother, Pistachio.

As if I didn't get my fill of sweets that day, my landlord stopped by when I came home to give me these:

Gorgeous (and from the looks of it, expensive!) cakes from a local pastry shoppe! When I came home from the states, I brought her chocolates as omiyage. She returned the favour with these lovely sweets! That can't possibly be an equal exchange! ; o ; I was so surprised and thankful.

I put them in my fridge, but didn't eat them. One of my good friends in my apartment building had to cancel her stay in Japan because of personal problems, so I gave her the cakes instead, thinking she could use a cheering up. (Don't worry, I didn't take credit! I told her they were from my sweet land lady. ^o^) 

If you're in the Nagoya or Sakae area and want to stop by Kuma Cafe, I found their link on the handy dandy Tabelog. (Includes a menu, phone number and map.) It's about a 10 minute walk from either Oosu's Akamon Doori or Sakae station. 

Till next time,

SSG: How to get here.

I've done a few posts for the "Student Survival Guide", like acquiring cellphones, electronic dictionaries and using the trains... but I forgot one of the most important things about being an exchange student, and that's applying to be one!

Please note that I'm just a student myself; I'm not an expert or representative. So I'll be writing from my own experience. 

I am a student from a university in Hawaii, studying at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies. NUFS is an excellent school that really watches out for its students, setting you up with monthly stipends, housing, bank accounts, field trips, etc. The Office of International Exchange will even help you out with work permits, if you'd like to tutor your native language at the NUFS or NUAS Language Lounge.

There are two programs at NUFS- Culture and Language. 

If you want to start or continue studying Japanese, then you enrol in the Language program. You'll have three hours of grammar classes three days a week, plus an Oral class on Mondays, and reading and Kanji on Fridays. 

I am not sure if the same is true for beginner classes, but at an intermediate-advanced level, all of my classes are in Japanese. My text books are also all in Japanese. However the beginner level text books are written with English explanations. 

In addition, Language students can enrol in Culture classes for more credits. These are conducted in English. They have a wide range of interesting topics, which change for Fall or Spring. For example, you can take Japanese Pop Culture, Japanese Food Culture, Tourism Management in Japan, and even Judo! This semester I'm really excited to take "Service Learning Across Cultures", which will allow us to volunteer in local orphanages, teach English and help out with community service. 

The cultural program requires no Japanese classes- so even if you don't speak Japanese and don't want to learn, you can come to NUFS to take classes. However this may set you back in school credits. Not to mention, culture classes only meet once a week in the afternoon- so if you are only in the culture program, you will have a lot of spare time on your hands. 

Nagoya is about six or seven hours south of Tokyo by bus. It's much quieter, and even though it has its Industrial areas, in comparison I find it rural. I like it though. Personally, I think the location forced me to get out and speak Japanese with real people. (Not that I don't like speaking Japanese, I'm just very shy!)

By the end of Fall semester, I could call services on phones, understand keigo and communicate. Then I could go out to visit friends and chat away informally. I was personally very impressed with my progress. 

On the other hand, a friend of mine was studying in Tokyo, and I was surprised to see her Japanese hadn't really progressed. She said she rarely hung out with Japanese students, and couldn't understand natural speech. We were at the same level when we came to Japan. 

I'm not going to lie, it takes motivation, thick skin and hard work to do the language course. Even if you make mistakes talking with people you have to keep at it, that's how you learn. I think of language like a muscle... when you're working out, it hurts when you start right? Because tissues break then build up thicker layers, becoming stronger. Your skills are just like that. Mistakes are embarrassing and they sting, but they make you stronger in whatever you do. 

Hopefully that didn't scare you. And it shouldn't. Journeying out to learn a foreign language is something you should be proud of, and want to work at. At least I think so...

Now that we have some background, let's address a few myths about studying abroad.

"You have to be fluent in Japanese to study in Japan."

Wrong. Though I took four semesters of Japanese at my University, many students came without studying Japanese at all. Is it a good idea to take Japanese before coming? Absolutely. My minimal, scrapped-together Japanese saved my ass when I first came to Japan

But literally, many students came without being able to read furigana, katakana or kanji. When Placement tests began, all they had to do was say they couldn't read Japanese, and they were taken to another classroom where, guess what- they started learning to read Japanese. No matter what level you are, you can come study Japanese in Japan. 

To be comfortable living here, I'd recommend knowing at least beginner's Japanese. But even if you don't, many pick it up the longer they stay here. 

"Studying Abroad will be too expensive."

It depends. For me, Studying in Japan was exactly the same tuition cost as studying at my home university. I just paid my tuition normally, and my university handled the cost with NUFS. It may vary by university.

To help with living expenses. NUFS offers a scholarship to all foreign students. Your rent is automatically subtracted from this each month, so you don't have to worry about paying a landlord or housing office out of pocket. The remainder of the scholarship is yours to make your life in Japan fun and comfortable. 

The text books are dirt cheap, compared to the US. In Hawaii some of my text books were $180+! My Japanese textbooks on the other hand, are as cheap as 1,500-2,500 yen, and I only need two or three each semester. 

The biggest cost may be travel. I was devastated when I started looking for flights to Japan, and thought, I may not be able to come after all. I scrambled and had a huge yard sale before school ended, and got even more depressed when I only made about $60. But I got back on my feet, and took up lifeguarding at the YMCA all summer, working every day and saving everything I could.

Finally, I found STA, a student travel agency that helps find discounted flights and travel deals. My agent helped me find a decently cheap flight to Japan. In the end, I still had to ask my parents for help with the ticket. But when they saw how serious I was about going, and how hard I worked, they agreed to loan me the money. :)

I still rely on my STA agent, who also keeps in touch to make sure everything goes as planned. If something as little as a flight number changes, maybe even four months out from departure, she emails and lets me know. 

Even after my terrible experience with Delta airlines last September, I emailed my agent to tell her. She helped change my schedule so I could fly a different, but just as affordable airline. So I guess my point about travel is, don't get discouraged, where there's a will there's a way... and you'd be surprised at how helpful people can be. 

"Studying Abroad will set you back in credits."

Since I attend school on mostly scholarships, I was worried studying abroad would push back my graduation date and jeopardise my plans. However, after talking with my International Exchange advisor, I found out that wasn't true at all! 

The typical course load at my university is capped at 15 credits a semester. Here at NUFS, if you take all your language courses and two culture courses, you also earn 15 credits per semester. My advisor even helped me find courses that corresponded with requirements for my major. Ask at Academic Advising, if there's an Office of International Exchange at your school. 

"It's hard to sign up; you need to apply like a year in advance!"

Typically, this is accurate. I got extremely lucky with my chance to study in Japan. 

As you all know, last March Japan was struck by Earthquakes and a tsunami. After that, many exchange students, even in Nagoya, were evacuated. Many students who planned to come to Japan changed their minds.

My Japanese teacher knew how badly I wanted to come to Japan, but I could never convince my parents to let me go. One April afternoon, she announced that the Advisor for International Exchange would come in to talk to us about an open spot in Nagoya. She made direct eye contact with me. The advisor told us that if we wanted to apply for the spot, we had to do it the same day, before deadline. When he left, I asked my teacher, "Should I go? Am I good enough?" and she told me I'd be perfect for it.

Instead of going home I went to the office to talk to the Advisor. I brought up all the urban myths I've just covered, all the reasons my parents said it was a bad idea. And as it turned out, all of those fears were false. Studying abroad in Japan was totally possible- and right within my grasp. 

From there it was a whirlwind. I had to complete the paperwork and applications other students had months to work on. I had to apply for my passport, my Student Visa, get (really awful) photos for immigration, and book my flights within a month. But it was totally doable. Compared to the horror stories I'd heard, it was painless. Or maybe I was numb to it because I just wanted to come, haha. 

So a lot of people tell me, "I always wanted to do what you're doing"... and I think, if you want it badly enough, nothing can stop you. 

If you do it last minute like I did, it's a lot of information to swallow at once, and it seems to have a thousand steps before you finally get here. But when you are here, standing at the top of the hill and looking back, you're proud of the climb right? When you were at the foot of the hill, did you think you had it in you to climb that high? 

Till next time,

Things to Come

Hello Darlings!

In February, I returned home to visit my family for Spring break.

Before I left home, I got to celebrate my 21st birthday with my family. My present was to come home and see them. My last night home, we had a spread of all my favourite foods, and my mom let me pick out bouquets of pink, magenta and purple gerber daises. I put them in a vase with a huge purple bow around the neck.

I spent most of Spring break behind the pedal of my sewing machine, and managed to knock out a lot of cosplays!  I'll have to dedicate a future post to solely cosplay, I don't think I can tie it into this entry.

 I returned to Japan last month, and dove into a spiral of Placement Tests, studying... and a whole bunch of adventures!  From the "Bear Cafe"in Sakae, to seeing the land where "Dreams Come True", to seeing one of my favourite J-rock groups.

This is a sampling post! In the next week or two I want to write proper articles, so I can explain these things and maybe you can go and see them yourself! In the meantime, let's see what's in store. 

Upon returning to Japan, I proceeded to eat far too many sweets. My Japanese friend graduated from college, so we had a party at Sweets Paradise in Nagoya.

Not long after, my lolita friend invited me out to twin our AP Honey Picnic sets, and ate lunch at a "Bear Cafe".

Not long after that, rain started falling, cherry blossoms started budding, and it was time for Hanami (flower viewing).

This weekend, we went to Disney Sea, to celebrate my friend's graduation again...

And tonight, I just got back from seeing Alice Nine in Nagoya.

Tomorrow... I think I can actually take a breather!!

Time has been soaring by. Coming back to Japan for a second semester has been the best decision... I'm more comfortable with the language, I know what to expect from my courses and teachers, and the best part is, I came back to a bunch of friends waiting to see me. That makes all the difference. 

Without my friends, I'd be nothing! Not just the fellow riyuugakusei who speak English; but the Japanese ones who live here too. I am so grateful and lucky that they'd invite me into their busy lives, to invite me to things like going to Disney Sea. 

Not to mention we speak only Japanese while we're out, which is amazing practice! You learn expressions and develop a natural style, which I may argue, is impossible to master in a classroom alone. 

Thank you for sticking with Darkly Darling, even with stretches of inactivity. I really hope you continue to follow me on my adventures, and it inspires you to set out on an adventure of your own.

Till next time!