Friday, December 29, 2006

Rice Cooker

It's hard enough to try to cook when you're not a very good cook to begin with, but lucky me, I also have the liberty of trying to use appliances that aren't labelled in English. I had my roommate show me how to use the gas stove... which is easy actually and you don't even need the labels but I have burners at home and never used a gas stove before. That was a small hurdle.

Next was the microwave. My roommate had showed me, maybe on the first or second day that I was here how to use it, but a few days later, when I actualy did need to use it, it took me another few days to figure it out. You're probably wondering how I managed to heat my food without knowing how to use the microwave? Let's just say, I might have been defrosting my food rather than heating it....actually, I have no idea. That was a bigger hurdle.

The biggest hurdle so far is the rice cooker. At home, my mom always made the rice. I have an idea of how to use a rice cooker but when I pulled out the one in the apartment I got a little perplexed. There were a few extra bottons labelled in Japanese and a little display screen. After randomly hitting the buttons, I found that maybe you can set your own timer or something. Maybe this rice cooker has multiple uses. All I wanted to do was make some rice so after hitting some more random buttons (I know which one is the cancell/stop button, it's the same as the microwave) and leaving it I just hoped that something good will come out of it.

After seeing some steam and having the smell of rice come out of the device, I got hopeful. Then when it beeped I was happy to see cooked rice. I do have to admit, it is a little bit soggy but I know how to fix that, you just leave it warming in the rice cooker for a long time. I thought ahead and intended to make the rice for dinner instead of for lunch. Tonight though, I'm going to attempt to make gratin in the toaster oven. I thought all it did was toast but clearly in English it actually says, "Toast 2-3 minutes, Cookies 2.5-3.5 minutes and Gratin 13-15 minutes". It's also got an English phrase with really bad sentence structure but I'm going to ignore that.

Yes, I'm going to make a good little housewife outta myself. :)

End of Year Party

Last night AIESEC held a party to celebrate the end of the year. We started off by meeting at the Nagoya station and then all walking to a restaurant (there were at least 40 of us) where we had a lot of appetizers and unlimited drinks and of course socializing. After that, some people went home and the rest of us walked to another restaurant for more food and drinks. I decided to call it quits after this second party so that I could catch the last subway home but whoever was left I believe went to karaoke. It was a fun night and I had been itching to socialize since the beginning of the holidays.


On the subway on my way home though, I met a guy who actually had lived in Calgary before. I was reading "The Historian" and he asked if I was reading an English book and then we got onto talking. I told him I was from Canada and from Calgary and he said that he lived there for a while. He mentioned living in Rundle and Marlborough so that's a really weird coincidence. It was very exciting to meet another foreigner, especially one who had lived in my home town. He's been here for 5 years though so I think Calgary would be very different for him now. We swapped emails so maybe I'll get to make another network of friends. I don't usually talk to strangers but I think living in a foreign country calls for it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Finally, a home cooked meal!

Last night, I had the best meal since being in Japan. I was invited by an AIESECer, Miki, to stay with her for a night and her mom and grandma cooked a really tasty meal. Nothing beats a home cooked meal! We had pumpkin and sausage baked in gratin sauce, salad with bacon and eggs, pan fried salmon, rice, tofu, octopus and cucumber in vinegar sauce, chicken in teriyaki sauce (I think)... there was so much food, I think I might have forgotten to mention some! I also had endless cups of green tea, which actually was probably the thing that kept me up for most of the night.

Miki's mom took us to buy some accessories for snowboarding. That was fun, and a little tiring since there was so much stuff to choose from but at least we are now ready!

I'd like to say thank you to Miki and her family for having me be their guest. Everyone did their best to speak to me, even the grandma who didn't speak a work of English but despite that, I understood her quite well. Also, she is such a lively and healthy looking grandma! I hope I have just as much energy when I get to her age. Actually, Miki's whole family look really young, very good gene pool indeed.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas for Couples, New Years for Family

In an effort to not be alone on New Years Eve, I've been searching for someone to hang out with. But, either people are working or they have family to be with. I did learn something though. In Japan, Christmas is considered to be more for couples to celebrate together whereas for New Years, it's time for families to be together. The New Years celebrationg lasts a lot longer than back in Canada so even though a lot of people who I know are working on the big day, they are mostly with family the rest of the time... I think.

In Canada, Christmas is mostly for families to be together and since my family doesn't really celebrate Christmas, I think I'll be able to get along fine being on my own during that time. But for New Years, I look forward to being in the company of friends so I am going to really miss that when the time comes. Especially since I'll be missing out on the National Conference in Edmonton this year. Girls and boys, I will be thinking of you!!!! And another yearly ritual that I will miss out on, a cabin trip with my girlfriends!

But hey, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" in Japan I will spend New Years with the family I have! I have also been invited to some AIESEC members' houses before and after New Years day so I am very excited about that.

Also, thank you AIESEC members for always thinking of me. Today, I went shopping, ate lunch and saw Casino Royale with a few AIESECers. Most of them have never seen a James Bond movie before, nor do they see movies often at all. It was fun but I can kind of see why it may not be a popular thing to do. It's about $18 for an adult ticket, $15 for a student. I'm still curious about how people spend their free time a few more months to figure that one out!

Friday, December 22, 2006

My workplace

..........My boss's desk

My desk....we share the same office.... Japanese keyboard, I actually got used to the keys on this thing and I can still use my own laptop without trouble. This is quite a bit different than the keyboards back at home, for example, you've got to use your left thumb for the space bar instead of the right. A lot of the symbols are in different place too, and you can type in Japanese....but I'm not that good yet!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

AIESEC Alumni Party

Last night I went to the AIESEC Alumni Event that was held in collaboration between the 3 AIESEC locals here. There was a presentation given by an alumni who talked about interns that had come to Nagoya when he was in AIESEC more than 26 years ago. He also talked about his own internship in Turkey and other places he had gone, like the United States and Singapore. I didn't understand his presentation since it was given in Japanese, but I did get the chance to talk to him during the networking section of the night.

Since the internet was not in use back then, this alumni actually had his internship cancelled but didn't find out until he had landed in Turkey. So he had no airport reception and he almost didn't have a job. Although the firm that he was supposed to work for had shut down some of its operations due to the oil crisis, he was lucky and the company let him work for a month. At, least, that's how I understand it.

The best part of the presentation I think was a video he had of an intern who went to Nagoya 27 years ago. He got into contact with this person who was from the United States and asked him to do a video for this presentation. It makes me think of how deep AIESEC roots are. Things go way back and I'm excited to be a part of it and to think how it will be in the future, 26 years from now. I could even be making a video for future AIESEC babies!

At the end of the event, I was asked to introduce myself to the whole group and I was surprised that the alumni were asking me questions in really good English. I guess to do business internationally, it is important to know English. I was happy that I got to go to this event, it was definately a good experience. I also learned that the new President of the International Energy Association will be an AIESEC alumni of Japan!

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I miss my car, I do. So convenient, especially for shopping and bringing home bags of new clothes or groceries. Now I ride a shopping bicycle. Also quite convenient and much cheaper but there's no protection from the weather, I can't take home bags of new stuff (maybe that's a good thing), the brakes squeak and the bell doesn't work when it rains. It sure does beat waiting for a bus though (I'm impatient when it comes to that) and I get my excercise! It takes 30 minutes to ride to work, and about 15 minutes to get home from work. Nagoya is a very hilly area but I am getting better at climbing hills and going longer distances. Maybe I will start riding my mountain bike more when I get back to Calgary. But my dear Civic, you are my number 1!

Japanese Food - Okonamiyaki and Takoyaki

Japanese meals are always very ornamental and neatly prepared with the freshest ingredients. My first introduction though, will be something that I haven't tried eating before... okonamiyaki - which is kind of like a Japanese Pancake type deal and you get to make it yourself at the restaurant that I went to, and takoyaki - deep fried octopus balls.I'm not sure what is in the mix, but I see squid and an egg.
Here, we have the mixture from the bowl on the left and on the right, we have noodle with vegetables, egg and pork.

I find there are always things that accompany the main course. Here, we have miso soup, rice with raw fish on top and a cabbage salad.

I love dessert, here we have green tea ice cream (better than in Calgary), red beans and some whipped cream.

When talking to people, they always tell me that takoyaki is similar to okonamiyaki but I don't really know what they mean. Maybe something got lost in translation. Takoyaki is balls of octopus deep fried in a thin batter and then covered with thinly sliced dried onion. I burnt my tongue eating this so I didn't really enjoy it, plus it was really squishy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Japanese Culture Lesson 2 - What Year is it???

I noticed this right away but didn't question it until a few days ago. Instead of putting 06 for the year, people have been putting 18 for the year and the reason is, it's the 18th year of reign for the current emperor, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito. If you want to see a picture of the Emperor, go to Wikipedia: People sometimes still use 2006 for the year, but if you're in Japan and someone writes down a different year, don't question them, they're most likely right.

Also, I didn't realize that there was an emperor in Japan. I knew they existed before, but the thought never occured to me that there would be one in power today. Plus, according to Wikipedia, he's the only reigning emperor in the world. Ignorance is not always a bad thing, I'm learning so many interesting things which is very stimilating for my curiosity! If I had known all this, I wouldn't have an embarassing story to tell...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Japanese Culture Lesson 1 - The QR code

Before I start, I'd like to say that I saw people planting flowers in the planters at the train station and I thought to myself...but what about winter? It's getting chilly and rainy, but I guess it doesn't get really cold for awhile.

I discovered something really cool the other day and thought I'd share. In Japan, they have this coding system which is similar to the barcode but has much more coding capabilities... try several hundred time more information. It's called the QR coding system and you can find more information at this site: . The cool thing about this is that people can scan this code into their phones and get information through the internet on their phones. For example, my friend and I scanned in the code from a McDonald's cheeseburger wrapper and we got the nutritional value of it! And I see this code everywhere, on advertisements on the subway, on flyers, on my McDonald's food... Only problem, my phone doesn't have a camera nor can I go on the internet. I must be the only person here. :( But the information ends up being in Japanese anyways so it's not like I could do much with it yet.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

December 6-8 - Yokohama and Tokyo

I know, three weeks in Japan and I've already been to 5 cities outside of Nagoya. And it doesn't stop, I think more trips are being planned as I write this. But here's the story to my visit to Japan's two biggest cities...

December 6 - Yokohama and Tokyo
On the Shinkensen (bullet train) ride from Nagoya to Yokohama, we saw Mount Fuji. My boss told me that you can only see Mt. Fuji 20% of the time because it is usually covered by clouds. He said I was very lucky that I was able to see it.

I was in Yokohama to accompany my boss on a photonics exhibition. There were some really neat things being displayed. I didn't recognise what the smaller components were, a lot of lights and laser type devices. But then there were the vitual reality stuff that was really cool. I saw a cartoon in 3D but that gave me a headache that lingered for the rest of the day. I wish there were more English or that I could miraculously understand Japanese, I would have liked to learn more about what I was seeing.

After the exhibition, we walked around the bay area where the Clock Ferris Wheel and Landmark Tower are. We also saw the Nippon Maru Sailing Ship which was developed for the marines but was used in World War II as a transport ship. It's a really beautiful ship that has found home in Yokohama for people to visit.

We went to Tokyo in the evening and visited the Asakusa Temple. I got my fortune there and it turned out to be the best fortune that you can get. That made my day and I'm dieing to tell my mom. Basically, it says it's a good time for travel, a sick person will be healed, marriage and moving will be good and all that good stuff. Along the road to the temple, there were yet again street vendors and we got to try out some Japanese treats. I had some sweet Sake and it was so yummy. It was warm and tasted a lot better than the strong sake you get at resaurants.

Then I checked into the youth hostel nearby and I started my solo journey in Tokyo.

Pictures of Yokohama:
Pictures of Asakusa in Tokyo:

December 7 - Tokyo
Akihabara is famous in Tokyo as the "Electric Town" and it was close to where I was staying so I decided to start my journey there. There were many electronic stores and a lot of duty free shops. Also, in a few shops, I found a lot of salespeople who spoke English and Chinese so I guess this is the place for foreign tourists to go!

Next, I headed over to Ikebukuro because my guidebook said that there was an HMV store there. I bought 3 cds and then found out that Tokyo has a few other HMV stores and that my stop in Ikebukuro wasn't even necessary. Oh well, at least I can say that I've been there.

I decided to go to Shinjuku next since there was still daylight and I was warned that this area is known for its red light district. I stayed till it got a bit dark but never found the red light district. Maybe that is a good thing but I was kind of curious at the same time. I did see the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, really tall building!

Harajuku was my next stop and it ended up being my favorite part of the trip. I walked down a street that had all the designer shops and well... I can't afford designer anything so I only walked down the street and took pictures of the shops. Then I found the street where the bold fashion of Harajuku were and that's were my interest was sparked. I didn't see many people dressed in funky fashions but I think those people mostly come out on the week-ends. I did see a few punky people and even saw a tourist stop a couple of them to take pictures. Anyways, the things being sold here were much more unique than the Louis Vitton purses that everyone in the streets already had. Also, the prices were more reasonable too! I only ended up buying a pair of shoes for less than $20 and they're so comfortable!

I heard Shibuya was also a great place for shopping so I quickly made a stop there before calling it a night. I didn't find it as interesting as Harajuku but there were definatly a lot more people! I came out of the metro station onto this giant intersection and when the pedestrian light turns green, the intersection just gets filled with people. It was a pretty cool sight to see. Not only that but Shinjuku and Shibuya have these really tall skyscrapers and there are so many of them! Looking up, it felt like I was falling downwards.

I must add that the Tokyo transit system is kind of complicated. There are actually two types of subways and then there is the JR line that runs within the city. I got a day pass for the two subways only and thank goodness because I was switching between the two systems like crazy and would have had my pockets emptied without it. I should have gotten the pass to include the JR line too, travelling would have been much more convenient but I didn't know where to buy this pass. I survived though and am quite proud of my logisitical skills!

Pictures of the day:

December 8 - Tokyo
So my last day in Tokyo. I decided to buy my overnight ticket first and lucky for me, some officer at the bus station offered to help me buy the ticket from the machine that was only in Japanese and even show me where I had to board my bus.

Then it was off to the Imperial Palace Garden. I would have loved to see the Palace itself but it is only open to public twice a year. On the Emperor's birthday and the 2nd day of New Years. I saw the Tokyo Tower and decided to walk to it. It was a good idea because I walked by all the government buildings and I saw important people getting into black, expensive, chauffeured cars and there were guards at the entrance of every building. Something I've never seen before except in movies.

Tokyo Tower wasn't a big wow for me. It was more like, that's it? I think the business buildings were more impressive and taller so I was expecting more. On my way to Tokyo Tower I saw a set of stairs that reminded me of Hong Kong. I've never been to Hong Kong but I've seen lots of movies. I decided to climb those stairs and I ended up at a really nice shrine. It's interesting how there are all these shrines everywhere. I guess back at home, there are lots of churches and places of worships too, but I never notice them.

After Tokyo Tower, I went to Roppongi Hills. It turns out to be a really posh area. Really nice, and I definately didn't fit in with my backpack and runners. I took some nice pictures, then went to Ginza since I had lots of time to kill. Again, there were lots of expensive shops and cafes and I was getting tired of walking around so I decided to go back to Tokyo Train station to wait for my bus.

What really annoyed me was that there were no seats at the station, nor at the underground mall. I ended up walking for 2 hours looking for a place to rest and my legs were all wobbly. Another annoyance that I found while in Tokyo is the lack of garbage cans. I ended up walking around with garbage in my hands for long periods of time. At the same time, there is no litter anywhere. I don't understand how it all works!

The overnight bus was not comfy but it was cheap. Like $50. I actually ended up falling off my seat when the bus driver braked really hard. I guess I should have been using my seatbelt instead of lying down!

Overall, great trip and I can't wait to go back. I have an idea of what I want to do next time!

Pictures of the day:

Monday, December 04, 2006

AIESEC in Nagoya City University LCP Election

I had the honour of attending the LCP election for my host AIESEC local and it was definately a different process than how we do it back at home. For one, it's a full 2 days (I was only there for 3 hours on the last day) and I'm talking over 12 hours a day. It's really intensive and they really take things seriously here.For one thing, members are not allowed to miss more than 2 general assemblies or else they are "fired". For this election to be valid, at least 2/3 of the members of the local have to be present throughout the whole process or else voting cannot take place. At this election, I counted 39 members, 3 candidates, 2 moderators, and me, the spectator that didn't understand all the japanese being spoken. Yes, it was all in Japanese and no I did not fall asleep.

There were some things that were like back at home. Speeches and Q and A. But on top of that, there were sessions that focuses on the candidates personalities, their manifestos (which were 60 pages long!), etc. and then seperate Q and A for those. Another thing is, each candidate has to have someone who recommends them for the position and these recommendors have to give a presentation as well. Just imagine being grilled by questions on who you are as a person and your vision for the local for 24 hours. I have to give these guys a lot of credit for going through with this, and also the local for showing so much dedication to the organization. By the time I showed up, I can tell that these people went through a lot.
And then came voting and the announcement of who won the election. Yes, they do this at the end of day 2. During the count, the room was unbearably quiet and you can tell everyone was so nervous. And instead of dumping a water on the winner of the election, this is what happened. When the winner is announced, everyone pushes over the tables, the guys run up onto the stage and tosses the winner. Poor Yusaku, they accidently dropped him but he was okay. Then, they toss the other candidates as a show of respect. The candidates still have to give speeches after and by this time, everyone was crying and were very emotional.
Kudos to AIESEC in Nagoya City University for selecting a new President and CONGRATULATIONS Yusaku on your success!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

December 2 - Asuke in Toyota City

My roommate had a day off today so I went with her and her older sister’s family to Asuke which is in Toyota City. It was about an hours drive away and it’s in the mountains kind of. Compared to the Rocky Mountains, the mountains here so far seem like big hills but maybe that’s just my opinion.

Again, when we got to our destination, we had to walk through an area that sold treats and souvenirs. I haven’t actually stopped to try out the treats yet but I’m really tempted to. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opportunities in the future though.

The scenery in this place was amazing. Oh Amber, you’d love it here! Living in Calgary, you kind of miss autumn. The trees don’t stay red for very long and before you know it, you’ve practically gone from summer to winter. Anyways, there was a little village that we went to that kind of reminds me of Heritage Park back at home except with a Japanese Heritage and a much smaller scale. I immediately thought of Liz since Heritage Park is her favorite place in Calgary. Here there were people weaving fabric, welding knives, making paper, making umbrellas out of paper, etc. in their normal settings except with lots of tourists milling about. It was a lot of fun.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the monkey! There was a man and a monkey performing. Basically, the man would sing and the monkey would act out whatever the man was singing about. Then the monkey did some tricks that involved jumping through hoops. I took some videos but don’t know how to put them on here so you’ll just have to come see for yourself!! It might seem like cruelty to animals but I’ve always wanted to see something like this since I saw a lot of it in the olden age Chinese movies growing up. It’s kind of cultural right?


November 30 - Osaka and Kyoto

Today I had my first glimpse of Osaka and Kyoto. Mr. Maeda and I went to a Fuel Cell Exhibition in Osaka but we also got the opportunity to see a very popular street called Dotonbori beforehand. It’s a very lively street with lots of people. There are restaurants and Pachinko (more on this later) and just lots of lights and advertisements. The streets feeding off this one has some shops I think. We didn’t stay long since we had to get to the exhibition.

Again, everything at the exhibition was in Japanese, however, for the seminar, they had translation devices. I only got to use mine for 5 minutes since we only got to catch the tail end of it.

After that, we went to Kyoto to see the Kiyomizu Temple. To get there we had to walk up a hill but along the way there are lots of shops and restaurants selling a variety of treats and souvenirs. The temple itself was pretty interesting but I found it was more like a tourist trap. There were signs to urge people to vote for the temple to become one of the Seven Wonders of the World and there were lots of booths selling charms and trinkets. You can also buy fortunes and there were lots of shrines were you could throw in a coin and ask for a blessing. I am familiar with some of the rituals and charms since I grew up watching Chinese television and have become slightly superstitious but being at this temple, I didn’t buy into most of what was going on. Still, I was happy to have a chance to see this temple, especially in the autumn when all the leaves were red and the view was fantastic.

I don’t know if it was because there was the lighting of the temple at night or if it’s just a popular place but there were a lot of people at the temple. Mr. Maeda and I left to have dinner but we went back again to see it at night. The temple only has night viewings two times a year and it’s really pretty when it’s lit up. A little bit spooky too but you’ll see in the pictures. Also, you can pay to actually go into some buildings. We went into one and we basically walked around in the dark until we got to a stone sculpture and then we were out again. I’m guessing there is something special about the stone because people touched it and said a prayer when they walked by. We also paid to see a special garden, however the tour guide spoke in Japanese and I completely missed out on the whole story around it. I was actually too tired to fully enjoy the experience. The sleeping on the floor deal is catching up to me. I need to find a new mattress!