Thursday, September 29, 2011

Neighborhood Nagao

 My neighborhood for the next year in Japan is in Nagao, a part of Hirakata City.  My first impressions of Japan were of the conveniences of its railways and buses, and as luck would have it I am located not even a five minutes' walk from Nagao Station.  Unlike the Hirakata City Station or the Kuzuha Station, which I have visited often in the past few weeks, Nagao Station is much smaller and does not have nearly as many shopping centers that the larger stations have.  Even still, having a train station so close by makes any traveling I do outside of Hirakata very convenient!

Nagao Station (seen from my host family's 10th floor apartment)
However, my neighborhood is not just the train station.  I live in an apartment building, which in contrast to living in a house gives me a greater chance of speaking with my neighbors, since I share elevator rides with them daily.  My host brother's friends also sometimes drop by our apartment to play, which has also given me a fun chance to interact with my neighbors.

One thing that has been a huge help in getting to know the area is the fact that my host mother was raised here and knows much more about the area than I could ever learn a guidebook (although I doubt there is any mention of Nagao in any Japan guidebook…).  For example, last week my host mother and I went to a small, tanuki-themed restaurant located on a street off of the main road leading to the train station, a place I don't think I would have gone to had I been exploring the area myself.  In fact, my host mother said that she has been coming to this restaurant since she was a little girl, which adds so much more meaning to visiting the restaurant besides its incredibly delicious chahan!

In contrast to the large, modern apartment I live in are the numerous temples and shrines in the area.  Right next door to the apartment building is a small temple, and a bit further down the street is a larger, more secluded temple filled with statues, from actual Buddhist-related statues you would expect to see at a temple to statues of Astro Boy and Pikachu.  One thing that I loved about this temple is that despite the fact that it is right next to the station, it is still isolated from the city.  In fact, although I passed many people on the street before entering the temple, I did not encounter a single other person in the temple, something I didn't expect in my busy corner of Nagao.

I still have more exploring to do around Nagao, since I have been spending quite a lot of time at the other stations around Kansai Gaidai, but hopefully with the help of my host family I'll be able to learn more about my neighborhood, my home for the next year.


Friday, September 16, 2011

impressions of japan

This is actually my second time in Japan; my first time was last year, when I studied at a language school in Aichi prefecture for a month in the summer. However, this is the first time I've been in the Kansai area (or even a more urbanized area) for more than a day trip, and while many things are the same as they were where I was last time, enough things are different that I'm still being surprised by some parts of everyday life in Japan.

Since this isn't my first time in Japan, I can't quite say what made the very first impression on me here since I probably take it for granted now, but, in any case, there have been some things that have been different since my last visit that have certainly made this year much more different than the last. Last year I lived close enough to my school's campus that I walked to class every day. I only rode the train a few times to go to Nagoya, and I never really had to deal with public transportation besides that.  However, this year, since I'm doing a homestay in an area that's a bit too far away from campus to walk or bike, I've been taking the bus to school everyday.

I'm from rural Pennsylvania, so public transportation is pretty much nonexistent where I live, and riding the bus at all is an experience in it of itself. I did notice how every bus is on time, give or take a minute or so in some cases, although I'm still not fully used to how exactly the schedule works yet. I've never had to deal with buses before, so it's a relief to know that I won't be late to class just because a bus arrived late. I also live on campus at my school in the United States, so it's also strange that I have to travel at all just to go to classes.  At the same time, it's been a great opportunity to see a little bit more of Japan outside of our secluded campus, even if it is just speeding through the area to get where I need to go.

Besides going to school, since I have a bus pass, I've been taking advantage of it to go to Hirakata Station whenever I can. Again, since I'm from a small town in Pennsylvania that doesn't even have a mall for miles, to me it's really neat to see how progressively urban Hirakata becomes as you go from Kansai Gaidai's campus to the station. Having malls, karaoke, and a ton of restaurants accessible all from the station area (and not even in as large an area as Namba or Shibuya) is just a convenience that probably didn't even catch the attention of the exchange students who are from larger cities, but to me it left an impression.

Maybe this isn't an experience completely limited to Japan, but I certainly think a life that revolves around train stations and public transportation is something quite relevant to living in Japan and is something that is going to help shape my way of living here.