Rendezvous Week – Old Friends in New Places

I have enjoyed the bulk of my time liven gin Japan and Asia since I arrived in Kobe this August. I’ve made some new friends, experienced some great things, and gone to tons of new places. Most of this journey has been fun, but this week has been the most enjoyable week yet.  This week has been “rendezvous week” for me, as I have met two friends from Philadelphia in Kobe throughout the course of the week. 

The three of us have had delicious meals sampled amazing Japanese food, and enjoyed our fair share of conversations and hot sake. I am very glad we were able to rekindle our friendship a half a world away from where it started. 

Today marked another kind of rendezvous which I enjoyed very much. Two summers ago, I attended a language school in Calfironia which was one of the most demanding and rewarding experiences of my educational life. For eight weeks, I used zero English. Throughout those trials and tribulations, amazing, new, friendships were made as we all struggled to make it through the grueling coursework and language study. Ever since that school and my study abroad experience in 2011, I have been amazed by how “small” the Japanese-speaking foreigner community is in terms of running into each other all around the country and the world. It seems like I always have a friend from language school either visiting Japan or coming here to study abroad. 

Today, I met up with one of my best friends from language school in Osaka. He is in Japan for the week visiting some friends and doing sightseeing and we were fortunate to have free time to meet in Osaka this afternoon. It was so great to see him and speak about where our lives are going, rekindle lost memories from language school and chat about the past. As I said, “it was a long way from Lancaster,” the place where we last met while he was still in school. 

We enjoyed some delicious ramen in the heart of Osaka and also had a photograph taken in front of the famous Glico advertisement in one of the busiest parts of the city. It was great to explore the city I know rather well with an old friend from so far away. 

I’ve said it a million times, but I will say it once again: going to language school was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done on so many levels. I am sure we will meet in Japan again this summer when he returns. There is nothing like having old memories come to life when you speak about such formative and transformative experiences like language school. 

The lesson of the story here is that you never know when you will run into people whom you’ve met over the years and your certainly don’t know when you will rekindle old friendships and relationships. Always keep an open schedule and be flexible. These moments are often fleeting, but I am enjoying this week. 

 

Off to Southeast Asia on Saturday, but I have one more rendezvous in store tomorrow!

More posts to come as time allows!

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The Kobe Luminarie – A Pearl of Western Japan

Certain places are always at the top of the list when it comes to travel and visiting Japan. Kyoto, Tokyo, Hokkaido, Okinawa, Osaka, and a few others are always mentioned as unique places to go or places to go during different times of the year to take in festivals or local cuisine. One town, Kobe, must be on you “to visit” list if you come to Japan in the winter. It is a beautiful place with such a unique history of interactions with the West, different architecture, and some historical gems, but one thing sets it apart from the rest of Kansai: the Kobe Luminarie. 

Last evening, I joined two old friends from Philadelphia and headed down to see the Kobe Luminarie, located in the central district of the port city. From the beginning, it was evident that the event would be a sight to behold for all. This was my first time to the Luminarie. It was even the first time for my friend that lived in Kobe several years ago. We were so excited for the event and the brisk cold could not dampen our expectations. Traffic was stopped in many different places in the city to make way for pedestrians heading waiting to see the Luminarie. Even the path heading to the Luminarie itself was lit with grandeur. I was a little homesick at this point, as the main street in my hometown lights its trees in a similar fashion. 

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After a few more minutes of walking, we turned a corner, and off in the distance we could see the front gate to the Luminarie. It was truly remarkable! The twinkling lights, the bright colors, and the gasps and gawking of other visitors was very memorable. I stopped to take a few photos, as well. Here’s the first glimpse of the gate. 

After a few more minutes of walking, we turned a corner, and off in the distance we could see the front gate to the Luminarie. It was truly remarkable! The twinkling lights, the bright colors, and the gasps and gawking of other visitors was very memorable. I stopped to take a few photos, as well. Here’s the first glimpse of the gate. 

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As we neared the street shrouded in lights, even more interesting things came to light. Western-inspired Latin music plated through speakers, helping lead the tour of the Luminarie. The meaning and importance of both the Luminarie and music goes much deeper than the casual observer would know. Following the Kobe Earthquake of 1995, the Luminarie was established as a memorial of those that lost their lives in the devastating earthquake. The musical scores all centered around the theme of “light” and “continuation” towards a better and brighter future. The luminarie and music had quite the harmonious relationship as you approached the first segment of the Luminarie. 

After taking a few more photos, we entered the first segment of the Italian-built Luminarie. The lights lined the street for several hundred yards and helped create a unique scene in an urban center like Kobe. I certainly did not feel like I was in Japan during this whole adventure. All the while, one of the friend with me on this adventure told me that one of his family members was singing in the musical group which sang the official songs for the event!Image

After traversing the twinkling walkway, we made our way to what can only be described as a beautiful cathedral of light and sound. The next structure in the Luminarie appeared, to me, as a church-like memorial and work of art. European-inspired classical Latin music played in the vicinity and I felt like I was back in the streets of Montreal or Quebec City. Many fellow visitors had a similar sense of admiration when we approached the second component of the Luminarie structure. I have included a few photos of my favorite part of the Luminarie.

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As more elegant music played and the smells of fresh yakitori filled the air, we passed by the final exhibition in the Kobe Luminarie, a much more colorful and modern-looking work of art. 

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Other places in Kansai have Luminaries and light shows, but none can compare to the display in Kobe. The meaning and importance of the Luminarie coupled with its meticulous setup and musical integration make it an absolute must-see for those of you who may be in Japan next winter, before Christmas. Sharing this moment with two of my friends also helps make it memorable for me. 

The Kobe Luminarie is truly a pearl on the necklace of Western Japan. 

All images (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

A Little Bit of Indian

From the day I first set foot in Kobe, I have heard, relentlessly, that Kobe is an “international city,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Sure, there are many more foreigners here than most other places in Japan. Many of them are not tourists, either. There is a large international business community and there are many English teachers in addition to  other professions. I went down to Harborland with a few friends yesterday to take in the Indian cultural festival and I must say it was very cool.

As soon as we got near Merikan park, the smell of Indian food and the faint sound of traditional Indian music was evident. I knew it would be quite an interesting afternoon with some of my newest friends.

I sampled some great Indian food (but not curry) and also had a great day in the perfect weather that appears to be buttressing the end of a long and hot summer here in Kansai. We partook in Indian beer, naan, some spicy chicken, and a few other delicacies while traversing the several aisles of food tents and trinket shops. Here are some of the better photos from the afternoon.

Before today, I did not like Indian food in the slightest. That being said, several kinds of spicy chicken have started to grow on me. Maybe I will give some of their curry a second shot here in a few weeks. There are plenty of Indian restaurants very near where live.

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Another Adventure on the Horizon

For those of you who have never met me, I have always been fascinated with adventure, travel, and finding out new things about new places and the new people I meet throughout the journey called live. This interest started as my family and I embarked on many summer road trips and vacations when I was a child. This weekend, a new chapter will unfold in the adventure I call my life.  

On Saturday, I am headed to Busan, South Korea, for my first trip in Asia outside of Japan. I cannot be more excited as I anticipate what should be an adventurous three day weekend as I traverse South Korea. 

When I returned to Temple University following the March 11, 2011, earthquake in Japan, I quickly became involved in Asian student associations and the international student clubs at school to try and help foreign students in the way they helped me when I was studying abroad in Japan. Throughout the next two years, I made many new friendships with foreign students; most of them residing in either Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. This weekend, I will be meeting up with my Korean friends in Busan and Seoul to get a non-tourist perspective of the two biggest cities in South Korea. 

Following the first day in Busan, I will take the Korean high speed rail train to Seoul on Sunday for a day trip to rendezvous with some of my friends that I have not seen for several years. Then it will be back to Busan on Sunday evening followed to a return to Osaka on Monday afternoon. When I first started listening to Korean pop music, I was enamored by how glamorous Seoul looked, mainly because the scenes I saw reminded me so much of my third home, Tokyo. I cannot wait to see Seoul with my own two eyes!

Each day I am in Japan it truly amazes me how I am able to communicate with the Japanese and my friends in another language. I will never forget the first time I went to Japan, not knowing Japanese. It transformed me forever and spurred what is a strong and unwavering interest in the Japanese language. I am hoping my first trip to South Korea has a similar affect on me, albeit the situation will be very different than my first trip to Japan. I am blessed and very fortunate to have friends willing to show me their country, even if for a day or weekend, and look forward to learning as much as I can. Of course, many photos will be taken. 

If you are a university student in the United States or interested in foreign language or travel, I highly recommend you join your university’s international student organizations, etc. You will have a priceless opportunity for meeting new friends, networking, and learning about yourself. Having a travel partner isn’t a bad bonus, either. 

The Glory of Kansaiben (関西弁)

Hello, everyone! I hope all is well with you, wherever you are and wherever you may be reading this! So far, my life in Japan has been marvelous in Kobe, even though it has had its ups and downs during my first five weeks abroad.

This weekend is NFL kickoff weekend, so I know I will be starving for some football action that will almost certainly not be on television in Japan. My favorite time of year in the United States is October; when the leaves begin to change colors and fall, when the nights are cool and crisp, and when the aroma of the fall season comes to you with every passing second. I love autumn. Unfortunately, it is still around 85 degrees on almost a daily basis in Kansai.

Today, I want to talk about something that has captivated me: Kansaiben, or 関西弁, in Japanese. For those of you who have never been to Japan or those of you who have never studied the Japanese language, Japanese has many different dialects and regional variations in the language, its structure, and some vocabulary. In Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto area), some people use the Kansai dialect, which has some very fun components when comparing it to Tokyo Japanese (which is what I studied in school, bot in Tokyo and Philadelphia).

Kansai people are much more direct and often louder than those people I met in Tokyo, and their dialect certainly represents that. Different phrases for “how are you,” different ways of conjugating some verbs, and different inflection and volume levels in every day conversation and in my office really make learning this dialect so interesting. As a foreigner, it has many, many benefits.

Last week, one of my coworkers gave me a book (in Japanese) with useful Kansai dialect phrases and sayings, and my boss has started to teach me a phrase or two each day before I head home for the evening. Subsequently, I use Kansaiben as much as possible when I interact with Japanese anywhere in Kobe. From the bar to the market, to the coffee-shop and the street corner, these conversations have been priceless for me.

Japanese people who would not reguarly speak with me for a litany of reasons are more than surprised when I respond to their inquiry about whether I can speak Japanese in their dialect. I have made many new friends and contacts by taking some extra time to study the Kansai dialect.

If anyone is living in Kansai or going to visit, I recommend you take a few hours and learn some of the commonly used Kansai phrases and words. It will pay dividends!

The Kansai dialect is just another interesting component of Japanese language study that I never would have though I could have done just two years ago when I virtually knew no Japanese.

The concept of dialects is so foreign to me as an English speaker in the United States, so I have taken great joy in the Kansai Japanese dialect.

Until next time!

A Night in Osaka

Last night a group of us from Kobe went to Osaka to do some shopping and eat some dinner. While we all assumed this evening would be inconspicuous and average, it turned into something much more meaningful for me by the end of the night.

Following a short ride on the JR Rapid Express train from Kobe to Osaka, we exited the station and headed into Osaka to take in some sights and sounds and after a while we found ourselves at a dining establishment near the train station. We were the only foreigners there in a sea of Japanese and others who were interested in speaking with us even though none of them could speak English very well.

Usually I am very shy or reserved when it comes to speaking Japanese-only with Japanese whom I do not know, but things were different last evening in Osaka. From the beginning of the night, I made a concerted effort to speak only in Japanese with the Japanese in an effort to both enhance my language ability and get to know some potential new friends. Following several interesting conversations and several hours, I had made new friends and walked out of the restaurant with a new sense of security and pride in my efforts to learn Japanese.

On the walk back to the station, I thought about how I had been to Osaka two years ago with a school trip but could not speak any Japanese at that time. While I had fun with my school friends on that trip, I realized that I had missed out on so many opportunities and friendships in Japan because I could not speak Japanese. That walk back to the station really made me know that the language study was worth it over the last two (really one and a half years).

Japan is such a different and interesting place now that I can speak the language and interact with the Japanese in their native tongue. The different sense of respect and understanding between myself and the Japanese is evident from the beginning when we speak Japanese.

I hope for many more of these types of conversations during this current stay in Japan.

Until next time!

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The Amazing Yodogawa Fireworks Festival in Osaka

I have seen a lot of fireworks in my life, but these fireworks in Osaka were some of the best. I sat near the banks of the Yodogawa River in Osaka with some of my coworkers to take in this amazing festival and all it has to offer. Please enjoy the fireworks. I took this video in full HD for your viewing pleasure.