by Michele Druga, firstname.lastname@example.org
Well Tiger Nation, it appears as though our time together is drawing to a close. Finals are right around the corner and not long after that it’ll be time to sit around with friends and family for the holidays. Since this is my final column, I’ve decided to compile a list of all the interesting little fun facts and tidbits of information I’ve accumulated over the past three and a half months for your enjoyment.
•The park near Todaiji Temple in Nara is full of deer. They’re wild but are so used to human contact that you can usually touch them. In fact, if you buy a set of the special deer crackers sold by most vendors in the park, they will flock to you. This is equal parts awesome and terrifying since they aren’t shy about demanding food and will often bite at your clothes, bags, or whatever else they can get their teeth around. Also, if you bow before giving them a biscuit, they bow back. No fooling.
•It does not take long to grow accustomed to using chopsticks. Once you get used to it, most things are surprisingly easy to grab with them. Eggs, salad, pieces of meat, rice, and vegetables, to name a few of the things I thought would be difficult to eat.
•J-Reggae exists. It’s a thing.
•Train travel is really cheap. It costs anywhere from $1.50 to $5, depending on your destination. This is another thing that, once you get the hang of it, is quite fun and easy to do. It never gets old; I take the exact same route five days a week and never fail to see something new almost every day.
•The Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, does not launch itself out of the train station like a rocket. Several of us Gaidai students were disappointed on the Hiroshima trip when, as we were waiting for our train to arrive, we watched another depart like a normal train. The only differences between riding the Shinkansen and a regular train are the price (a $200 increase) and riding experience. The Bullet Train is much, much smoother and it barely feels like you’re going at breakneck speeds.
•Locating Mexican food is equivalent to finding the Yeti and a leprechaun driving Santa’s sleigh on the Fourth of July with Cupid sitting in the backseat.
•Sumo wrestling is actually steeped in Shinto ritual. The sumo ring, or dohyo, goes through various rites of purification between its completion and the final bout of wrestling in a tournament, mostly performed by the gyoji, or referees. While not actually Shinto priests, they are granted the powers of them for the specific rituals they perform. Wrestlers throw salt before each match to purify the ring. The leg stomping the sport is known for is actually supposed to drive evil spirits away.
•Heated toilet seats are wonderful things.
•I once saw a segment on the news about the National Field Day. In the clip shown, there was a mini-racetrack set up and in it school children chased a goose from one end to the other. I’m still unsure as to the point of the literal goose-chase, but I really wish we had those when I was a kid.
•Ofuro are literally the greatest things. The Japanese bath is basically a standard tub, but it maintains a steady temperature of whatever degree you wish (ours is always at 42̊C, roughly 108̊F). They are incredibly relaxing, especially on cool fall nights with the window cracked open.
•In a similar vein, visiting the hot springs is truly an experience unto itself. Onsen typically involve public baths, and so public nudity. For everybody’s sake I won’t go into full detail, but there is an odd feeling of camaraderie amongst everyone at the spa as they relax in the hot tub-esque pools strewn about the room. This is mostly because, y’know, everyone’s naked.
•The Osaka Aquarium is arguably one of the best places in the Kansai region. It’s huge and has a large variety of marine animals from all over the world. The showstopper is Jinbei-sama, the resident whale shark. Most of the tanks span three or four floors in terms of height so you get to see the fish, sharks, and everything in between from all angles. If you love aquariums, this is a must-see place.
I hope you have enjoyed reading these as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. It’s been a pleasure sharing my experiences with all two of you who read this on the regular, so thanks for that. If you want to find out more, come find me on campus next semester or, better yet, come to Japan and find out for yourself.
Jaa, mata ne \^-^/