Somethin’ Else

Somethin’ Else is not only the title of the Julian “Cannonball” Adderley 1958 Blue Note album I have been addicted to for a month now, it is also what I have been experiencing for three days, since I started my not-so-official homestay experience.

Living with a Japanese family is…. Somethin’ Else.

I have been living in Japan for four months, and that in itself is crazy. But spending a few days with a Japanese family has a completely different feel than what I have been doing for the last four months, regardless of how many Japanese friends I have made and how often I have been hanging out with them.

Why? Well, most of the Japanese students in Kansai Gaidai befriend foreign students because it is one way of getting free English practice, (or, better yet, a foreign boyfriend/girlfriend). I am not saying that is bad, what I mean is that when you hang out with the Japanese students, you will mostly communicate in English, and getting a few instances of Japanglish is the best you could hope for. Also, almost all the Japanese students are “westernized” to some extent: they have all studied abroad or are at least attempting to. They all know Miley Cirus and Lady Gaga, they all think being blond is cool…

I have been reading Japanese literature. I have read books about Japan and how the status quo has been declining for a good 20 years now…I also have to say that for the last month or so I have become very cynical about many things in Japan: The passive-agression, the rules about everything, the Pachinko, the racism, the cluelessness and (maybe most of all), the Japanese toast.

Could it be any whiter, thicker and sickly sweeter?

Add to that a case of mild depression that was stirred by seeing the seminar house becoming empty, and saying goodbye to the people I have become so close to as the fall semester came to an end.

However, when my Japanese friend Ericko told me that her family was looking forward to having me at their house for the few days preceding my trip to Thailand, it made all the difference…

It is safe to say that I have never seen anyone so kind, inviting, and warm, ever, ever, ever in my life. Even though the mom and the dad cannot speak English to save their own lives, we have become great friends. How? That’s the mystery of it. On my arrival, I was treated with an amazing home-made dinner, followed by a conversation in both Japanese as well as sign language… The house is so tiny, but I have been given my own room. It’s a busy time of the year, but the family has arranged a complete program just fot my own amusement…

Recently, I came to the conclusion that while Japanese people are nice, it is only a facade. They are nice because they have to be nice to you, and just ad you turn your back away, they won’t necessarily keep it up. But after spending so little time with the Kikuchi family, I know that these people are genuinely nice. They go the extra mile.

So far I have had an amazing time. And the fact that since I came here the pages in my journal are being scribbled into at least four times as much says it all. Maybe the worst part is that sometimes I feel uncomfortable and/or left out when the conversation carries on in Japanese and nothing but Japanese. Then again, I am living with a Japanese family.. what should I expect? If I don’t feel left out in such a setting, then when is the time to? Actually, that’s not what bothers me. The only thing I don’t quite approve of is having to withstand hours of Japanese television, which I am really not fond of (reasons require an entire post).

Next post I’ll tell you more about the house and the family in the house… I didn’t post pictures because I thought it would be awkward to be caught taking pictures of the house I just arrived to…  Right now I will put on my headphones, dive into my futon and get ready for another day of absolute authentic Japanese awesomeness.

Visa Bitterness…

For winter break, I was planning to embark on a backpack based trip across a few countries in South East Asia; Japan to Thailand to Cambodia to Vietnam to Malaysia (and possibly Borneo) and then back to Japan. And while the plan is still on, I am put off.

Today morning, the alarm goes off, it’s 7 AM, it’s 2 degrees outside my window, I am tired and would love to get more sleep and maintain the much loved warmness, but I roll out of my futon, thinking I should (and would) get paper work done and visas stamped. I make sure I have everything I need: a folder with an application form, bank statement, a certificate of admission from my school, e-tickets, photocopies of my student card and Japanese Alien Registration Card, and a fresh mind ready for navigation on an almost 2 hour trip from Hirakatashi to Sakaisuji-Honmachi.

What’s funny (or not) is that I only worry about getting to there, not knowing that I should worry about what’s actually there.

After moments of cursing google maps for giving me the wrong directions, and after asking random shop keepers who are so eager to help even if they have no clue, I, along with Laziri san, find my way to the Royal Thai Consulate General.

I stand in line, excited, happy to know that I will cross one more thing from my trip-related to-do list. I make sure my folder is intact and complete. I wait for my turn.

“Hai, doozo”, I say to the lady behind the counter, while handing her the paper-filled folder, topped with my green passport with its golden eagle.

“Ahh, so where are you form?”, she asks while not looking at me, but at the passport that answers her very question.

I make the fact that an Egyptian passport dictates that I am Egyptian clearer, by telling her that I am  Egyptian.

And that’s when all the fun starts…

Apparently I have to fill 4 other applications, go through more paper work and give them a signed and stamped schedule of all my trip. Not the Thailand part, no, ALL my trip. They don’t take any of the documents I have prepared. They tell me to go and to make sure to come a little bit earlier, next time, and they’d consider my visa application.

Why? Why is there a hierarchy of human beings based on where they come from? Why am I treated like a potential child-prostitutor while the actual prostitutors are waved from the visa because they are whiter and richer?

On the train back, I spend most of the time crying in silence and since it is a limited express train, meaning no stops, no people getting in and getting out, no recorded distractions, the crying is long, perpetual, uninterrupted, and sad rather than mad…

What happened today was… hurtful… to say the least. And it’s not about the visa per se. It’s not about having to fill in an additional million paper before they can “consider” my application. It’s not about me receiving looks normally reserved for shit-eaters.

Sadly, there’s more to it than that.

I just applied for a tourist visa… I wanted to eat some Thai food, see nature and take pictures. But what about those who are desperate? Why does it cost so much to be treated well?

Halfway Through


Star trails and meteor streaks...



Yesterday I had chicken for lunch. Yesterday I drank a litre of green tea. Yesterday I rode my bike from and to school, once during the day, and once during the night. Yesterday there was  a Geminid Meteor shower that  lit up the skies with up to 100 shooting stars per hour during its peak.

Yesterday marked the end of the first half of my stint in Japan.

See, I can easily comprehend the sentences above and take them for granted, but coming to realize that my stay here has been diminished by 50% is a little bit too complex for my brain to get around.

It’s hard to realize that all of this is temporary. Just a phase that started, is now developing, and will soon end.

It’s even harder to face the fact that all the friends you have made here, with whom you shared your 500 Yen  mahoosive meals at the Obbaachan’s , with whom you complained about the Seminar House kitchen, with whom you laughed at ridiculous Japanese TV shows, with whom you procrastinated for hours before solving the two-page Genki homework, with whom you cursed the day the textbook was published and the day Kanji was actually invented, with whom you got lost on random trains in the Kansai Reigon… all of them, are leaving.

It makes you stop for a second. It makes you appreciate every single second you’re living here. It makes you go buy a new notebook because your daily journal writing habits will become more and more intense…

Autumn Leaves

I know it’s lame to blog about Autumn when it’s December. But in order to see and feel the autumn, I had to go out instead of staying in my futon typing on my Mac.

In case this is of any consolation: if you’re an AUCian, then you will have access to my published Japan ramblings, if you’re a dear family member, then you’ll have access to my very detailed daily journal when I die from reverse culture shock next June.

Colors... Lots of them.

Never have I in my life witnessed a change of seasons. I know that in summer is it as hot as your oven after cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey. I know that  in winter (which lasts for about 7 days in January)  it is nice, sunny and cool. In spring I have always enjoyed being hit by the dusty  Khamaseen, and in Autumn, most of the trees remained still green anyway. I remember that my window in Heliopolis overlooked a street with trees lined on the side walk, where my mom could never find the parking spot she always hoped for.

I never took a picture of them, and now I know why: they always looked the same: Green in summer when I would hang my swimming suite on the lines after my swimming lesson. Green in autumn when I would look through the window waiting for the school bus at 5:30 am. Green in winter, when I would look at them and wonder why they were still green. And they were grayish green in spring, when the wind would carry all that hot sand from Sahara desert in order to land on their green leaves and on my window glass making its supposedly transparent surface tempting for index finger name writing…

Autumn never meant anything to me. The only thing I ever associated it with was getting back to school, buying backpacks, pen cases, notebooks and school uniform.

Japanese autumn is beautiful. Trees turn from green to yellow to red, including all the shades in between. Crunchy-looking leaves on the side walk fly as you pass by them on your bike. Men in blue uniforms with machines (that probably have names) blow away the leaves from the 5 centimeter ditch between the street and the side walk.

Two of my very favorite days in Japan so far, has been the two days I spent solo wandering around public parks in Tokyo.

My hot coffee and autumn leaves...

I went to the same park on two consecutive days and it was completely different; one it was rainy and empty, the following it was clear and sunny and crowded. Same parks, same trees, same 24-hour span, yet looked -and felt- completely different.

It was a good chance to unwind, spend time walking, looking and admiring with very little need to talk, and even if I wanted to talk, I couldn’t, because the information center for non-Japanese speakers was marked “Japanese Only”.

Because, of course, all clueless tourists wandering in random parks and seeking information should have prior knowledge of Japanese...

Girl and autumn leaves...

Now do me a favor and listen to Cannonball Adderley featuring Miles, playing Autumn Leaves, from Blue Note’s 1958 release, Somethin’ Else.

10 minutes of achingly beautiful perfection.

December 2010
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