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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Managing the Legalities: Okinawa: the Champloo Islands

Mixing things together, known by some as Champloo, is a trait signature to its daily life. Why? Well, consider how the cultures of mainland Japan, America, China, those native to the islands, and others have mixed together throughout its history to create the whole its denizens know today, both for worse and for better. Why for worse?
     The short version is that Okinawa, in it's history, was once an independent nation with its own kingdom (complete with an oppressive ruler!). This kingdom was soon brought down by invaders from mainland Japan, who, after establishing a presence, tried to essentially rewrite its past through the suppression of it's native culture and language.
     Some time after that, the US Army came and set up base on Okinawa during WWII, bringing with it a great influence on the music, cuisine(see Spam Musubi, Taco Rice, Tofu chanpuru and others) and the way locals view the Army presence; this view, thanks to the vast consumption of resources, a history of vile acts by military folks, and numerous other factors, has been less than positive, as of this writing, and continues to drive the politics and other developments within the community. 
     China, in contrast, has had a long standing and intricate connection to Okinawa's development, from its architecture, its cuisine, the culture built through centuries of international trading, and much more. Why, if you wanna see that influence in person, just check out Shuri Castle and its bountiful Shisa lions!
     Complimenting that relationship is the native beauty and wonder found throughout the islands; for example, consider the pristine beaches of Miyako Island, the elephant-like cliffs of Manzamo in northern Okinawa, and the lush forests and waterfalls on Iriomote Island, plus more just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps, though, tropical climates and tropical environments aren't your thing; perhaps you want something a bit closer to the stark wonders of the mountains; perhaps you want to make your way to Hokkaido. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Managing the Legalities: Osaka, the Land of Merchants and Wheeling 'n' Dealing

Have you heard the thing about people from Japan being quiet and sheepish, and all that jazz? That's not what folks in Japan think when they hear someone is from the area around Osaka (and those qualities are often what locals criticize those of Tokyo for, through mock imitations of them). The culture around Osaka is known to be lively, patriotic, tough minded, up front, and highly deal driven, as evidenced by the phrase most associated with it, もうかりまっか?」(You makin' any money?).

     If you happen to pop in on Osaka, you can take a peek at the totally real Instant Ramen museum, the Floating Garden Observatory in the Umeda Sky Building, Osaka Castle, Tsutenkaku Tower, and the Dotonbori area, a shopping district lit by all sorts of neon and flashing signs. All its gaudy goodness beckons you to visit the many restaurants in it and partake of one of the richest traditions of the Osaka area: stuffing yourself silly(known in the language as だお.)

     For a more laid back, classical touch, hop on the next train heading to Kyoto, a city with historical charm and bountiful temples, such as the gold covered Kinkakuji in the north and the Ginkakuji in the east. With a stroll along the Philosopher's Path, you can also take in an extraordinary view of the cherry blossoms that line it and the shallow river just down below, a trip northward leading to Tango Peninsula and Amanohashidate, also known as the bridge of heaven. You may find it strange to bend over and look at the pine covered sand bar between your legs to see it as such, but you can't beat seeing one the 3 great sights of Japan the way it was meant to be seen, and for more of those, let's direct our attention to the many islands that make up the Ryukyu Isles, including Okinawa. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Managing the Legalities: Maximizing Your Sightseeing

Maximizing Your Sightseeing
Every country in the world has a major city that defines it's experience and tells the world what those in charge feel represents its essence; the US has NYC, Italy has Rome, and France has Paris. If you ask anyone of the country, though, they'll be quick to tell you that that city isn't the only awesome city there, as I would tell you about the open air sprawl of LA, the charming eccentricity of Portland, and the delightful beaches and culture clash to be found in Miami, among endless others within the country I call home.
Japan is no different and has the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, the brazen street cultures of Osaka, the peaceful beach sides of Okinawa, and the expansive mountainside scenery of Hokkaido. Each of them also contain several different cities and hidden pockets of humanity that paint a diverse, rich and ever growing network of cultures that drive the things they do every day. Naturally, though, unless you have boatloads of money and free time, you can't see all of that in one trip, so to get the gears turning on planning your most excellent vacation, let's take a quick peek at these potential destinations, starting with Tokyo.
Tokyo: The Crown Jewel of Japan
The city of Tokyo is the political center of the country, but over it's history, it and surrounding area has also grown into it's historical and modern cultural center, housing countless things flock to see from all over the world to see. Like what? Well, there's the TsujikiFish Market, the geek mecca of Akihabara, the Asakusa Shinto temple, the land of fashionable kids known as Harajuku, and more multi-level specialty stores than you can shake a stick at. In fact, it houses so many of these aspects that there have been multiple volumes dedicated to helping people navigate just this area of the country (If that isn't enough proof, consider this: on the trains there, the terms used to describe leaving Tokyo translate as ascending, for going north, and descending, for going south).
On top of that, the international profile it's built up drive tourists in from across the world, meaning that it's been made more and more easier for them to travel, and that will mean there's a higher chance someone will be able to help you out in case things go south and you need to speak with someone; for getting a taste of a brand new culture, this is surely a safe bet for your travel destination(if you're intrigued, might I recommend Frommer's Tokyo as your guidebook?).
With all that said, though, isn't the whole point of traveling to go outside your comfort zone and see things you haven't before? What, about eating burgers at a McDonald's in Tokyo is adventurous? What, about eating at a sushi place everyone goes to, screams “I'm a traveler!”? What, about spending your hard earned cash to be among familiar foods, people and so on on the other side of world, says “This was a good use of my money and vacation days”? Tokyo is a perfectly wonderful area to sight-see in, but c'mon now! If you really wanna expand your world view, think beyond the familiar; perhaps consider looking into visiting Osaka and its surrounding area. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Managing the Legalities: Do You Need a Visa?

Visa-Free Traveling
For folks from the US, you can stay in the country without a visa a maximum of 90 days(as in 90 calendar days, not 3 months), which is more than enough time for most folks to get their kicks before they return to the reality waiting for them back home. As for the rest of the world...

You need a passport if you're from...
Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa or South Korea*(plus others not mentioned)
*if part of a school group, you can stay up to a month

You can stay 14 days if you're from...

You can stay 90 days if you're from...
Andorra, Australia, Barbados, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, New Zealand, Poland or Slovakia

You can stay 3 months if you're from...
Argentina, the Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus(the country), Denmark, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Lesotho, Luxumbourg, Macedonia, Malta, Maritius, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal*, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey or Uruguay
*exception if originally attained in either former or current colonies of the country

You can stay 6 months if you're from...
Austria, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland or the UK*
*only for UK citizens

Why Would I Need a Visa?
Short answer: the authorities can kick you out immediately, if they catch you after your visa-free time is up, and you don't have one. Long Answer: If you're going as an exchange student, worker, teacher, are visiting a relative long term(e.g. A year, or so) or otherwise need to be there for something other then tourism, you'll need to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan's long term visa section of the site and look up the one you need.
     Afterward, look up a local Consulate-General of Japan and call them up for anything you may need to do concerning getting the needed visa. Should the country's charm stay with you after you visit, definitely give this stuff a moment of serious thought if you ever want to do something long term over there. While we're on the subject, let's take a look at the next phase of going to Japan: Where you want to visit for your vacation. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Managing the Legalities: What to Watch for Before and During a Trip to Japan

An experience often thought of as a milestone is when someone travels to a country highly unlike their own, like someone raised in Italy traveling to Brazil, a South African denizen exploring the Irish countryside and a kid raised in America taking a journey to Japan. Through that trip, they begin to see beyond the things that make them different from others and look for the things they have in common, thus helping them see deeper into the way we all speak to each other and crafting a more meaningful understanding-or at least, that's supposed to happen.  
That kind of growth often isn't achieved in one trip, and if the things they held true are reinforced on their travels, they might even grow more narrow minded about the culture they experience. For example, say someone coming to NYC for a vacation thought that Americans were all arrogant, fat gunslingers who care only about themselves; if the only people they ran into there fell met those expectations, then they'd grow even harder to break, because now they have anecdotal evidence to back their claims(for those curious, the term for this is Confirmation Bias, and it's even worse when they meet those same people as completely blank slates to be shaped by whatever happens).
Before any of that stuff can take place, though, one has to handle things at home, so they can set foot in the country without getting turned away at the door, and 2 crucial aspects of world travel are the passport and the visa(which you'll see more of later on). If you haven't been outside your homeland, then you haven't had much of a need for either, but for traveling to Japan, they will become a necessity, especially the passport.

Getting a Passport
The general things you'll want to do are to...
  • Hit up your gov't's travel site
  • Visit the section dealing with passports
  • Fill out all the needed paperwork
  • Seek out the needed fee money and documentation for your passport(e.g. Birth certificate, Driver ID, etc.)
  • Head off to get your picture taken for it
  • Then turn everything in to the proper channels and wait for it to arrive.
The exact procedures will depend on how your govt does things, your current situation and many other variables, so be sure to look that stuff up and find out what you need. If you happen to be a US-citizen reading this, however, I can give you a few pointers on what you need to do.

Tips for US 1st Timers to the Passport Process
To keep it simple, for getting your first passport, the Post Office is your friend and will stay so throughout the whole process. When you're there, you can find out what you need, how you need to dress, how long you'll be waiting(which can be somewhere between 2 weeks and 2 months if you don't have the $60 to speed things up) and many other things.
Before going there, though, be sure to hit up and check out the Passport and Visa sections for the specifics on what you need in your situation, what paperwork you'll need to do, and documentation you'll need on hand-Fair warning, though: this process won't be cheap(as of this writing, the whole package is about $160, minimum). As long as you head to your local Post Office, though, they'll be able to help you through the nitty-gritty red tape, and move on the next part of traveling to Japan: whether or not that passport needs further approval by the proper authorities for further travels, whether or not you need to get a Visa.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Essential Phrases and Body Language #10

Gesture #10: Culturally Flipping The Bird
Actual Gesture: Using the pointer finger, pulling down the lower eyelid and sticking out your tongue
It's Function?: Like flipping the bird, it's meant to show the ultimate, most childish disrespect towards its recipient
Any Associated Phrase?: With this one, the phrase is あかんべー!(Get bent!), which comes from あか(Red of the Eye, which is what you're displaying in the gesture), and can be said in two parts, あかん, as you're bringing the finger to the eyelid, and べー! as you're pulling it down.

Anything else?: As the most disrespectful-and highly childish gesture, this won't produce anything good if you do it in front of the person, so most people want 'til their back is turned to show their disdain, possibly in the more emphatic form of あっかんべー! Sticking out the tongue, by itself, is a more feminine gesture used to show that they made a slight slip up in something, much like when someone says '”Whoops!” after drop their wallet when they pay for something.

Phrase #10: ただいま

Literal Meaning: Just now

Intent: "I'm home!(and similar meanings in translation)"

Usage: To let someone know you've come back to some place, home or otherwise, much like the phrase "I'm back!"

Notes: 只今かえりました is the full, formal version of the phrase, both recognized by the other person/people there with the phrase 「お帰りなさい」, 「お帰り」 being the informal version of that.

Example: 只今帰りました

(I've come back home, ma'am)

お帰りなさい、おきゃくさん。(笑) まったく、アントニ、タメでもいいね。仲間なかまなんでいいじゃないじゃない? ユックリしてね!

(Welcome back home, valued customer. *laughs* Honestly, Anthony, it's okay to talk casual. We are pal-y-pals, so it's all good, ain't it? EASE it up, there.)  

And now that we're through the 10, it's time to move to the next phase: learning how to plan a trip to Japan and what to do once you get there!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Essential Phrases and Body Language #9

Gesture #9: Showing Agreement with a Statement
Actual Gesture: Slamming the pinky side of a closed fist into an open palm
It's Function?: To express that the person just said something that agrees with your values/logic/etc or makes the point you've been working towards, but perhaps couldn't put it the way the speaker did
Any Associated Phrase?: Yes, and the one most often use with this one is 納得なっとく(Exactly!), which you can also use to discuss the concept of consent
Anything else?: If you rotate your closed hand while it's in the palm, you imitate the gesture of grinding sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle(known in Japan as 胡麻ごまり), which implys that someone is buttering someone up in anticipation of getting something in return, or what some folks would call brown-nosing
Phrase #9: よくできました
Literal Meaning: "You were well up to the task at hand"
Intent: "Good Job!(and similar meanings in translation)"
Usage: To tell someone they did good after they finish a task, in order to let them know how well they did and encouraging them to keep up the good work(which can change in tone, if sarcasm is in the air).
Notes: This also applies when you see the different variations in this phrase, such as 大変たいへんよくできました, which tells then they did very well at something, and the more informal version of this phrase, よくできた(which can also be used as an adverb to show something is solidly built/written/etc).
Example: このスパ? 大変よくできたね! よくできたスパんだ!
(you cooked this spaghetti? You did super awesome at it, man. Really well made Spaghetti!)