Tokyo view from Mori Tower by Japanexperterna

Tokyo Adventures Part 1

Some classmates and I decided to venture to Tokyo for a weekend. Because I was heading home immediately after the program ends, this was my only opportunity to see the capital. Together we were able to figure out getting plane and bus tickets, and I was able to use my insider connection (Masanori, a boy who was an exchange student back in California and who lives in Tokyo) to get help finding a decent hotel. He even called the hotel to book us while he was still in America.

Tokyo skyscrapers

Tokyo buildings are big

Our first challenge was in locating our bus to take us from school to the airport. The station above APU’s campus is fairly large, and we weren’t sure which parking lot the bus would take. One of my classmates tried asking a bus driver for directions. I watched the exchange from a short distance, noticing how confused my classmate looked as the driver impatiently repeated his directions. Everyone except I in our Tokyo-bound group was first-level Japanese students. I didn’t know much either, so it felt strange to be the group’s speaking representative. I hurried over to save my classmate. The bus driver repeated his story to me, and I was able to make out that our bus would be coming to the upper parking lot; if we hadn’t asked, we would have missed it. It pays to know a little bit of the language, or at least carry a traveler’s handbook with you.

The plane ride to Tokyo was pleasant; everyone is so polite and helpful at Japanese airports. After we arrived, the boys headed off to find their own place to stay. As for us three girls, we couldn’t have found our hotel without the help of Masanori. Like a trail of lost ducks behind the leader, we followed him through the train stations and streets until coming to the high-rise hotel in Shinjuku. Because it was dark, my first impression of Tokyo was a sea of colored lights filled with people regardless of the late hour.

I was interested in the way you had to slide your hotel key in the elevator to go to different floors, for security. The room was crowded so tightly by the three beds that there was barely walking space between them. None of it was as fancy as our Best Western hotel in Nagasaki, but as a compromise between luxury and cost, it was perfect for our short stay.

Cat saying "whew"Step one—getting there without missing buses, planes or trains—was a success. In retrospect I am amazed at how easily everything could have gone wrong; if we hadn’t asked the bus driver or understood his directions, missing the bus would have led to missing the plane, which would have led to missing the check-in hours at the hotel. None of the employees of any of the services we used knew much English, so we were really yolo-ing it until Masanori took over. The trip was nerve-wracking and fun, and I’m glad I did it.


Because WordPress doesn’t show title/caption/alt text/descriptions on cover images, I’m placing the credit for the cover image here: Tokyo View from Mori Tower.
Japanexperterna [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the photographer’s gorgeous site:



An International University Still Has Engrish

Drawing of Professor Toilet

Toilet sensei teaches you the right way to flush

At a university with multinational students and English language education, I might expect that the signs around campus would have quality English, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. Most public signs at Asia Pacific University (APU) were in both Japanese and English. I don’t know why they didn’t include languages like Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese, seeing as how there is probably a greater population of those students than English speakers. I suspect it is because English looks cool and impressive to native Japanese.

Everyone loves Engrish; there are entire websites dedicated to posting Engrish examples. Engrish happens when another language is poorly translated into English, sometimes with humorous and illogical results. English is an extremely difficult language to learn. It is full of irregular grammar forms and subtleties that even native speakers have a hell of a time getting right. I should know; I’m taking editorial classes, and all those dangling modifiers and case forms give me a headache. You think you know English, until taking a grammar class. I have great pity and awe for ESL students.

That said, it is little wonder that Engrish happens. However, considering that there are an abundance of English professors and some native English speakers on APU’s campus, it shouldn’t be too hard to get something proofread before printing it on a public sign. Some examples were bathroom and cafeteria postings. The sentences might have been technically correct, but in a wrong tense or just unnaturally phrased. On the tray return, a plastic sign read, “Give attention to a thing left behind. Have you forgotten left card or cash on your tray?” In the bathroom, “The faucet has not been turned off properly. Please check whether water has stopped” (all that last one needs is a ‘may not have’ instead of ‘has not’).

Honestly, it was enjoyable for me to find and read Engrish, which might be why English students don’t bother correcting any of the awkward phrases. They’re cute, and make me smile. The best English is on commercial packaging. Because English looks cool, stores create English mottos using positive sounding words. The nonsensical phrases might not work in America, but they are trendy in Japan. I hope these examples make you smile as much as I did.

Most of these are from You-Me mall, in Beppu:


Our tiny dream touch your heart. “Simple smile”, natural frame of mind. What’s up babie? I’m gonna tell you something goods. Here is the name, “ACT-1”. By the way, do you know it? “ACT-1” means we wish we wanna be First-Action for find your favorites. You must meet something brand-new here. What do you find something today, Friends, Goods, or Lovers? Come up and see me! Be yourself. Be simple mind. Always come here, surely you get comfortable feeling.

That hip English slang definitely gave me a comfortable feeling. I looked, but I couldn’t find a Lover at Act-1. False advertising.

Belparrot x Fiofio:

If you dress up in your favorite way, gloomy will be blown away!

This is my favorite. It’s sweet, adorable and true.


Casual Smile ♫ It is light-hearted that can be put on and ease daily. Clothes put on because it is free.

They didn’t offer free clothes.

(I don’t know the name of this store):

It is for positive girls who never forget a sense of fun. Based on the item which is girlish and edgy, trend-mixed life sized style is for you…

R Can Can:

We make you happy with shoes.


Happy trade. Happy ethnic.

Happy ethnic?

Boar warning sign close-up

Boar Warning!!

Boar warning sign

Inoshishi shutsubotsu chuui!! Boar Warning!! We don’t usually have signs with double exclamation marks in America, do we?

When studying abroad, unfamiliar sounds, sights and smells make you hyper-aware that you are in a foreign ecosystem. Like an itchy clothes tag, it takes a while to stop thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m really in Japan,” every time you hear the uguisu Japanese bush warbler, gawk at weird bugs on your dorm window screen, and catch whiffs of sulfur from natural hot springs. The uguisu was my number one alarm that I wasn’t in California anymore. I’ve heard it many times in anime paired with the sound of bamboo fountains (Shishi-odoshi or souzu, “scare the deer” fountains). Next to Japanese cicadas, it is my favorite iconic sound of Japan. Asking the names of unfamiliar animals and sources of sounds you hear is a nice conversation starter.

For some reason the “Boar Warning” signs posted near the woods struck me as bizarre and funny, mostly because I didn’t expect them. Wild boars seem like a very exotic type of pest. Ever since I saw the sign, I was very excited about seeing a real boar. Unfortunately, they never made an appearance around the campus. I was hoping one would suddenly burst from the bamboo (so long as I was at a safe distance), but no such luck. I suppose they were burrowed deep inside the surrounding forests. In Japanese they are called inoshishi, as you can see written on the sign in katakana.

Japanese bugs—at least in Kyuushuu—are much more colorful than what I normally see in California. My friend Rose Clement took most of these photos. If anyone can tell me what the unnamed critters are, I’d be grateful. The praying mantis and walking stick are the only ones I can recognize.

Summer in Beppu: An Introduction

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan

The first time I traveled outside my home state of California wasn’t to another U.S. state (not counting an hour spent inside the Hawaiian airport), but five thousand miles west to Japan. At 22 years old, it was my first plane ride and my first time traveling alone. For two months I stayed at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Kyushu. I wanted to witness for myself the magical wackiness and beauty of Japan, the country that so many Americans have fallen in love with as an epicenter of creative pop culture.

There are probably millions of blogs that show off interesting and wonderfully weird aspects of Japan: anime, manga, and cosplay; maid, butler and cat cafes; Hello Kitty, alpaca and capybara toys; flashy bars, love hotels and restaurants; black squid-ink hamburgers; and of course, the famously ubiquitous vending machines. Even if you’re not a Japanophile, you’ve heard of some of these things.

At Stray Cats and Onsen, I’m going to focus on my personal experiences and impressions about my two-month stay. Although the majority of my visit was in Kyushu, I stopped by Tokyo for a couple days for a fast-paced walk-through of some famous locations. That one weekend alone gave me plenty to think about.