|The park behind the library, alive with children and their families, locals of all ages and backgrounds, and also a good amount of exchange students as well :) The center of the neighborhood familiar to many a Kansai Gaidai student.|
But I also felt a little isolated from the locals while in the seminar houses. This could be a result of them getting rather used to all of the foreign students, or maybe because they are less than thrilled when a few students get rowdy and loud in the "beer park" at night. But I was still able to strike up many conversations with the locals here. Going jogging with friends, subsequently getting lost and having to ask directions to find your way back is a great opportunity to meet some interesting and amazingly friendly people and familiarize yourself with the layout of the neighborhood.
|A sign cautioning against going too fast on bicycles|
(in the Kansai dialect of Japanese, made by some local
elementary school children)
I lived with a host family during the Fall Semester. After orientation week I was hastened off to the city of Katano (Katano-shi) with perhaps maybe 5 other Kansai Gaidai students living in the area. Being part of a host family for three months provided me with a wonderful opportunity to meet family friends, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, and explore even more parks and side streets. I was able to go along with my host family to vote (well, see them voting at least xD) in the local elections, go to an elementary and middle school's Sports Day festival and a high school's Culture Festival (bunka-sai), and see what was important to the community during the town's very own Culture Festival.
|The ever-changing rice paddies of Katano-shi (交野市)|
|Middle School Sports Day|
|Festival in the streets of Katano-shi, with members of the city|
both old and young
After the first semester and winter break though I have once again changed neighborhoods. Each one is different and special in its own way. This time I'm living with two fellow exchange students from my home institution in the U.S. , in the former house of one of these friend's host mother from last semester (confusing I know). It's quite an interesting neighborhood, bustling with small children (I think the family in the house next to us has at least 5 kids under the age of 12) and littered with adorable bikes, unicycles (yes they seem to be really popular with Japanese adolescents these days), jump-ropes, Kamen Rider toys, and presents from all of the dogs in the neighborhood (despite the "Pick up your dog mess!' signs placed every 5 meters along the street).
Most of the houses here are 20 to 30 years old, a little bit run down, not so pretty on the outside, but very usable, efficient, one could say cozy as well (if you have space heaters and electric blankets that is). Towards the middle of this neighborhood there are maybe 6 very large public housing developments, multi-unit apartments, or "mansions" (マンション 'manshon') as they are called in Japanese. The playground between these developments is the meeting place for many of the people here, and the absolutely gigantic Yamada-Ike Kouen (Park) nearby is a place to escape from the cramped living conditions and take some time to fish, exercise, take one's pet out for a walk, or have a barbeque or outing with friends, family, or other loved ones. :) The fall foliage was breathtaking, and the plum blossoms now in bloom provide a welcome place to relax and think deeply (I'd do my homework there if it wasn't so cold lately).
I don't want to sound too much like a book here, but I love the contrasts like this in Japan. Of course other places have the same characteristics, but I feel that in Japan there's an importance placed on emphasizing these contrasts in life. Having one's tightly packed neighborhood right outside of a beautiful, vast park is something very noticible and thought-provoking.
My current neighborhood is also very close to some of Hirakata's less well known businesses, namely love hotels, adult video stores, and some very interesting unattended vending machine areas.
I hope this isn't the last neighborhood that I get to know in Japan. I really want to get to know it better, and do the same with many more neighborhoods. :)
EDIT May 19: This is my third editing of this entry. I had added 6 more pictures and maybe 600 more words of deep reflection to it a few days ago, but I've come back today to notice that none of it updated despite constant autosaves. I must have had an old draft open in a stray firefox tab that saved over my final version, so I've lost all of the information I added (took around 3 hours T_T), so I'm really sorry about that. I can't for the life of me remember exactly what I wrote. I've tried to rewrite it (the ending paragraph), but it's all scattered. Sounded much better the first time (to say I'm frustrated is a heavy understatement... >:( )