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2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival – Sakura Matsuri April 26, 2011

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Japan, Otaku.
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2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I attended San Francisco’s Japantown’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival which is always held in April, also known as the Sakura Matsuri. I’ve been attending for three year in a row already and it’s nice to come and visit when the sakura (cherry blossoms) are in full bloom, well actually I think they were a bit overgrown due to the green leaves already taking over. I already did a long post about the Cherry Blossom Festival on Figure.fm, so I’m not going to do the same thing here, I’ll just summarize my experience of the 2011 Sakura Matsuri. (Here is the link for my full post about the festival: 2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival)

All photos here are from My Flickr, here is the link to the set containing photos from the 2011 Sakura Matsuri.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I went 3 out of 4 days of the festival, the only day I didn’t go was the first day Saturday April 9th due to having other plan. Throughout the entire festival, I noticed a couple of differences from last year’s festival. One was that there seemed to be more people attending the festival, and Two is from the shops and stalls asking people for support for the victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, both of which I believe are related to each other, more people attending the festival to support Japan’s relief efforts.


2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

On Sunday April 10th I went with my family, mostly just sightseeing stores and and other things of interest. One store we stayed in for a while is the new Daiso Japan store that opened up. Located right under the Ichiban Kan store, they sell a wide variety of Japanese store items ranging from bento lunch boxes, stationary goods, key chains, snacks, tools, and more, similar to what Ichiban Kan sells. There is also a Daiso Japan store located at the Serramonte mall in Colma, but that store has been there for a while already. It’s interesting looking at all the different stuff they sell, and it’s cheap too at $1.50 (unless price as marked). Don’t know if the $1.50 thing is to stay though, Ichiban Kan was having it’s grand opening so I don’t know if it is just a promotion.

There isn’t too much to say for my visit on April 10th, as it was just a quick look around of this year’s festivities and also because stayed for only a few hours.


2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

On Saturday April 16th, I had to attend an Japanese cultural event that was about the Karuta Hyakunin Isshu for an extra credit assignment for my JAPN 102 class.

I didn’t know anything about it prior to attending the Karuta Hyakunin Isshu card games, so I was a bit nervous when it was time for guests to try it for themselves, even more so was that all the instructions, on the paper and spoken, was in Japanese. Of course I can understand somewhat what was being said, but for the main part I was confused about the whole objective of the game. While the game was going on the only thing I understood was that during the speaking of the poem, you have to listen carefully for the name of one of the cards. When you do so, you are to hit the card off the playing area before your opponent does. My opponent was a nice Japanese lady was seemed to be new to it as well, she mainly spoke to me in Japanese and in English at certain times. I was able to understand her for the most part and even made a bit of conversation at the end of the game which I think is some progress in my Japanese studies.


2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

Sunday April 17th was the final day of the festival, which is always the most crowded day due to the parade that starts from SF Civic Center, goes through downtown streets to eventually reach Japantown about 7-10 blocks away. This was my second year going to the Civic Center for the Sakura Matsuri. At the Civic Center, cosplayers gather for the cosplay contest, and also to be a part of the parade. Last year was my first time taking pictures specifically for cosplay, but WAS not a cosplayer myself. (I made my debut here at the Civic Center this year, but was a cosplay fail in my opinion. To read more about my cosplay diasater, check out my Figure.fm post about the 2011 Sakura Matsuri.) I was quite excited that instead of just seeing pictures on the internet from my computer screen, I could actually be at a cosplay event and taking pictures on my own. I never went alone to Civic Center for the Sakura Matsuri, I met up with people from my AnimeFX club. This year’s cosplay for the Sakura Matsuri was great as usual, but I thought there were less people there than last year. Here is just a few of the best cosplay I saw at the Civic Center:

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

This Princess Peach cosplay was one of the winners of the cosplay contest.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I'm assuming this is from the series Panty & Stocking. Also was one of the winners of the cosplay contest.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

This Link was best of show, getting first place for her cosplay. Lots of detail went into creating the cosplay as you can see.

All three were winners in the cosplay contest. If you want to check out more of the cosplay from the Civic Center and festival, check out my Flickr, link near top of post/on the right sidebar.

While my failed cosplay brought me down a bit, what made up for it was my semi participation in the parade. I was not wearing my cosplay during the parade. I took it off before I left the Civic Center.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I love how most of the cosplayers are looking at the camera.

The reason why I called my participation “semi” is because I kind of joined the parade on impulse. I know the one of the guys in charge of the cosplay masquerade, and he was telling me about the parade and how it works and such. I decided to join just as the parade was about to begin, but had to wait a bit at the Civic Center for a late friend. Once he arrived we both ran up to catch up to the cosplay parade group, and then photo ops ensued.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

Being a part of the parade means that I wasn’t deep in the crowd taking a picture behind someone’s back. Since I wasn’t in my cosplay at the time, I tried to blend in with the roaming photographers that were constantly circling the cosplay group. All I had that was costume-ish was a sword I was carrying around on my back. At one point while I was away from the cosplay group, one of the volunteer workers asked me if I was a part of the parade which I quickly replied yes and hid within the cosplay group crowd. Like I said before I joined impulsively but was still legit due to the guy in charge of the cosplay parade group giving me clearance. I’m thankful for knowing such great friends and acquaintances who work in these kind of events. Maybe I’ll find myself working in these someday (I like working backstage).

After a long walk from the Civic Center to Japantown, it’s time for some food. Didn’t even eat any breakfast so my first food of the day was some spam musubi and Hawaiian Sun Guava drink, same as last year.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

What was different this year than the other years of Sakura Matsuris was of course the Sendai Earthquake which has had a impact all around the world. While walking around, most of the stores had fliers and posters on their windows that were about helping Japan by sending part of their profit to Japan to support relief efforts there. Under the Sakura, people were writing messages on a big piece of cloth that I’m assuming is going to be sent to Japan along with other relief aid. This is really the only way we can help being so far away from Japan. I know that Japan will rise again, higher than it was before, ready for the future. I pray for the recovery of Japan, and hope that others will support Japan not only by sending money, but actually by going to Japan once most of the problems that the earthquakes caused have cleared. Tourism is part of their economy, so we can support them by visiting the land of the rising sun.

After eating, the only (important) events left was the anime talent show and cosplay contest. Took photos of it and you’ll find it on my Flickr set. I’m not going to post the link again as I’ve given it a few times already in this post.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

Overall the festival was very enjoyable and I’ll always come back to see the Sakura bloom under the Peace Padoga every year. There may have been so ups and downs to my experiences with this year’s festival, such as my cosplay fail and my participation in the parade, but I’ll prefer coming to Japantown any day than just staying home. It’s also a nice opportunity to see Japantown with many people instead of the usual near ghost town that it becomes on normal days, though it can get annoyingly crowded, it’s good for the businesses there.

So far I’ve got through 2 out of 4 Japan/anime con events planned. The next event will definitely be another test in my abilities to handle anime cons, Fanime. It will be my first time going, but at least I’ve rooming with people I know who know Fanime inside and out. All I need to do is perfect my cosplay and I’ll be ready.

Please check out my post about the 2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival on Figure.fm. A lot of the stuff I’m referring to in this post is in there. Also if you don’t know yet, here is the link to my set of all my photos from the festival, about 380 photos in all: Photos from the 2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival on Flickr

See you around next post. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean another month wait….)


Japan Earthquake 2011 April 1, 2011

Posted by coolmikeol in Japan.
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As a way to get back on track with blogging, I’m going to write about my thoughts concerning everything with the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11. It’s been three weeks since the earthquake so it’s a good way also to look back on everything that has happened since then.

Image of the Japan Earthquake Map that shows all earthquakes since March 11. Click on this image to go to the Japan Earthquake Map.

I remember the day (or rather night where I live in the world) when the earthquake happened. I was just on my laptop like normal, checking my Facebook every so often, when I started seeing status updates about the earthquake. It was about 11pm local time when I at least knew about the earthquake, but I decided to check out the local news media to see if they were reporting it. The first video I saw of the destruction was just unreal, the fires, tsunami, the damage from the earthquake, video of the earthquake at the time it happened, all of it just horrified me. I couldn’t focus on my homework at all that I planned to work on during the night, because I was so distracted by the events going on on the other side of the world. My eyes and ears were glued to the TV watching every update of the situation, hoping that it wasn’t going to be that bad. Unfortunately, a 9.0 (previously 8.9) magnitude earthquake is not something that will have mercy on anyone or anything, so the damage for the earthquake prone country that usually has measures against these natural disasters was on a scale that Japan has not seen for many decades.

About a couple of hours later while watching the news which was focusing on the tsunami, the news started heeding warnings towards not just Japan, but to everyone of the Pacific Rim. Why? Because the tsunami generated that struck Japan with 10 meter high waves had the potential to cause damage to any coastline that was in the range of the epicenter. At first they were saying that there was no tsunami warning for my area, the San Francisco Bay Area, but then after a while the warning changed from none to a tsunami watch (chance of tsunami), then to a tsunami warning (tsunami is imminent) which worried my mom a bit since we live somewhat close to the ocean.Video of the early morning warning that was on local TV.

We did have several hours until the tsunami would strike the California coastline, we got the warning at around 1:30am and according to scientists it would reach the Bay Area by around 8:20am. Hawaii would be hit way before we did so I knew that if they didn’t receive a big wave we probably would not have anything to worry about. I was not awake at the time that the wave hit Hawaii but when I woke up at 7am I heard it wasn’t that big. There was no major difference in how the ocean looked, and what probably helped in doing so was because it was low tide at the time. The only place I heard that had some damage was at Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor 14, here is a video of some of the damage:

I ended up not getting much homework done due to me constantly watching TV, or checking status updates from friends online. I managed to sleep but only a few hours. I wasn’t worried too much about San Francisco being hit with a tsunami that could cause damage, but I was more worried about Japan itself, a place that I think about everyday, a place I want to visit so much. That Friday during the time at school my head had a constant headache, not from lack of sleep but from the worrying I was doing all day about Japan. I knew a couple of people there, mainly bloggers, but I felt really bad for the people of Japan and really wished I could help. I know that I can’t really go over there and help, moreover I would probably become a liability to the help effort there because of my low level of understanding of Japanese language, and also because I wouldn’t know where to start and who to work with. Every Friday I have my AnimeFX club and on that day they were collecting money to donate to the JSA (Japanese Student Association) for the relief effort in Japan. I donated a couple of dollars there. Some of my other friends I talked to about donating money for Japan said that they would rather donate to the Red Cross, which is understandable because there are greedy people who would take advantage of any situation to make some money, like taking some donation money for themselves. We don’t know where our money really goes to when we donate, right? Some person says they are accepting money for some cause, you give some, and then that person is gone. How do we know that our money reaches the people we are trying to support? That’s just some questions that runs through my mind when thinking about why some people will only donate to legitimate humanitarian organizations, and I know that is how we should be thinking before giving money for donation.

In the first reports of the damage from the earthquake, the news reported a brief status on the nuclear power plants in Japan, saying that they were automatically shutdown and were fine. After a couple of days, the problem mainly with the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants was starting. I don’t know much of the details, because much of the reported news is crap , but from pictures and info from non media people within Tokyo, Japan, there were explosions from some of the reactors I think from the water turning into steam and separating into Oxygen and Hydrogen gas, pure hydrogen gas alone being explosive when exposed to oxygen. There were other reports of partial meltdowns of the fuel rods, and that the radiation was spreading, thus leaving the whole area uninhabitable until the radiation breakdowns or is removed. I’m not going to go into more detail about the whole nuclear situation in Japan because I’m no expert in the nuclear field, and I don’t fully trust the mass media’s “storytelling”.

Being so far away, the only way for me to know what was going on in Japan was mainly from TV, the sources being from local news or the big news companies like CNN or FOX news. I didn’t really think about any problems with the news at first, but when listening to FOX news when my grandma was watching, what and how those reporters was reporting the situation in Japan, I became extremely annoyed with them. I mean I always disliked FOX news even before the Japan earthquake, but this put it over the top. All it sounded like is criticism, not constructive criticism, but destructive criticism about how the Japanese were handling the situation. For example, FOX news was saying that the Japanese government was downplaying the situation and was hiding info from the Japanese public, meaning that they are not being transparent with the overall situation. I thought to myself, “So what? You want to make people panic? I’m sure their government would tell their people info if they needed to for safety reasons.” As if our own government doesn’t hide info from us as well. If we were in a similar situation we would be in worse state due to a couple of reasons, besides government problems, we would have public unrest, and unpreparedness. The Japanese are handling the situation as best as they can; there is no looting, violence, and aid is getting to the people. America can talk because it has not gone through any kind of major nuclear problems, so until we can deal with a similar problem on our own soil, I don’t want to hear how bad the Japanese are handling the nuclear crisis. One more thing, I hate how these big media are making the whole nuclear thing in Japan sound like everyone is leaving the country as if it’s not fit to live in anymore. The radiation mainly affects the area around the power plant. Sure the radiation can spread via wind, water, food, through cargo shipping, etc., but most will dissipate when the radiation breaks down. The only main concern I have with the radiation is the more dangerous isotopes of elements that have longer half-lifes, but still I’d only worry if I was within 20 miles of the affected area. Anyways if your thinking where did I get all this info from, it’s just from what I heard on the TV so I guess my info is just as bad as anywhere else. I just wanted to express and explain how I feel about the mass media coverage of the crisis in Japan.

Here is a link to one of the posts I trust more about Japan: Tokyo Evacuation? Read Danny Choo’s other posts about Japan after the quake to get a different perspective about the situation in Japan from a normal person’s POV who lives in Tokyo.

*Sigh* I think I got everything I wanted to talk about out of my system. I’m sorry if I was pointing fingers but this post is about my experiences with the events and how I feel about everything related to the Japan earthquake event.

Japanese 101 – A college semester of Japanese December 18, 2010

Posted by coolmikeol in Japan.
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Sensei’s final class doing review for upcoming final exams.

Wow how time flies, I remember when I did the post about my first week of Japanese class. I did mention in that post that I was going to make continuous posts about my progress in my Japanese class, but I got lazy and also had other classes to focus on. Well anyways, this post is to summarize my experiences of my JAPN 101-01 First Semester Japanese class.

My semester started in late August with me taking this class and three other classes, one of them being Japanese immigration in the US  history class. I had no prior knowledge of the Japanese language, besides the several phrases and words you hear constantly from anime watching, and so I felt, while this was going to be a great experience learning Japanese, I also knew that it would be a challenge as well. Back in high school it was required for me to take at least two years of a foreign language, the language being Spanish. I choose Spanish because I didn’t have interest in any of the other languages at the time, them being Chinese, French, and Japanese. Why I didn’t choose Japanese? Well I was not into the Japanese culture like I was today, I was just your average American watching whatever was on TV, like Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. I had a hard time learning Spanish and had pretty bad grades in the class because I didn’t have any interest in the language. I remember telling myself that I was never going to take a language course again. That was before I got interested in Japanese Pop Culture, before I got into it so much to make myself do something I never imagined I would do, learning Japanese, and even right before I choose to take the class I was hesitating to take it because it felt I was doing it on impulse. I convinced myself to do this for two reasons, one was for the units for school, and two was to see how dedicated I was to Japan and my interest in it. I knew for a fact that if I was motivated and interested enough in any subject, I could do well in it. All throughout my semester, my word held well as I maintained high grades in hopes of it someday bringing me closer to the land of the rising sun.

The class itself was organized very well, meeting once every weekday for an hour in the morning. We had a schedule of what we were doing for each day, homework due, and when tests and exams were. A few times however I overlooked obvious things on my class schedule and on those occasions caught me off-guard for turning in homework and a couple of mini exams. The book we used is Genki 1: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese 1 along with its red workbook. The class was focused on basic Japanese grammar usage, along with learning the Japanese alphabet (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji), to be able to read, write, speak, and understand basic Japanese.

Hiragana and Katakana are part of the basic knowledge of the Japanese language. Memorize these are you will be able to read Japanese, though you need Japanese grammar and vocabulary to understand it.

During the first couple of months, we got into learning and remembering Hiragana and Katakana right away. I had no problems with learning Hiragana. Hiragana is the basis alphabet for Japanese, so you can write solely in Hiragana and be understood, but usually Katakana and Kanji are mixed in writing. Katakana is essentially the same like Hiragana, but most of the characters are different from the Hiragana ones except for a few. Katakana is used in a few ways, such as for foreign words and names, and for emphasis to gain attention such as advertisements. Kanji is slightly different, and for me, much more difficult. Kanji are borrowed Chinese characters that each have multiple meanings, appearance, readings, and usage. What makes them difficult for me to learn is how each is individually unique, so it makes it hard for me to memorize individual Kanji. Many single Kanji have multiple meanings and thus different readings and usage, and so it’s hard to memorize the different combinations of hundreds of Kanji. I know that some Japanese have trouble with Kanji as well, so I’m not too worried about lacking in the Kanji department. I guess what made it truly hard was that I only had a few months to digest all of it into my head.

The grammar stuff overall is not too hard to learn. I’m not going to mention everything I learned because there is so much. If you ever take a look or get a copy of the textbook I used, I studied lessons 1-8 of the grammar. At the very least I can make simple sentences in Japanese such as 私わはたちです。(I’m 20 years old), 私のともだちわうたうのがじょずです。(My friend is good at singing.), and おてあらいわどこですか。(Where is the restroom?). The style of sentence structure of Japanese seems to be the same through all the different grammar rules I’ve learned. The subject of the sentence is first, followed by time, adjectives, etc., then ended with the verb. In short the subject is always mentioned at the beginning of the sentence and the main verb of the sentence is at the end. Once you have that down, the structure in the middle of the sentence is fairly loose and free moving so it’s not too restricting. Another important thing in Japanese grammar is the particles such as わ,に,を, etc. Particles are used to separate the different parts of the sentence. Japanese sentences do not have spaces, so particles play that role partly. An example, the particle わ(wa) comes directly after the subject of the sentence to indicate what is behind it is the subject of the sentence. (Ex: Watashi wa amerikajin desu. (I’m an American.) “Watashi”, meaning I, is the subject of the sentence indicated by the following particle “wa”.) There are many kinds of particles used in Japanese and they are very important in its grammar structure. I just wanted to give some background on what Japanese I learned, this is just a tidbit of my whole semester’s worth of studying.

This is what my Japanese studies look like.

The class itself was a fun experience. I remember the first day of class, my two senseis were talking to each other in Japanese while I took my seat where I would be sitting everyday. Since we were starting from the bottom up in the Japanese language, we started with greetings and basic phrases and such, most of which I already knew from my hours of anime watching which made me happy. Throughout the semester we would do a lot of speaking practice by speaking in pairs, usually with the person who sits next to you. My partner wasn’t too great with Japanese as she would constantly forget some of the stuff we did in class, but I helped her out a bit and also it made me feel better about myself because I knew it better than her. I know that’s kinda mean, but you know how when others don’t know something but you do, you feel better about yourself? Do you know what I’m talking about? I hope so. Moving on, one of my senseis was a starting new teacher, and so there was some days where evaluators came and watched her days when she was teaching the class, and some days where she brought in a video camera to record herself teach the class so she can watch it and learn what she can do better. At her day being in the class, I felt sad but also glad that she was my teacher because she helped me out and also because she tried her best to make the class fun. I wish her good luck in the future for her teaching career.

All of what I learned in my semester came down to my final exams. It was yesterday at 8 in the morning and for about two hours poured my semester’s knowledge worth of Japanese into it. I got to say it was real tough, not like my previous 7 lesson tests. I know I didn’t do so well on my Japanese final, mainly because I didn’t have too much time to study beforehand due to all my other finals and papers pecking at me to be done. I believe I got at the very least a B on my final, but accounting for all the mistakes I realized I did after the fact, it could be worse. My final grade I got for my Japanese 101-01 class is a B, which is good and also predictable when I think about my performance in the class as a whole.

I think my decision in taking Japanese 101-01 was a great decision for me, as it sort of shows myself that as long as I’m willing and passionate enough to work hard, I can achieve and find my future, which is the story of my life right now. I’ve always felt lost in a thick fog, not knowing where I should go. Certain radical events have happened in my life this year, and so finding a future for myself is very crucial. It seems that I’m slowly finding my way through the fog, finally above it, but still need to fight the obstacles above it to reach the stars and my future. As a college student who is free to make my own decisions but under the influence of the current global economy, I’m still finding ways to enjoy life and pursue what I want to do, what ever that may be.

P.S. – I have a couple of review sheets, Hiragana, Katakana, and some Kanji practice sheets as PDF files. Here are the links to those: Hiragana_Others Hiragana_Practice_ Katakana_Practice_ katakana_combination I also have some Kanji writing practice sheets but they don’t have any descriptions about what each are because these sheets go with the Genki book I used for the class. If you want those as well, request it and I will post it.