Daigaku Z: This Is (not) A Drill

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

The Thursday shooting on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon is the latest tragedy of a type that is far too commonly in the news. Of the twenty school shootings thus far in 2015, Umpqua was the most lethal, with ten fatalities. It is also the most deadly school shooting incident since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

That paragraph is sickening to write, and even more sickening to have to write in such a banal, matter-of-fact tone. I can only imagine the utter disbelief that someone from outside the United States reading it might be enduring right now. “Z,” they might say, “surely this kind of horrific violence cannot possibly be as commonplace as your opening has implied it to be. You have to be exaggerating for effect. This cannot be how the young people of America learn– under fire.”

I so very much wish it wasn’t that bad. But at the same time I cannot help but feel lucky that it is not as bad as it is in other parts of the world. It was only three years ago– on October 9th, 2012– that Malala Yousafzai was shot on her school bus simply for attempting to go to school in Taliban-controlled Pakistan. Millions of children the world over who would want to learn are instead pressed into service in sweatshops– or armies. It’s tempting to paint American schools as something more akin to Battle Royale. But it would be a lie. The truth is scary enough.

I don’t need to look too far from home to get a taste of the fear that’s becoming routine in education. Again, in that apocalyptic-in-retrospect year of 2012, the University of Pittsburgh endured 160 bomb threats over two months (mid-February through April). There were no injuries or violence as a result of the threats, but 136 evacuations were enough turmoil that it was a significant disruption to classes. It cast a long shadow over the University, even today.

Thursday morning, during Japanese language recitation, the fire alarm went off in our quadrant of the Cathedral of Learning. We were confused, but somewhat relieved that our phones had not gone off with a shelter-in-place order. While we stood outside, Ninomiya-sensei idly mused about the bomb threats of the past, and we were all notably more uneasy until we went back into the classroom minutes later. There was no explanation. It was, we all guessed, probably just a drill.

Thursday morning. And Thursday afternoon. But the night never ends.

5 Reasons the Berryz Kobo Final Concert Was Heartbreakingly Perfect

Berryz Kobo final concert stage

The stage for Berryz Kobo’s final concert at Budokan.

 

On the evening of March 3, 2015 in Tokyo, j-pop idol group Berryz Kobo performed its final concert at Nippon Budokan, eleven years to the day following its major debut. While the all-girl group is known for doing everything from performing a capella harmonies to dancing in fish costumes at its concerts, the seven members had a few more surprises up their sleeves to surprise and delight their fans until the very end.
An Unexpected Setlist
One of the most iconic songs in the Berryz repertoire is “Special Generation”. As the first of the group’s songs to hit the Oricon top ten, it has been featured in several concerts over the past ten years, usually near the end. Imagine the surprise, then, when it was the very first song of the night. The setlist proceeded to include several B-sides and album tracks, and the girls performed full versions of all twenty four songs with no medleys, solos, or small group numbers. The selected songs were heavy on opportunities for crowd participation, guaranteeing a completely engaging show from start to finish.
From Cinderella to… what?
After opening the concert in magical transforming Cinderella dresses, the girls stepped backstage while a brief video chronicled their adventures from their elementary school debut days to adulthood, including footage from their Anime Next and Paris appearances. When they returned, they were dressed in monkey outfits that were anything but elegant, celebrating the fun novelty songs that made them stand out from their Hello! Project peers with one final performance of “Yuke Yuke Monkey Dance”. In an ironic play that only Berryz Kobo could pull off, the girls followed that number with a spirited rendition of “I’m so cool!”
Breaking Kayfabe
Pro wrestling fans may be familiar with the term “kayfabe” which refers to the in-character story lines and personalities that we are supposed to believe about the wrestlers. The world of idols is similar, but we got a few surprises during the girls’ final messages to the fans. Kumai Yurina has long been known for her “Enjoy!” catchphrase. She explained during her speech that it came from a questionnaire she filled out early in her career. When she was asked for her favorite word, she wrote tanoshimu — and then her manager later erased it and filled in the English equivalent. In an even bigger shock, Sudou Maasa confessed that while she always said she’d auditioned for Hello! Project because she was loved Morning Musume… that was a lie. At the time, she auditioned simply because her little sister was doing it, and she couldn’t even tell two of the most popular group members apart.
Self Produced
Berryz Kobo producer and Rhythm Heaven creator Tsunku revealed on his blog that the members of Berryz Kobo were heavily involved in the production of the show, including the selection of the setlist and costumes. It’s a fitting transition from a career where their public lives, as we saw, were micromanaged by others. With two members continuing with Hello! Project backstage as advisors, and two others remaining on the front lines as “playing managers,” it appears as though the overarching Up Front Agency is realizing the wisdom of leveraging its young talents’ years of experience. The other beautiful outcome is that when we look at all of the positives outlined above, we know that they come from the members’ love for their fans and their experiences with the band.
That Final Number
For their last encore, Berryz sang “Love Together” with a live pianist accompanying them. Voices quavering, their singing seemed to grow steadier and stronger as the audience chanted for them and eventually began to sing along, a sound which barely made it through on the broadcast but was deafening inside the arena:
 
Toki ga sugi Sorezore no 
Michi ni mukatte yuku 
Dakarakoso Kono shunkan 
Takaramono da yo 
 
Wasurenai wa Kyou made no 
Suteki na kono michi wo 
Suki yo Suki Daisuki 
Mata aeru yo ne
Time passes, and we all
Head toward our separate paths
That is why this moment
Is a treasure to me
I won’t forget the road
We’ve traveled together until today
I love you, I love you, I adore you
We’ll meet again, right?

Daigaku Z: Warring States

Daigaku Z is a weekly column about what it’s really like to study the Japanese language and culture at a major university. Z is enrolled as a student at the University of Pittsburgh East Asian Language and Literature department after an over ten-year career in the information technology industry, and is pursuing a second degree with the aims of being a translator. This is the story of that degree.  

In 2013 and 2014, the theme of the long-running Kamen Rider series was, on the surface, fruit. Each of the Armored Riders in Kamen Rider Gaim had a preferred weapon, which was matched to a fruit ranging from grapes, bananas, kiwis, and durians. However, the true theme of the series– introduced in the opening moments of the show’s first episode with all the subtlety of a mace made out of a massive brass pineapple– was a retelling of sorts of the early 17th century in Japan’s history, more commonly known as the Warring States period.

I am fairly certain that Oda Nobunaga did not solidify his power in what would soon be considered a unified Japan through the use of a large sword resembling an orange slice. Similarly, I’m also not convinced that Nobunaga used the awe-inspiring power of Rayquaza and Arceus to bring his rivals to heel. With the sheer amount of times that Oda Nobunaga is referenced in Japanese pop culture, someone not familiar with the basics of what actually happened could easily be mightily confused by the massive smear job being done upon him. It would be like Benedict Arnold being considered the worst villain in American history for his role in betraying the Army of the Colonies, but not understanding why he actually did it. The man who in his younger years was known as the “Fool of Owari” is shrouded in awe and fear.

Nobunaga was one of the warlords in the final years of the Muromachi shogunate, and he himself was instrumental in the downfall of the Ashikaga clan that was supporting it. His own band of warriors contained three classes of fighters: spearmen, archers, and gunners. Using the primitive (by our standards) muzzle-loading guns of the late 16th century as brought to Japan by Portugese missionaries, Nobunaga innovated the state of warfare by arranging his gunners into ranks to alternate fire, raining down continuous bullets upon his enemies the Takeda clan– a clan which was known in Japan as the initiators of the age of firearms in the country. Nobunaga’s cleverness in making up for the faults of the slow-loading firearms leads most military historians to claim that he was the first commander in the world to deploy gunners in such a fashion, beating out the British and American commanders by decades if not a century.

Starting from what is modern-day Nagoya, Oda Nobunaga spread his forces throughout the central portion of the main island of Honshu, pushing west and north in equal amounts. No one was safe from his ruthlessness. In 1571, Nobunaga torched a mountaintop monastery for the crime of having failed to vow allegiance or neutrality in the ongoing struggle for supremacy. The Mount Hiei sanctuary was the premier scholarly establishment in Japan at the time. It’s analogous to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, both in the priceless knowledge forever lost and the petty reasoning behind the annihilation. Still, Nobunaga had a single goal: the unification of Japan. Nothing would stop him.

It is, then, a somewhat predictable twist that Oda Nobunaga would be assassinated by one of his own lieutenants. Akechi Mitsuhide, a retainer of Nobunaga’s who felt slighted by his master’s plans to name a successor other than himself, took it upon himself to rectify the situation in a similarly ruthless fashion. In June of 1582, Mitsuhide killed Nobunaga, his wife and children, his bodyguards, and his “companion” Mori Ranmaru. Unfortunately, while Mitsuhide was great at taking the reins of power from the “Fool of Owari”, he was somewhat less adept at solidifying his position, and in the two weeks of his rule a rival follower, the future Toyotomi Hideyoshi, releived him in the only way that was possible– he had him torn apart by peasants.

Oda Nobunaga never unified Japan. That was done by his successors, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. But the road to that unification was not easy; Hideyoshi was notoriously unstable late in life, launching two failed campaigns to invade Korea, and Ieyasu would institute crippling reforms to the social order that sowed the seeds of his family’s downfall some two hundred years later. Popular culture of today believes Hideyoshi to be a madman, Ieyasu to be a calculated despot, and Nobunaga himself to be a demon from Hell. Reality is not so cut and dried, of course, but for the period known as the Warring States era– the dawn of the Tokugawa Shogunate– one could be forgiven for buying into the hype.

Daigaku Z: Honne Mnemonic

Daigaku Z is a weekly column about what it’s really like to study the Japanese language and culture at a major university. Z is enrolled as a student at the University of Pittsburgh after an over ten-year career in the information technology industry, and is pursuing a second degree with the aims of being a translator. This is the story of that degree.

I’m going to confess, this isn’t the first time I’ve made an attempt to learn to speak Japanese. In 2009 I took a “continuing education” course at CCAC, which was a two-hour session once a week for two months, from which I learned almost nothing that I hadn’t already gathered from online resources. Then, a couple of years ago, our very own Jeanie tried tutoring some of us in the language as a side project, and while I learned more from there than I had anywhere else, it wasn’t nearly as intensive and self-reinforcing as this formal educational setting. Part of that is, of course, that I didn’t actually spend a whole lot of effort on it outside of the classroom; Jeanie’s a fantastic teacher, but at the time I wasn’t all-in on learning.

But, one thing that she did expose us to was a particular song intended to introduce the order of the numeric place words in Japanese. I’ll get to the song in a moment, but to explain place words, think of it like the words “hundred” and “thousand” in English. In English, we construct large numbers out of the counting numbers and a place word word: four hundred, eighteen thousand, and so forth. Japanese, however, only has counting numbers up to ten, and uses place words for all numbers greater than ten. So, if you wanted to say my age, instead of the English construction of “thirty-four”, you would instead literally say “three tens four”. While we could say that “thirty” is an place word, and that we’re just combining them backwards compared to “three hundred”, the way place words are usually defined is as a single, or the lowest possible amount that word can represent by itself, and that it is multiplied when expressing larger numbers in the same scale. Put more simply, it’s not an place word because we don’t say “three thirty” to mean 90. (I’m looking at you, French.)

So Japanese has place words. But because this counting system was developed outside of the West, and was already codified long before the Meiji Restoration re-opened Japan to the rest of the world, there are certain… shall we say, idiosyncrasies to Japanese numbers. For one thing, their place words go one rank higher than ours, at least while they’re still under the “million” range. The Japanese system is descended from the Indian and Chinese systems, which places the “break” between portions of a number at the ten-thousand mark instead of the one-thousand mark in European-originating systems. In their words, “juu sen” (literally “ten thousands”) is incorrect, but “ichi man” is correct (“one ten-thousand”). There is an extensive list of the words for these powers of ten available at Wikipedia.

In the words of Bill Cosby, I told you that story to tell you this one.

I mentioned above that the previous attempts at learning Japanese had failed to “stick” with me, due in part to both a reluctance to study and a lack of true dedication. It certainly was no failing on the part of my teachers, who have all done excellent jobs in imparting their wisdom. It wasn’t them, it was me. Still, one or two things did manage to stay in the back of my mind, mostly the overblown dramatics of some of the interactions we were learning and practicing. Then there were the visual and multimedia aids that Jeanie used in the hopes that they’d help.

Now, you should know something about me: I learned to read very early in my life, and I was conversing pretty much as soon as I could talk. My mom probably wishes I’d never learned to talk back, but what’s done is done. Anyway, the point is that I pick up on things primarily through repetition and connecting them through experience. For all the failings of early-life education, Sesame Street and The Electric Company were my bread-and-butter for getting me to speak and read that quickly.

So it was probably inevitable that, during the Japanese tutelage that Jeanie attempted, we would wind up watching preschool television, or something not entirely unlike it. We did manage to catch bits and pieces of Pythagoras’ Switch, a children’s show produced by the NHK. But the highlight (?) was a song by Genki Japan called “Ikura desu ka?”. This song will never leave your brain.

Which, I think, is kinda the point.

X-men, Amplitude, AKB48 Assaulted By a SAW, and a Professor Layton Follow-up

The crew, joined by Aki Munnell, Bryan Spiegel, and Sara Goldberg talk about X-Men the good, the bad, and the future.
THEN the show actually starts!
They take a look at the results of the Harmonix Kickstarter Amplitude. Give a final look at Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy and rate it.
Then they wrap it up with a talk about AKB48 and the recent attack on the group by a guy with a saw.

Want to see it the show live tweet at us using the hash tag #screwitdoitlive?
Read more

Going To Tokyo- Mission 1: Committing To the Trip

In the previous article in the series we covered the price differences between various conventions and going to Tokyo. In part two, we begin the process of building your trip to Japan.

Below in blue are the items of the “Order of Operations on Getting There” are covered in this entry (Mission briefing).

Order of Operations on Getting There

  1. Figure out when you want to go.
  2. Start Your Budget.
  3. Make sure your passport is up to date/getting your first passport.
  4. Find a place to stay during that time.
  5. Price airfares and make sure you can afford when you want to go. Here is a hint: It is expensive to travel during and around Golden Week or before Obon.
  6. Take the “Leap of Faith.
  7. Get ready to go.
  8. Packing
  9. Pre-travel
  10. Travel

Figuring out When You Want to Go

I do not think this needs much explanation, but this is your starting point for your trip. You need to decide when to travel, which Tokyo airport to fly into, when you depart and return, and how many segments your trip will have.

Go West!

With this let us take a look at something very important that does get forgotten about, the International Date Line. This is that magical, invisible line that is drawn somewhere over the Pacific Ocean that decides when a day ends and begins. Going to Tokyo or Japan in general causes you to cross the International Date Line. This is assuming you go from the United States and fly westward. If you fly eastward, a whole new set of day problems exist. To keep this simple, we will stick with going west.

When you plan your trip to Japan, you usually start with how much vacation time you have to spend on the trip. Let’s say you have 5 vacation days to spend. So, you book your flight to fly out Saturday and return the following Sunday, for a total 9 calendar days. WAIT!!! That is wrong. If you leave Saturday morning (from the east coast of the United States) you will actually arrive in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon. So, the reality is you lose a day of your grand adventure just in travel. Never fret! When you are coming back you typically arrive an hour or two after you left Tokyo (if you are flying to the east coast of the United States). So, that day you lost going you get back when return. That loss of a day is VERY IMPORTANT! Think of it this way, if you can only go to Japan for 5 days, you are only there for four days, three nights.

A truly terrifying prospect is flying eastward (from the United States). Many flights going east cause you to lose two days in travel. It may be a good idea to, as the Petshop Boys once sang:

(Go West) Life is peaceful there

(Go West) In the open air

(Go West) Where the skies are blue

(Go West) This is what we’re gonna do

-Petshop Boys: Go West

Start Your Budget

At this point in the process you will have to start creating your budget for the trip. How I have done it in the past is I look at how much money I can spend at the moment I am going to book the travel. This sounds awkward, but if you have the credit or cash available start your budget there. Always aim high. If you can afford $1500 for travel, then record it. If you can only afford $700 record it and start looking. At this point, as long as your passport is up to date, this is most likely the ONLY expense you will have until you actually leave on your trip. At this point you can create an estimate on hotel as well. If you look at staying at back packer hotels or hostels you can budget $35 a day. Remember, at this point in time you NEED to over budget. You also only need to have your flight and hotel roughly worked out. A trick that I used was to look at all the conventions I would go to over the course of the year, be it small local or destination, and add those costs together to get a budget. So, I used to go to three to five conventions in a year.

The other option is to use the values I created in part one of this series and build from there. The one item you should adjust is money for stuff. This should be a realistic number you can spend on stuff.

Making Sure Your Passport Is Up To Date

This one may seem like a “No Brainer,” but it happens. It happened to me on my most recent trip. Passports are good for 10 years as an adult. That is not EXACTLY true. The reality when traveling into Japan, your passport cannot expire SIX months or less from the date you enter the country. So realistically your passport is good for 9 years 6 months. I learned of this rule when helping one of my traveling companions get his passport. The rule is not weird when you look at how long you are allowed to be in the country on a tourist visa: six months. (You can stay for up to 180 days without needing to apply for a visa before traveling.)

What to Do If Your Passport Expires In Six Months or Less and You Travel Sooner

This can be a painless process depending on how soon you travel. I had to do this with one week until I traveled and did not have too much difficulty.

The following link goes through the process of renewing: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/renew.html

The estimated time for getting a non-rush renewal based on the US Government web site is 4-6 weeks. You should plan on 8 weeks, as a buffer. If you need your passport sooner, you need to go through the “Expedited” process. The difference is at worst one week difference between the traditional renewals.

The following link explains the process of expedited renewals: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/services/expedited.html

Now, there is the worst case like I experienced: the less-than-a-week situation.

How do you take care of this?

Easy! OK, not exactly easy. You will actually need to travel to a Passport Agency Office that does same day passports.

Here is the quick list of what to do:

  1. Have your new passport photo ready.
  2. Make sure you have you old passport with you, if you have one.
  3. Take your birth certificate, especially if this is your first time.
  4. Make sure that photo, without any sort of doubt matches the requirements of a passport photo. The last thing you need is to get there and have a photo they reject.
  5. Locate the closest passport center. Link to the list of passport centers: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/where-to-apply/agencies.html
  6. Call to schedule an appointment. The number is available on the Expedited Renewals page. Make sure to get an appointment EARLY IN THE DAY, especially if you need to return home the same day!
  7. Arrange how to get to the closest passport center.
  8. Make sure you have a way to pay for the passport. This may seem stupid, but I can see it happening. More so, make sure you have enough money to cover the passport. Expedited service cost more than the standard renewal, $60 more as of 14-April-2014. Link to Government fees web page: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/costs.html
  9. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PRINTED COPY OF YOUR BOOKED TRAVEL. BASICALLY BRING THE ITINERARY YOU GET FROM YOUR AIRLINE WHEN YOU PAY FOR YOUR TRIP!
  10. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR ITINERARY PRINTED AS PRESENTED TO YOU FROM YOUR AIRLINE! (Do not modify it in any way; if need be, print it landscape.)(So important I put it in here twice; I had to reprint one last minute because I forgot mine at home.)
  11. Do not be late for your appointment. Even though you will wait forever past your scheduled appointment time, don’t be late. Make sure you can tell the security guard when your appointment is. Also, leave your friends outside as depending on the guard they may or may not let them enter the agency.
  12. Do not be excessively early for your appointment. If you are there sooner than 15 minutes before your appointment they can deny you entry into the office.
  13. Make sure you do not have guns, knives, nail clippers, and anything that could be construed as a metal weapon. You will have to go through a metal detector and either dispose of what you have or not go into the agency. So, if it is metal, leave it in your car, hotel room, or home.
  14. Turn your cell phone off and do NOT take pictures. I watched the security people expel a person for talking on their phone and taking pictures.
  15. When you turn in your paperwork EMPHASIZE, without being rude or aggressive in tone, that you must have your passport as soon as humanly possible. You MUST be incredibly polite, as close to being a kiss ass as possible without coming across as one. Some Otaku have issues talking to people in such a way that doesn’t sound confrontational, rude, or awkward. Practice your “fear and trembling” approach. Think of talking to a teacher or boss and do it with the person that takes your paperwork. Something to remember, these are government employees who see many people in a day, and their jobs are secure. While customer service is important, they do not HAVE to be nice to you or help you in any way as the threat of losing their jobs because of bad service is not really there. They just have to take paperwork, give you a time to return, and send you on your way.
  16. They will give you a Will Call ticket. Under no uncertain circumstances should you let that out of your possession, as without it you will not get your passport, and potentially can allow someone else to become you.
  17. If you get a same day pickup be EARLY and have your PHOTO ID READY! It is important to know they will lock the doors at EXACTLY closing time. There are no exceptions.

The other option is to use a commercial service to do the same day renewal for you. This is expensive, but can be done if necessary. There are numerous businesses to choose from; use www.bing.com or www.google.com and search for “Passport Expedite” and the advertising companies will be the first results.

What to Do If You Do Not Have a Passport

First, if you have gotten to the point of committing to doing this trip, and have planned out a budget, and realized you do not have a passport, and then you have to go through the process of getting one.

The following link is to the US Government’s “Apply for a New Passport” web page that will interactively walk you through the whole process. It looks simple enough to use.

If you need a rush last minute passport, then use the same process as above in the “How do you take care of this?”

Find a Place to Stay

The worst thing to do is have airfare and no place affordable to stay. Some backpacker hotels will post rooms they have available based on your travel dates. The trick is to compare a number of places and then decide how to alter your trip to get you into a place to stay. You do not have to make reservations at this time. This should be a starting point. Around the time you are going to book, or even during the flight booking process would be an optimal time to book your hotel room. You can book at this stage and cancel or modify as needed, typically with no charge. If they charge a change fee, wait till you have your flights.

Price Airfares and Make Sure You Can Afford When You Want To Go

This is the first step in building your trip budget. Airfare is the single most expensive on your trip. Depending on where you are flying from, when you are flying, and which airport you are flying into your price could be in excess of $2000 dollars. The trick here is to know how to get affordable airfare. An important thing to remember is when the major Japanese holidays are. Trying to book during them or right before them will cost you more as demand for seats will rise.

Also, an important thing to note that traveling before Obon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival) or around Golden Week (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Week_(Japan) ) will be more expensive because of the high demand for seats.

Let’s start by going over some options

  • Booking through a travel agency such as IACE travel.
  • Self booking through travel websites.

Booking through a Travel Agency

This is actually a simple process. You look on the agency’s web site or call them and find either a travel package or just airfare. Their offerings can be better priced, depending on when you are going to travel. The trick here is to join their mailing lists to get deals.

Two of the biggest agencies are JTB (https://www.jtbusa.com/) and IACE (http://www.iace-usa.com/) .

IACE has special deals that they will not publish the prices for. This means you have to pick up the phone and call them. As an Otaku, this is something very difficult to do, but you have to suck it up if you want to use their discount rates. Another thing you need to be aware of, they will typically answer the phone in Japanese. Everyone there speaks English, so just say “hello” and they will typically switch to English.

JTB has a habit of posting their fares one way. So, you may get what appears like a good deal, but in reality can run you more money.

A huge thing to ask about when any of these sites give you a price, make sure to ask if Airport fees and fuel surcharge are included in the price. When booking through an internet site like Bing.com, Expedia.com, etc. they include those fees in their published price. Those fees can range in the $200-300 range depending. Also, the travel agencies will typically automatically look at a day or two before and after when you want to fly to find you a better rate. When you find a rate you want with the travel agency, you may have to purchase the airfare at that moment to get their price. If it is an incredible price

Self Booking

This is the most challenging and rewarding of the trip booking options. Think of it as a video game problem. Your quest is to build an itinerary that fits your requirements are within a specific price range. This method allows you to compare flight plans and durations to best suit your comfort level in traveling. Bing (http://www.bing.com/travel) allows you to search their prices and run the same search criteria on competitor sites. This will help you get the best deal (for self booking). There are airlines that have the same price on all online booking services. United Airlines was one such airline.

A huge trick to getting good prices is to book early, travel mid-week, and be flexible.

Get your best prices together, go back and look at your budget and see if you can still afford to do this.

Something important to remember, airfares are like the stock market they are always in flux. So, price your trip and plan on booking soon after confirming that you can afford it with your budget. Another thing is to use multiple computers to search for airfare. A number of my friends found that the airfare was cheaper using a different computer, the same site, and on the same day.

Leap of Faith

The truly hard part about planning a trip to Japan (Tokyo) is taking a “Leap of Faith.” What is the “Leap of Faith?” Simply put, it is your trust in your ability as an intelligent, mature person to believe you planned out your expenses and have taken the necessary steps to prepare for the trip. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do. There will always be the nagging doubt that you forgot to do something, won’t be able to afford the trip, are afraid better things will come up that you would want to do, or some other random thing.

Your “Leap of Faith” begins the instant you book your airfare. Up until that moment you can plan trip after trip, but they are just that: plans or dreams. A large number of American Otaku have social anxiety issues, phobias, or general insecurities in their own abilities, and actually booking the trip is a truly terrifying thing. Now, before you click “Book Trip,” you should have made reservations at your hotel/hostel/backpackers hotel. The thing is, booking a place to stay is something that anyone can back out of painlessly. Airfare, on the other hand is an incredibly expensive and potentially impossible act to cancel. I remember while booking my first trip to Tokyo that I almost threw up in fear of the set of events I set in motion. After clicking the final “Buy” button I was stuck with the following going through my mind:

And you may ask yourself

Am I right?…Am I wrong?

And you may tell yourself

MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?

– Talking Heads: Once In a Lifetime

At this point you have committed and the shock of spending $1000+ on travel has just set in. From here, if you are not an incredibly seasoned traveler, you are asking yourself: MY GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE? Remember this could be looked at as the most stressful part of the entire process. While everything else will be incredibly stressful, taking the “Leap of Faith” is the single most stressful event of this process. Why is the most stressful? As stated above, this single act locks you into the trip permanently. While there will be very stressful moments between then and returning home they will all be a little more bearable when you look back at when you took the “Leap of Faith.”

Something to think about: if you are a seasoned convention attendee, picture entering the dealers’ room not expecting to buy anything. Then, you find something that catches your eye that is a lot of money, and you buy it. The thrill and terror of buying the item is there and you wonder why you bought it and realize you cannot return the item. Then, after the shock settles, you are now more than willing to wander around the dealers’ room to spend without second thoughts. The purchase of airfare is very similar to that feeling. After taking this leap, everything else, expense wise, will be easier. Trust me. Spending the money becomes much less traumatic from here out.

In the next article in the series will cover the remaining steps of the “Order of Operations on Getting There.”

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