Hey everyone. Greetings from Japan.
The hotel we're staying at has internet access in the rooms which is bomb, but I have to go to breakfast soon so I dont know how long this will be. Im not really sure where to start, but Ill begin by saying 10 hours is a long fucking time to be stuck in an airplane seat. I almost lost it a few times, finished a book, fell asleep during Spiderman 3, got bored during High Fidelity, and actually enjoyed Blades of Glory. I also made friends with the guy next to me who is in my program. We arrived in Narita when it was dark since our flight was delayed, and the Waseda students had to rush us through customs with all our shit, down some escalators and then shoved us into the train shouting "shinjuku! shinjuku!" which we knew to be a place and reasoned was the stop we should be getting off at.
Tokyo at night is not nearly as overwhelming as seeing the immense sprawl of 22 million people during the day, but it was still entertaining. My new buddy, his buddy and I had to traverse the train cars in search of the rest of our group, dodging the smiley official who was checking our tickets making sure we were in the right seats. We even pretended to go check on our luggage while he passed the seats we were in until he left the car.
There were lights everywhere! The Waseda students where wonderful. They helped carry our luggage, constantly asked us questions in Japanese, and took us out to dinner after we dropped our stuff off at the hotel. We all went out to a nearby restaurant and some people got food, but Molly and I werent hungry so we just ordered Sapporo beer and called it food. Trust me when I say, Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi are loads better IN Japan. The two Waseda volunteers explained that the ingredients are different which is why it tastes so good.
Basically the last two days have been a clusterfuck (excuse the language) of information and OVERWHELMING sightseeing. The orientation stuff took like all day yesterday, and then we went to Toujou, the Tokyo Metropolitan building, which took us way above the city. Seeing the whole city in daylight is so intimidating, but I took pictures and will upload them soon. Also, the Waseda students keep making efforts to converse with us but only a few of our group are actually skilled enough to respond. The rest of us give one word answers or say "wakaranai" (I dont understand). I need more vocab! A few of us are going to Akibahara (the electronics district) today to get dictionaries so maybe that will help.
Next time I post Ill talk about the anxiety of meeting my host family, the drunken bonding in our room with three other members of our program (only one guy got drunk and he was so amazing at telling drunk stories, Ive never laughed so hard in my life), and the complete and utter fear I have and will have over taking the placement test after losing confidence talking with the Waseda students.
This city is so amazing! TV here is hard NOT to watch.
ja matta ne
Here is my second update, which will encompass the rest of the second day along with the next few. First off, I don’t have internet at my house, but Ill be on campus a lot so we’ll see how it goes.The second day started off like the rest, loong orientation stuffs followed by an extra long tour of Waseda’s campus by my two volunteer buddies, Haruko-san and Sato-san (Toshiki-san), Sato-san actually did an exchange to OSU so he knows quite a bit of English, but Haruko-san knows next to nothing. She was devastatingly sweet though, and I understood the majority of what she said and was able to communicate relatively well with her.
You want to know why all Japanese are so small and thin? Well, I figured it out. It’s because Tokyo is like Kansas City on a day when god decided men were fish. It’s like 35 degrees (that’s Celsius) here every day. And, the humidity is intense, you wake up to heat and moisture (mushiatsui: they even have a word for the dynamic combo!). And, we walk everywhere. And not just a short walk to the chemist, Im talking at least 2 to 3 miles per outing. The nice thing is that since everyone has to be out in this assy weather no one cares if you you’ve been sweating like a pig ALL day, cause so is the entire populace. However, Tokyo is supposed to get uber cold in the winter, after the rainy season of course (more wetness!), and snow a lot which Ill love til I have to walk those aforementioned 3 miles to campus every day.
So after the tour a bunch of us decided to go to Akihabara, the electronics district. We figured out the trains with a little help from Sato-san and Tsuyuno-san who came with us, and before we knew it we were surrounded by more seizure-inducing lights than is safely conceivable. We went into a monstrosity housing around 8 floors of phones, computer gadgets, games, etc. This is where a few of us bought our Nintendo DS’s and the electronic dictionary game for it. I was going to just get an electronic dictionary (denshi jisho) by itself, but one of the other international students said that the DS’s system was more bang for your buck. He saw a flow chart comparing a $500 casio dictionary and the DS’s game and the DS won hands down. And, it was only around 16,000 yen plus the game, so it was about $190 all in all. It’s incredibly effective.
After our purchasing, we went into another monstrosity with yet another 8 floors of electronics, models and many, many books all dedicated to anime and games. The store was aptly named, Gamerz. Molly, David, Josh, and I made it out unscathed (without buying anything), but the other Josh caved.
We went back to the hotel and gathered in Zach and Josh #1’s room to continue bonding over Asahi and Kirin while we figured out our DS’s. I didn’t drink but Molly sure got better at Japanese after a few. Most of the international students from Oregon are great fun. I especially like Molly, who was my temporary roommate at the hotel, David, Josh #1, Josh, Zach, and James. So many of them have been here before!
Hmmm there’s still so much in my notes to report, but I need to shower cause sweating all day has it’s down sides and sleep follows showering. I NEED to sleep. Every day is one thing after the other full of sweat, walking, incomprehensible Japanese, walking, AMAZING food, and sweat. So, sleep is no longer just a pleasant end to the day, it’s a faceplant into the mattress.
So Ja Ne for now
It’s so hot here! You wake up to muggy heat, and you go to sleep in muggy heat. I cant wait for winter.
A few days ago I met my host family for the first time. We all met our families and we were all sweating bullets over it. It was especially nervewracking because we had to introduce ourselves in Japanese to the whole group first. Ugh I hate public speaking!
My host family consists of two people, Eiichi (75) and Seiko (6, with a daughter who moved out about a month ago and a son who lives outside of Tokyo. Eiichi, Otosan (father) to me, is retired and used to teach haiku (Japanese poetry). Seiko, Okasan (mother), is a homemaker who teaches Ikebana (flower arrangement). Funky-chan is their little Australian Finch who makes a sound “puuuuiiiiiiiiiii” every once in a while. They’re both such amazingly sweet people I cant stand it sometimes. My Okasan is really adorable, she holds onto my arm when we walk to the train station or when Im holding the umbrella for her to block the sun. She laughs at me when I use the formal language they drilled into us or when I say “oishii” (delicious) while eating because I have yet to say I don’t like the food.
But that’s the thing. I LOVE the food here. I can already tell that it’s one of the things Ill miss the most when I come back. My Okasan doesn’t eat meat either, she thinks its healthier to eat a balanced meal of tofu, seafood, egg, vegetables, rice, etc. and she’s an amazing cook. She loves that I eat natto and umeboshi (look them up if you don’t know what these are), and she taught me how to make onigiri, those little triangular toasted rice balls, this morning which was really fun. Another thing, Im at least, AT LEAST, a head taller than both of them. It makes for funny looking public outings. And I have to bend down to listen to my Okasan when she says something to me.
Additionally, if I ever hear anyone say that Japanese serve small portions Ill punch them in the face. Everywhere we’ve eaten, be it at home or a restaurant, the portions are at least as big as in America. They eat sooo much here! I don’t even get hungry as much since its so hot and more of the food is absorbed (balanced/healthy foods) when I eat, so Im full but never really greasy-stick-your-ribs full.
Meeting my Okasan and Otosan was extremely terrifying, I mean, these are the people Ill be living with for a whole year so I wanted to please them. I barely talked the first day, the second was a bit better, and now I feel more comfortable explaining my plans for the day even though my grammar must make them think of special ed. I also do a lot of smiling and nodding while I look up words in my DS.
Why does everyone here wear pants when it’s 800 degrees out!? James says that he lost like 10lbs in the three months that he was here before. You walk everywhere and if it’s not hellishly hot it’s hellishly cold and snowy.
We took the Japanese Language Placement Test the other day and I discovered an important fact: We learned nothing useful in high school as well as in college. The nuances, pronunciation, and vocab are so different from what we learned in classes. I cant wait to start classes here, studying Japanese seems like more fun here since it’s not such a disconnect from everyday life. Getting into the mindset is easier. Also, it apparently doesn’t matter where we are placed after the test since all the credits we earn transfer back as the next class we would have taken (400 level for me).
Uwaa, this email is longer than I intended. So much happens every day! Ill put off the rest of my notes til next time. For now Ill end by saying that while I do get looked at, it’s not as if people are staring blatantly all the time. I mean, this IS Tokyo, and foreigners are pretty common, especially around campus. Mostly, I get a curious glance, followed by categorization, and then maybe mild interest.
The other international students kick ass! Drinking with them is really fun.
Okay, now this email is over.
Next time: Getting lost on campus, exploring and the loss of directional sense, attractive men and women, little blue hats, drinking at Hub, and the Russian prostitute.
The last few days have been so intense. I cant wait for classes to start so I have some downtime. Ugh. We went on a Tokyo tour the other day with a bunch of the Waseda students. We visited Asakusa and the huge temple there…plus the long line of tourist traps. The temple was cool though, even with the 10 million people walking around. There’s a place in the temple with a statue fountain of purifying water which you use a handle to dip and wash your hands with. There was a helpful sign with pictures of a cartoon person going through the motions of washing their hands and then drinking the water (much to the disbelief of Jiro-san who didn’t think you could drink the water). Then their was the smoky pit where you light a stick and put in the ash filled put upright. Then you waft the smoke towards you, patting your shoulders, face, and top of your head. The Waseda students said that if you patted your face with the smoke it made you prettier.
Oh man Im so tired. We walked around ALL day yesterday. A bunch of us went out to Harajuku which is basically the fashion district of Japan. Ive never seen so much goth stuff in my life. Also, a creepy black guy directed a few of us to his back alley shop where the clothes were $160 a piece. His repetitions of “you would look great in this coat!” and “You want this shirt! You’re interested right!” were more than a little sketch for us so we crept away the first chance we got. Harajuku was a little too much like an American outdoor mall for me, so I don’t think Ill be returning much over the year, but the HUGE temple there was definitely worth going to. It’s called Meiji-Jinju garden and is absolutely beautiful. We walked around there for a while and stumbled across a traditional Japanese wedding at the temple itself. I took some covert shots of the bride. More hand purification!
The test went okay, I got placed a little below what I think I should be in but Im supposed to wait until I get to the first class and then talk to the professor. The levels here are so different than back home thought that I might be exactly where I should be. Also, Im taking two other none language courses. I chose War and Peace, all about the mindset, leadup, and different kinds of wars, and a class called Theories of Post-Colonialism. Im so excited for them to start! Im also shadowing an extra Kanji class with a few of the other international students, Ken, Molly, David, and a couple others. I cant take it myself cause of schedule conflicts but Ill study with them and do all the work nonetheless.
It’s impossible to orient yourself here. There’s nothing to identify with north and south. There’s no horizon really. Its just buildings, buildings and buildings. Ive gotten turned around so much and I have great directional sense!
Oh yeah, the Russian prostitute. Well it started with a bunch of us going to this Italian restaurant near campus, where this very friendly lady stopped by our table and asked to sit down with us. We assumed she was just another international student what with her broken English and Japanese. Throughout the dinner we observed her being very touchy and friendly with everyone and then, on the way out, Jenny aside-ed to me that her name was Tanya and since she sat next to Tanya was able to hear her say “I have a Japanese husband but he’s never home, so Im looking for a ‘friend’”. I was excited, my first experience with a real prostitute! She later appeared at various tables at the bar, Hub, we visited later that night.
Hub was really fun James, Kevin, Zach and I shared many drinks and stories together while we dodged the sight of Tanya. The ride home on the train was interesting too, swaying, swaying, swaying.
GAH! I have to go meet up with Molly and Sue for our health exam (to use the gym later).
Sorry for the delay in this, my fifth update. So much happens that it’s virtually impossible to get it all down in a timely or comprehensive fashion. Although, things have calmed into a more predictable routine now that classes have started.
OH. BTW. Ben. Lauren. WTF!? Why are you getting married while Im away?! I don’t want to miss your wedding!! GAH! We’ll have to have a party when I come back…
Back to the program…
I’ve decided not to contend my Japanese class placement because, while I know all the grammar we will be introduced to in this class, I am as of yet not comfortable with using it. After this class I should be able to hold up basic conversation without sounding like special ed. I’ve also been translating manga in my free time since I can buy them here for a buck a piece (stupid America, $10 a book?!), and the one I’m working on now is basically a novel with some pictures…I have to look up every other word.
However, my vocab is improving and my understanding of the grammar and word choice is growing, although I’m not sure when Ill get to use the words “shitai” (corpse) or “gunjikomondan” (military affairs advisory group)…I’ll just have to come up with the proper segue.
I’ve also discovered that there’s a rather large disparity between reading/writing a language and speaking it. I may know the grammar in my head, but when it reaches my mouth all preconceived order takes a holiday. Subject, verb, object…no…object then verb?….hmmm…Ill just throw the words at them.
My War and Peace class is so amazing. The professor is a middle aged English man with an incredible wit, and the class will cover a section of history (post-WW2 conflicts) that I haven’t focused on yet. We’ll even be covering 911 and the reasons for and explanation behind the events surrounding it. Im so excited!
The other day I was on the train on my way to class when I heard a commotion at the end of my car. It was pretty packed, as usual, but I could make out to men arguing, one standing in front of the other who was seated. The language that came out of the standing man was so much like a yakuza (gangster) T.V. drama that I smiled the whole time he cussed the seated man out. Rolling the R’s, ending in harsh consonant vowel combinations, it was amazing. They even got into a macho kicking fight as the standing one left. Who says everyone in Japan is overly polite?
The relationship with my host parents changes a little everyday. In the beginning, I thought I would get along with my okaasan the best with my otousan as a peripheral entity. Now, I feel slightly annoyed with my okaasan, cause she uses different slurs in her speech than the waseda students I talk to and henceforth I have trouble understanding her, and more comfortable with my otousan since he basically leaves me alone but is prone to asking the odd question here and there. He’s so cute. He’s a haiku professor like I said, so he’s a pretty devout scholar and stays up most of the night immersed in his books. He’ll shuffle over to me while I’m doing homework or translating in the living room and explain the history behind some kanji on my page or kindly ask me what I did that day. It’s wonderfully unobtrusive, and most of the time his explanations of history and kanji are really interesting.
The waseda students took us to Kamakura the other day for a little temple and shrine sightseeing. I got a bunch more names in my cell phone that I don’t really know…and two of the really cute ones kept asking us girls if we remembered their names (Kazu and Shuske btw). Im keeping in touch with two the students, Tsuyuno and Toshiki, and somehow got roped into playing tennis with Toshiki and a bunch of his friends on Tuesday. I don’t even know how to play tennis! I usually just hit the ball as hard as I can with the racket. It’s fun to see how far you can hit it…but I don’t think that will make me any friends this time. Why cant I just eat glue like I did in elementary school; the tried and true friend-making-strategy.
Hmmm. I think Ill end it here for today. Ill try to post more pictures in the mean time.
My address here is:
167-0022 c/o Isohata 5-19-19 Shimo igusa, suginami-ku
Im not really sure how you would mail something here…
Oh, and my cell number is:
(yes that’s the right amount of numbers)
But its easier to email my phone (yes I said email my PHONE, technology here rocks):
okay that’s it for now!