DELAY
Date: Jan 21st, 2008 11:45:39 pm - Subscribe
Mood: gelatinous


So the delay between updates has an explanation. Not a good one. But, an explanation none-the-less. Cause: the Kyoto trip, New Years with host family, sickness, and gray area. In that order.

Mazu (first), our trip to Kyoto. Over the FuyuYasumi (winter break) Maddy, Ken, David, Sue, Clay, Roxy, and I all went to Kyoto for a week. We stayed in this little hostel for an extraordinarily cheap price, the operator of which spoke in an amusingly high pitched English. We went to (via bus/foot/train), experienced, and performed our touristy duty at numerous temples, castles, and shrines in Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka, and had an amazing time bonding as Ryugakuse (international students).
Some of the highlights:

1. The night bus we took to Kyoto and back from it was, despite its name, impossible to perform nightly activities in. Sleeping was rendered impossible due to the extremely narrow seats, bumpy ride, and lack of anything resembling comfortable posturing. The Japanese passengers had no such problem however. By engaging some sort of hive consciousness, the entire busload of them became, concomitantly, inanimate as soon as the driver pulled the curtain closed and got under way. We were baffled by the abrupt silence but not deterred. We exchanged our Secret Santa gifts with each other (it was Christmas Eve), drank our small amounts of celebratory liquids, and tried to keep our voices below annoying.

2. Kyoto was cold. Massively cold. But we forced ourselves out of the hostel every morning and managed to see such places as Kinkakuji, Kyomizudera, and Osaka Jouen. Took a ton of pictures. Half way through the trip we compared and the average was about 725 pictures.

3. At one point when we stopped for lunch, Maddy (mom) pulled out her very hard to find, rare, precious container of Peanut Butter and made us sandwiches. We then decided to make the PB internationally conscious and wrote English, Japanese, and Korean (for each of us respectively). It then took on the honored position of Trilingual PB and remained with us for the majority of the trip.

4. David, our good Christian Boy, got fabulously drunk one night which of course had nothing to do with the rest of the guys who were NOT encouraging him…
Once he returned to the hostel, he proceeded to veer drunkenly into our, the girls room, fall on us, wave his coveted half-eaten apple around, and demand we make him a sandwich. Needless to say, we haven’t let him forget about it.

5. The ride home on a consistent with the first but different night bus. The only notable event involved a strange man, probably mentally handicapped, who was sitting in front of me who kept muttering to himself and occasionally letting his flatulence have free reign. I wanted commiserate with the people around me, but due to my non-japanese blood I remained the only person awake.


It felt good to be back in Tokyo, the morning sun rising over a sleepless night and a crooked horizon line of amalgamated buildings. Strangely enough, it felt like coming home.
At one point while waiting for a bus to some nonspecific temple in the bone chilling cold, Ken constructed a suedo haiku that expresses the general feeling of the whole trip. I managed to immortalize it in my notebook:

Rain mixed in with snow
Descending upon my soul
Where is the bus?

What makes this a haiku was the following expletive by Ken himself: Fuck!
He was really cold, as were we all, but this little piece of culture brightened our frostbitten noses.



I don’t have a lot of time right now since finals are approaching next week, and I have to write a paper by the end of January. Sorede, I probably wont update again until the Haruyasumi (spring break) starts up. Ill have plenty of time then to talk about the remaining events stated previously.


Sorry, hang on til then!


-Spork

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My first Bounenkai
Date: Jan 2nd, 2008 7:48:19 pm - Subscribe
Mood: astronomical


I wont start this email off with another story of some random middle aged man hitting on me. Despite the fact that it has happened again, arguably twice since they approached me simultaneously but independently. I’m tired of writing about them, but I might add it briefly after this update for anyone who’s interested.

Who closes a library on Christmas eve? Some of us nerds actually LIKE spending time in there. Now Ill have to find another way of sending this before I leave for Kyoto for a week.

So classes are officially on break for about two weeks for the winter holiday. But what is the real significance of this in Japan? Bounenkai. End of the year party. This time of year every group, class, business, and collective of people go out to celebrate. Its been going on for about a week already, and if you go out after dark anywhere in Tokyo right now, the streets are full of joyous celebration (ie. Drunken revelry).

Cultural Note: The night life in Tokyo is a little different than in the U.S. Because the city is a sprawling entity of massive horizontal and vertical proportions, it is necessarily linked by bullet trains. Trains that run on particular schedules. This means that everyone starts drinking around 7pm or so (depending on level of tolerance) so they can make the last train home around 1am (depending on train line required).

Having just completed a rather long paper for my War and Peace class, I was certainly ready for a night out. Not that the paper was unpleasant, on the contrary I really enjoyed writing it since the subject fascinated me (the relationship between the physiological and psychological as a hierarchic and serialized system rather than dualistic, and the deficiencies inherent in the human brain). But, I was a tad wiped afterwards, so I was looking forward to going out with Kyle, ‘Bitter’ James, and my War and Peace professor Paul. Paul is one of those extremely intelligent people from England who wields his wit with brilliant precision, and regularly has us all rolling in the aisles. He’s been in Japan for a few years now, having taught at Todai (Tokyo University) before coming to Waseda, and delighted in showing us a few cool places to hang out in Shibuya.

We collected at the Hub first, where he proceeded to buy all three of us drinks and such, and where we all got to know him a little better. After this initial venture away from sobriety, he took us to an English pub in Shibuya. He treated us (again) to authentic imported English ale that he said was an acquired taste and then followed up by stating, “‘It’s an acquired taste’ is English for ‘it tastes fuckin’ awful’”. After a few more drinks and many lewd and bawdy exchanges between the four of us, he told us a story from back home in England.
He grew up in a small provincial town, and one night at one of the local bars there happened to be celebrating, the fans of two different football (soccer) teams. Since it was a party, one of the teams was dressed in superhero costumes and the other seseme street costumes. Well it didn’t take long for alcohol consumption and rivalry to become a massive brawl spilling out into the street, with Bigbird beating the crap out of Batman and Cookie Monster wreaking absolute havoc. To hear him tell the story in his British accent and adroit word choice…all three of us were in tears.

After the English pub he walked us to the club (dance/techno/whathaveyou) district of Shibuya and then back to the station where we all agreed to make such nights out a regular occasion. While Kyle, ‘Bitter’ James, and I waited at our train platform with the 50 million other post-consumption revelers, we noticed a rather, er, extremely drunk 20 or something Japanese guy next to us. By ‘noticed’ I mean he performed a spectacular fall at our feet. Kyle, bless his soul, moved immediately to help the guy stand and make it on to our packed train, where he basically had to hold the mumbling guy up from behind, arms locked around his chest. The guy kept up his incoherent expulsions while occasionally reaching out to tug on various peoples clothes, bags, etc.

It was all pretty amusing, all of us exchanging grins and chuckles, until the guy drooled a significant amount of vomit all over himself and, subsequently, Kyle’s arms. Screaming ensued as the guy started careening around the cramped train car, cheeks puffed out, guaranteeing a more projectile repeat performance. Just as the car doors opened and Kyle desperately launched the both of them onto the platform the guy splattered the floor in a wide semicircle and then proceeded to yawn in technicolor over the side of a nearby stairwell, resulting in the emanation of surprised screams from below. Kyle then wrestled him to the ground of the platform where he continued to literally pour vomit. ‘Bitter’ James merely stared on in astonishment and glanced up to wave vacantly as the train carried me away.

I had managed to miss my last train home, much to my fear tinged annoyance, but so had ‘Bitter’ James as I found out later when he called. We met up back at Takadanobaba Station and started walking to campus while he wrapped up the tail end of the story for me. Kyle got home okay, but the two of us had to spend the remaining hours between 1:30am to 5:04am (time of first train) in the computer lab on campus, host to all manner of stranded students. I watched south park for a while online before passing out for an hour. I woke up to completely dead legs and James laughing at my stupid expression. Jokes on him though, he had to write a paper which was due in 8 hours.

On the way back to Takadanobaba station, I experienced the 5:00 am side of Tokyo, the side where streets are eerily empty but still covered in piles of random vomit. There was a group of young guys near the station holding up one of their unfortunate friends who was doing the burping dry heave-post violent regurgitation into a bag. I paused in amusement before ascending to my platform.

Nothing else of interest happened before I left for Kyoto except for a whole lot of sleeping and tea drinking. So that’s it for now! Next up, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka!

-Spork

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Dying my hair, Nikko, and Malabar
Date: Dec 20th, 2007 7:59:34 pm - Subscribe
Mood: not guilty


Personal Declaration: If one more random, slightly creepy guy hits on me on the streets of Tokyo, I’m dying my hair black. I mean, in the bars is one thing but on public streets, really.
My most recent run in occurred while I waited at my train’s platform at Takadanobaba Eki (station). I had observed a moderately ragged, mid – 40s looking guy imparting some vast wisdom to a less than interested girl on the way into the station, but since this isn’t altogether a strange sight I had dismissed it with an amused twinge of detached pity. Oh cruel irony.
He looked like your garden-variety yopparai (drunkard) who, if not already homeless, looked to be on the waiting list. As he crested the stairs to my platform I swear I felt his eyes land on me, and I can make a fair guess at the internal dialogue that landed him next to me.

Possible inner reasoning: Ooo, there’s a blond, blue eyed foreigner with headphones firmly inserted, reading an English book, and darting apprehensive glances in my direction. Think Ill go ask her some blatantly obvious questions in broken English while waving my saltshaker of Vodka around.

Yes he was in possession of a (thankfully closed) saltshaker of Vodka, which he tried to pass off to me during our one-sided conversation. I knew it was Vodka because his unilaterally determined proximity to me was within wafting distance of his breath. I tried to gaigin smash the situation, but he just squashed me back. Despite my feigned lack of Japanese speaking ability, and my one-word answers to such questions as, “You foreign student?” he maintained the belief that I wanted him to continue with attempts to engage me in conversation.
At about the time he went to go buy me a drink from one of the many vending machines on the platform, my train arrived and I gratefully boarded. I had hoped that he wouldn’t be able to track me onto the train, being too drunk to locate first the vending machine and then me. However, as the doors slid closed I turned back around to face the platform, and there he was. At the window. Pointing awkwardly with his saltshaker at the newly purchased beverage in his other hand, eyes eagerly inviting me to accept the drink. I was relieved when the train pulled away.

All my friends here found this horribly funny. Seriously though, dying it black. Blond is a weirdo magnet.


Recently Adrienne has chided me for not remaining loyal to my end of update previews (see end of last update). So, I will do so now. At least in this email. Starting with coffee.

In the U.S. I admitted to loving the smell but detesting the taste of coffee and routinely expressed, rather self-righteously, that I had no need for it. I was more likely to snuggle up with a cup of warm tea. Now that I’m in Japan though…I cant seem to get enough of coffee. My host parents drink tea constantly and always have a pot ready made, while in the U.S. it was the opposite. I’m starting to think I’m just instinctively contradictory. When everyone wants tea I demand coffee (and vice-versa). It would explain why I experience such intrinsic enjoyment from arguing. However, I am well on my way, if not already addicted to this lovely new addition to my already full retinue of neurotic behaviors.

Segue!

I’d tell you all about our programs trip to Nikko, but there’s really not much to say. It was a fairly typical sightseeing trip. The nature was breathtaking, the food was sigh inducing, and the 4 hour bus ride passed quickly because Maddy, David, Ken, Kevin, Sue, and Clay are really entertaining.
We did manage to get a picture of ourselves and Chuck Norris kicking a sheep at the farm we had lunch at (in front of a real sheep too). I should explain perhaps. David is a real whiz with paper clips and makes figurines/statues out of them. I can’t express to you all the sheer delight and awe that welled up within me when he showed up with a foot tall statue of Chuck Norris kicking a sheep. I have pictures though; can’t wait to show them off when I get back.
We also visited an amazing beautiful temple and an auditory-only waterfall. Though, the intense fog made the drop off look like some sci-fi void of nothingness. Almost as cool as a real waterfall in my opinion.

Aside: My Japanese friend Reiko recently told me, after listening to a brief exchange between me and another American friend (in English), “From your mouth, a lot of interesting words, uh, things I have learned.” She and another Japanese guy with us inquired as to the idioms and slang I was using. I explained to them that I tended to make up my own variations, and that my personalized permutations aren’t commonly used. Reiko is such a doll. Just the other day I explained the words “sketchy” and “creepy” to her and the slight differences between their colloquial usages.


The last comment on update number 12’s end notes had to do with a restaurant called Malabar. There are more Indian restaurants in Tokyo than in the entire west coast, and my friends like to frequent this particular establishment since they have an unlimited Nan and curry lunch set. The last time we had lunch there however I had eaten just before meeting up with everyone and so declined when asked for my order. They indicated that I would have to buy something if I was staying and then scolded my friend Sue and I for nibbling on the unlimited Nan because we didn’t purchase the specific lunch set (only their grossly overpriced drinks). We were then stared at like we were sneaking off with the silverware, and I was mildly irritated over being treated as such. So. I decided to kill two birds with one passive aggressive stone. Let’s just say that I rid myself of a lot of very small change when I paid my bill. I couldn’t help smirking a bit when our bitchy server dropped some of it and had to start over counting. I’m not a vindictive person, really. Petty maybe.



Ja


-Spork
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Thanksgiving and the Gaigin Smash
Date: Dec 20th, 2007 7:58:17 pm - Subscribe
Mood: Smashy



My four-day Thanksgiving weekend started out strong, full of promise. Then, much like finding out god is a teakettle, I was left feeling unfulfilled and embarrassed over my previous enthusiasm.

On Thursday night the entire Oregon program went to a remote hole in the wall restaurant in Shinjuku called The Pink Cow for a Thanksgiving buffet. A vegetarian friendly Thanksgiving buffet. The tofu dishes were good, but the real reason I went was to consume as much pumpkin pie as humanly possible, which I did. The following three hours featured 5 of my close friends from the program and I racing all over Shinjuku expelling our calorie highs in the only way we knew how. Needless to say, we have a nice stash of pictures now. I wont call them incriminating because that would imply that I’m ashamed of what we did. At one point we raced each other up and down the escalators in this massive mall building/complex. Before you get up in arms over us giving Americans a bad name, it was late, and hardly anyone was even there. Better you should scold us for the numerous other “gaijin” (foreign person) things we do, consciously and unconsciously. My friends and I have taken to calling such activities the “gaijin smash”, as in:

“Hey, Kevin, you should totally gaijin smash that crosswalk.”
----translation---
“Hey, Kevin, you should totally cross when the light is red for the crosswalk because there’s one every 10 feet in Japan, but everyone stops anyway.”


After musical escalators was over, we ventured forth until we spotted a sign for “Nude Trump” (Trump is the Japanese name for card games such as poker) relatively close to the main drag which is an unusual location. Much like my previous encounter with the homoerotic street in Ikebukuro (see Update 10), curiosity trumped shame, and I found myself drawn unerringly to the seedy steps under the “Nude Trump” sign.

Author’s Note: English is used everywhere in Japan in varying degrees of correct application. Also, Katakana (the alphabet used for foreign words) is manipulated often to create shorter combinations of words. Thus, “Nude” could very well mean “New Dictionaries”. The short colloquial word for the popular restaurant “First Kitchen” (pronounced “Faasto Kitchin”) comes out sounding like “Faaking”. I love it. Additionally, cities here are built vertically not horizontally; most buildings are extremely tall with each floor containing two or more shops.

Maddy, Ken, Kevin, David, and Sue followed me reluctantly up the dimly lit steps and down the hall, vocally expelling bursts of anxiety. The next 3 flights of steps were narrow, twisting, and eerily quiet except for the persistent thumping of bass most likely emanating from our destination. I remember giggling as I tried to open the tiny door of the bar, pulling like an idiot, then pushing to greater effect. Apparently “Nude Trump” just means “bar” in Japan. Yeah I know, anticlimactic, but it was funny watching the 5 of them panic while ascending the sketchy building.


Unrelated Side Note: There’s Nightmare Before Christmas paraphernalia everywhere here right now. I know it’s the best movie ever made but still, what gives?
Hehe, “I am the clown with the tear-away face…”


A bit ago my Okasan and her friend Satoko-san took me to a relatively close park for a small, local festival. Within this festival there would take place something like a local renaissance fair with samurais riding around on horses in full regalia, taiko performances, and various other traditional activities. The samurais were really kakkoi (cool), and their authentic armor plating and such was enchanting. The best part though was when one of the horses hurled his samurai into the flimsy divider. It looked far more embarrassing than painful as he chased after his errant beast, his little broken flag flapping around behind him. I may or may not have burst into disrespectful laughter.

There was also a small zoo like configuration complete with petting zoo. The various tropical birds, a hyperactive squirrel, a sleeping silver fox, and a collection of sheep, goats, and cows weren’t too surprising. But there was a white lab presented too, and that is so not a zoo animal. The petting zoo was completely adorable. It contained within its wide fenced off area a variety of bunnies, baby chickens, geese, ducks, and other small furry/feathered things. The flock of geese and ducks waddled surprisingly fast around the pen in a huge group honking for snacks like little terriers.


I was pretty exhausted that day, having been out to The Hub until late the night before, and after the first 3 hours wanted to return home. Unfortunately, we stayed until the whole fair was packing up, and then decided to walk home even though we took a bus initially. We wound through the countless narrow side streets in rather nice neighborhoods while my okasan, otosan, and Satokosan walked the pace of 70-year-olds and commented on the odd bush or flower gardens displayed along the way (much like an old man who reads the billboards out loud as you drive). Meanwhile, I grew more exhausted, accompanied later by a ravenous desire for food. It took forever to get back to Iogi, and by then I felt like slamming my face into the aesthetically pleasing fence they pointed out.


Ill leave my stories of Malabar, my growing (disturbing) interest in coffee, and our programs trip to Nikko.

Until then Ja’ ne!


-Spork

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NHK, Baseball, and Finger Puzzles
Date: Dec 20th, 2007 7:57:02 pm - Subscribe
Mood: Norrisy


Konnichiwa,

November in Japan is much like the bitter cold of Oregon, only dryer and more deceptive. I almost wore a skirt today because the sun was blinding, but at the last second I changed my mind. Thank god, it’s so bitterly cold that my nose is seceding from the great nation that is my face. Also, this morning there was a “human accident” on the way to class.

Author’s Note: A “human accident” occurs when someone throws themselves in front of the train. It sounds more graphic than it really is; at least to the people currently in the train. We don’t actually witness someone imitating a thousand kilos of strawberry jam. All I was aware of was that something was making me late for my grammar quiz. Accidents like this occur frequently, or so I’m told.


The other day my entire Japanese class visited NHK studios instead of having class. NHK is one of the main, and most well known, TV stations in Japan doling out news, dramas, and game shows, and the studio has a section for visitors to explore. This section…is pretty damn cool. Besides all the information you can gather on your favorite dramas there’s a 3D theater, a surround sound station, a voice over (dubbing) participation station, life size mock ups of your favorite NHK characters (Domo-kun), and even a small mock set of the NHK newsroom that one of my classmates was asked to do a fake news reading on. I caved at the gift shop and bought a stuffed Domo-kun. I sleep with him every night now though so buyer’s remorse doesn’t assault me too often.

Sleeping with overpriced commercial item = negation of guilt over past actions involving said item
(Like buying a hooker)


Personal Declaration: People are people; regardless of geographic location people are still annoying. Rushing to class via the far too narrow sidewalks while random people weave slowly back in forth in front of you doesn’t inspire very many humanist impulses. I usually fight the contrary impulse. The one where your arm shoots out and shoves them into traffic.



On a cultural note, Japanese baseball is quite different than American baseball. I attended my first game between my school (Waseda University) and our rival school (Keio University), and the deviations had more to do with the spectators than the actual game. For one, most of the student section (including myself and the other internationals) showed up for the game at about 7:30 to wait in line…the game didn’t start til 1:00. After finding our seats in the large, rather professional looking stadium, we are then trained in the various cheers we will be participating in during the game. These cheers are led by an EXTREMELY enthusiastic collection of female and male cheerleaders.
I emphasize the gender difference because while Japanese female cheerleaders are virtually the same as American female cheerleaders, the male equivalents are completely reversed. They wear black uniforms, remain completely serious throughout, and tend to be the manliest men around. Their job is to strike exaggerated poses while screaming various one word cues for the crowd; the female cheerleaders do their thing behind them. When not cheering, these paragons of testosterone stand facing the field with their hands behind their backs, calmly surveying their domain. It’s really quite entertaining.

Another thing of note is that the crowd supporting either team bows to each other before and after the game. This ceremony includes the bowing of massive team flags interspersed throughout the stands and is accompanied by the singing of your school’s anthem. I found the whole thing drawn out and boring for the most part, but the respect shown to the opposing team was a nice change of pace from American bad sportsmanship.

The actual game was business as usual, except for the fact that every time your team was up to bat you had to stand and cheer/clap for them the whole time. I found myself wishing they would get out just so I could sit down faster. Most of the internationals shared this sentiment.


I recently went out to a casual dinner with my host parents and the couple that lives next door to us. They are related to each other in some way and seem to know each other pretty well. The restaurant had a basket of those little finger puzzles (interlinked metal thingies) at each table for some reason, and all four of them started in on them immediately after ordering. They handed me one as well, and while I absently tinkered with it they set about solving theirs, proudly declaring each successfully completed puzzle. I didn’t realize I would be judged according to my performance until my Okasan handed me a different “easier” puzzle to work on with words of encouragement. Slightly alarmed at this point, I desperately worked on my item of communal worth. The solution to the puzzle continued to elude me, and I was nearing the use of my knife and fork when our food arrived, thus sparing my incompetence from public display. My brain isn’t meant for word games, finger puzzles, Chuck Norris, or Sudoku. I’ve come to terms with this, why cant the rest of the world?




Ja ne


-Spork




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