In my retrospective lens I see myself liking the USA a lot more than Japan. My experience was very skewed by being more or less stuck in Tokyo for my entire time there. Lack of free time and funding prevented me from getting outside of the greater Tokyo area. Tokyo is amazing, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to return, just not for longer than a week or two. I already miss Japanese food and service, but I loved the fresh air when I got back home so much that I forgot about those things pretty fast.
My experience in Japan would’ve been a lot better if I hadn’t been so far separated from my friends there. I really didn’t appreciate how far apart the Keio international housing was from each other… I really wasn’t expecting that before I left.
It was really nice in Japan how everyone in public minds their own business for the most part, despite the occasional trouble that can cause. I felt like I had my privacy even on crowded streets and trains. I miss the trains too… It would be so much better in the US if we had public transit like Japan. Come on mass rail!
Filed under musing, whining
This is probably stupid but at the moment I’m looking forward to reverse culture shock because I think it will be a good opportunity for introspection and self-analysis.
Today I discovered an interesting paradox in my way of thinking. I really despise the fact that there’s so much wasted space in this one building on Keio’s Mita campus. But at the same time I really dislike all the other buildings much more and find myself wanting to go to the building with the wasted space. And I think part of the reason I don’t like the other buildings is because they feel cramped and narrow. *sigh* I’m not really sure though.
Well, today was the opening ceremony, of which I understood about 1/3 at best. After that was a campus tour which I took as an opportunity to meet a few more international students as well as some members of KOSMIC a group that’s really all about international student and japanese student relations. We also got our textbooks for our classes.
To my disappointment I found out that level 3 grammar is all stuff I’ve learned already. No fear! Everything else is about par and I can study grammar on my own. It’s the practice that I really need and I’m planning on getting that from daily interaction like I sort of have been anyway. Besides, I’m not 100% comfortable with the material we’re supposed to learn, so it’ll be a good opportunity to review and learn new phrases and vocabulary. Optimism is the way to go!
Anyway, tomorrow is my first day of classes and I desire a shower, primarily to humidify my lungs and sinuses… goddamn cold or allergies or what the hell ever. Using my room as a drying rack helped with that last night I think, it wasn’t really an option since the dryers here are crap.
I had an appointment with an academic adviser today during which I was supposed to find out the results of my placement test and discuss briefly what my options for study are going to be. Well that was all fine and wonderful I thought, the directions were pretty simple if a little vague: 6F South Building at 10:00am. So I arrived at campus at about 9:40, plenty of time to find the place. I went to the building on the map labeled South School building and walked up the stairs only to find that there was no 6th floor, at least not accessible to me. The elevator looked like it might have a sign that said students are supposed to take the stairs, but I figure i can get away with “I can’t read this sign! I don’t know japanese yet” So i took the elevator down, so then I went into another building which was on the same side of campus and went to the 6th floor to find that there was nothing happening there… So i go down and ask someone which building it was in my best japanese… to get the response of the building I had already looked in. So i go back to that building look again, try to get to the 6th floor which I believe was just attic space, find out it’s locked, go back down exasperated and decide to go to the International center and ask since it’s now 10:00 and I don’t know where it is. I get to the building with the international center in it and see a sign that says Academic Interviews are upstairs….
To the best of my knowledge this building that I was in was in NO WAY the south building, if anything it was the WEST building… I was kind of pissed but I still go upstairs and in japanese apologize for being late and am guided into the office of my academic adviser. At last!
Turns out the interview was primarily in Japanese, but she told me I was in level 3, which was satisfactory to me. Level 3 students are supposed to be at the top end of elementary Japanese (by japanese standards) At WM I was in Intermediate Japanese, but that really doesn’t mean much in terms of actually being able to express oneself adequately, especially since we rarely have opportunities to practice speaking and listening. The adviser asked me to do a self introduction in Japanese which I’m guessing is because by level 3 we should be able to do a pretty good self introduction. So I said that my name was Mark Johnson, I’m majoring in linguistics at the college of William and Mary, and I said I want to play guitar (oops!) I meant to say… I like to play guitar… thinking in english has it’s downsides when your mouth is speaking a different language. Then she asked me what kind of music do I like to play and I said.. Folk and Bluegrass, but since she didn’t know what Bluegrass was I tried to express it to her but it ended up being a mixture of english and Japanese because it’s just hard to express bluegrass in Japanese… Anyway she was really nice and accommodating of my trips and blunders in spoken japanese and we sorted everything I was supposed to do out pretty well.
So that’s that, now I can figure out what other classes I’m gonna take. Woohoo!
I woke up early again today, around 6 am, jet lag for me turned into shifting my schedule to that of an early morning person without any other major side effects. Bakeries not being open early here is really annoying… But then I guess there aren’t really that many bakeries back home anyway. If you ever come to Japan you should learn to like seaweed, because it is in many many things in some form or another, including some of their bread as a filling. I finally found the bread that has the sweet bean paste in it, it was called あんぱん which is pronounced roughly “ahn pahn” in traditional English phoneticization. My first personal goal has been to learn the names and kanji (chinese characters) for as much food as I can, because it’s difficult not knowing what anything is when you’re looking for something to eat. On the other hand I can always count on surprises!
I withdrew 25000 yen which is roughly 250 US dollars and went down to the Sangenjaya station commuter pass office and got a 3 month student commuter pass for roughly 20000 yen. That should, starting tomorrow, let me go from Sangenjaya station to Tamachi station, which is near Mita campus of Keio University, for no additional cost, as much as I want. The other handy thing is that means I can get to Shibuya in 5 minutes, and for free instead of walking for 45 minutes or so. Shibuya is one of the worlds busiest/biggest shopping districts. It’s pretty nice, just a little crowded.
Setagaya-ku is a pretty laid back, as Tokyo goes, ward of the city. I found the Setagaya Park (世田谷公園) while walking around, I took some photos but had a little trouble getting the lighting to look right, it was darkly-overcast. This is a pretty gorgeous time of the year in Tokyo, it’s the end of the cherry blossom season, just before they start falling en masse. So there are lots of hanami (はなみ) or flower festivals going on this weekend. Apparently there are a lot of Dennys here. I knew McDonalds was around, but I was happily surprised to find a nearby Subway as well.
Filed under Japan, travel
So I’m in Tokyo. It’s a big fuckin city. Extremely dense. Period. .
I flew over in the beginning of this week. The plane ride wasn’t too bad until the last 2 hours or so, by which point I had developed some pretty severe eye strain and could barely keep my eyes open to find my way to the dorm. Thankfully I ran into someone else going to the exact same place as me on the plane and we made the trek together.
It’s quite an adjustment going from rural and semi-rural Virginia to one of the most densely populated cities in the world. I miss nature pretty hard, but it’s interesting seeing all the dense little clusters of garden and plantlife that people throw together in their tiny living spaces. I will say that the one park-type area I saw was gorgeous.
There’s been a ton of things to accomplish: Apply for alien registration, open a bank account, get a cell phone (otherwise there’s almost no way to keep in touch with people here), keep myself fed, turn in a thousand and one forms to Keio’s various departments, pay rent and housing fees, buy essential items for apartment living, figure out the train system sufficiently to navigate at least the small area of city I need to, oh and get a commuter pass.
I havn’t done a lot of those things yet, some are particularly difficult because the people I must talk to only speak japanese. I think today I want to walk to Shibuya, and then finish up some homework for classes that I couldn’t finish before I left because I got sick right before I had to fly, something I don’t recommend to anyone.
There hasn’t been too much unexpected culture differences, but as far as Americans go I’m pretty familiar with a lot of Japanese culture, traditions, conventions, and social norms. That’s not to say I havn’t learned anything already, we had an interesting and educational Intercultural Communication workshop for Orientation. There were some pretty useful anecdotes there.
I just finished making coleslaw this morning… pretty coarsely cut, but I only have a knife so that’ll just have to do. Well… off to Shibuya I think…