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Archive for October 2011

Modern meets traditional, pop culture meets high culture

Posted by Shaun

Today was perfectly timed to remind me of what I like about Tokyo.

I went to the Pokemon Center Tokyo today for some nerdy, gettin'-in-touch-with-my-ongoing-childhood shopping. The highlights were suddenly noticing the Pokemon Center theme music from the video games playing in the background, trying on a baseball cap like the ones all of the Pokemon trainers wear, and taking a picture with Pikachu, who was dressed up in a cape for Halloween. The Pokemon Center didn't fulfill my secret dream of actually going on a Pokemon journey of my own in a magical, family-friendly alternate reality in the same way that I imagine a trip to the Harry Potter theme park would for a Harry Potter fan, and photos with giant Pokemon mascots can't quite fill the longing in my heart for a Pokemon partner all my own, but giving an awkward hug to Pikachu's mascot head and having the cameraman say "Pi-pika-pi!" instead of "cheese!" came close.
It was also a lot of fun to see the sheer array of Pokemon merchandise that exists in the world.

 After we left the Pokemon Center, we discovered that right across the street was a beautiful garden that used to be part of a palace in the Meiji era. It was a strangely moving experience to walk around this garden and know that I'd been surrounded by tall buildings just moments before. Even though you could hear the sounds of the nearby trains coming and going, the garden maintained a peaceful feel that was well worth the 150yen admission fee.

Then we realized we were really close to Tokyo Tower, so we decided to walk there, and found out that it overlooks a Buddhist temple. Where else can you find such a fascinating contrast?

Kawagoe Matsuri

Posted by Shaun

Saturday October 15, 10:01 PM

Before we left for study abroad, Knox gave us a pre-departure manual to read. Towards the back, there was a chart depicting the peaks and valleys of cultural adjustment.  There’s the period of confusion right after arrival, then the happy honeymoon stage, then frustration and culture shock, and then the line of the chart climbs upwards as adjustment begins. As the abroad experience continues, the charts usually show another valley where one begins to have to deal with deeper cultural issues, and the line climbs upward again as the student gradually becomes more and more culturally competent. The highest peak on the chart is right before the student returns home, and the whole thing repeats again for re-entry.

Well, my adaptation process has been more like Dazai Osamu’s short story, The Sound of Hammering (in Japanese, トカトントン tokatonton). I’m not usually the sort of person to employ literary allusions, especially when my audience probably hasn’t read the work I’m referencing, but we read this story in my Japanese Literature After 1945 class, and I thought the comparison was too apt to ignore. Dazai’s story deals with the immediate post-WWII period, and I'm in no way trying to compare the minor troubles of a study abroad student to the existential crises facing the Japanese people immediately after losing a war and finding themselves under American occupation. But to a certain extent, I keep finding myself relating to the emotions of Dazai’s narrator in The Sound of Hammering. The story begins when the narrator hears the emperor’s radio announcement of Japan’s surrender. As his commanding officer is talking about suicide rather than dishonor, the narrator hears a sound, the toka-ton-ton sound of hammering in the distance, and that snaps him out of the militaristic trance he had been in during the war years. As the narrator struggles to put his life back together in occupied Japan, he experiences moments of intense optimism and productivity, only to hear the hammering sound again, in his head this time:

“…I narrowed my sleepy eyes in a mood of utter contentment and recalled the dictum about work being sacred. Then, just as I breathed a sigh of relief, I seemed to hear in the distance the faint sound of hammering. That did it. In an instant, everything appeared absurd.”
 (Dazai Osamu, The Sound of Hammering, page 187 in the packet I have for my class, I’m not sure of the original book it came from or the translator).

Time and again, whenever the narrator is on the verge of making a new life for himself, the toka-ton-ton sound stops him in his tracks, and everything “appears absurd.”

Boy oh boy, can I relate to that feeling. No, I’m not hearing phantom toka-ton-ton’s around Waseda campus, but I do have those moments, where everything is going fine, where I’ve joined a club and made new friends, and I'm enjoying spending time with Missus, I’ve stopped letting my host siblings’ silence bother me, I’ve come up with a host of new activities to try, and sleeping on a futon is even starting to be comfortable. Then the dog barks and howls in my face or I see my host sister is somehow wearing my socks and also not responding to my attempts to converse with her, or my host brother decides he wants to talk to me and maybe hang out with me, only to creep me out by insistently asking why I don’t shave my arms, or I realize that my language exchange partner is probably not going to become my closest friend, and suddenly everything appears absurd. Like Dazai’s narrator when he hears the sound of hammering, my attitude changes completely on the spot, and I start to wonder why I’m here. Why Tokyo? Why didn’t I listen to that Japanese professor who not only told me that I need to learn how to read, but also that everyone in Tokyo wants to speak English? Why am I here at all? Will I come back to Japan graduation? What’s the point? Where’s the honeymoon period? Wasn’t I supposed to get one of those?

Those sorts of thoughts and questions and doubts are a real part of the study abroad experience. Or at least, of my study abroad experience. I’m writing them down so that hopefully I can look back later and realize that my frustrations could be overcome. And also because I’ve heard too many picture-perfect study abroad stories lately. It sometimes makes me feel like if I’m not happy all the time, I’m not doing this right and my study abroad experiences aren’t valuable. So here it is, the nitty-gritty of study abroad, uncensored and uncut.

That being said, this blog has been a little bit too unhappy lately. There are definitely good things going on in my life. I have plans to hang out with several different friends in the next couple weeks. I’m going to attempt to hike across Tokyo next Sunday, and next Friday I’m going to learn to make a lunch shaped like Pikachu. I’m leading a group of Japan Study students to the Pokemon Center tomorrow for shopping and photos with Pikachu, and I’m having fun learning Bollywood dance at my club, even though I’m still working up to attempting Japanese with the members. Maybe Monday. Monday I’ll try to speak Japanese. I’m not sure how we’ll be ready to perform at the Waseda Festival by the beginning of November, but I have faith in our ability to pull ourselves together… 

Today in particular was a lot of fun. I have to remind myself that even if it doesn’t seem like it at times, Missus is always on my side. Mister too, probably, when he’s home.  Today, Missus and I went to a festival in nearby Kawagoe city. I took pictures, and I can describe them in detail in a future post. I was grouchy all morning because I thought we’d be rained out, but luckily the rain stopped and we were able to go. I also found out that my friend wanted to go, but her host mom couldn’t take her because she was concerned that her son wouldn’t study enough if left to his own devices at home. Luckily she was able to come with Missus and me, and it turned out to be a great time. I think Missus was really happy to meet one of my friends. She told her to come back and hang out again soon. Plus, it was a good choice strategically, because I was having one of my toka-ton-ton moments about my Japanese ability, and having Laura there meant I couldn’t take the easy way out and just not say much. Hopefully I’ll just get better and better at talking about random stuff in Japanese.

"Music battle" between two dashi
When it comes to what actually goes on at a festival like Kawagoe Matsuri, I’m not actually sure what anything means. I asked Missus what kami the festival was for, and she told me that since she wasn’t from Kawagoe, she wasn’t sure, but he got me information about the festival, which was all in Japanese, and told me, laughing, that it was time to study. The main features of the festival were these huge, ornate carts called dashi that had musicians riding them. The dashi were all from different cities, and each had slightly different instruments. They would stop and face each other to have a “musical battle,” so to speak.

Long line of cars waiting for the dashi to pass
The thing that stands out to me every time I go to a matsuri is the weird space in time it occupies, between traditional and modern. At Fukuro Matsuri, the mikoshi portable shrine was paraded past McDonald’s. And at Kawagoe, the dashi had their music battle in the middle of a street, while cars waited in a long line to be allowed to pass. As the dashi-riding musicians performed, you could hear in the background the bin-bon, bin-bon sound that Japanese traffic lights make while they’re green, so that visually impaired people know it’s safe to cross the street. Kids could buy masks shaped like the faces of various Pokemon, Anpanman, Ultraman, and Doraemon or eat a bag of cotton candy advertising the disgustingly popular all-female idol band AKB48. The food vendors freely borrowed Disney characters to advertise their stalls, along with Hello Kitty, Pikachu, and Doraemon. You could even buy kasutera cakes shaped like Pikachu or Doraemon (Pikachu kasutera is actually my breakfast tomorrow, so I’ll let you know what kasutera is after that). At every festival, there are the enthusiastic participants that carry the mikoshi, wear the festival clothing, act in the performances, or play music on the dashi. And then there are the people who don’t understand the rituals, who come to watch something big and cool and pretty happen and to take pictures of it. And most of those people are Japanese. The same is true at the most famous Buddhist temples. They’re full of schoolchildren on field trips, who probably still know the legends of the place better than I do, but who aren’t necessarily approaching it with a sense of reverence. Then right next to them are the people who are sincerely praying and making offerings to the Buddha. It’s truly an interesting contrast.

Another interesting thing about festivals is of, course, the food. I ate so much today. At the festival alone, I had a chocolate covered banana, a churro (Mexican food at a Japanese festival, yes indeed), a McDonald’s chicken thing (Missus had coupons), and tama-konyaku (round pieces of a chewy, rubbery, surprisingly delicious Japanese root vegetable product, served on a skewer with horseradish mustard), and then after we left, Missus treated me to a dinner of Korean food because there was a new restaurant she wanted to try. Yummmm. Then I came home and naturally wanted to eat candy while doing my homework, so I broke out my current addiction, Kinoko-no-yama, which is a Japanese chocolate shaped like a mushroom. I keep finding it in all different flavors lately (orange chocolate, murasaki imo…) so naturally I have to try all of them. I miss the Japan Term meal stipend, and my dining hall meal plan so much in Japan…

Earthquake simulation again

Posted by Shaun

These are some pictures of what the earthquake simulator looked like. There were actually three little rooms, each with cushions to sit on. The guy in the room with me is our program resident director. And you can see the two guys in the room next to us trying to stand up... for some reason.

Response to comments!

Posted by Shaun

Mom: I would like to hear about all topics of interest to you. I am interested in your photo tour as well when you have a chance. By the way, how often do you have international dance practice? 
Okay, I'll work my way through them. And I'll keep trying on the "photo tour." I feel like a creeper taking pictures in my city and neighborhood, because it's not touristy and everyone's going about their normal lives, but I'll try. And I'll definitely get more pictures around Waseda, maybe even tomorrow. Oh, and as far as the international dance club, I ended up joining the Bollywood dance group, and we have practice Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:15pm to around 8pm.

I have also seen texting on a bike
American B movies and like 80s movies seem to be really popular on TV here. It's interesting.

I'm so glad you've settled in more! It sounds like you're having fun!
Man, now I really want unadon. Unagi is like the one thing I haven't had here yet.Talk about whatever you want but CONBINI

And never saying anything! No "on your left!" or even "OI!!!" Bikers just silently nearly run you over.
I've seen the texting too. It's worrisome.

Yes, dear readers, everything in this song is true (bad quality original music video). Or, if anime and video games are more up your alley, just search "convenience store song" on Youtube and you'll get animated versions for every series you can think of. I can't find one with subtitles, but here's a Pokemon version.

I'll explain some of the less obvious parts of the lyrics. (translation from here, slightly different from the video)
"Shall I warm this up for you?" - If you buy a meal at the convenience store, they will ask you if you want it heated and they'll microwave it for you so you can eat it right then. (I'm not sure where, though. They don't have an eating area... and it's hard to find like, streetside benches in Japan. But if you're at school you can take it back to your classroom or if you live close, back to where you live, and you don't need to own a microwave!)
Gathering place for delinquents (They gather at the entrance~) I haven't seen this yet, but Shannon told me she has.
I browse at the magazine stand, standing next to an old man reading porn They sell erotic magazines right out in the open. So you'll be wanting to look at fashion magazines or manga or something and all of a sudden there's these breasts in a skimpy bikini staring at you. Actually, that happens a lot in Japan. They don't really hide their porn like we do in the US.
Though I’m not here to buy anything at all
Public utility bills (Convenience store) You can pay your bills by convenience store. They send you a bill that has a barcode, and you take it to the store. The cashier scans it, and you pay there instead of sending your money somewhere else. Apparently you can also order tickets for events and pick them up at the store.
Hurry up with the photocopies (Convenience store) They have copiers you can pay to use, and 7 Eleven has ATMs, which are free with my bank, 24-7. Hahaha.
The silent part-timer (And expressionless too) They really do usually talk as little as possible. The ones at the Waseda campus Family Mart seem a little more enthusiastic.
Red bean paste bun please (We’ve just run out)
I’ll have a meat bun then (Coming right up!)
These hot buns are sold at the cash register, and the cashier gets them out with a pair of tongs and wraps them up for you. They also have curry buns and pizza buns (kare-man and pizza-man)!
Hold on there, the way you hand me change
onto the palm of my hand any way you please
Don’t give me the receipt using the coins as paperweight!
It’s difficult to put into my wallet
It really annoys me.

They do this consistently, every time you buy anything. I don't think it's just at convenience stores, either, but it's starting to bug me. It really is very hard to sort it out and put it away properly.
Oden, please. (What would you like in it?) Oden is a type of soup where you can choose what you want to put in it, and you pay by the piece. I think usually the oden is at the counter and the cashier ladles in your soup and your chosen toppings, like in this song, but at the Waseda campus Family Mart, probably because it's so busy, you get a bowl and fill it up yourself and then pay for it, I think... I've never actually eaten oden.
I want to use your restroom. (We don’t have one) This is a bad situation to find yourself in if you're traveling around Japan. Been there. Several times.

Andrea: Wow that's really interesting! Are these earthquake simulation centers common? That would probably be a really enlightening experience for a lot of people in the US. 
Shannon mentioned it too, but there are some natural history museums that have earthquake simulation platforms. I just can't remember if it was St. Louis or Chicago. There's probably others too. I'm not sure how common they are, but yeah, it's definitely something worth learning about.

Shaun, just seeing that map of all the earthquakes in the hours following the big quake was enough to throw me into a mild panic. God, I can't even imagine.

I've seen the news clips, too, of people in Fukushima in their temporary housing and schools, talking about where to take their children to school and even if they /can/ go back home whether they ever should. I can't imagine that kind of life. It hurts my heart just to think about it. 

That link was on a website I was supposed to look at for one of my classes, and it was too frightening and moving not to share. I don't really want my blog to upset people, but at the same time, yeah. It's a painful situation in Fukushima, and it's not going to go away soon.

Shannon: I haven't actually been to a grocery store yet since I mostly buy my lunch at conbini or the dining hall. But I should definitely scout one out. I have a weird paranoia of being spotted spending too much time in a place and being called out for being lost and confused, haha. Like today when I wandered in and out and up and down the computer building twice looking for a free computer lab before finally giving up. Or like spending twenty minutes staring at different bottles of shampoo, and then getting worried about being judged by the sales people. ahaha. It's stupid I know.
The Pikachu fish cake link didn't take me anywhere. Too bad, I want to see them! 

I don't really have a paranoia about it, but I'm weirdly aware of how conspicuous I am in a way that I've never been in the US. Sometimes I forget I stand out, but sometimes I'm standing on the train and all of a sudden I think "I wish I looked like everyone else!!" If I'm standing on the train smashed between two strangers and sweating like a pig because I didn't have time to take my coat off, while trying not to lose my balance, while trying to finish my homework by reading PDFs on my phone, or if I trip twice because my flip flops got caught on the lip of the stairs in the train station, then I think "man, I wish I didn't look so different!" It's not like I'm doing things that are culturally weird, but I feel like they're extra-embarrassing or awkward because I'm different.

For anyone who wanted to see the Pikachu fish cakes but the link didn't work, here's two more pictures (close up) (in ramen). They really do sell these at the grocery store by my house.

On Earthquakes

Posted by Shaun

Before coming to Japan, I had absolutely no conception of what an earthquake was. We actually have a minor fault line in Missouri, but even in the rare times that it’s gotten some action, I haven’t felt the tremors. We had earthquake drills in elementary school, but all they really told us was to get under a table and hold onto the legs. The tornado drills, fire drills, and lockdown drills got much more attention. Now, after less than a month in Japan, I’ve felt one real earthquake and a few simulated ones, and I’ve heard the March 11th earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster discussed in almost every one of my classes and most of the speeches delivered to us at Waseda functions, whether by students and faculty. In response to the disaster, Waseda gave us wallet-sized booklets about what to do should an earthquake hit the campus area, and Japan Study added to our orientation schedule a trip to an earthquake and fire safety education center.

The safety education center was a moving experience for me in light of the March 11th disaster. Of course, it’s impossible to truly understand what the people in Fukushima went through on that day and continue to go through now, but I feel like I got closer on that day. The first thing our group did was take turns sitting in a Japanese-style room that shook with a simulated earthquake. I can see why not everyone took the experience seriously. The earthquake room was on a platform that looked a little ridiculous when it rocked back and forth, and it’s funny to watch the looks on your peers’ faces when the floor unexpectedly starts moving. But for me, experiencing the simulated earthquakes was a moving and somewhat frightening experience. The strongest quake we felt was, if I remember correctly, 6.0, and the quake that hit Fukushima was a 9.0. Since we were sitting in a Japanese-style room for the earthquake simulation, I attempted to kneel in the Japanese style, and for several seconds of a 6.0 earthquake, my legs were sliding out from under me while I struggled to hold the cushion I had been sitting on over my head and neck. While before I had no understanding of earthquakes, now I had just enough background knowledge to begin to understand the fear an even larger quake would bring. The people in Eastern Japan who were affected by the earthquake weren’t sitting in a pre-arranged room with no furniture except zabuton cushions, waiting for it to happen, and the simulated quake paled in length and intensity to the real thing. The simulated quake wasn’t accompanied by hundreds of aftershocks (which you can see mapped by location and intensity in this animation).

The fire safety-related elements of the program were uncomfortable for me as well. I guess I’ve had a pretty hands-off fire safety program up until now. For the first time, I actually learned how to use a fire extinguisher, and I got to experience a simulation of the difficulties of navigating a dark, smoke-filled room. Earthquakes and fire both became real for me that day.

There’s an old proverb that says the scariest things for Japanese people are 地震、火事、雷、親父、(jishin, kaji, kaminari, oyaji): earthquakes, fires, thunder, and fathers. Hopefully I can stay safe from all of these dangers while I'm in Japan. 

The most moving part of the earthquake safety center for me was a diorama of the sort of earthquake evacuation centers that many of Japan’s parks or schools are equipped to transform into should disaster strike. This diagram was of a park, and it showed where the public toilets would be, where classrooms could be set up, where people could get water from delivery trucks… As I stared at the little plastic figures, it struck me that people in Japan are living like this now, with no idea when things will be back to normal. I spent a long time just studying that diorama. I don’t really know what to do with the emotions I felt. I donated money right after the disaster, and besides, I don’t have an income right now. But I was definitely moved by my experience at the safety center, and I wanted to attempt to write about it.

The earthquake center experience was also helpful because when I did experience a real earthquake (magnitude 2, I think) in the middle of the night, just a few days after moving in with my host family, I knew that the slight grumbling of the floor under my futon and the rattling of the things on my desk were nothing to worry about, and I could go back to sleep.

On grocery shopping

Posted by Shaun

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 9:18 PM

So far, my strongest feelings of culture shock have been in the grocery store. If you’re ever in Japan, I advise you to check out a grocery store, because they really are fun to look at. There are all sorts of foods you just can’t find in an American grocery store, like whole squids or fish cakes with Pikachu’s face on them

But when it actually becomes time to buy your own ingredients and hopefully save money on lunch, things get tough. That’s when the culture shock sets in. The thing is, Japanese food is cheaper in Japan. Umeboshi (the pickled plums usually in onigiri rice balls) are really cheap compared to Asian groceries in the US. Tofu’s cheap. Fish and sashimi are cheaper than I expected. But my strategies for a cheap lunch no longer apply.

I want to pack a sandwich because it doesn’t require me to cook anything. First of all, cooking takes time. Second of all, even though I have permission to keep my own food in the refrigerator, I don’t know how to use any of the other appliances, and every time I make my lunch when someone besides my host mom is around, they ask her what I’m doing, which makes me feel like what I’m doing is strange. In Japan, the kitchen is traditionally the mother’s domain and it’s best to keep from getting in her way and messing up the way she does things. While my host mom might make a lunch for my host sister, our host families are not required to provide us with lunch. 

So, back to me, at the grocery store, trying to imagine a sandwich. I can get 6 or 8 slices of bread in a package. I don’t know how to say or read “fiber” in Japanese, but most of the bread looks like the white, fluffy, sweet Wonder Bread-type stuff. I found something that said “rai” in katakana today. It looked like it had seeds in it, so hopefully it’s rye bread. I couldn’t find cheese at today’s grocery store, except for the nasty Kraft Singles-type stuff, so I got cream cheese. Japanese cucumbers are cheap. Apples are not. Tomatoes are not. Oh well, I wanted apples. Maybe they’ll make up for the lack of fiber in the bread. So cream-cheese-tomato-cucumber sandwiches with a side of apples it is. Plus whatever bizarre trail mix I can cobble together from all the snacks I bought. 
A sandwich isn’t supposed to be a cultural challenge, but it is. I have to take my mental framework for what a “lunch” is and totally reset it. But there’s only so much resetting I can do without free reign of a kitchen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011, 10:39 PM

Posted by Shaun

It’s been a long week.

There was a period of time where I was very frustrated with my host family because  I felt like they were leaving me alone a lot, but after some more communication with my study abroad program and then with Missus, things are looking much brighter. If anyone reading this plans to do a study abroad, I highly recommend communicating with your program directors when you start to have any issues, before you build up too much resentment and frustration to fix the problem.

I feel like I’ve gotten much more comfortable with my host family in the last two days, and I don’t really know why that is. Maybe it’s because the dog is doing better now and because I have my own schedule so I’m not hanging around the house. I’ve also taken more of an initiative to talk in Japanese, even if it doesn’t make sense. Whatever the reason, I’m pleased with the results. I still haven’t talked much with my host siblings, but I’ve started to tell Missus some of the random stories I’m so famous for. I’m bad at telling stories in Japanese though. I always forget to put と言いました (to iimashita, so-and-so said) at the end of my sentences, so I wonder if it’s actually clear where the story stops and I move onto something else. In English, “my friend said” comes first, so it’s easy to forget to do something at the end.

I met Mister for the first time yesterday. He works for an insurance company in Kanazawa, so I think he’s only home once a month. I was afraid he’d be this cold, grumpy salary-man, but he’s really funny. He also likes to ask me all sorts of questions, which is great. Missus doesn’t ask a whole lot of questions, which originally made it feel like she didn’t care, but I’ve started to realize that’s just her style. She does want to learn about me and my family but she doesn’t do it in a first-meeting-question-dump. 

Let’s see if I can run through this week’s greatest hits before I want to fall asleep. This always takes me longer than I think!

Sunday I went to the Fukuro Matsuri (owl festival) in Ikebukuro with two of my friends. I don’t exactly understand the goings-on at Japanese festivals, but it was a really lively atmosphere. I got to see some interesting traditional music performances too, like taiko drumming. 

Monday was the start of classes. I’m taking Japanese 3, a Japanese class called Reading Modern Short Novels, Japanese Literature After 1945, and J-Pop Globalization. It’s going to be a challenge to stay awake in Japanese 3 because I always get so hungry in the middle of the 3 hour class. It’s going to be a challenge to stay on top of things in Reading Modern Short Novels because everything is Japanese. It’s gonna take a lot of out of class work to make sure I understand things. But I went to a Book Off and bought the novel for 350 yen. I’m excited. The last two classes are both lectures in English. I think I’ll like them, but it will take a while to get into the swing of things. The Waseda student who studied at Knox last year turned out to be in my Literature class, which was a pleasant surprise. So I have one official Japanese-speaking contact now! I should ask her for advice about what circle to join.

Wednesday was Sam’s birthday party, so I got to go to his and Okaasan’s house and hang out with their family. One of the grandkids has a birthday tomorrow, so I get to come over again. I’m excited. They’re a fun family. We made temaki-zushi (hand-rolled sushi, looks like an ice cream cone) for dinner, and Okaasan’s son (father of the grandkids, naturally) was really excited to teach me all about it. I’ve done it before (thanks Japanese Club temaki-zushi party) but he was so enthusiastic that I let him take over. I also told him about the anime and video games I like, and he knew most of them. He didn’t know Cowboy Bebop, which surprised me. Maybe it’s not as famous in Japan as it is in the US? Or maybe only with certain circles?

Thursday, because there were actually 3 birthdays in our group, we went out to shabu-shabu, Shabu-shabu is thin slices of beef that you cook at your table in a pot of boiling water. It’s named for the sound of the beef cooking. There’s also vegetables and tofu you can cook, but beef was the highlight. Two of the guys at my table were intent on eating all of the meat they could, and things got even more intense when we brought up the TV show Doctor Who. One of the guys hates one of my friend’s favorite characters (Donna), so she challenged him that if he finished all of the meat on the table, she’d relent and let him dislike that character. He couldn’t finish it, so I guess Donna’s honor is intact. Or something?

Yesterday, Missus invited me to accompany her to an English-teaching circle that she’s part of. The group meets once a month and teaches each other songs, dances, and activities that they can use to teach their English students. I got to sing “The green grass grows all around, all around” and “Bluebird, bluebird, through my window,” play “Double-double this-that,” and attempt to learn how to cha-cha with a group of middle-aged Japanese women. I’m not sure where the cha-cha figures into the English teaching. It was listed as “warming up” on the white-board, so maybe it was just a fun thing for the group to do. Anyway, I think Missus and I both enjoyed the opportunity to do something together, and it was fun to get a window into her life and interests.

Later that evening, Missus told me she was going out because she had some sort of night class, and she forgot to mention to me that one of her former students was coming over to meet me. She told me Mister was coming home at 9, so I thought I ought to shower before he got here. Well, the student showed up while I was finishing my shower and I expertly ignored the doorbell. She ended up having to wait outside until Missus called my cell phone and told me what was going on. So then we sat in the kitchen and tried to talk. I think her English level was higher than my Japanese level, but our confidence levels were about the same. We had two languages at our disposal, but coming up with things to talk to was really hard. Then Mister came home, and the student’s presences turned out to be a real asset. I got to see him joke with her, so I got to see how he treats a family friend before I had to really talk to him. Then I got to listen to them talk. After she left, Mister and I watched the end of Anaconda 2 with Japanese subtitles. Everyone thinks putting English audio and Japanese subtitles should be enjoyable or helpful for me, but I’d much rather have the Japanese audio if I can. The subtitles are way too fast and I don’t know the readings of the kanji without the audio.
Yeah, Anaconda 2, high quality cinema from America, delivered straight to your TV in Japan. They also have the Disney Channel in Japanese and English, which includes hits like Phineas and Ferb but also those stupid Disney sitcoms like Sunny with a Chance. I wonder how hard it is to make the laugh track appropriate in Japanese.

Today I helped out with the study abroad fair for Waseda students, so hopefully I convinced at least one person to come to Knox. Then when I got home, Missus and Mister took me out to dinner at an unagi (grilled eel) restaurant. I should have gotten more unagi and less side-dishes, I think. The menu was confusing. For dessert I tried anmitsu, which is a traditional Japanese desert, and I… didn’t really like it, unfortunately. It always looks like it should taste good, but it was mostly chewy and slippery tasteless things. The big chunk of anko sweet red beans, the bits of fruit, and the frozen yogurt on top were good, but the rest was really not great. Maybe I’ll try it again some other place and see if it’s different, but yeah. I don’t need slippery noodley things in my dessert.

Tomorrow is the Waseda International Festival dance trial, so I’m going to show up and see if I want to join an international dance circle. Bye, comfort zone. I’m leaving you at Takadanobaba station in the morning.

Things I’ve seen Japanese people do while ridings bikes: drink bottled tea, smoke a cigarette, make horrible squeaking noises with their breaks.
Things I’ve never seen Japanese people do while riding bikes: use the clearly-marked bike lane.

There are some other random one-topic blog posts I’ve been meaning to write, but I haven’t had time. Some of them are: bathroom fixtures, my experience at an earthquake safety center, convenience stores, and my commute. If there’s one of those you’d like to hear about sooner than others, please let me know and I’ll try to write it. I also promise that one of these days I will take some pictures of my room, my route to school, and my campus, so you can see what things are like.