More unrelated photos.  Yay. [Ed.: Does this count as a "selfie"?]

More unrelated photos. Yay. [Ed.: Does this count as a “selfie”?]

As I write this, I am sick.  It’s just a cold, and I think I’m mostly through it (it’s been on for a few days now and I have been sick enough to generally know what the dying throes* of a cold are like), but I’ve experienced some interesting things that come out through being sick over here.

*Thanks to my anal family members I get to look less like an idiot now!  The word is “throes,” not “throws,” and I should have known that.  I guess when you’re in the dying throes of being sick it’s hard to remember such things.  Thanks!

First of all, there’s the words.  You have a word for “cold” (as in the thing you catch, not as in the temperature), and you have a word for “sick.”  “Sick” is a very strong word.  I heard from one of the other kids over here that they once told their host parents they were “sick” rather than they had caught a “cold,” and they host parents were like, “Well, then we have to get you to the doctor!”  And created a big scene.  In America, you tell someone you’re sick, and they’re like, “Oh that sucks,” because being sick just means you don’t feel well, and it’s due to something beyond normal fatigue or whatever.  In Japan, it seems, “sick” is what justifies missing school/work, etc…

Second, they go to the doctor (actually, everything is just a hospital here, they just have lots of them and they each specialize in different things) for pretty much anything.  They would probably go to the doctor for a cold, and the doctors, I hear, will give you drugs for it.  I’d rather not drop $20 on a bum doctor’s visit and drugs that I don’t actually need, so I’ve just been trying to play the whole thing pretty low-key.

Third, apparently whenever someone gets sick here, they get a fever.  I’m not sure why, but it seems to be assumed.  I used the word for “cold” with my host parents here, and a little while later, when I was up to get some food (being sick doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat, I mean… jeez!) my host father was like, “Has your fever gone down at all?”  And I’m like, “Um… fever?”  I never said anything about a fever.  And besides, how would I know?  Did YOU guys give me a thermometer?  No?  What?

I think that the term may have some kind of usage whereby you talk about things like “feeling” hot… or cold…  But I’m really not sure, and I don’t much care to know if it does.  I’m sick, and I rather like the words that we have in America, where “fever” means your body’s temperature is elevated to generally around or above 100ªF, thanks.  I’d rather not have to play a game of “What do YOU think this means?” right now, because that takes energy, and well…  screw that.

I also had a girl in class ask me if I had a fever, too, the other day ‘cause I was really tired (it was also a morning class, but the cold was starting to get underway) and I’d told her I think I was getting a cold.  Here’s something about my physiology:  I don’t get fevers.  If I did, then I probably SHOULD go see a doctor, because it means I’m about to die.  My body temperature never elevates over about 99.6.  I know.  I remember being a child and trying to convince my mom to let me stay home from school, and I could never QUITE make the cutoff of 100˚F.  It made me very sad, and also pretty miserable just in class during the day.

They also have this weird idea here that if you’re ill, but you feel like getting up, then you’re a) getting better, or b) need to go lie back down.  Sick people shouldn’t do ANYTHING.  Now, what I generally remember from my health class back in high school was something along the lines of, “Even if you’re sick, but you feel like going out for a jog, or playing basketball, or whatever, then you should go ahead and do it.”  Something about getting the blood flowing and making your body work more, which can help it to flush out the affected areas, I think.  Okay, you don’t want to push yourself like WAY too hard (which is kind of what I did yesterday… >.>) but it’s not bad to be active even if you’re sick.  So, Mom, which idea is best, medically speaking?  I’m going to trust the western nurse’s perspective on this, because while Japan has thousands of years of traditions dealing with disease, the west has done the most EMPIRICAL study of disease and its effect on the human body, etc, to help weed out the more unnecessary wives’ tales about dealing with a cold.

Oh, and that’s another thing.  In America, when you have a cold, even your best friends will be like, “That sucks, hope you get better soon,” and then they’ll stay the hell away from you, because they don’t want to catch it.  Here, I’ve found (especially among girls – maybe it means something I’m missing?) that those who are your better friends won’t stay away from you, but will instead keep closer tabs on you, and ask if you’re okay, and work to try and help you feel better.  Not that there’s really a lot you can do, but people don’t seem to be as affected by the fact that you’re sick and they MIGHT CATCH IT from you.  It’s not a universal thing, but one I plan to adopt in the future amongst my friends and family.  If I’m gonna get sick, I’m gonna get sick.  Period.  Why ruin time with someone who’s currently suffering but the time could be enjoyed just because you’re afraid you might get it, too?


The answer is “yes.”  ^_^

Except for one guy I know.  He claims not to be a ‘people.’


Akihabara Tour

Here’s the group that went on the tour.  There were a bunch of us in total.  ^_^  You can kind of see our tour guide in the back there.

Here’s the group that went on the tour. There were a bunch of us in total. ^_^ You can kind of see our tour guide in the back there.

Akihabara – the technology capital of Tokyo.  This place has been revered, feared, worshipped, and avoided by countless dozens of people worldwide who’ve visited Japan.  That being said, Akihabara isn’t… REALLY a place.  When someone talks bout it, they mostly refer to a north-south street that lies just west of Akihabara station, plus a few parallel streets.  Along these streets you can find all sorts of games, anime, food, comic, model, and computer shops, along with various arcades and even several “duty-free” places dealing in some of the more mundane things – backpacks, watches, jewelry, shoes, etc…

It is also hailed as the center of what is called “otaku” culture.  Otaku is an interesting word, indeed, generally referring (especially outside of Japan) to people who are hardcore anime (Japanese cartoons, or “animation”) fans who will sometimes even go so far as to dress up and play the role of their favorite characters both at conventions and even sometimes on the streets or when shopping at the mall.  In Japan, the definition is a little more general, and a little different.  The Japanese term, “otaku,” refers to a subculture of people whose interests revolve so heavily around a certain area (games, anime, movies, trains, models, history, etc…) that they have left behind developing other parts of their lives, generally things like learning how to socialize with people on the street (who aren’t ALSO otaku) and learning how to interact with the opposite sex.

There’s even an otaku “look” which involves wearing relatively nice pants (since they never really go outside except to further their hobby), a button-up shirt (since they usually come from work), glasses worn awkwardly, an extra-large backpack worn on both shoulders, a plain, old-fashioned Beatles-style haircut, and usually a lot of sweat.

I think that if most Americans knew what it took in Japan to call someone “otaku,” that they would probably stop trying to use the term in reference to themselves.  ^_^

Anyway, since this “Akihabara” place (remember?  That’s the focus of this blog post!) is so famous, the program I’m with to study over here offers a tour of the place once a semester, so that students can see the place, and learn a bit about its history and cultural significance, and also learn something about what otaku life/culture is, and to see kind of into their world, in case the student was interested.  Since I happen to like video games an anime myself, and I’ve been to a few arcades in Akihabara already, I figured it could at least be interesting to go on the tour and see what was up.

Goku Tour GuideThe tour started off at the train station meeting this guy.  I don’t know what his real name is, since he called himself “Goku,” which is the name of the character he is cosplaying in the photo.*  At first I thought that it was really weird, and actually kind of dumb that our tour guide was in costume, but later on I realized that it’s in fact a brilliant idea!  His hair sticks up really high, and what with the bright colors and everyone always looking at him, it’s REALLY easy to spot him from quite a distance, and that’s just about perfect for a tour guide through a densely crowded city.  Needless to say, nobody really got lost. ^_^  He is also a graduate student from the university where I’m studying, focusing his research (or whatever) on Akihabara itself, so he knew quite a lot about the city, its history, and even many current events and changes going on in it.

*Cosplay refers to someone who puts on a COStume and PLAYs the role of the character represented by said costume.  It originally was called a “Costume Play,” but that was too long.

Essentially, Akihabara (as it’s known now) was a simple area west of Tokyo-proper and east of the Imperial Palace, that was set up as a fire-wall during the fire bombing in World War II.  As such, they created a shrine there to a fire spirit, called “Akiba Shrine” in the hopes that it would protect the area from fire.  It must have worked, because the shrine still stands, and a lot of original buildings also still remain (and the ones that don’t were torn down intentionally to build new ones).  After the war, the area around Akiba Shrine was used largely for black-market electronics selling – radio parts, circuit boards, transistors, other technical-sounding things – and much of the structure of the stalls and the building used for this are still around and in what looks to be rather heavy use even today.

When the train systems were built, and the train lines built up over the top of Akiba Shrine, they called it Akihabara.  (Akiba – 秋葉 – being the original name which means something like “autumn leaf,” and Akihabara – 秋葉原 – meaning something like “field of autumn leaves,” but in this case we were told it was used to mean something more like, “home of the Akiba Shrine,” which also works with the above kanji, it’s just a more… creative usage of the kanji than literal.  Things like that were rampant back in the day, it seems!)  Thus the area known as Akihabara isn’t really so much a city as an area.

There are many famous areas, for instance a place called the “rocket tower,” which was originally home to stores selling home-rocket parts for hobbyists and enthusiasts.  Now they sell duty-free goods, I think, but they keep the building name, as it’s rather famous.

However, up until about the early 90s, the place was relatively unknown around the world, and certainly not the center of otaku-culture that it is today.  It was just a place to find parts to build radios and maybe models and such.  In the early 90s there was a string of murders by one man.  Apparently this was pretty famous, even internationally, and the media kept referring to this man not as a “serial murderer, “ or a “psychopathic killer,” (either of which would have been fairly correct) they referred to him as “otaku,” intending the reference to a social deviant, or one who is societally inept.  This put the fear of death-by-otaku into the minds of all Japanese people, and there was a huge public outcry to keep otaku (who were really just nerds with serious hobbies) away from them so they could walk the streets without being afraid of being murdered every time they passed a guy with weird posture, a backpack, and glasses.  Thus all of the otaku were chased out of the major parts of the city, Shibuya, Shinjuku, etc… and they started convening instead in Akihabara, where a bunch of them went frequently anyway.  They started meeting up with friends there, gathering to look at newly-released merchandise, and as companies will generally place stores more where there are people likely to purchase from them, more and more otaku-specific store sprang up, until eventually you have what is now, today, to geek capital of the world.

Club Sega Crosswalk in AkihabaraThere are a lot of interesting current events and cultural shifts going on in Akiba as well.  (Lots of people just call it “Akiba,” because that’s shorter.)  For instance, there are major pushed within the government to set up more big-building business, and have larger department stores instead of smaller, privately-owned shops around.  As such, land prices are being driven higher in the area as bigger companies are purchasing property for their high-rise stores, and that’s making it increasingly harder and harder for the smaller guys to make a profit and stay in business.  Even I can see myself falling victim to this, as I much prefer the larger stores, with their air conditioning and wider aisles, to the smaller ones with run-down looking floors and narrow racks stacked high with bad photocopies of the games they have behind the counter, etc…  So it’s a big problem.  (Admittedly, it’s not like I DON’T shop at the smaller stores.  One of my favorite used game stores looks like a smaller-name private shop, though it is multi-story.  =/ )

Also, now that it’s been over a decade since the whole serial-killer thing went down, there’s been an increasing allowance of otaku in the world.  That is, a growing opinion that it’s okay to be otaku.  Especially with last autumn’s Prime Minister elections, one of the candidates gave a now rather famous speech, “I’m an Otaku” wherein he was standing on a major bridge just outside of Akihabara station and declared such to the media and those shopping the streets that day, setting a precedent that these are, in fact, people you have to deal with, and appeal to, and that they are major players in Japanese society anymore.

There’s even a large building (attached to this bridge) which is home to several restaurants and an Anime Museum, where all the restaurants have Akiba/otaku themed dishes.  This building also serves to infuse more of a night-life into Akihabara, as previously the whole area was basically shut down by 8, and the restaurants in that building intentionally stayed open until 10 or later, and now more shops are starting to stay open longer, and the whole of business is lasting later into the evening.

On the converse side, a lot of people who live in or near the Akiba area have been increasingly complaining about otaku behavior and presence to the police.  There are complaints of indecency, of otaku wandering around eating food outdoors (making the air smell bad), crowding on the streets and sidewalks, making it hard to get anywhere, etc.  Unfortunately, in Japan, the police aren’t able to (as the are frequently in the US) say, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do about it.”  So they have recently begun to patrol the main street of Akihabara, watching for people dancing, singing, getting their pictures taken in costume, drawing a crowd, or just standing around (sitting and leaning are okay, I guess), and telling them to stop, or to keep moving, or to leave, etc…

There’s an event which happens every Sunday from morning until mid-late afternoon where they close off a section of the main street and allow people to wander freely around it.  This used to be used for an Imperial march… festival… thing, as the main street was used when the Emperor would travel between places, but has more recently just been a day when all the otaku get out their costumes and go out on the street and have a good time.  The new enforcement of rules has really rather gotten people worked up, and these otaku are starting to become afraid.

One cosplayer, rather famous I guess, was actually arrested on television for doing something where she would shove her butt out while wearing a terribly short skirt, thus revealing her underwear to passersby and fanboys.  Apparently this sort of thing is illegal, and everyone saw it on the news.  This sent a pretty strong message (only a few weeks ago, actually!) that otaku aren’t welcome in Akiba anymore, which I think is stupid, and the tour guide agreed with me.  Akihabara is the center of otaku culture, and it’s where they convened and have made it their own since they were kicked out of the rest of the city.  Now people who chose to live there are complaining about the otaku being there?  What did they expect?  Anyway, it’s not THAT bad, since the police are only enforcing this to keep images up, and as such they are only enforcing these rules on the main street.  Go back a street or two behind the main parts, and you can still find many of the cosplayers and otaku doing their thing, unmolested by the fuzz.  And that’s what the police in Japan do.  They track down criminals, and they help people who are offended by something feel like something is being done about it, even if it’s really not so much.  I still like it better than American police who don’t exist to serve the people at ALL, so much as to make money for the government and fill speeding ticket quotas.

The true irony in this new situation, however, is that in the same week as this cosplayer was arrested on television, sending out the message, “otaku are not wanted,” just a few blocks away there was a major “Otaku Convention” going on in the building with the anime museum.  This sounds to me a bit like a case of one hand slapping while the other hand scratches their back.  I told you it was irony.  “No otaku anymore!  By the way, if you are otaku, there’s a convention around the corner that you might be interested in.”  >.<

All-in-all, it was a fun, informative tour, and I’m glad I went.  Note, I didn’t even mention the maid cafe we went to!  Yes, we went, but it’s one I’d been to before, and it wasn’t all that interesting.

Peace.  v(‘_’ )

Figures of Speech

It’s just a fun picture.  There’s no connection.

It’s just a fun picture. There’s no connection.

So, I was thinking this evening (instead of going to sleep, as I should be even now) about some of the differences I’ve experienced in the Japanese culture, especially in social and group cultures, of which I have significantly more experience even these four or five weeks than the whole of last semester.  In joining the Ballroom Dance Club here on campus, I have had the chance to experience a lot of different group dynamics, and it occurred to me this evening a way to compare some of what I have experienced to American life, and how I would explain that to someone here.

There’s a saying in Japan that goes, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”  (Some of us like to rephrase it, “the nail that sticks up will ultimately gash someone’s foot open and make them swear and bleed,” but that’s not really related, unless you talk about foreigners here being nails sticking up. ^_^)  This phrase is generally taken to mean that everyone must do what they are told, and live in their place without trying to move, and to a great extent that holds true even today.  But you can also look at it a bit differently, in that it’s saying that there is an order to everything, a place for everything, and it’s not good to screw with that.  I call it Japanese bureaucracy, and generally I dislike it, but it works here.  I don’t see a lot of Japanese people complaining that things aren’t moving fast enough, or they want to do more.  If they want to do more, they add things they do, not complain about things moving too slowly.

See, for me, having dance experience, I have already picked up the beginning step-pattern that they teach all of the newbies here.  The first-year students will be working on these patterns for the next several months, and will eventually become pretty good at them.  I’m already as good as a second or third-year at these patterns, or so I’ve been told.  Somehow I tend to think that’s not one of those “exaggerate to make the foreigner feel successful” moments, either, because dance isn’t really about what language you speak with your mouth.  This increased pace has also frustrated me, however, as I know I can learn MORE, faster, and still improve, but getting someone to teach me, well, is like asking the mountains to move.*  And I think that this is a prime example of the nail being hammered back down.  They see me and perceive that I’m a new student to the club, and so call me a first-year, despite the fact that I’m soon to graduate, and am at least three years older than even their seniors.  They see me as a nail, and even though I’m a nail of exceptional quality, I have a place to be, and that place has not yet gotten to the point where it’s time to learn more.

Along with this, however, is the fact that if other nails are weaker, they get don’t get left behind.  It matters more that you are a nail, or a plank, or a screw, or whatever, than how well you were crafted, or how well you fulfill your role.

*Incidentally, I have gotten word that if, outside of sanctioned practices, I ask someone to show me more, I can probably get that, seeing as how I won’t be here for the normal time of a first year student.

On the flip side of this, I think the appropriate figure of speech for American group dynamic is “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  Usually this means that if you have someone really weak in a group, the whole group is weak, and it’s the basis for having tryouts for team sports, etc…  However if you look at it from another perspective, then it provides incentive for everybody to a) try their best so as not the BE the weakest link, and b) the people who are better to always be helping those below them to become better.  This doesn’t mean that they just help their technique, however, this means that every link should strive to be as strong as the strongest, if not more so.  And that the stronger links should all fall in to help the weaker ones to be at least as strong as they.  So then, even if you’re a newbie, if you’re as good as a third year, you generally get grouped with them, and people below you will look to you for help.  Perhaps you even MORE so because you’re ALSO new, which makes you part of their group, thus a bit more approachable, but still higher on the link-strength scale.  Were I to join a similar dance team in America, I feel fairly strongly that I would rapidly become one of the primary dancers, because people would show me what they could, and I would pick it up and get better at it almost as fast as they could teach it to me.  Even if it was my first semester there, they wouldn’t hold me back just because I was new, assuming I had the skills.

Furthermore, if one link breaks, then all of the others (or at least the strongest, most important) gather around it to help it back up, and help it to become strong again, because you cannot have weaknesses in your chain.  However if a nail is sticking up, it’s up the the carpenter to come and hammer it back down.  The other nails would only upset things by trying to fix the situation themselves.

Does this make any sense?  Do you guys see it being this way?  Do you have better phrases to use?  Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know! ^_^

I Now Know… (Part 4)

This... is a Japanese toilet.  Complete with Totoro seat cozy and a panel of various, sometimes frightening things you can do to yourself with it.  *scared*

This… is a Japanese toilet. Complete with Totoro seat cozy and a panel of various, sometimes frightening things you can do to yourself with it. *scared*

Yay!  Time for more nifty tidbits of learning! ^_^

I now know…

…what happend to that super-computer in Superman 3, y’know, the one that turns people into the Borg?  The Japanese have taken it and are even now using it to model their toilets after. >.<

 [ed: I am so ashamed that I ever wrote/thought this next point. I now know that, in all cultures, most people dress to be well-dressed, and are not actually trying to attract their preferred sex. I apologize for this one. Please skip it.]

…that Japanese people don’t think like Americans.  Okay, so I already new this, but there’s a difference between knowing because you heard and knowing because you see it happen every day.  Take, for instance, short dresses and boat loads of makeup.  If you see a girl wearing LOTS of makeup and a very short dress in, say America, you figure they’re probably looking to impress boys, if not outright get in someone’s pants ASAP.  In Japan, it seems, that girls will wear that sort of thing, uh, for the sake of fashion; and that “fashion” exists not to make girls attractive, but to make them feel like part of the fashion-going trend in Japan.

It apparently has nothing to do with boys at all.  As such, it’s difficult to tell what a girl may be looking for in a boy; though that’s difficult for me anyway, as the ones looking with their cloths back home are not the kind that I generally wanted anyway.  So, I guess it’s kind of the same, only pretty different.  And somehow being in Japan makes that sentence make sense. >.>

…that Japanese teachers will say anything.  We were told a story in class (to illustrate the causative form of verbs — let’s see another language pull that one out!) where she really hated her little brother, they went camping, and he wanted to swim, so she let him; and in the first version, she snuck up on him and “made” him drown.  In the second version he was drowning and she sat on the bank, saw it, and “let” him drown.  The sick thing was that this actually made the whole thing make more sense! O.O

Now, guess what the difference was between “made” and “let”.  (Hint: only one character…)

…what it’s like to wash your clothes in a sink.  It’s what I get for for forgetting an extra pair of socks, and then again for having to stay at ANOTHER hotel a second night when I only brought one change of underwear.  It’s really not that bad, just very time consuming.  And drying your clothes is a bit of a pain as well.

…that those things we call “rules of the road” in America exist here, but the way in which they are executed would be more correctly referred to as “suggestions of the road”, and I mean that in a way that only someone who’s driven (or ridden in) a car outside the US is likely to truly understand.

…that I really do act drunk sometimes, though I remain completely sober.  I saw a girl at a Japanese drinking party, obviously rather intoxicated, as she picked up her glass and stared, marveling, at the ice; and I thought to myself, “Gee, that looks like something I would do, if not something I have already done… a lot!”  Scary?  you may think so.  I think it’s funny! ^_^

…how early one must awake in order to have the newspaper read to you in the mornings on TV.  Yes, they have programs where they give you the news by reading you portions from the day’s newspaper.  And the time is entirely too early in the morning.  I think it would be easier to just learn all the kanjis than to wake up that early every morning for your news.  Fortunately, I choose option ‘c.’  That is, I don’t pay attention to the news. ^_^

…that girls don’t flirt in Japan to let you know they’re interested.  They do, however, go to lots of drinking parties, get totally shit-faced, and then pretty blatantly hit on you.  So it kind of evens itself out. >.<

Let Me Count the Ways

Have I already used this picture?  I’m too lazy to go back and check. ^_^

Have I already used this picture? I’m too lazy to go back and check. ^_^

I just want to take this moment to say that I love my Mac.  Specifically, I love the software that comes WITH my Mac.

First off, it can play all of my Windows games pretty darn well, under Windows, so that’s the first liberating factor.

Second, it has a lot of built-in support for a lot of international “stuff.”  This “stuff” includes a whole lot of Japanese.  I can use basically all of the default programs in Japanese (were I to so desire, and I don’t right now), I can also natively view any website in Japanese without having to install special fonts, etc…  Actually, this may have just been an option that I could have chosen on install…  Anyway, the installation of international input is also easier than on Windows.  (Note: I haven’t installed Vista on anything, so this may be better now.)

Going along with that, there’s this wicked cool program which comes with every installation of the Mac OS: Dictionary.  Yes, that’s right, I called the Dictionary program “wicked-cool.”  And it is.  I can set which dictionaries I want to look a word up in, and select them for any word or set of characters that I type.  Specifically, I have now set up to be have available a standard dictionary, a thesaurus, Apple’s dictionary (which I assume lets you look of definitions of the terminology used with your computer and software), a Japanese dictionary (defines Japanese words IN Japanese), a Japanese-English Dictionary (which actually goes BOTH ways), and a Japanese Synonyms dictionary, for when you just can’t stand to use the same word 7 times in a row. ^_^

Let me now provide an example.  The little boy at my house here in Tokyo (where I’m living in a home-stay, remember?) was in here rifling through my drawers because I haven’t the gonads to tell him to stop, nor the conviction that I could do so in a kind and gentle manner.  I would probably either scare him or make him think that he continued his intrusions at risk of life-and-limb, which isn’t the case, so I let him enjoy himself.  It’s just stuff after all.  And I keep my valuable things hidden away. ^_^  Back to the subject, he was sifting through a drawer and happened upon my tuner – this for music, not for radio waves.  He picks it up and says, “What’s this?”

Well, it wasn’t my DS, so I really wanted to answer him.  (Lately he’s been asking about my DS at least thrice a day.  I should have never let him see that I had one, let alone that I had a Pokemon game for it! >.<  you live and learn, I suppose.  And here I was just trying to be more forthcoming and honest…)  However, I found that I simply could not answer his question.  I didn’t know the Japanese words for “pitch,” “sharp,” “flat,” “to tune,” or “analyze.”  (The latter, I thought I could maybe use to say “It’s a machine that analyzes sound.”  But even then I’d have wanted to say ‘sound frequencies,’ and I don’t know how to say “frequency” either.)  So I whip out my dictionary program here, look up the word “tuner,” expecting to get a bevy of useless words and arcane instances of those five letters in that configuration throughout the English language, translated into Japanese.

Lo and behold, I get two words.  One deals with music and has crazy looking kanji (調律師), the other deals with radios, and is the katakana letters for “chuunaa,” which is nothing more than the Japanesification of the English word.  So I click on the crazy kanji and I get the word “chouritsu,” meaning “tuning,” the noun.  Unfortunately, that’s only the first two of the three total kanji.  So I click the extended word (Dicitonary often gives a list of related, derived words below the definition you’re currently looking at) which highlighted the word I was searching for, but ALSO put that word in my search box.

Finally, I got to execute a wonderful trick I learned recently, that if you are in a text editor and you have a Japanese word highlighted, you can press Ctrl+Shift+R to do a reverse lookup on the kanji, and select “Transliteration” in a popup menu, and it will show you how to pronounce it!  The answer, finally, was “chouritsu-shi.”  I used this, and got blank stares from both him and my host parents.  Then my host mom looked at me and was like, “You mean like for a guitar?”

Success!  I successfully communicated something new in Japanese!  Thank you, Apple, for making this (and many other, less immediately pertinent things) possible. ^_^

An Ode to Insomnia

This is a nearby park at night.  yes, night.  The sun has set hours ago.  It is night, night, night, as dark as it gets in Tokyo unless the weather is just crystal-clear, neither haze nor cloud in the sky.  Welcome to a city that, while it sleeps more than those in America, truly needn’t, because it’s always bright!

This is a nearby park at night. yes, night. The sun has set hours ago. It is night, night, night, as dark as it gets in Tokyo unless the weather is just crystal-clear, neither haze nor cloud in the sky. Welcome to a city that, while it sleeps more than those in America, truly needn’t, because it’s always bright!

O, little light, you shine so bright,
Into my window late at night.
You make the darkness run with fright,
O, little light outside.

O, little light that shall not go,
Illuminating all I know
Inside my room, just feet below.
In covers, though, I hide.

O, tiny spot through frosted pane,
You shine each night above, the same.
Will not you for one moment wane,
Or have you even tried?

O, little light, though friend you be,
You always glow so close to me:
Though eyes are shut, still you I see,
So close to my bedside.

O, friendly lamp, who put you there?
Into my realm you always stare,
Not a moment’s rest you spare.
My eyes are open wide.

O, light, art thou a friend to me?
Though darkness, too, a friend can be,
I see not an escape from thee,
‘Til finally I cried:

“O, cursed light, turn off your glow!
I cannot get to sleep, you know!
I try and tried for hours, though!
By this I can’t abide!

“O demon flash that stares herein,
Why casteth thou an eye-felt din?
Against thee I commit no sin,
Yet shelvy porvis-kride!!

“O, light you make me go insane,
I make up words and feel no shame!”
Alarm, alarm!  To school again!
I wake on the wrong-side.


— Scott Harper, 2008

I Can Has Nomikai?!

I know, I used this picture on my other blog.  So sue me.

I know, I used this picture on my other blog. So sue me.

So here’s a little something I’ve learned about Japan.  Nomikai are great places to learn things about Japan.  For those of you just coming in (or I suppose there could be a few who have forgotten already), a nomikai is a drinking party ‚Äì Japanese style.  The word literally means “drinking-meeting.”  This is where Japanese people really kind of let loose and show their true colors, provided that they don’t get completely wasted, in which case they just get really stupid.

So I have some interesting notes on drinking parties in Japan.  These are to be taken as a case study and not as general overarching rules, though I imagine many would not be far off from the majority of situations.

First off, the nomikai take place in restaurants.  Most smaller Japanese restaurants have a more traditionally-arranged room in the back which is generally more dedicated to large groups.  The students (or office-workers, etc…) pre-arrange with a location to have a nomikai, and the restaurant makes preparations.  Sometimes the room is a somewhat sectioned off normal part of a larger restaurant, and sometimes it’s a much more traditional-looking section with squat tables and pillows on which to rest your rump (allegedly making the restaurant home for a while). ^_^

Second, nomikai have a small group of people (2 or 3) who are more-or-less ‘in charge’ of the event.  These people are the go-between for the group and the restaurant, meaning they handle the check, ordering food, etc…  During the event they double-check with everyone what they’re drinking, making sure to take care of special orders for anyone NOT drinking beer.  In my case, they verify that I’m drinking some kind of juice, but a few others sometimes refrain as well and opt instead for oolong-tea or Calpis (Calpico in the non-Japanese arts of the world) or something.  Mostly, though, everyone drinks beer, even if they don’t much like beer.  Also, these nomikai moderators wander the event, checking on tables, and are responsible for making sure that a full bottle of beer is well within anyone’s reach, and remove empty bottles with surprising skill.  Not that they’re good at taking the bottles so much as they’re good at noticing empty bottles and exchanging them for full ones.  (I have to believe that the bottles aren’t individually packaged and opened, but rather just refilled from a tap or something, because the sheer number of bottles gone through would be insane otherwise.)

Third, and this is something that many may already know, is that everyone must have SOMETHING in their glass that they can drink at any given time.  The corollary to this is that one must never be required to refill their own glass at all, with a sub-clause which mandates that if anyone looks to pour you more to drink, you must roughly finish off whatever is currently in your glass (optionally vocalizing some distress that they’re making you drink more) and then hold the newly emptied vessel for them to pour more into.  Once the drink has been poured, it seems, to be polite you take at least a tiny sip of whatever is in your glass.  This is a very interesting set of steps for me, mostly because it’s very much a game.  I’ll get into the game later, though.

Fourth, before anyone drinks anything, one of the moderators (usually the head moderator) must make a speech which at least (and often at most) announces the group, the fact that it’s a nomikai, and that we should begin the event.  He shouts, “Kanpai!” followed by the group joining in, glasses are clinked, and then you have the single quietest three seconds of the evening as everyone downs their glass (except for me, because the juice usually comes in larger glasses, and is likely more difficult to get refilled, so I just take a drink and assume that whatever rules I may be pushing will be forgiven because I’m a crazy foreigner).  The moderator has, on occasion, made small reference to this being the last nomikai before school starts again (and everyone groans), or saying that school has recently begun and we’re all working hard on studying (and everyone laughs), but these sorts of current-events announcements are purely optional as far as I can tell.

Fifth comes the interactions.  Nomikai seem to me to be really the single biggest (if not ONLY) mode of real social interaction between people in clubs here in Japan.  Back home, as I’m sure you know, people would sometimes get together at someone’s house and watch a movie, or they’d go to a park and hang out (a task which is made somewhat rather more dangerous in Japan due to the status of their parks…), or sometimes even a restaurant, which I guess is kind of the same thing.  But the house option is pretty common in America.  Here, there’s practice where people actually practice and pay attention and are generally very serious about it, and then there’s nomikai.  Everything else is seeing them in passing and waving.  So a lot of mingling goes on.

When you first get to the nomikai, you sit down in rather haphazard fashion.  That is, pretty much anywhere is okay.  Not too many people willingly sit by me, but I think that’s partly because I’m white and don’t really look like I should speak Japanese, which I don’t generally do that well.  (Nomikai get pretty loud, and as much as you have to ask people what they said in America at loud parties, imagine now that you’re not even sure if you KNOW the words someone is saying to you, and think about how many times you have to ask for explanations and people to repeat themselves.)  And anyway, being the introvert I generally like to be, I’m totally cool with only a few of the braver, more English-versed kids coming to hang out.  Not that we speak a lot of English, mind you, it’s just that having SOME small command of my native language seems to give them more confidence that when speaking to me they’ll be understood.  Even though the speak in Japanese. ^_^  I generally get along pretty well, and haven’t too often had to rely on a dictionary, though there will occasionally be a question posed to one of those who’re REALLY good at English as to what a word means.  But I digress.

So you’ve sat down next to… whomever, the ‘Kanpai‘ is said and the silence squashed, and now you have to come up with things to talk about.  Thus far at all the nomikai there have been new people and old people in the club getting to know each other, so discussion topics have been pretty much uniformly about who’s who and what they like.  I often get the, “Where are you from?” which for a while I used to answer, “Colorado,” but eventually I got someone who said, “What country is that in?”  I guess I looked Italian or something. ^_^  So now I say, “Colorado, in America.”  Well, I say the Japanese version of that…  Inevitably, and much to my compounded consternation, there has been some kind of talk about girlfriends, and how apparently I look like either Johnny Depp or (last time I got) Orlando Bloom.  I think that last one is because I hadn’t shaved in a week or so, and thus had a fairly visible 5-o’clock shadow.  (Yes, it takes me almost a week to grow what takes most men 8 hours.  I’m okay with that.  It’s part of who I am.  And it affords me the ability to be lazy and not shave every day! >.<)  I have, in the last week, I think been hit on by more Japanese girls in this dance club than by the sum total of girls who have ever directly hit on me at any other time in my life, and I used to work at the Renaissance Festival!  (For those who don’t know, Rennies hot on each other rather a lot, and I was called, with some frequency, “jail bait,” as I was yet under the legal age for consensual relations. ^_^)

The flow of the “girlfriend” conversation, by the way is very interesting.  I should say, the Girlfriend Conversation™, because the thing is so exactly the same each time I get it that I was very amazed!  It must be like one of those scripts they do in English classes:

Girl:  So do you have a girlfriend?
Boy:  Nope.
Girl:  Oh, wow, I was sure that you did!
Boy:  Yeah, well…
Girl:  So have you EVER had a girlfriend?
Boy:  Yeah, sure I have.
Girl:  How many?
Boy:  Oh, really just one.
[Note:  This is mostly true…  I don’t really count the only other one that I could, but that’s another matter altogether.]
Girl:  Wow!  I figured you’d have had a lot!
Girl 2(who’s been listening in): What’s the normal number?
Girl 1:  I think it’s probably about three, right?
Girl 2:  Yeah, I think three is about right.
Girl 1:  So how long did you go out with her?
Boy:  Um… *embarrassed* Only about a week.
Girl 1:  Ah, I see.  So you’re sure you’re single?
Boy:  Yeah, I don’t have a girlfriend.
Girl 2:  Are you looking for a girlfriend?
Boy:  Of course I am! ^_^
Girl 1:  What do you think about Japanese girls?
Boy:  I think they’re fine. [Fine as in suitable, guys.  As in “I have no problem with the idea of dating a Japanese girl.”]
Girls laugh.
Girl 1:  So what kinds of girls do you like?

And the conversation proceeds from there.  The fun thing is that when you say what attracts you in girls, whichever ones are paying attention to the conversation (I had as many as four once) all look around and consider themselves and each other for the qualifications.  Thus when I say, “She should be smart,” they all look around and groan, saying how that rules them out.  Sometimes they’ll gang up on one girl and make her out to be smart, but I know better. ^_^  They do the same sorts of things for “cute,” too.  I really like to throw out “She should like to dance,” when I’m in the proximity of girls who are exclusively in the dance club.  That one’s fun and gets all of their hopes up.  If they weren’t already a little tipsy to begin with, I’d say that this means I’m going to Hell, but as screwing around with intoxicated friends is one of the more forgivable sins (as I perceive it to be), I think I’m going to be okay. ^_^

I talk about this like it happens all the time, by the way, and you should all know that this has only happened a couple of times.  Of the four nomikai I’ve been to since being here, I think I’ve only ever gotten seriously hit on at three of them, and the above conversation was the more involved conglomeration of all of them put together.  Though the majority of the conversation was present for at least 2/3 of the events. ^_^

Lastly, you have the Game™.  Hmm…  I wonder if “Game” has already been trademarked?  Ah, well, whatever, I’ll probably trademark it for something completely unrelated later anyway!  This is, in fact a drinking game, and the rules are this:

1.  Every time you get burned, you must take a drink.  This is ‘burn’ in the terms used in “That 70’s Show,” whereby if someone makes a joke that makes you look worse for it, everyone laughs and says, “Ohhhhh!” and someone grabs the beer bottle ready to pour your drink because you have to finish it off, ’cause you got BURNED!

2.  If anyone ever says anything extremely NICE to you, you take a drink.  The best example of this was in the “Who Would You Go Out With™” portion of talking, where after you’ve established what KINDS of girls you like, you then look around the table and must confess to who you find the most attractive.  And then they must drink.  The caveat to this rule is that if someone was trying REALLY hard to be the one chosen (up to and including offering you money if you pick them [note: I was never offered money]) and then they LOSE, they must instead take the drink for failing.  This is, in hindsight, probably related to rule 1 above.

3.  If you say something crazy, and everyone agrees with you, you all must clink glasses and drink, followed by frantic refill.

4.  If you burn someone, and they accept it tactfully and act like it’s a good thing, you must all clink glasses and drink, and refill.

5.  If someone doesn’t like something you said, or thought it was mean or whatever, they may grab the beer bottle and you must drink, and then they pour you more.

I think that’s about it. ^_^  Thus goes the flow of the nomikai drinking game.  There are, of course, rules of etiquette as well.  For instance, if you lose at the “WWYGOW” game (see above in rule #2), you must lose gracefully.  That is, you can make a big show of how much it ruins your life, and your hopes and dreams have all been dashed out upon the rocks of fate by the cruel, twisted arms of whoever refused you, so long as it’s all in fun and over the top.  You are also encouraged to be like, “Well of course, that’s the better choice!  Now you two should DEFINITELY go out!”  This is certainly a place for you to be creative and let your true colors show.

So now, if any of you are wondering just how on earth any of the Japanese youth are still alive, or live long enough to become the robots of the Japanese workforce that is their inevitable destination, I should probably have explained earlier that the amount in any one of these glasses is only around two shots, and we’re talking about CHEAP beer, so the alcohol percentage is pretty weak in them.  Not very many people tend to get very drunk at these.  I mean, SOMEWHAT drunk, but not to the point where they really need someone’s help to walk or anything.

On a more serious note, there are some very interesting things I HAVE observed.  For instance people are more than willing and ready to set someone up with someone else if there seems to be any kind of mutual interest between them.  At these parties, it’s perfectly acceptable to suggest that someone should go out with someone else.  I was pretty readily hooked up with one of the new first-year students at the last one where we played the WWYGOW game, since we both chose each other as probably being the most interesting amongst those at the table, to the point where they even moved me around to be sitting next to her.  We chatted for a while, and had an interesting conversation.  Yes, I know that’s weak.  But while SHE stated that older men interest her, the fact that I’m about 6-7 years older than me caused me to hesitate a bit.  Call it my weakness, but I would rather not get into a situation where (not likely, mind you) I may be dating a freshman in college and have to return to America for six months, but we’re very much in love, and to move to America WITH me would screw up all of her plans for her future, and my staying in Japan (somehow?!?) would screw up most of mine.  Yes, I know, “love finds a way,” “compromise,” and all that.  I’ve still got time, I’m not making my choices quite yet on who I’m going to pursue here, okay? ^_^

Let’s see, there were other things.  Oh!  So if someone DOES end up getting completely shit-faced (sorry, there’s really not a nice way to say it and still get the right meaning across), then a few people from the group really step up to take care of them.  I seem to recall this sort of ting happening in America, as well, but somehow it surprised me.  I’m probably just not used to that sort of thing.

I posted a more in-depth view of some of the more personal matters herein alluded to on my personal blog.  But one last thing is I did meet one girl there who was very attractive and is a pseudo-fifth-year student at the university, I think because she’s doing this last year to actually go out and find a job (which the university is kind of obliged to assist with in this culture).  She was in the club last year, but I guess you can only be a member for four years, so she’s not really doing it anymore.  Moving on, she and I talked for a bit, and her being only TWO years younger than I kind of interests me a bit.  I’m seriously the oldest guy on the team now, which sucks.  But she said that since she’s on campus we’ll definitely see each other around fairly frequently.  Maybe she’ll be going to a lot of the nomikai in the future, or perhaps even the practices?

Oh yeah!  And one other thing I noticed, it seems in poor etiquette to spend too much time with one person or group of people at these things.  You know how, in America, if you’re talking to a girl (or guy, since I know at least a few girls read this) and you really start to get into it that you may well spend the rest of the evening just kind of talking together, and if people go anywhere else that evening you may also try to find yourselves seated next to that person?  Yeah, that sort of thing really doesn’t happen at all, and I can tell you it is a little hard to deal with! ^_^  But that may also be the desperately single guy in me talking.  I really couldn’t say for sure! ^_^

That’s it from this side of the ocean!  See you all later!