As I Stand, Packing

Yes, packing.  It sucks.  It sucks muchly...  PS:  Love this photo.

Yes, packing. It sucks. It sucks muchly… PS: Love this photo.

I packed all my bags this evening.  This makes me sad.  Not because my bags are packed, leaving me nothing to worry about not getting done for the next day and a half, certainly, but because it means that I’m really basically finished here in Japan.

While packing I thought about a lot of things.  How I’m not the same person I once was.  How my sphere of friends has now expanded (ironically) to include most of the US, and almost none of Japan. ^_^  But the friends I made here have become like family to me.  I have my family, and I have friends back home who are like family, and now I have a third family that met up in Japan, and almost all of us are returning home to our respective states…  Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Wisconsin…  All over the map.

Also I will miss a lot of the simpler things – smaller proportions, some of the stupid things Japan does, trains, yen, having a reason to speak Japanese to people around me…  Don’t get me wrong, I miss my home in Colorado very much, and I love everyone there and miss them all dearly… but I love my home here, too, with my friends here.  So it is a bittersweet thought, packing.

Leaving home for Japan wasn’t bad at all, because I knew that I would be returning within a year’s time, and that all would be well.  But I don’t know when I can come back here to Japan.  I don’t know when I will be with ALL of my new friends again.  Sure, we’re going to conventions together, but perhaps not all of us to them.  Sure, we have Skype for chatting, but you can’t get the energy from being AROUND them and able to move amongst each other.

On the one hand I have changed a great deal.  On the other, I am still the same person that everyone knows and loves.  I confuse even myself with this.  It’s just… not fun.

Tomorrow we head out to Disney Sea, a neighboring theme park to Tokyo Disneyland, which we went to two weeks ago.  We’re going to have a blast, and then we’re doing a final all-night karaoke marathon that will kick major ass.  Then at around 5 in the morning we head home, get a few final precious hours of sleep, followed by hiking our baggage out to the airport and awaiting flights.  There’s no time left.  Anything else we wanted to do will not get done, and any savoring we wish we could have more of will have to be left unsatisfied.  The week before finals’ week time couldn’t move fast enough and we all wished we were home already.  Now that finals are over, time is moving entirely too quickly, and freaking us all out.  A funny thing, Time.  ^_^  Don’t even get me started on my plans for when I get back to America.

Here’s a preview:

  1. Wash clothes.
  2. Sit down.
  3. Cry.
  4. Wash clothes. (Yes, again!)
  5. Call friends from home.
  6. Eat food with friends, and try to feel happy.
  7. Sleep in the presence of central air-conditioning.

And then I take things as they come…  ^_^

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!

Militant Much?

Some things in Japan are clearly based on ancient history.  Others are clearly based on Western influence.  And yet a few things remain which are based on a more recent, non-western history.  ^_^  It’s... interesting.

Some things in Japan are clearly based on ancient history. Others are clearly based on Western influence. And yet a few things remain which are based on a more recent, non-western history. ^_^ It’s… interesting.

Well, I still have no access to photos, though I’ve taken a few with my mobile, 4 megapixel phone…  So I’m resorting to some photos I’ve yet to upload in an album, because I’m lazy. ^_^

Anyway, continuing with some of where I left off, the dance club had a meeting for all the new students.  I didn’t exactly FEEL like one of the new ones, because, well, I’ve been going to the practice room basically every day for the last few days and gleaming what I can from the free time of others in the club.  Due to my previous dance experience (square, round, and a little social, modern, and step — all with “dance” thrown in afterward ^_^) I’ve managed to impress a few people with how quickly I pick things up, I guess…  And I’ve already danced with several of the already-old members, so I really don’t feel like a “newbie” at all! >.<  Plus there’s this whole sempai/kouhai (upper-/lower-classman, kind of) thing in Japan that, being an American I don’t really ‘get,’ nor do I think that with only four months in this club that it matters much if I try my best to follow unless they really push me to.  I’m at least a year or two older than any of them anyway! ^_^

Okay, so I’ve been stealing practice time from the club members, and then, finally (less than a week later = ‘finally’), they have the new member meeting where they show off the dance styles, do a little tooting of the dancing-horn, and then show them what kinds of exercises they do each practice to help.  And let me tell you, that is when I got COMPLETELY floored.

First off, to start the meeting, the president said… something that I didn’t understand or probably really catch or anything, and everybody lined up facing forward, a simple block formation.  He said some things, and they shouted some one-syllable response akin to ‘ooh-rah’ or something in English.  Then then broke off into demonstrations.

Here I have some corrections to make:  “Modern” dance (as they call it) consists of Waltz, Tango, Slow-Foxtrot, and Quick Step.  “Latin” (which is what we call it in America, too) dance consists of Rhumba, Paso Doble, Samba, and maybe Cha-cha.  Of those, Waltz, Tango, Quick Step, and Paso Doble are freaking AWESOME.  The others are nifty, kind of cool, and some of them rather sexy at times, but none have the intense power of the four I listed.  This has been Scotty’s opinion, and you can take it for what it’s worth. ^_^

So then it came time to demonstrate what they do for warm-ups or whatever at practice, and also where I started fearing to ever drink red kool-aid if anyone ever offered me any!  Basically they formed the block again, the leader called out a command, they all responded in kind and turned in to the center (boys half facing girls half), then the leader said the name of the exercise, they gave a shouting response and took their dance posture while a few more experienced members adjusted.  Another instruction and they started a jumping/rhythm practice exercise as though in time to the music, as the leader shouted “SLOW, SLOW, QUICK-QUICK, SLOW” and everyone echoed, rinse, and repeat.  About this time I started thinking to myself, “Wow, self, are they militant much?” and almost ran for the door.

But I stayed in my seat.  (Aren’t you proud of me? ^_^)  They did this for a few exercises, and then again after more demonstrations for the Latin dances, and I caught myself feeling a little afraid of what was going on.

And then I remembered something a Japanese teacher told me long ago.  See, Japan used to be a very militarized country indeed.  Schools were designed for two things:  Nationalism and preparing boys to join the military.  So they USED to have a lot of regulation things, they used to have marching practices in middle schools, and I imagined that a lot of that sort of thing probably stuck around in the school activities, even after the school system was changed by the Americans, because the clubs aren’t regulated or run by the schools so much as by the students, passing information down from one to another year after year.  So it’s not SO weird that such practices would still be around.  I also thought that even in American sports, such activities are alive, well, and expected each practice before things really get going.  In fact, the ONLY thing that was weird here was that it was a dance club doing this and not a football team.  This actually was a bit of a comfort to me… kind of… because it helps me see that the dance club really is a TEAM, despite having partners and everything, they all warm up together and know what’s what at each practice.  They’re serious about training to be great dancers, and so am I, so that’s cool.

Plus it gives me a great experience and probably a lot more future insight into Japanese school/society, and what it’s like to BE a Japanese person, possibly.  And that’s something I could never hope for, so maybe by seeing what I can of the club I’m in, I can get at least a little feel for it.  ^_^

There and Back Again

Well, I went home, lived in America for a couple months, and now am back in Japan.  That was quick, eh?PS:  Why did I repeat this picture?  Read to the bottom.  Er... ALL the way to the bottom!  Partway will cause misunderstandings, of this I promise!  O.O

Well, I went home, lived in America for a couple months, and now am back in Japan. That was quick, eh?
PS: Why did I repeat this picture? Read to the bottom. Er… ALL the way to the bottom! Partway will cause misunderstandings, of this I promise! O.O

[2013 – I don’t think I ACTUALLY repeated that image from before. That’s what I get for writing at midnight, I suppose…]

Okay, so now that I’m BACK in Japan and am losing time, I have started feeling a LOT more pressure (I’m looking at you, dancers I know…!) to update my blog, and with good reason!  It’s not every day you are good friends with someone who goes to Japan (unless you’re good friends with me, right?) just like it’s not every day you get to GO to Japan.  Or anywhere else in the world!  So my apologies to those who were REALLY hoping for an update or two over the break, I was just so busy doing AMERICA that I didn’t manage to squeeze in time for Japan!  ^_^  Weird, huh?

Okay, so time for a long-ish blog entry, which is cool, ‘cause y’know it’s only almost midnight here, so I got time.  Right?  I got time?

Whatever.

–Back Home for a Time–

Coming home was educational, to say the least.  I was initially VERY surprised at just how BIG everything felt.  And it wasn’t the houses or the cars or the streets (though they were very big indeed) as these things were just as big as I’d remembered them to be.  The things that surprised me were things like chairs, cups, hamburgers, proportions and the like.  I’d become so used to small glasses, small hamburgers, low chairs and tables, that I didn’t really realize that I’d become used to them!  The biggest surprise was when I went to go get a glass from the cupboard for the first time, I reached in and grabbed one, and it just felt HUGE in my hand, like I was seven all over again!  So rather than realize that I’d just gotten used to smaller glasses, I reached for a different-colored one, thinking that perhaps while I was away Mom had purchased bigger glasses.  That one felt just as big.

I still had to ask Dad or Ryan or somebody if the glasses were ACTUALLY the same size as always!  Man, some people just have a hard time learning, eh?

Otherwise, things were about the same as always back in America.  Church was about the same, girls were about as frustrating, life about as complicated as it should be…  Oh, it did take me a week or two to get used to throwing all of my trash away in the same container, though.  That was fun to come to terms with. ^_^

–Back to Japan–

Coming back to Japan was interesting, at least as much as any 15 hour flight could be.  I had to fly from Denver to Chicago first, because apparently American Airlines thinks that cheaper.  It probably actually is for them, rather than having international hubs all across the US.  I woke up around 5 or so, grabbed my bags, went to the airport… You know the drill.  About the only interesting thing that happened was I bought a bagel while waiting for my flight, and literally, I think I would have liked just a little more bagel with my cream cheese than they gave me.  The amount of cream cheese was fine, I just needed a second bagel to go with it all!

Otherwise, the flight to Japan, train to Tokyo, etc… were all just dandy and relatively eventless.  Once I got back to Tokyo, I dunno, apparently there’s this whole “cherry blossom” thing going on that nobody told me about*, and so all the hotels were pretty much already full.  I had to walk for an hour or two to a couple of different hotels before I found one in Shinjuku that had a MAP of other nearby hotels with phone numbers that I could call instead of walking to them all in-person.  And even then the only one I found was a two-room, so I sent a little more than I’d hoped, but the school reimbursed most of that cost.  Well, they WILL reimburse it soon anyway.  So I slept, woke, found out my host family wouldn’t be able to meet me for sure (I was already pretty sure that would be the case), so they put me up in another hotel for a second night.

*People told me about it, and I already knew…  I just hadn’t realized it would affect my finding a hotel room as much as it did.  There were folks in Tokyo from ALL over the world, but mostly Japan and China, I think.  Maybe Taiwan…?

After that I went to Ueno Park with some friends to do a little “hana-mi,” or “cherry-blossom viewing.”  We talked and played some music for an hour or two, then went to a nearby museum that had a Japanese history section (both natural history and societal history) as well as a general science section.  It was wicked cool, because they had this amazing spherical room with projectors all around and a walkway in the middle on which to stand, and if you leaned over the edge you could fairly easily forget you were standing on ANYTHING, and flying along with the camera across 3D-rendered fields of dinosaurs, or through the ocean, and then get sick and throw up.  (I didn’t get sick or throw up.  I think nobody threw up, but I bet it’s happened once or twice. ^_^)  After the movie we saw the whole museums.  It got boring and two of us got pretty jet-lagged, so we just skimmed through most of one of the buildings and went back.

The next day, finally I met with my host family. I’ll try to get pictures and more information about them up a little later, but it’s a little three-member family.  The parents are at oldest eleven years older than me and youngest eight years older, so it’s really a lot more like big-brother/sister or aunt and uncle than parents, which is cool.  Their son is 5, and I can actually understand most of what he says!  That makes me happy.  My Japanese is ALMOST on par with a 5-year-old.  Wouldn’t that make YOU happy?  ^^;;

And finally, most recently (and the reason I’m composing this at midnight rather than, say, SOONER than midnight) I finally found a club that I wholeheartedly want to join!  It’s called the “Kyougi Dansu” club, which means “Cometitive Dance.”  What THIS means is that not ONLY will I be improving/learning ballroom dance (specifically Waltz, Quickstep, Foxtrot, Tango, Cha-cha-cha, Rhumba, and one other latin dance, I think…  They said it all in Japanese, which is hard for me to remember, and it was fast making it hard for me to immediately translate to English and retain), but we will be focusing on getting REALLY good at it! ^_^

Furthermore, there are some awesome people in the club so far, including some really cute girls.  One girl I met actually grew up between 1 and 11 in America, then came back to Japan and attended middle and high school here, so her Japanese is as good as anyones, but the English she knows she speaks fluently!  It completely blows my mind.  Oh, that and she’s hot.  And she told me that I was hot, and that she didn’t believe I didn’t have a girlfriend.

Yeah, I totally got her number. ^_^  How long are you supposed to wait before calling a girl after getting her number, anyway?  I mean in Japan, that is?  Bah, the club’s meeting again tomorrow, I guess, so it’s cool.  I’ll just see her then!  Along this tangent, however, I may have just been suffering from “girl said you’re hot” disease and thus had an unusually large ego, but I kind of got the impression that a few of the girls there were eyeing me…  If I’m right (and I refuse to allow myself to think too seriously that I am beyond “it’s possible”) then I hope oh, so very strongly, that it will not become anything awkward.  My impression of Japanese dating culture is that it won’t, as it seems kind of like girls here aren’t as… catty as they are in America, even about boys.

Scott’s dating insight:  Boys and Girls in Japan are just a fact of life, and some like the others, and some like each other.  If one doesn’t like you but you like them, well, you can try harder or give up.  And if they like one of your friends who likes them back, well good for them!

I may be completely mistaken about this, but I hope to never find out if I am!

By the way, is it COMPLETELY messed up that I think it’s attractive, this girl speaking Japanese much better than I and English at least as well as an eleven-year-old?  I think probably.

And finally, to finish off this post-of-posts, I’m going to Kyoto on Saturday, and I found out shortly after taking off to Chicago that my camera’s battery is dead, I don’t have the second on me, and my charger is either at HOME, or in my extra bag which I doubt I can get back before I leave.  So it’s not all wireless internet and heated toilet seats out here!  >.<  Man, and the sakura should be in FULL bloom up in Kyoto when we go there, too!  Gotta look for a charger!!!  Gyaaaaaaaaar!

Sitting in Cali

Here, I’ve only been in America for a few hours and already I miss Dancing Johan!  T_T

Here, I’ve only been in America for a few hours and already I miss Dancing Johan! T_T

Much as with going, it seems returning holds a lot of interesting thing for you that you may only be able to learn by experiencing them.  For instance, I sit here, people chatting away all around in my native language (er, English), and I find myself feeling a certain degree of sadness that I won’t be ABLE to speak Japanese to anyone for a while and be understood.  Somehow, despite the fact that I was (in my humble opinion) really bad at it, it seems that I had come to enjoy having Japanese to speak… and sometimes to hate to have to speak.  But now that, were I to speak it, nobody would have the slightest idea what I mean, I feel like I’ve lost a favorite toy, or like a family member has left and not told me where they went or something.

Something else, while passing through customs, was more or less the first time I’ve had someone I didn’t know speak to me in English in almost five months, and I was speechless for what I’m sure was not nearly as long as it felt.  He looked at me and said, “How was your trip?”  And I had to sit and think for a moment to come up with the response, “It was good.”  And that was weird.  ^_^  And he asked the purpose of my trip, to which I responded, “Exchange student… study… um… school.”  He smiled and laughed and said gingerly, “Welcome back!”  I’m not going to try to claim any degree of look-I’m-so-fluent-I-forgot-English, because that’s pretty far-fetched in any regard, perhaps barring isolation from anyone who MIGHT understand your language for a period of many years…  But it did feel strange conversing with employees in English.

PS:  This chair is gi-normous!  I mean, I’m sitting in it comfortably enjoying the space I have with it… but it’s freakin’ HUGE.  I wonder if the chair is big or if I’m just THAT used to small spaces now…?

Well, now I’m back off to find yet another something to do.  This has only really killed about 30 minutes of time writing this, and I unfortunately need something more like sour or six times that amount.  *sigh*  Well, I didn’t bring a fully charged PSP and DS for nothing, I suppose! ^_^

Time to Go Home… For a While

This frightens and disturbs me...

This frightens and disturbs me…

Well, the time has come at last for me to head home for a little bit.  First semester is over and they’ve granted us two months free of scholarly activities with which to forget everything we learned! Yay!  In light of the fact that it costs just as much to stay here as to fly home (actually more to stay here, since I’d need to buy food and transportation for activities more so than at home), I’m gonna fly home and do stuff… um… in English. ^_^

It’s been a crazy several months, though!  Almost 5 months, now, I’ve been in Japan.  As you’ve seen I’ve learned a lot of things about Japan and even myself.  Though I have tried to keep to more serious, personal matters more to myself, too. It’s just not FUN to read serious, personal things; and that’s what this trip has mostly been for me: Fun!  So I know I should do my reports one Hiroshima, but since this is foremost in my mind right now (and I leave for one last epic adventure in less than an hour), I’ll settle this with a few final thoughts on things in Japan.

Dating in Japan… is just as hard as dating in America.  If you’re looking for some floozy who wants to hook up with a gaijin, sure, simple as pie, but that’s not dating. ^_^  The real deal is still frustrating. ^_^

Japanese Orange DrinkEverything in Japan has a smiley face.  Well, not EVERYTHING, but a lot more things than you’d think.  Many of you may have already seen the smiling bottle cap in my image gallery, but this is what the side of one of those bottles looks like.  It has a smiley face.  It’s so happy that you’re twisting it’s hat off and pouring out its life-blood for your taste-bud amusement, that it cannot adequately express it in words.  So it just smiles.  That, or it knows you’re going to be addicted once you try it, so it’s a knowing, evil smile… OF DOOM!!!

Ronald (Donald) McDonald House SignRonald McDonald, in Japan, appears to be named “Donald McDonald”, as on this here sheet (which I got in my tray at said offending restaurant), it clearly says 「ドナルド・マクドナルド・ハウス」, which reads in English, “Donald McDonald House”.  But it’s not, it’s RONALD McDonald… right?  I mean, it is, isn’t it?  And I’m not going crazy?

REALbaby Sign in JapanIn Japan, you can buy REALBabies for only ¥2480, or about $25.  Now here I’d thought them to cost much more!  If only they would sell things like… “REALGirlfriend” or something…  But I suppose that’s bit more expensive, huh?  And no, the Princess Maker series of games does not qualify as a girlfriend!  That’s more like a daughter thing, so yeah.  No.  Icky-icky.  Silence!

Japanese Dr. Pepper CleavageIn Japan, chicks can shoot bottles of Dr. Pepper out of their cleavages… O.O

This is an illustration of a bottle of Dr. Pepper, in case you couldn’t figure it out.  I laughed, um… a lot when I saw this.  I’m still laughing, actually!  Haha!  Ha!  Ha!  Etc…

You can’t make this stuff up.

And I can’t beat that for an ending to the post.

So I won’t try. ^_^

Changing Seasons and Thoughts on Generic Study

While Christmas has been a thing here since Halloween ended (this whole last month), I’m starting to get excited for it myself, now... playing Christmas music, enjoying when I see decorations, etc...

While Christmas has been a thing here since Halloween ended (this whole last month), I’m starting to get excited for it myself, now… playing Christmas music, enjoying when I see decorations, etc…

First, a few simple notes about Japan, and the change in seasons.  Here in Tokyo, it’s rather humid.  And by “rather”, I mean it’s comparable to, say, swimming through the air.  The temperatures have gotten downright chilly over the last few weeks, ranging usually around 14˚ or less (that’s in C, on F, which I use because it’s what they use here, plus it has fewer flats).  In F, that’s about 55˚.  Well above freezing.  Yet, it feels frightfully cold, and you’re reading from a guy who will spend 15 minutes outside with a t-shirt and jeans when it’s snowing where he’s from.  Of course, he’s from a much drier climate, so the cold doesn’t absorb as much.

Also, it’s starting to come down to Christmas time.  Here in Japan, that means basically everything it means in America minus silly religious annoyances (the religious meaning isn’t annoying, but the ranting about religious meaning kind of is), and without it being a national holiday.  Also, I heard that in Japan, each person really only gets one present, which, if you’re a girl, means you get a fancy new bag (purse-thing).  That’s what girls get in Japan, I guess. ^_^  Don’t ask me, I just calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.

This next sections, I debated putting up here or on my personal Japan-blog, since it does pertain to an individual problem I’ve have in school (you have no idea how many times I had to edit that sentence so that people wouldn’t sit down – metaphorically – before continuing on), but I think because the general idea is more widespread and generically applicable than just to my personal situation, I will post it here.

First, you should know that kanji is hard.  If you don’t know that, well, you do now.  Japanese people tell me that kanji is hard.  It’s the hardest thing to learn and the easiest thing to forget.  There’s even a rising trend where everyone can read it, but more and more are able to write less and less of it.  (Thanks, computers…)  So it’s not just us stupid white guys. ^_^

In Inensive Japanese, we’ve set a pace of studying twenty kanji each week.  That’s a very hefty pace, considering that there are potentially dozens of new words for each kanji…  Kanji is also very interesting, as when you get more into it, it can actually make it easier to learn new words, which is one of the reasons I really actually like it, but that’s not pertinent to the current topic.  What is pertinent is that with all these kanji, plus speaking and vocabulary and grammar in class (of which we cover dozens of new items each week) can easily run any person down.  In the case of this class, I find myself in one of two positions: either barely staying afloat on the homework/study scene, or rapidly sinking beneath the piled on load.

When things get really heavily piled up, however, is not a time I find myself really wanting to “get to it”, as it were, and work hard to overcome the load.  Rather, utilizing arguments that what they’re “teaching” is useless, I argue that there’s no point in doing the homework to catch up, so I drop a few assignments (don’t worry, there’s probably a hundred assignments or more this semestre, of which the grade impact is around 7%, so I’m not hurting too much for that) and pick up the next ones as they come.  This actually works rather well in areas other than kanji.  You see, the kanji builds up on itself.  If you miss a vocab here or there, you can usually pick it up later when needed, but if you miss a kanji, then it makes learning future vocab more difficult, and when it comes time for a mid-term/final, well, it’s just bad.

The second major problem in learning kanji, unlike doing an assignment (of which there are at least two for kanji each week), it’s not something you can just do, say “I did it”, and put away.  Each kanji has its shape (that you need to know how to write), at LEAST one pronunciation (often more, with as many as 4 or more), several words that use it, along with a general idea for the meaning of the kanji which can help you to learn the words better, and maybe even a bit of their history if you feel so inclined.  When you have these 4 (four?  I didn’t count as I wrote it) facets of kanji earning, you can’t simply sit down for an hour one night with some flash cards and learn them all.  I can learn 40 words that way easily (recognition, pronunciation, and meaning), but the kanji are more intricate and involved than simple vocab in which they are used.

For these reasons (personal and logistical), I find my subconscious often pushing kanji to the back burner.  (It also doesn’t help that kanji is the least emphasized and least frequented class among the collection that forms “Intensive Japanese”.)  It says, “Oh, you have more important homework due tomorrow, and kanji’s not ‘til the day after,” and things like that.  It also says, “If you start studying kanji now, you’re not getting to bed until 3 in the morning (this being around 11, an hour before I usually hit the sack), OR you won’t have studied well enough to know it well enough for the test, so there’s no point getting involved now.”  That along with the knowledge that if I study one day I’ll likely have forgotten it by the next day, making kanji seem rather like a never ending battle to remember things.

But then I thought of something, which I had later confirmed and endetailed.  (Is that a word?  Just “detailed” seems wrong there, even as a transitive verb… >.>)  The idea is this:  Just a little study each day would likely spread out the time needed to study it all in one day, and probably only take a slightly longer length of time in total, but resulting in a much stronger knowledge of the information presented.  I achieved this conclusion based more or less on my knowledge of increasing interval theory in linguistic learning as well as personal experience in studying.  So that’s what I decided to do, is I’ll sit down for a little while each day, acknowledging that I won’t finish my study that day.  My goal will merely be to get some of it done.  That’s the biggest wall, is the notion of “finishing” something, because you can’t “finish” learning a language.  I haven’t even finished learning English, and here I am working on a second… or third… or… whatever.  A different one.  Anyway, I think you see the point.

Then I came home and looked at an article I received this morning from my older brother, who likes to lurk around on RSS news feeds and send me interesting articles, pointing to this science report.  Feel free to read it, but it’s a bit long (and this blog post isn’t?) so I’ll summarize here.  Basically, we learn best when we look at intelligence as something you gain, not something you have.  Children who are naturally gifted have a predisposition to look at intelligence as a natural extant thing that is what it is.  In America, we like to exacerbate this problem by telling our children things like, “You’re so talented,” or, “He’s very bright.”  This leads to children tending to look at themselves as naturally intelligent (the research started in the 60s, but the more pivotal parts have only recently been published) but when they encounter trouble, rather than look at it as an obstacle to get over to improve their knowledge, they will say, “Well, it’s pointless anyway” (sound familiar?), and move on to something that makes them feel more confident.  However there are some children who look at difficulties and failures as a factor of their not working hard enough to get it done right.  They look at every challenge as a chance to get a little bit smarter.  Kind of like, it’s not the naturally brilliant plan that gets you from point A to point B, but rather in the plan’s execution, if that makes any more sense.  (The brilliant plan being natural ability, which some have and some don’t; the execution being effort applied to a subject, which everyone can do to accomplish the task, natural talent or not.  I think natural talent just eases the process…)

I find it fun that I arrived at this conclusion to make learning kanji a process and not a goal on the same day that I received this article.  (I made my conclusion before reading the article, however, in case of temporal confusion. ^_^)

Incidentally, there are actually a number of areas in which I have already come to this conclusion, for instance in the area of teaching language, learning to sing, understanding religious principles, etc…  Just never had I thought to apply it to something as mundane as everyday schoolwork.  The fact is that everything we can learn is really just a process and a stop on the road to knowing more, as there’s always something more to learn about a subject.  What we are given in school are really just milestones.  My determination was to stop looking at the milestones and to start looking at the road leading up to them.

…And that sounded way more “mysterious wise person on mountain” than I would generally feel comfortable with, but I’ll let it stay for now, since I wrote it, and I dislike editing these things… ^_^

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Oh yeah!  And you can totally apply this to everything!  Relationships, losing weight, learning a musical instrument, everything!  Every time you work at something, you’re doing it!  Who cares if you’re not seeing results immediately.  Just do it because it’s something you want to do, and then you’ll forget about looking for results until one day you stop and say, “Hey!  I’ve actually made a LOT of progress!”  ^_^  Trust me!