Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dispatches from the Keiyo Line

[Only one update today, folks, sorry. Had some extra homework moved up a day on me. I'll update twice Wednesday (late Tuesday night) and be all set to go starting Thursday (late Wednesday night).]

Alright, so Thursday. Aside from the usual two or three hours of homework, the extra hour devoted specifically to kanji studying, and the five-minute speech I had to mock up sometime between now and Saturday, this was a pretty light day, schedule-wise. Wait. I just remembered we're going to spend the entire afternoon (and possibly evening) on our first Tokyo field trip. That just might put a wrench in things, mightn't it?

Seriously, though, I did manage to find some time today alone with my thoughts, most of which I used pondering my host family situation. I seemed to have three options here: stay where I am now, move to the newly spare room in Takeda-san's house, or switch families altogether. (No, Mom and Hadley, giving up and taking the next flight home is not an option.) I won't bore you with all the details--the room in Takeda-san's house looked nicer, but it didn't seem as if she wanted me to move into it, and there would be no chance of wireless Internet; a host family could be great, but would also be a total crapshoot, and wouldn't be nearly as close to campus as I am now--but they more or less balanced out. I essentially concluded that I had no personal pressing need to choose any option above the other, something I would bring up with Kudo-san at the next opportunity.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Aratake-sensei informed me that Kudo-san had found me a new host family and I would be moving in as soon as this weekend. (Meta-note: This was a 36-hour turnaround time.) Though the majority of this trip to date has been awesome, I seem to be caught in the middle of a continuing trend: whenever I find myself growing accustomed to one place, my world is immediately shifted by 180 degrees, and I'm just no longer on Merton's playing fields at all. I'm the type of person who needs a certain amount of order in his life--not a complete routine, mind, just a semblance of habit somewhere. Therefore, this has been an interesting continuous sensation. At least it builds character.

Anyway, I was informed about all this on the Tokyo subway system, on which, actually, I would be going into Tokyo proper for the first time this entire trip. Our group's destination was the Mingeikan Folk Crafts Museum, on the other side of town. About halfway through the (hour-long) trip, we had to switch lines at Tokyo Station. For those of you who've been inside a major subway system before, I suppose the sight wouldn't be too much. Still, the multi-leveled, labyrinthine, store-splattered panorama I was whisked through for about ten minutes was pretty exhilarating. Japanese 'salarymen' mingled with teenage girls in somewhat unusual fashions mixed with teenagers wearing archetypal Engrish shirts standing around bakeries and squid shops--and, of course, the axiomatically tantalizing concept of the Japanese bookstore. All that literature, and absolutely none of it for me whatsoever.
One of the lighter crowds of the day.

Far more important, however, is what I saw while waiting for the Tokyo-Shibuya train. Some of you may remember a link I had up a while back, from a blog with a description of a downright silly ad for Japanese beer. I think my title was 'Japanese pronunciation for imbeciles' or something like that. Anyway, you can guess where this is going.

Incidentally, I'm going to try and get some more pictures of the various crazy shirts, signs, etc. around here that I know you're all clamoring for. Engrish does abound in Tokyo--trust me on this one--but I've just recently started getting up the courage to go around photographing the backs of various Japanese. Pity about that, though; there was a six-year-old I saw recently wearing a T-shirt saying "Girlfriends are fun. Men friends are funner" that was about as Engrish as one can possibly get.

I'm actually also interested in exploring the social constructs behind crazy English like this. Supposedly, most Japanese under the age of, say, 40, are reasonably literate in English but just don't speak it. However, the commonality of signs like "No taking of the photography act is requested here" seem to more or less lay waste to that postulate. Like many, many, many other things I've just begun to touch on, this merits further research.

Anyway, Mingeikan was fairly nifty. I can usually develop an interest in the sorts of crafts like the pottery and fabrics that made up most of the museum's collection; from the right angle, anything is interesting. Unfortunately, the fact that I had been standing nonstop for about the last three hours (I couldn't get a seat on the subway) sort of dulled my interest.

The entire collection was the brainchild of one Yanagi-san, a famous contemporary Japanese philosopher who posited that through repetitive work, one can achieve enlightenment. Therefore, most of his selected works were made en masse, by anonymous craftsmen, in the tradition of previous art, etc. An interesting concept, certainly; I'd say I'll go back and find out more, but I know in my heart it's never going to happen. We also were given a tour of Yanagi's former residence across the street, which was apparently a rare honor and very cool.

After we did the boring, official half of our field trip, it was time for Part 2: shopping in Shinjuku! Shinjuku is one of the more up-and-coming districts of Tokyo, famous for its nightlife and, to a lesser extent, its shopping. Aratake-sensei and most of us were out searching for a decent, cheap electronic Japanese-English dictionary to buy; we found a great store but decided we needed to do more price-matching. So we split up, after which half of us found a noodle place and then another karaoke bar. This place was a bit more expensive than the one in Narita--1200 yen for an hour--but we definitely enjoyed ourselves once again.

By the time our hour was up, it was about 8:30. This is extremely early by my standards, but the trains stop running as early as 11 in virtually all of Tokyo. Since it takes about an hour to get from Shinjuku back to Narashino, we decided this was the time to meander back our own separate ways. I manuevered through the city fairly successfully, making it back to Shin-Narashino Station at about 10. For the heck of it, I counted how many vending machines there were on my fifteen-minute walk through the suburbs; I came up with nine. One I didn't count because it was in the station, but I'm using it as my Vending Machine Special #2 anyway:

Run! It's water!

Friday not much happened. We had a guest speaker on the state of anime and the possible influences of America on it. I could say I won't discuss it because I know at least two of you openly hate anime with a passion, but frankly I'm bland on the subject myself. The guy was a great speaker and all, especially when he was talking about how he single-handedly started the Pokemon trading card boom in America, but about 90% of the names he was dropping went completely over my head.

Also, that day or Thursday marked another great milestone of my trip to Japan, the foreign and exotic land of sushi, samurai and sudoku. Yeah, I went to McDonald's. It's actually more different than you would expect; the restaurant is cleaner, the service is infinitely better and the food is actually good. I got a surprisingly delicious teriyaki burger (pretty much what it sounds like), though I still can't stand their fries.

That's J.K. with the last of my teriyaki sauce.

I also talked with Kudo-san, in which we determined that I would move in the following Wednesday at the earliest. I studied and slept for the rest of the day or something; I don't remember.


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