Another long weekend post
The Seses, on the whole, are a family that's pretty interested in learning English. Takehiro, the oldest son, is almost fluent, and my host father is big on watching DVDs with Japanese subtitles, and pausing to translate every single line. My host mother probably knows the least English of any of them, but seems the most interested in learning. As one example, she attends a weekly language club called Hippo, which she talked me into attending last Saturday.
She thoughtfully gave me some English literature to look through the night before we went, and to tell you the truth I was sort of frightened. Some of their basic linguistic principles gave me shivers; they stated, for instance, that any adult person can learn a language as well as a baby does (which I'm 95% certain is wrong, but Julie can back me up/correct me here), and that it's harder to speak two languages than three (which... just doesn't make sense). Worst of all, they talked about anecdotal evidence in an academic tone--you know, the "this happened to this guy, and this happened to that guy, which proves this really broad principle" type of writing. Needless to say, I didn't have incredibly high hopes.
The meeting itself, however, was surprisingly interesting. Sese-san was the local group's head, so I went in early (and I do mean early) with her to help set up the room and draw a somewhat not-to-scale map of the East Coast on the whiteboard.
As people started coming in, I briefly introduced myself. Of course, right as I finished my minute-long speech, someone else would come in, resulting in me repeating my little spiel upwards of ten times. Eventually, though, everyone filed in, and everybody else got a chance to introduce themselves. Naturally, I introduced myself once more. We kicked off with a few games, chiefly 'London Bridge' and 'jan-ken-pon', or Japanese rock-paper-scissors. After that we put on some Korean music and tried to repeat each line as it was sung. Repeating random words and phrases from other languages is very big in Hippo, as it is apparently supposed to turn you into a native speaker almost overnight. Yeah.
In the end, though, it seemed pretty harmless; it's not as if people were losing knowledge or anything by singing along with random songs. Some people seemed to actually be decent at speaking in, say, Italian (something they conscripted me into at one point), and everyone definitely had a good time. Myself included, mind. We ended up with me giving a brief speech about myself, North Carolina, and UNC (in English this time, thank heavens), and breaking for lunch. This being essentially my first free weekend since I came here, I went home and studiously did nothing for the rest of the day.
Sunday I met up with Derek with the intent of staging a random Day In The City. Since such a Day requires pretty extensive knowledge of Tokyo's mass transit systems, I suppose this is as good a time as any other to talk some about that.
The best way to get around Tokyo is definitely through the JR (Japan Rail) Lines. Running literally from one end of Japan to the other, the JR light rail system is also convenient for getting from the suburbs (where I live) to, say, Harajuku, Akihabara, or Kaihin Makuhari. Buy your ticket, go through the gate, and get off at the right stop. Most trains and stations have enough English to keep you from totally getting lost, though some of the rural stations are entirely in Japanese. The chief downsides are the speed and cost. It takes about an hour to get across, for example, Tokyo in a local train, though you can take a rapid if you're blessed enough to go to a stop it services.
The price is the other big issue. To get from my Kita-Kashiwa to Tokyo Station, it costs about 600 yen ($5.40). This is much better than, say, taking a taxi, but I could drive 100 miles in my car in America on that money. Fortunately, you can buy a commuter pass between any two stations, which can cut your costs by up to 70%. Another interesting JR quirk is that when you ride on it, you put your ticket in the turnstile at both your starting and destination stations. Let's say, then, that you lived in Tokyo, but wanted to meet a friend in Osaka some hundreds of miles away. Theoretically, then, you could buy the cheapest ticket possible and then ride to Osaka. There, you could meet aforementioned friend inside Osaka Station, have dinner or go shopping (yes, inside the station), then ride back to the station you bought your ticket for and exit. Congratulations, you just traveled halfway across the country on 300 yen.
The main problem with that scenario is that the Shinkansen and other fast trains require individual seating tickets, so have fun chugging across Japan at 60 miles an hour. It's probably not something I'll try soon.
Notice earlier that I said that JR is the best way to get *around* Tokyo. If you want to hit up, say, the Imperial Palace in the dead center of the city, you'll want to take the Tokyo Metro subway system. It's pretty much the exact same thing as JR, except you can't use tickets for one system on the other (which gets really annoying) and the Metro drivers seem to get paid based on how many riders they can knock down per ride. My station is on both JR and Tokyo Metro lines, though, so I just use whichever's cheaper.
Anyway, Derek and I met up Sunday and walked around Kashiwa for an hour or so. Not much to say here; it's a large city with some interesting shopping. Got some nice pictures, though.
Our next destination was Otemachi Station, where I wanted to find a Citibank, maybe look at the Imperial Palace, and walk to Tokyo Station to go to Akihabara. We got to the station and proceeded to spend the next hour and a half looking for said Citibank and asking random Japanese, who had no clue. Then it started raining, which pretty much took the last two parts of the plan out of commission. Finally, after going back into the station to find a map, we came out of an exit and immediately:
The ironic part, of course, was that I needed to go to the Citibank to get money to spend at Akihabara, but by that point it was going to be too late and rainy to do or see much of anything. I'm going to buy Mother 3 this Wednesday, I swear. So we went to Shinjuku, wandered around some, and got dinner at a completely random place up a flight of stairs. Interestingly, I have had neither sushi nor American-style teriyaki chicken even once since I've got here. Last Friday was the halfway point, though, so I still have three more weeks.
Oh, and I got to talk to Hadley on the phone for the first time since June. That's definitely noteworthy.
Vending Machine Special #11: Calpis
I finally managed to find a bottle of this beauty at a subway convenience store (or 'konbini', or 'コンビニ' not too long ago. Not too much to say here, except that it definitely tastes worse than Pocari Sweat. It's milky-white, has a sort of powdery flavor, and I'm not really sure what the point of it is anyway. But hey, this is Japan. Just because it's the most efficient nation on Earth doesn't mean it has to always make sense.