the dam bursts
weill in japan: day 24
The halfway point of my trip to Japan has come and gone. There's just
three weeks left. There's still a lot to see and do in this country, and
I certainly won't be able to see it all in such a short time. That said,
after a light workload through most of this week in class, the professor
officially gave us the assignment I personally had been dreading. (I was
originally going to write that she "dropped the bomb," but I have to be
sensitive about that here.)
Over the past few days, we've been studying surveys. Either Japanese
newspapers put a lot of faith in surveys, or Japanese professors just love
to study them. Both here and back in Pittsburgh, we have used surveys
repeatedly both as reading passages and as projects. Today, we were instructed
to construct brief surveys, compile them into one large survey, and -- here's
the kicker -- conduct the survey this weekend. At first I thought
she wanted us to interview 50 people this weekend, but I later learned that
the class as a whole should interview that many. People in the dorms either
have to ask each other, ask random people on the street in Tokyo, or just
make up the data. I plan on asking the four people in my homestay family,
regardless of how useful their answers may be. (The survey is supposedly
targeted towards college students; my parents and older brothers are all
That wasn't the most humiliating part of today. During the first hour, we
reviewed facts that we learned from talking to local residents yesterday.
We were instructed to write three interesting facts or places down on colored
paper. Today, we took those papers, cut them up, decorated them with colored
pencils and markers, and taped them to a large oak tag sheet.
I know I shouldn't even be asking these sorts of questions any more, but
why the fuck are
college students doing this? This is the sort of activity that I did in
elementary school without protest, in middle school with disdain, and in high
school with scorn. In college, it's widely understood that these busy-work
exercises teach students nothing about the material, and nothing about art.
They exist in primary and secondary schools to make pretty visual aids to
show off the class. Parents in particular like to see these sorts of
displays. My parents are 7,000 miles away, and they could care less about
some oak tag poster. Just because I thought nobody would believe that we
really did such a pointless exercise, I took
a couple of photographs of the experience. Pure idiocy.
We also got our guide to the midterm today right as class was ending.
Scheduled for next Thursday, the test is evil. It runs for three hours
from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM, covers the three chapters we've done so far in their
entirety, includes two interview-style conversations based exclusively
on the content we've studied (no original thought permitted), and will likely
be no more lenient than the strictly-graded hour-long "quizzes" that we've
taken so far. I guess that I'll need to study. In an unusual twist, the
day after the midterm will be used to go on a field trip to Harajuku as a
class. Every class will take a day-long field trip after their midterm.
deliver me from class
Fortunately, it is still Friday. I couldn't sort out plans for tonight, so
I went to a local restaurant with my father and older brothers. The
restaurant is nondescript except for the large beer tanks in the front, and
featured a huge menu with just about every kind of Japanese food available.
I'm pretty sure that one of the appetizers that I tried was nankotsu,
deep-fried chicken breast cartilage. This proves that I will eat most anything
if it is breaded and deep-fried beyond recognition. Nankotsu tastes vaguely
like chicken but is very tough. I can't say that I'd like to eat it agin.
The skies are lighting up: Tokyo's fireworks season got underway last night.
There's a huge hanabi no matsuri (fireworks festival) tomorrow near
historic Asakusa, and I hope to go if I can sort out plans with my friends.
I love how many take-out places are so specialized here. Near Mitaka
station, I passed by a fried pork shop, a spaghetti shop, and a noodle shop
before settling for a lunch box of fried tempura. I made the mistake of
ordering from the take-out window and then coming inside to eat, confusing
the wait staff who confusedly brought me a tray on which to place my
styrofoam take-out container. If tipping at restaurants were acceptable in
Japan, I'd have left them a couple hundred yen for their trouble.
Sighting: Pornography vending machines. I had heard much of them
before coming, but I went 3 1/2 weeks without seeing one. They're only
available at night, and are covered up during the day. Each machine sells
a few books and videos for ¥2000 (about $17) each. It's the most expensive
machine that I've seen in Japan, just beating out a soccer ball machine which
costs ¥1800 ($15.40) for one deflated ball. I haven't bought anything from
machines yet, nor do I plan to. It's just nice to know that porn vending
machines exist for the consumer who would rather not deal with humans or
credit cards when purchasing their special-interest viewing materials.
ICU has a cheerleading squad, consisting of about 12 halfway decent-looking
gals who look like they're barely old enough to be in high school. They're not
very coordinated, from what I've seen of them, but they at least provide
something to look at while I wait for the bus. Go Angels!
If you'd rather spend money on something more fulfilling, unagi (broiled
eel) is at its best. I've enjoyed it a couple of times while here; a
good-sized portion over rice costs around ¥1000 ($8.50).
Although I've put my trust in soy sauce and Tabasco pretty much anywhere,
Japan offers dozens of other spices, sauces, and other condiments at the
table. Among the weirdest: many coffee drinkers forego powdered sugar in
favor of a very thick clear sugar syrup. The syrup is sweet enough to make
me forget about all the poisonous chemicals it contains.
That little USB memory device I bought is worth its weight in gold. Today
in the computer lab, I was able to compile three groups' worth of documents by
merely inserting the cigarette lighter-sized device into the computer lab
Macs' keyboards. Very cool. According to one of my classmates, a local
convenience store sells similar devices with a lesser capacity.
Toy: At a local camera shop, I tried out a Sony device which accepts a
memory stick and prints business card-size photos. The device is barely
larger than the camera itself: only the small paper tray protrudes while the
printer is in use. It's really cool, but the price is a turn-off. I can't
afford to drop another ¥22,000 ($188) on a device I won't use much,
especially since many companies make 4- by 6-inch prints of digital photos for
30 to 50 cents each plus a small shipping charge. That's about the same
price as it would cost to print photos at home using special glossy paper and
ink. The Sony printer's ink and paper aren't cheap either, and I doubt that
I can buy them in the U.S.
There's a busy weekend of studying and busy-work ahead, to be followed by
a week that will start out boring, become insane, and end with relaxation.
We'll see how things pan out.