over the first hurdle

weill in japan: day 28

The first big challenge of this week is over, leaving only the midterm exam on Thursday. After that, I can look forward to a great weekend.

The major challenge today was presenting the compiled results of a survey conducted over the weekend, which generated 55 responses. (We'll never know how many of those responses came from real Japanese people.) After each group compiled their data, the data were then shared, compiled, and used to generate graphs. It should be noted that in keeping with the general theme of uselessness in the class, every group had the same data. The only major differences were the styles with which people created graphs, and the conclusions that each of us reached. We got through it just fine, although something tells me that we'll be expected to review the videotape of the presentations for self-improvement purposes.

The first two periods were comprised entirely of presentation-related tasks, including about 10 minutes when I ran to the computer lab and library to make some last-minute corrections to the graphs. After we had all finished our properly homogenized presentations, and after our 20-minute break (which lasted 15 minutes, as usual) we were to begin new material.

Instead, we had a town hall meeting of sorts to get the class's impression of the class so far. The comments were universally negative, although it's never expected for people to stand up and say that they have no complaints. Nevertheless, several students voiced their displeasure with the course's rote memorization methods and impractical materials. One of the complaints was that the pace of the class was too slow. That's a dodgy statement: while we repeat materials ad nauseam, I find that keeping pace with the class takes substantial time out of class. Rather than increasing the amount of homework, I'm hoping that the professors shift the focus to more practical Japanese rather than reading twenty-year-old essays about home remedies and surveys which take the blatantly obvious and insert percentages to boost credibility.

Optimism is not the way to describe the class's mood, especially with the midterm exam so close. One student told me that he's considering asking the program staff for a refund if the course quality doesn't improve appreciably after our suggestions. Something tells me that the course won't improve and he won't get his refund. The bitter bus can cross the Pacific Ocean.

one wild weekend

Fortunately, plans are shaping up pretty nicely for this coming weekend. As the weather in Tokyo continues to heat up, my class heads to Harajuku this Friday. I'm making plans for that evening. The next day marks the ICU trip to Asakusa, followed that evening by a fireworks festival elsewhere in Tokyo. On Sunday, many ICU students will be gathering in Shibuya for a pilgrimage to the Godzilla statue downtown. I expect homework to be light this weekend, but I plan to get out a lot no matter what. With my return flight getting closer every minute, I can't afford to waste my weekends buried in textbooks.


The 7:00 PM hour on television is quickly becoming my favorite. After watching a Japanese celebrity edition of "Weakest Link" yesterday, my host family and I watched "Pokémon" tonight. In English. The American voice track has been retroactively added to all the episodes that have been aired in the U.S. A segment entitled "Pokémon de English" uses both voice tracks to teach useful phrases like "Don't let go!" Three videotapes in the "Pokémon de English" series are now available for general sale. Each costs ¥1980 ($16.50).

I now have two e-mail addresses that go directly to peoples' phones. No responses yet, but I wonder how big messages can be. The SMS limit of 160 characters, which would limit Japanese messages to just 80 characters, is obviously not in effect from the e-mail I've seen on phones so far.

I regret not buying a Virtua Fighter 4 player card. For ¥500 ($4.20) you can save a custom name and all sorts of character data on it, then transport it from machine to machine. The new version of the arcade game, "Evolution," will be out soon and includes two new characters.

Nutella, the delicious Belgian chocolate hazelnut spread, is available in Japan. Oddly enough, so is Vegemite. My older brother here actually likes Vegemite, and spreads it on toast for breakfast on weekends. I'm too scared to try it, and even a New Zealander student in my class admits to trying it exactly once before swearing off it forever.

Yet more studying and more planning lies ahead tomorrow.