third day's a charm
weill in japan: day 03
As I plan to get my third night's rest in Japan tonight, I also look back on
a very eventful day at ICU.
early to bed, earlier to rise
Getting used to the time difference here has been somewhat of an ordeal.
Last night I went to bed extremely early, at about 8:30 PM, and woke up at
3:20 AM initially. The upside was that I could easily take a morning shower
and get dressed in time to leave the house at 7:30 AM; of course, such a sleep
schedule isn't exactly productive. I called my family at 7:15 AM local time,
or 8:15 PM last night New York time, to check in. All is well here.
Even though most Japanese families do not take morning showers, my family
seems to be okay with my shower schedule. In a twist on my New York home life,
I get up and get ready to go long before the rest of my family does. We'll
see how long that lasts. This morning, my host mother shadowed me on her
motorbike as I walked to and from the train station. It's a long but
welcome to ICU. please bend over.
The Summer Courses in Japanese program starts with a placement test to
determine each student's proficiency in Japanese. The test takes about
2 1/2 hours and has three parts: aural (listening exercises), RWV (reading,
writing, and vocabular), and comprehensive (grammar and reading comprehension).
The first part, where we listen to spoken sentences and passages, was
incredibly hard, and I think I did terribly on it. Most other students agreed
that it was very intense. The second part, with 90 Kanji and vocabulary
questions to be answered in 30 minutes, was okay but I made a few stupid
mistakes. The last part's grammar questions were manageable, but like most
students I didn't get to the mammoth reading comprehension portion until very
close to the end of the section time.
I signed up for the Advanced level course, since I had most recently
taken Advanced Japanese II at Carnegie Mellon. It looks like "Advanced" at
ICU means "Why are you studying?" The results will be posted on Monday.
strength in numbers
The highlight of the day was getting to meet and speak with many other
ICU students, including people at both the Global House dormitory and in
homestays. Both the dorm and the homestay program have their advantages and
disadvantages. The dorm features a little more personal freedom, but ICU
imposes a strict curfew and no cooking, alcohol consumption, or private
visitors are permitted. Also, the dorm is on campus, making commuting much
easier. Since there are so many students concentrated in the dorm, planning
fun activities is much easier. I expect to see my classmates only on campus,
but those in the dorms see each other constantly. Dorm living has social
On the other hand, a homestay includes home-cooked meals and a fully
immersive language environment. I haven't found the situation at my house
too constricting lately, as my initial anxiety has waned. Although my family
includes two twenty-something sons, I see very little of them due to their
late-skewing schedules. The inclusion of meals is the single biggest advantage
to homestay life, according to the dorm students, since those in the dorms must
use the on-campus dining hall or seek food in the area every day. Of course,
no two homestays are alike. There are dream homestays and there are
There are 117 students studying at ICU this summer, representing 20
countries. They are of many different ages, experience levels, and personal
backgrounds. There is a fairly even balance between males and females. All
are very nice: after the orientation meeting, I spoke with several students
about my homestay so far and about anything else that came to mind.
The on-campus minister, Paul Johnson, has a great sense of humor. He's
also very aggressive about students immersing themselves in Japanese culture.
Here's a quote from him earlier today.
Yesterday, while at Musashi-sakai station, I saw a few of you.
Two of you were sitting at a Starbucks drinking coffee. That's a yellow
card. (pulls out a soccer-style yellow card) However, I saw another
two of you sitting near the station eating some Kentucky Fried Chicken.
That... is a red card. (pulls out a red card) I have a
lot of these, so be careful.
Maybe you had to be there.
Speaking of the on-campus minister, a brief prayer was said before we
started our social hour. It was non-denominational, and didn't bother the
non-Christian students (myself included) at all. ICU was founded on Christian
principles and has bilingual services every Sunday, but is not aggressive in
its religious affiliation. I don't foresee any problems there.
After returning to Ogikubo station but before calling my host mother, I
took it upon myself to explore the expansive shopping area that I wrote about
yesterday. It's incredible how much there is
for sale there, but I was disappointed not to see more electronic goods. A
pilgrimage to Akihabara, the "Electric Town," tomorrow will be much better.
Fortunately, there are several video arcades near the station. They feature
prize-winning games, with prizes that include giant bags of ramen noodles and
giant plush toys. Also, I played pachinko, the addictive pinball-like
game that Japan is (in)famous for, but didn't really enjoy it all that much.
Arcades that allow children have pachinko and slot machines set up to award
"medals" instead of coins, similar to the tickets awarded in American arcades.
A lot of high school students were there playing games to blow off steam.
To encourage repeat business, several games accept a card that costs
¥500 ($4.17) to save personal data. Each game costs ¥100 ($0.83) but
is often set to longer play settings. For example, the fighting games I played
were set to best-of-five matches instead of the usual best-of-three.
Near the station is an authentic pachinko-ya, a place which deals
exclusively in pachinko machines which pay out real money. After spending just
a few seconds inside, I had to get out. First of all, I didn't really want
to play. Secondly, the noise from thousands of balls clanking around is
absolutely deafening. Much like casino slot machine addicts, pachinko players
will chain-smoke as they gamble away coin after coin in depressing
succession. There are other ways to gamble, including slot machines, video
poker, and virtual horse racing. I swear that I'm not making this up.
People sit around a tiny race track and gamble on little plastic horses that
vibrate around the track like Electric Football players. Fascinating stuff,
but I decided not to blow any money on it.
I hope that my host mother is getting the message that I don't eat very
much at all, particularly within three hours of eating previously. When at
home, I dread waiting to be called down for dinner since I know that I won't
eat everything on my plate. I talked with some other students on campus
about this problem, and they confirmed that it is not even confined to Japan:
in many European countries, mothers insist that their families eat everything
that they're served. There are physical limits to how much I can
eat, and they tend to be lower in the summer.
Not too long after I arrived, I noted that
Japanese TV isn't as unintentionally hilarious as it was when I watched
segments in class. I think that was because I was watching in a group when
it was funny, and alone when it wasn't. Over dinner, my host parents and I
watched a Japanese baseball game, and I found some of the commercials to be
just silly. A Pepsi commercial featured lots of American good-looking people
in swimsuits, and some footage of Japanese-born baseball sensation Ichiro
Suzuki. PlayStation commercials end with the same "pureesuteeshon"
tag-line as they do in the U.S. Most commercials are 15 seconds or less, so
the editing makes everything go in ultra-fast motion. It has to be seen to
my first weekend
I still have a couple of tasks to do this weekend, but exploring the city
of Tokyo is definitely one of them. I'm taking lots of pictures, but uploading
them will probably be done after I get back to America and its wonderful
cable modem Internet access.