Monday, June 02, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Go

Why am I not a morning person? Why do I constantly sleep like I was born three time zones away?

The sun softly nuzzled me awake today at 9am. I set my alarm clock at 6.30am so I could wake up and have breakfast with my host family, as well as another alarm at 7.30am and 8.30am. I have no idea how I managed to turn off all my alarms in my sleep. I walked into the kitchen to find out that both my host parents had left for work. I feel so bad for my host family, but I hope living two floors below is adequate soundproofing against my stupidly ineffective J-Rock alarm tone.

Today I walked walked the ten minutes to Sangen-jaya station on my own, and happily didn't get lost at all. I'd like to think I'm a natural navigator, but I really just followed the road, and turned where I was supposed to.

I hate selfies, but I'm just hipster enough to take them ironically.

I also managed to take the train all the way to Waseda University all by my lonesome, thank you very much. It's really confusing because the programme managers gave us tickets, and I have two tickets but only two transfers (I'd imagine you need three tickets; you start at one place and transfer twice). I realise that my first transfer is a train on the same platform, so I don't have to spend a ticket; but that means I'm not able to get out at the transfer at the second turnstile, because it expects a different ticket (I think). So I have to approach the staff and ask for help in my confusing Japanese ("Eigo desuka?" - Do you speak English?) and they do something funky with the tickets which lets me pass through. It's all very confusing; I wish they'd just gave us a Suica card, which would be so much easier.

That celebrity endorsing that drink was really pretty. Er, I mean, IRONICALLY

I stumble out of the station to the sight of bustling Waseda University, which has a city campus located in the district of Waseda (who would have guessed). The guide yesterday told us to just follow the students; what he neglected to mention was that the students were walking every which way. Luckily I picked the right direction, managed to ask a bored-looking policeman at one of those corner police posts, and found my way to the university.

The corridors of learning are filled with the sweaty pilgrims of youth.

I arrived at the meeting point two minutes past our meeting time, but thankfully wasn't the last one so I wasn't eliminated from the competition. Our professor, Seth Jacobowitz, is this young American guy who looks like Dean Kyle Farley's brother; he's pretty cool. We were brought to our classroom which we will use for the duration of the course, and had a quick orientation, which mostly encompassed me getting the wifi to work on my laptop. Because everything else is secondary to a good Internet connection. We were also given our schedules today, which is utterly baffling as I cant see why they couldn't have given it to us earlier.

Lunch was found after roaming the streets of Waseda, and Xi Min, Linus and I ducked into this tonkatsu place and had delicious helpings of katsu-kare risu.

Even the poor college students in Japan can eat like kings.

At one o'clock, it's time for lessons. Prof Jacobowitz spent almost two hours going through his syllabus, digressing along the way with his extensive knowledge of Tokyo (a la Sarah Weiss), and he showed us this really short teaser of a show called Train Man, which is a romantic comedy about an otaku who intervenes when a drunk tries to harass this girl on a train. Prof Jacobowitz showed us the opening sequence, which plays to the tune of Styx's Mr Roboto, and he cliffhangly cut it right when a guy jumped off a roof in Akihabara. It looks like a really good show, and apparently we're going to watch it in three weeks' time, and I'm really excited, and Yale professors really know how to make sure their students stay for a course. He was also really fascinated by the way the projector screen wafted in the air-conditioning, and of course once he mentioned it, we couldn't unsee it.

Yes, this is an artistic, in-the-moment shot. No, it's not because I snuck a photo of the class while he was turned away.

We were brought on a quick tour of Waseda campus, to the libraries and the convenience stores and the important facilities we might need to use on campus. We stopped by a supermarket, and I had the salmon onigiri because I couldn't resist it. We passed by the biggest computer lab I've ever seen in my life; it looks exactly like an illegal MMO gold farm, where hundreds of people grind through an MMO to make gold to sell to other players for hard cash. We also passed this statue of Okuma Shigenobu, the guy who founded Waseda's predecessor and who also was prime minister twice. He had a super-intense frown, not like a disappointed look, but for a frown like that that you actually have to work at it. My guess is that the sculptor didn't like Okuma-sama very much.

Though the Americans were saying he looks like the "Not Bad Obama" meme.

We were invited to a welcome dinner at one of the university's cafe-slash-gift-shops. I remember that they mentioned a number of other students would be joining us: students from Waseda who had studied with exchange programmes at Yale, and Yale alumni in the area. None of them showed up. But we had amazing delicious food that was strangely very western, to cater to the American guests I guess.

I always feel so fusion when I eat wedges with chopsticks.

The Director for their Centre of International Education came to say a few words, and I was initially surprised by his very decent English; but then I realised that of course, because he deals with foreign universities, duh. He seems like a very nice man; he started his speech by talking about the World Cup qualifiers happening currently, and how we'd have to wake up early in the morning if we wanted to catch the broadcasts.

There is something about bald Japanese men that radiates wisdom. Or maybe it just reflects brilliance.

I also met Stephanie's friend, Shin-san, who studies at Waseda. He apparently does stand-up comedy, and he's part of a double-act. I told him that it's always nice to meet a fellow comedian, and we exchanged contacts. Time for a cross-cultural comedy festival~~~

People want to go somewhere and do something after dinner, but Waseda, being a student-oriented place in Japan, offered only karaoke houses and old shrines. At the nearest one, we found out it was closed, but I took the opportunity to take an artistic shot of the closed gates. Apparently, Shinto gods have off-shifts too.

"Hi! You have reached the Shinto Blessing Hotline. Our gods and goddess are all busy right now, so please leave a prayer after the thunderclap. Thank you, and have a blessed day!"

This unfortunate series of events meant that I had to take the train back to my host family's house during the dreaded Tokyo rush hour. I was crushed into a train with barely enough room to extend my hand to grab the railing to prevent myself from falling onto the pretty lady standing behind me, because hahaha life isn't a sitcom; but I did manage to somehow wrangle my phone out of my pocket and document the compressing experience.

Sardines in a can packed into a Hong Kong shoebox apartment had more space than me.

Koike-san bumped into me at Sengen-jaya Station, while I was trying to get the machine to accept my ticket. (Grahh Yale why you do this to us.) I walked home with him, making more light conversation about the rail system and the pass cards. When we got home, he went to dinner and Yuka-san was playing with Jun-kun, and so I felt like I was intruding again and retreated to my room. They went to sleep soon after, in preparation for tomorrow's early morning.

I guess this is the pace of life in modern Japan: wake up early to go to work, spend twelve hours of your day commuting and working, come home have dinner sleep rinse repeat. I'm sure the family doesn't spend time with each other very much, and that's probably why they value weekends so highly. It's a scary prospect, and I hope to high heaven that I never will have to get stuck in this samsara, this cycle of suffering.

My sleep cycle is off-sync with my host family, and so I've got hours alone in my room. I spent some of it reading tomorrow's reading, but it's still very depressing. It's like I travelled seven hours across the oceans to drop back into another home where I'm not really wanted. The neighbourhood is also very residential, and there's a college nearby, so it's very dark and quiet at night. I stood on my balcony for a long time, just staring out at the neighbouring buildings, so close yet, in a very tangible way, so far. And this is in light of recent circumstances, so I feel even more isolated than ever.

In a city of thirteen million people, why do I still feel so alone?


Xi Min Ling said...


lyupso said...
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Qistina said...

your bald guy joke, I died... I shouldn't have but i did!
"There is something about bald Japanese men that radiates wisdom. Or maybe it just reflects brilliance."


I miss you, Kevin :(