Wednesday, June 04, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Nana

There I was, standing on the train platform, waiting for my transfer train, when it suddenly hit me. (An epiphany, not the train.) I had always thought that to change lines, one had to leave the train and get on the next train that was going to travel on the next line. But what if I told you that you could stay on the same train, and it just continued onto the next line? Because none of the other passengers are getting off and then waiting at the same platform like you...

My stupid manual doesn't tell me anything.

I bumped into Xi Min at the entrance to the cafeteria, and we went to get lunch together, intending to speak to some university students if possible. We both ordered a decent-looking carbonara, but like Daichi-san said yesterday, it wasn't anything amazing.

But for only 300-yen, I'd happily eat two.

Today's tomodachi: Saito-san, who is 65 and retired, but is coming to Waseda to learn English literature (what a boss), and he's currently reading Shakespeare's Hamlet. He really admires Natsume Soseki, the Japanese writer who wrote Sanshiro, a book that we're reading in class; and he's studying English literature because Soseki studied it before he became a writer. I thought that was really cool; it's nice to see life-long learning in action.

He was rocking this awesome sunhat which, sadly, he took off for this photo.

Class today was interesting, but lethargic. I'm wondering if this was the style of university education that I'd be receiving if I had gone somewhere than Yale-NUS College. The professor reads from his notes most of the time, and there's barely any opportunity for discussion. Sometimes, he'll look up and ask a question, and the class will just stare blankly at him for a moment. It's a very passive type of learning, and maybe I'm too used to the awesome classes at Yale-NUS to get back into this kind of dreary information-dump.

After class the group decided to pay a visit to Akihabara, which I found highly amusing. I was supposed to go to Nakano with Xi Min and Melody, but Mel and Linus disappeared to some Ghibli museum thing in the middle of class, so the best laid schemes of mice and men happily went awry. We were a huge group barging onto the trains, squeezing in with the rest of the salarymen going home from work. At Akihabara station, I think, was one of those brilliant Japanese inventions, the hybrid travel-escalator. It's an escalator which needed to cross a horizontal space halfway through its length, and so leveled out before descending again. You need to see it to really understand it.

Because this thing is deep, man.

I was tagging along with Nia, Rachel and Liz for a while, because apparently some people wanted to go to a maid cafe, and I had already done that before. The girls were very excited at the very revealing designs of many of the anime girls, which Rachel kept calling hentai (lit. "perverse", has gained the connotation "pornographic"). I kept emphasizing that because they weren't fully naked, it wasn't pornographic. Rachel and Liz enthusiastically bounced into a doujin shop when I pointed out that there would be real hardcore stuff in there, and Nia and I were like, "Uhhh..."

We also got doughnuts at Mister Donut, this famous doughnut chain which apparently has very healthy doughnuts because they're not deep-fried like regular doughnuts are. There were a great many varieties, but I went all in and tried this delicious looking one with chocolate and a cheesy cream filling. A bite of heaven with every mouthful.


Also, we walked past this costume shop with this abyssal horror greeting customers out front:

"I'm sad because my second cousin got a role in the last Spider-Man movie."

I got separated from the girls at some point, and decided to wander the backstreets of Akihabara, since I'd walked up and down the main street a lot the last time I was here. And can you guess what I found there? In a hypersexualised environment catering to an industry whose main demographic is the subcultural single male? Was it restaurants? Electronic shops?

Posters of cute disproportionate girls doing cute yet inexplicable things?

Nope, it's porn.

There is so much porn on the backstreets of Akihabara. I thought most of the adult stuff would be hidden on the upper floors of shopping places, because that's where I had encountered it in the stores on the main street. Back here, I accidentally walked into three adult-oriented establishments; because from the front they looked like bookstores or anime shops. And it's not that the adult section is tucked away neatly somewhere at the back of the store; it's porn all the way down.

Obviously I have no photos for this, so here's a picture of an adorable kitteh.

And what surprised me most were the people who were browsing the shelves. They were all male (not surprising), but they were almost all middle-aged or old men, and mostly in business suits and office attire, like the people I see on the trains everyday. I guess what struck me most was the fact that these were just ordinary, everyday people, for whom pornography is just a casual interest, or a hobby. I also got the feeling that many of them were single, or bachelors, or divorcees. In that, I felt a strange connection with these lonely men, who were just looking for some kind of escape. (Or release, hurhurhur.)

At the same time, today's class was about Yoshiwara, the licensed quarter in early Meiji Tokyo, and about how the courtesans and tea houses were all situated with the temples along the river. I realised that in this sense, nothing much has changed; the brothels and entertainment houses of the past were condoned because the Damiyo understood that the people needed somewhere to blow off steam (hurhurhur), because of the immense rigidity of the social rules; and this would keep them in line in the day, when work needed to be done. It's pretty much the same in modern Tokyo, and I guess modern Japan, where pornography is so freely available (it's sold in every convenience store, for example).

On my way home, I was walking along the road leading to my host family's house, when I realised that there were markings on the floor. I was pleasantly surprised to find a mural of chalk drawings scrawled along the asphalt. I tried taking a photo but because it was so dark, you can't seem them very well. There was also this long string of mathematical workings where someone had been adding random numbers until he or she reached one million-ish.

Still better than modern art.

My reading tonight was forty pages of incomprehensible architectural discussion (everything was all "neo-Baroque" and "Rococo", which I zen zen shiranai). I took solace in the fact that I had a bag of seaweed-flavoured prawn crackers and an immense can of soft drink to tide me over.

That last 150ml was a godsend, let me tell you.

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