Sunday, June 22, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Nijuugo

Today was an interesting day. Aside from trying to write my second paper in the morning (and failing miserably), nothing much happened. Sunday is usually the day Koike-san makes lunch for me (if I'm at home), and he was going to make me his usual instant tonkatsu ramen but instead served up a delicious dish of yakisoba which I heartily enjoyed.

This afternoon I had signed up to meet with some Singaporeans living and studying in Tokyo at various universities around the city. I signed up for karaoke in the afternoon; something I was wary of, because karaoke with strangers usually means music outside your tastes, but I hoped that because it was a Singaporean crowd they might favour English songs at least.

I met up with Austin, who is studying at Tokyo University, and who was my point of contact. The person I linked up with over Facebook, Royce, would only be there later. I also met two other guys, a yellow-haired guy called Reno and a guy whose name I never caught; and a very quiet girl called April.

I'm always terribly awkward around strangers, so I let Xim do most of the talking, since he was there earlier and had already broken the icebergs. I mostly listened to conversations, picking up bits and snatches about life in Japan. I take it Xim wasn't there for the karaoke, but for learning more about living in Tokyo; when I remarked to him about the variety of people he told me that he was considering writing his paper this afternoon but he had decided to come meet interesting people.

We walked through Shinjuku to a nearby neighbourhood called Kabukicho. As the name suggests (kabuki is a kind of traditional theare), it's a huge entertainment district, which inevitably means it doubles up as a red-light district at night (and I guess in the day as well). There were many bright lights and neon signs, even in the daytime.

This is also the first tree I've seen in the city.

This place, Amusement Karaoke, is amazingly cheap. I'm not sure if they have some group deal or it's just that cheap, but it's less than a thousand yen for three hours, and you get a free flow of soft drinks.

And it doesn't look in the least bit dodgy at all.

The six of us squeezed into a small box and sang the afternoon away. The other people chose a lot of Japanese songs; I guess I should have realised earlier that if you're going to come all the way to Japan to study for a couple of years, you're probably quite weeaboo.  Xim happily sang his enka song, and that triggered a whole wave of enka choices by Austin, who took karaoke as an excuse to sing the most obnoxious of songs that a guy shouldn't be singing (Britney Spears, Nikki Minaj, etc.). Reno is quite a rocker, and April sang many J-pop songs like one of the AKB48 ones and even only my railgun, which is nigh impossible to do for a human.

We were soon joined by another girl, Stephanie, and Royce himself, who I eventually learned was the president of the Singapore Circle in Waseda. (Instead of "groups" or "clubs", most of them are called "circles".) He's a pretty energetic person with a kind of innocent and childish demeanour, which makes me wonder how he survived the army. But he's in Japan on a government scholarship and before he got here knew not a word of Japanese, so I'm sure he's the tenacious sort.

The backstreets of Kabukicho look exactly like how you imagine them to look like.

The plan for the day included dinner at a nearby restaurant, which I'm sure has a name but for the life of me I cannot recall now, so I'm going to say that it's a form of izakaya and leave it at that. There certainly was alchohol involved (lots), and many small courses which you're supposed to eat over conversation. But it also had a huge sukiyaki as the main course, so I don't know.

Bubble, bubble; boil and double your savings with this affordable sukiyaki set meal!

There was a majority of guys who attended this dinner; Mel, Rachel and Caryn brought the ratio to about 1:4. I was sitting with Reno, Royce and April; Linus joined me on my right. I also met an old friend, Brian, from the army; I had completely forgotten he was studying in Tokyo University.

Over the course of dinner, in which I spoke little because I was the outsider and wasn't really a part of their world, I learnt a lot about studying in Japan. One of the biggest worries people had was shukatsu, or job hunting, which I learnt that night was a inefficient, terrifying and painful process, but one rooted in decades of tradition and thus couldn't be easily changed. Many of them were considering avoiding it if they could help it, to only approach international companies, or return to Singapore. Also, the workforce is immensely patriarchal, as we learnt from Steve at Tokyo Tower, and so many of the girls were reluctant to stay in a country with glass ceilings in place to ensure that there were always some employees around to serve the tea.

One of the other things that was the main topic of discussion was the differences between the two most famous schools, Tokyo U. and Waseda. From what I could gather, they're both pretty much the same. I have a pretty biased view of Todai, probably from reading Love Hina, and I guess I've always considered it to be the best university. Today I learnt that it's the best public university; Waseda is the better university overall (and also a private university, thought that might not be related).

It was a pretty interesting crowd, a very eclectic mix from the upper-middle class of Singapore society. There was also this guy who was studying at Peking University but was here for a semester, and I remember him vividly because his actions, mannerisms and accent all reminded me of British actor and comedian Robert Webb. The resemblance was uncanny; even his face was sort of similar.

Everyone headed out to get a coffee at a cafe or something; but I decided to be the diligent student and head back to do my essay. I still wonder if I should have stayed and wandered around Kabukicho for a bit, but I guess I'll never know.

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