It’s no good, I just can’t get to sleep, no matter what I try. Must be those two cups of coffee I hd 6 hours ago.

It’s been quite a productive day today. Being Thursday, I had no classes, and so decided to make the most of my time off by …doing my homework! Had I stayed at home I probably wouldn’t have got much done. Probably would have played around with my Mac in a vain attempt to retreive the 200GB of data that I seem to have lost thanks to a faulty hard drive. I’ll see if Windows can do anything with it once *Twinkle* and I are settled in our new place.

The tail of the Golden Sperm, Asakusa

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to moving. For a start, it will mark the end of sleeples nights – we all know what the best remedy for insomnia is. It will also mark the end of time-consuming conversations via text and messenger, which I must admit I absolutely loathe, no matter who they are with. It’s ok if it’s video or voice, but if it requires key pushing it drives me up the wall, especially when I’m feeling so stressed.

cacti twins

So yes, I decided to go out for the day. My study venue? The beautiful 144 acre Shinjuku Gyoen. Who would have thought that such an oasis could exist just a couple of minutes from the world’s busiest railway station, and major shopping / entertainment district? I know the park fairly well, having often visited during my previous life. Despite this, I still find myself surprised and delighted by what it has to offer.

I was fortunate enough to find one of the four tables in the pavillion thing free, and so soon got down to work, practicing my posh Japanese for when I meet the Emperor. I sat there for about 4 hours, taking breaks from the class handouts by watching the world go by. The little child running around shouting “Hato Sama! Hato Sama! (“Mr. Pigeon! Mr. Pigeon!”). Why the daft thing didn’t fly away I don’t know. Later on, the scene before me turned into a TV set, as some celebrity or other appeared, followed by a couple of cameramen, and surrounded by production staff. There was an interview in front of the pond …then they moved on, to be replaced by a huge group of scarily fit pensioners who started doing all sorts of excercises in front of me.

There were other people too, who just sat.

Incidentally, I had to leave my bow and arrow at the entrance gate, as it stated quite clearly that in addition to ‘stealing plants’ and ‘playing ball games’, “hunting animals” was prohibited.

Shame. I just felt like tracking down central Tokyo’s last Siberian Leopard.

After the park closed at 4.30pm, I made my way back to Ogikubo. Unable to face the idea of spending the whole evening in The Cell, I opted for that bastion of Japanese restaurant culture, Dennys, which offers unlimited refills of tea and coffee for only 320 yen (£1.50).

It was ok for the first couple of hours. I got quite a bit of work done. And then they arrived.

The Trainspotters.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything quite like it. These two men, both in their early 40s, spent an entire HOUR quoting train timetables! I kid you not. One of them used his mobile phone to connect to some internet-type service, which seemed to be reading off up-to-the-minute train times. He would then repeat these very loudly to his mate across the table, who would burst out laughing every few seconds. The coversation went something like this:

Man 1: Ah, so the Tokkaido Shinkansen, number 5435, it left Tokyo at 14:35, and it’s arriving at Kyoto in, er, 23 minutes.

Man 2: 23 minutes?! (bursts out laughing) That means it’ll reach Osaka by 5.15pm! (both burst out laughing simultaneously)

Man 1: Oh wait! The Niigata line, the train that left at 15:55…

(is interrupted by man 2)

Man 2: …that’ll be the Nozomi 7658

Man 1: …Yes, that’s it, well it’s due to arrive at 18:05. All the seats sold out!

Man 2: Sold out??!! (busts out laughing again).

It was one of those situations when I really wished I couldn’t understand Japanese. Surely such an ‘amazing’, ‘exotic’ and ‘unique’ country such as Japan couldn’t play host to such people..?

Unfortunately though, it could, and it does, a fact drummed home for a further 50 minutes.

“Ah, they had a lot more freight trains passing through Shinjuku 15 years ago, you remember..?

My sanity was restored somewhat on my walk home. Last night, having been deprived of all my music by the afore mentioned hardware failure, I thought I’d plug a pair of headphones into my mobile phone. Blow me down if it didn’t turn into a radio! Anyhow, imagine my delight when tonight I switched it on and was greeted by the oh so familiar sound of Giles Peterson! Whoda’ thought it, one of my all-time favourite DJs , there on my phone. He must have overheard the conversation I’d endured in Dennys, and knew I needed therapy.

Hmm, 4.10am. Must be time for bed.

I’ll leave you this morning with a photo of my uni, here in Tokyo.

The dangers of studying on the train

I note that Japan Tobacco, one of the world’s largest producers of lung cancer, has a new tag line, proudly displayed on all its ads.

“The Delight Factory”

Well, I suppose if one is the type that enjoys playing host to malignant tumours, then it’s quite appropriate.

When travelling to uni, a journey of some 40 minutes or so, I flick through one of my many packs of flash cards. This morning the train was already pretty packed, and so when we stoppd at Nakano station I found myself pushed even harder against the buttocks of a docile salary man, on his way to spend another day Doing the Right Thing. Good job I hadn’t been thinking of *Twinkle*. Another result of the fresh onslaught of commuters (standing on the platform with their backs to the open doorway, hooking their hands backwards over their heads and against the inside of the doorframe in order to gain a bit of leverage) was the appearance of a rather cute lady to my right, clutching her umbrella and attempting to not thrust herself against anyone else. Being so close, she couldn’t help but read my flashcards too, which I had temporarily forgotten about, and was casually flipping them over without looking.

It was unfortunate timing. I was first alerted to the fact that something was not quite right when the cute lady looked up from my flash cards, startled. I looked down. The card on show was one that I’d written as a joke when with friends the other day. It said, in Japanese,

“A woman who likes to experiment with vegetables”.

It was surprising how far away from me she was able to move, considering how packed the train was.

The Japanese Language Learning Curve

“Last year was a holiday compared to this!”

I’ve been saying that for 2 years now. Firstly, when in my 1st year at Sheffield, looking back on my Access Course at Bristol. Then, when in my 2nd year at Sheffield, thinking back on my 1st year at Sheffield.

I shall now continue the trend.

“The freedom I speak of is that that sees me taking only 6 hours of language classes a week”

I wrote that 3 days ago, having only experienced 2 of my 7 weekly classes. Had I known what was in store for me on Mondays and Tuesdays I don’t think I would have been so ready to dismiss the pressure of uni.

Mondays then, we have two lectures, one of which is all about writing essays in Japanese, the other of which is designed for Japanese students, and focuses upon environmental issues within Japan. Now there was a challenge! The professor is apparently quite famous in her field, and won’t take any crap in the classroom. This week we focused upon Minamata Disease, a horrendous case of industrial pollution that was first discovered back in the 1950s, but the legacy of which is still being felt today. Thankfully, I had already studied this case in detail, having written an essay on it for a module I took last year. I got an appalling result for that essay due to my narrative style, but boy am I glad I chose that topic now! Thanks to my background knowledge, I was able to follow the entire 90-minute lecture – what an ego boost that gave me!

I can’t really say the same for yesterday’s Multicultural Society Theory (that’s a literal translation). Now there was a challenge! The profesor, a very kind man who also happens to be my supervisor, spoke at the speed of a firework that was allergic to Planet Earth, and the vocab – well, let’s just say that *Twinkle’s* electronic dictionary has never worked so hard. That really was absolutely exhausting, but I left the lecture almost none-the-wiser vis-a-vis multicultural theory. Still, I have a (kanji-packed) handout to read through, and have been assigned a PhD student who I’ll meet on a regular basis in order to breathe.

The 4 language classes are great. The level is perfect (i.e. stuff I’ve covered before and have forgotten!), but boy do we cover a lot in those 6 hours. If anyone at Sheffield thinks they get it hard in the second year of Nagai Sensei’s classes they should think again!!

The final class on my weekly timetable is Society and Culture, taught in English by Mary, a tutor whose nationality I am yet to figure out. Now here is a module to get excited about. Initially, we’ll cover some key theories of popular culture, before moving on to specific examples of what roles specific sectors of Japanese society play / have played, such as the Akihabara Otaku, the dominant youth subculture, the “I shop therefore I am” mentality which you have never really witnessed until you’ve been to Japan. We’ll look into how in Japan High Culture follows youth / sub-cultures, rather than vice-versa.

We look at how in Japan anything goes, as long as you don’t break the golden rule. Yes, there is only one sin in Japanese culture, and that is to not take part in Japanese society. Everyone must have a place and abide by the codes of conduct that come with one’s role. Nothing is accidental – yet everything is ambiguous.

It’s going to be an interactive class, that is, participation is a must. This is quite something for Japan where in most classes, a significat number of students actually go to sleep. I’ve heard the odd tale of people nodding off in certain lectures at Sheffield (this phenomenon seems to be limited to one lecturer in particular), but here, my God, I couldn’t believe it when I attended those two lectures designed for regular Japanese students. OK, so one could understand it if heads started to nod after an hour or so of the 90-minute classes, but here you see students putting their heads down after 5 minutes, I kid you not, and sleeping through the entire lecture! Like, what is the point in coming to uni if you’re just going to sleep?! It says a lot about the nature of most classes over here, and the education system in general. NEVER send your children to a Japanese university is the lesson here.

I am also the lucky beneficiary of a service offered by the St. Paul’s Ladies Club (Rikkyo Uni = St. Paul’s) – extra Japanese lessons. I had my first lesson today, with my charming sensei, a lady in her late 40s perhaps, who comes all the way from Yokohama to teach me! This is done on a purely voluntary basis; I’m not even allowed to pay for her not-insignificant train fare.

I really enjoyed today’s lesson with Nakamichi san. Unlike the 18 and 19-year-olds whom I see quite a bit of at lunchtimes, she has patience, and doesn’t lose interest or jump in and give me the vocab if I find myself struggling for words.

The volume of homework is quite, er, horrendous! If it was just the standard language modules that would be ok, but on top of those, I have to do all the reading for the Japanese classes. I asked the Environment professor what next week’s topic was so I could read up on it (in English, using the internet); she simply replied by writing the name of her textbook on the blackboard! Thankfully they had it in the library so I didnt have to buy it, but no matter whether it costs money or whether I borrow it, it’s still full of Japanese! At least it’s written left to right…

As for the Mulicultural society module, well, I have the entire lecture on video, although I am doubtful as to whether I’ll understand any more the second time around! Oh well, at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if I fail that module. I’ll do my best though.

Ahh, then there’s the matter of the kanji. I have my first test on the 10th October. I’d prefer not to think about that for the time being!

I’ve always said I like a good challenge, so I’m not complaining. It’s great really, I don’t think my brain has ever worked so hard. Having said that, it is utterly exhausting. Not only do I need my usual 8 hours of sleep, but I’m also finding I need a couple of hours when I first get home from uni! Still, these early days are bound to be demanding. Hopefully, once I’ve learnt all the everyday uni-related vocab, things will start to calm down. Until that time, it’s a case of “Ganbarimashou!”

On a side note, *Twinkle* has accidentally made it through to the second stage of the selection process for a company that offers 3-year contracts and does not abide by the crazy rules of the standard Japanese system. She wasn’t at all confident about the interview or the exam, but passed both with flying colours. Mind you, having heard what the other applicants are like, they being products of the normal japanese ‘education’ system, I’m hardly suprised. After all, *Twinkle’s* name in Japanese does mean “intelligence” after all. She must have been having a bad month last September…

jaa ne

Things take shape

With great freedom comes great responsibility.

The freedom I speak of is that that sees me taking only 6 hours of language classes a week. This is compared to the 4.5 – 6 hours a day that my Sheffield classmates are taking in other universities around Japan.

If I’m not to fall hopelessly behind I am going to have to be really disciplined, and just make myself study outside of uni hours.

Yellow bridge over the Sumidagawa

I’ve drawn up a list of daily excercises that I’ve promised myself I will carry out without fail. This includes reading time, TV (or TBS online news) time, vocab time and kanji time. I bought my first Japanese newspaper tonight.

I’ve really enjoyed spending time with my friends from Sheffield, especially those times when we all speak Japanese (like much of yesterday). It becomes so natural, and we can learn so much from one another. For example, today I taught Jon the word for ‘poo’.

A huge gang of us visited the Edo Tokyo museum near Akihabara today, great stuff. Amazing building, straight out of Star Wars. I’m not usually a big fan of museums but thoroughly enjoyed today’s trip. Following that, we walked up the Sumidagawa (past the national Sumo Stadium where the grand final of this years season was taking place – saw some real live Sumo-san’s too!), past the golden sperm (which was glistening beautifully, see Flickr in a couple of days time), and along to Kikowotsitmon with the huge lantern.

I really must cut down on my alcohol intake. Felt utterly exausted for much of the day today. I blame my living arrangements, as at the moment I have no inclination to return to the cell. As of next Wednesday though that will all change; the promise of a *Twinkle* at the other end of the train line will be more than enough to draw me home before I descend into the murky depths of tales of a time gone by.

Righty-ho then, time to copy my daily vocab onto flash cards from the denshi jisho.

jaa ne!

Cosplay Convention

Jon and I were also “fortunate” enough yesterday to find ourselves walking into a national Cosplay Convention. Ok, so I’ve seen plenty of elegant gothic lolitas on the streets (they are starting to rival salary men in terms of numbers), but I have never before seen so many people attempting to escape reality by pretending to be fictional characters from various comics and so on.

I was very impressed, and also somewhat worried. The amount of effort these people had gone to was astonishing – some didn’t look at all like dressed-up humans, they really looked like lifesize 3D cartoon anime characters.

Unfortunately I have very few photos, and none of the more impressive outfits – this is due to my being told by an attendant that photos weren’t allowed – despite the fact that virtually everyone around me was clutching a camera!

One could say that this paints a worrying picture of Japanese society, when people go to such lengths to escape reality. But then I think of our trip to York last year when it was crawling with vikings; they were actually living the dream by having real battles, whereas these cosplay characters were not attempting to jump off tall buildings and fight each other with Golden Power Balls, or whatever they use. Then there’s George Bush. Talk about living in a fantasy world.


We also shared an elevator with a very famous person yesterday, although we have no idea who it was. We were on our way up to the 43rd floor in the exclusive Tokyo Hotel by the Big Egg, and noticed that the two older ladies in front of us were in a bit of state, acting all child-like around the other occupant in the lift – a very smartly dressed man in his 50s.

Upon arriving at his floor, the ladies tried to utter some compliments, but seemed almost speechless. The doors of the lift closed behind him, at which point they almost collapsed on the floor, absolutely starstruck.

The amusements were not over yet however, as a few floors further up a couple of businessmen and their wives got in. Now this elevator was situted on the edge of the building, and one wall of it was made of thick glass. There was another sheet of glass about 20cm the other side of that forming the outer wall. One of the businessmen thought he’d take a look down at the miniture landscape below us, and not noticing the inner-glass wall, walloped his head hard.

Somewhat startled at what had just occured in front of us, Jon and I asked the man if he was ok. He gave an embarrased smile, and then had to explain to the other occupants of the lift what had just happened. We all thn started to laugh, and didn’t stop till we reached the top floor.

…where we discovered that in order to gain entry into the Sky View Restaurant we’d have to fork out 10,000 yen (45 pounds) on a meal! Back down in the lift it was then.

And back through the revolving exit door. A revolving door that incidentally wasn’t powered by a motor, but rather, by a white-gloved man in his early 70s. Yes, his job was to stand at the entrance to the hotel all day and pull the revolving door round!

I also had my first taste of baseball yesterday, in a netted court that has a row of machines at one end that hurl the balls at you at over 100kmph. Ouch.

It would seem that I got rather drunk last night, as according to one of my friends’ websites I lectured the four Sheffieldits on the dangers of buying over-priced dildos from love hotels.

It’s a good job I’m running out of money.

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