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Archive for September, 2006

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17
Sep

The Grand Sumo Tournament

Sumo and sushi, that’s what Tokyo does, right? Alright, well maybe not, but they are perhaps the two most readily invoked images of Japan and, after having already gotten some Japanese sushi, yesterday I finally got a glimpse of the former.

It required 360 yen ($3 U.S.), three trains and forty minutes of travel, but I made it to Ryogoku, just northeast of my South Tokyo apartment. Just as I walked out of the station, beside me was a beautiful stone sumo wrestling statue. I wasn’t bashful enough to stop and click a few photos, only for my pictures to be blocked by the busy crowd, including the occasional kimono-clad sumo star.

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17
Sep

Yasuda and Jikoin

Ryogoku is, by many standards, like so many other countless towns in Tokyo. It has tall buildings and is crowded, with its own claims of interest (i.e. the Kokugikan arena and Fukagawa Edo Museum).

The East Tokyo town has another quality that likens it to, not only Tokyo, but towns throughout this main Japanese island of Honshu (I need a line over the ‘u’, thanks): beautiful gardens and Buddhist Temples.

These are calmer, but just as recognized with Japanese culture as anything, so they remain must-dos for any extended stay in the country. It is thus that I followed a street map and came upon the former Yasuda Garden and the nearby Jikoin Temple.

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17
Sep

Languages

Learning a second language is clearly one of the hardest, most admirable, and most rewarding learning experiences I have found. This, I say, knowing no more than a few scattered phrases in a few scattered languages. I say this as I say not learning a musical instrument has been one of my great regrets: without knowing, without really trying.

I can gurgle some Japanese, stumble over even less Twi, trickle clichés in Spanish, and barb with buzz phrases in German, leaving French the only language that I can even fake conversational ability. The phrase, “I dabble,” comes to mind. I haven’t done well, but I have done.

The world around the United States has so many amazing opportunities for people to learn language. Americans clamor about it: how the U.S. is monolingual, leading a multilingual world. The stars and stripes are leading a parade with snickers in languages we can’t understand following us the entire way.

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12
Sep

Pledges

Before you travel, study abroad or not, you have to have goals. No one is questioning that. But, it doesn’t hurt to readjust, reaffirm, and re-list those goals once you’ve settled in. You’ll learn more and doubt less. So, here are a few new pledges for my time here in Tokyo.

1.I will grow my hair. This may be less a pledge and more a premonition. While I do like the idea of walking into a Tokyo barber shop and getting a trim, in my favorite game of trying something new, I am going to abandon my military-shave for the long hair that is fashionable in Japan. (I may only have half a year, but we’ll see what I can do when I will grow my hair.)

2. I will sing karaoke with Japanese girls. Karaoke and sushi are pretty much the meat of American perspectives of Japanese culture. So who could disagree that I should get pretty Japanese girls to sing the American country music that I love. I am thinking there could be some fantastic footage if I will sing karaoke with Japanese girls.

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11
Sep

The News

The news is different here. It is a funny bit of social science to be reminded that there is no harder goal than objective news. It is harder still to find comprehensive international news. There are nearly 200 (technically) independent states in this world, all with their own events, crises and triumphs. Your local newspaper, increasingly stuffed with revenue-pumping advertisements, can’t quite fit that story on civil war in Cote d’Ivorie.

Studying abroad is as much about seeing the world differently, including its political, social and religious strata, as it as about trying different foods and wasting a different kind of money. Different news, with its different worldview, may be of a paramount importance.

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11
Sep

Kichijoji Omatsuri

(SEE VIDEO FROM THE KICHIJOJI OMATSURI IN EPISODE FIVE)

If you ever travel anywhere, from a neighboring county to a faraway country, will you find yourself a native? Put down your AAA Travel Guide and ask a local where to go, where to eat, what to do.

Thank you, Kyle Cleveland, Professor of Sociology at Temple University-Japan, for being just that for me. An American who woke up and found himself a longtime resident of Tokyo and avid researcher into Japanese culture, he has been instrumental in guiding my travel, experiences and decisions here in Japan.

It was he who directed me to Kichijoji Sunday morning. One of Tokyo’s most desirable suburbs, Sunday was the conclusion of the district’s annual Fall omatsuri, festival. There, one of Cleveland’s former bilingual students greeted me at the train station, poised to be my very patient tour guide for the day.

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11
Sep

Yokohama

(SEE VIDEO FROM MY TRIP TO YOKOHAMA IN EPISODE FIVE)

Excuse me Yokohama Tourism Board. I was less than enthused with my time in Yokohama.

As bad travel tends to go, I followed some bad advice and made some poor decisions. My first stop was in Shin-Yokohama, home to two sights, the 70,000 seat Nissan Stadium and my destination, the Ramen Noodle Museum. Well, if you dream of the thought that someday you might walk through those turnstiles into 10,000 square feet of noodle soup paradise, I hate to disappoint you.

It sucked.

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2
Sep

Learning Tokyo

Let me preface by saying I have been on this island for less than ten days.

That being said, I think I am beginning to get a feel for Tokyo. The best way I know how to evaluate that is to go right ahead and make wild, uneducated generalizations about this huge city, having only seen perhaps as much as one hundredth of it.

It is clean. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard this. No, but really, Japan is clean. Upon entry in my apartment I was handed a friendly, non-threatening ten pages on garbage disposal here in the city. They tell me you have your bottles, plastic and otherwise, cardboard and larger, non-biodegradable items, and then you have food waste and burnables, paper and the like that can be safely burned for energy. There are two pick-ups weekly for each of the three categories.

I find myself taking pictures when I see graffiti and taking notice when I see trash on the street or gum in a urinal.

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2
Sep

Settling In

I am settling in. Initially the changes are small. I had some trouble with time: a radio alarm clock that I found was moving too slowly because of a problem with wattage and a windup clock that wouldn’t wind. They have a different Google here and it’s tougher to compare prices in supermarkets.

Most signs use Kanji symbols, others spell words out with the Japanese alphabet of Hiragana or the loan words of Katakana. I speak some scattered Japanese phrases, however I cannot write and I cannot read the language. I believe that makes me illiterate in this country, and my use of the currency a dangerous one to my economic survival. That survival is already tenuous because of this expensive city that doesn’t treat our American currency very kindly.

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2
Sep

Classes

Classes have begun. It’s a funny thing about studying abroad; classes are often a condition. A tough aspect of studying abroad is overcoming that vacation feeling you might have towards your travel and find balance enough to get a grade or too.

I am actually studying at Temple University-Japan, a satellite campus of my Philadelphia home university. Here in Tokyo, it is the largest and oldest American university in the city. In classes English is required. I suppose that’s good for me. (Nihongo sukoshi wakarimasu – I speak very little Japanese.)

Though most of the students are Japanese (with populations from nearby South Korea and China and other East Asian countries) and have been schooled in English for years, I am still left in awe at those around me who voice opinions in a second language, the type of political and philosophical thought that many native speakers struggle to reign in under their language control.

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