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Archive for December, 2006

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7
Dec

Smarter

Have I mentioned enough how rare my opportunity is here? I have probably shown time and time again that, unlike most people, I don’t believe even what I think. I believe through research and comforting, warming numbers, a hollow pursuit that inevitably leaves me questioning how reliable any statistic I find may be anyway. Everyone knows what old Mr. Twain said; to paraphrase: there are three types of lies, a regular lie, a boldfaced lie, and statistics.

Still, I have nothing else, so, it is just that which I bring you. The clearest way for me to convey how outrageous that it is that I am studying in Japan is to first remind you how fortunate I am to even be pursuing education after my high school graduation. I shared my childhood with a handful of friends who didn’t go, went but dropped out of, or haven’t yet gone to a college, four-year or otherwise. I also have friends who had the money, the family stability, the desire, and the maturity to start and continue an education. I guess most of my closest friends are in the latter group, making my experience an incredibly inaccurate portrayal of American life. I fear that too many people who did get the chance to or be around those that did acquire a Bachelor’s degree don’t realize how relatively uncommon graduating a four-year university is.

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6
Dec

An American Party

With my time in Japan coming to a close, but having no last plans that could be completed at night, a few days ago I finally accepted a running invitation to go to a party at this hotel that houses most of the American students that study at my university. I have managed to avoid much contact with my fellow Americans, the only reason being that I felt I should strike out on my own here.

What struck me was how… still foreign Tokyo seemed to many of the other Americans with whom I spoke. I suddenly felt really satisfied with what I have learned and experienced here, though I suppose I shouldn’t need to compare myself with others. Before I even got to the party, I was surprised to find that the few that had invited me didn’t even know where they lived. Yes, I have had my experience with that, as you saw in my first episode here in Japan, but that was filmed on the third day I was here. Seemingly, the other American college students with whom I spoke had only experienced the subway to school and back to their room.

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5
Dec

The Tokyo Dome

I took another bicycle ride on Newton a few days ago. My destination was another sight I decided I needed to say I saw before I could leave Japan satisfied: the Tokyo Dome. The 500,000 square foot domed stadium, which can seat 55,000 people at capacity, is home to the famed Yomiuri Giants (the former team of New York Yankee Hideki Matsui), and hosts more than 60 baseball games annually. Opened in March of 1988, the Tokyo Dome is Japan’s first domed stadium.

However, in pure Tokyo style, it isn’t just a dome, it is a compound. As you approach the Tokyo Dome, no matter your direction, it is obscured by the Tokyo Dome City amusement park and dwarfed by the 500-plus foot Tokyo Dome Hotel, with more than 1,000 guest rooms and more than thirty restaurants, lounges, chapels and banquet halls. Just for show, there is an outdoor pool and elsewhere around the Tokyo Dome rests a bowling alley, a day-spa, Japan’s 50-year-old Baseball Hall of Fame museum, and more than ten restaurants and stores. The “Baseball Café” has to be my favorite, as it boasts on its website that it is “modeled upon the theme of the good old days of American MLB,” where “diners can enjoy true-blue American fare, like steaks and bacon and cheeseburgers.” Oh, Americans and their meat.

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0
4
Dec

Karaoke

Okay, so, as much as I am here to disturb the stereotypes we might have of Tokyo and Japanese culture, I have one preconceived notion I had about Japan that appears to be entirely accurate. Japanese people love karaoke!

A compound word meaning literally “empty orchestra,” karaoke in the United States is, I would say, generally considered banal without being old and unpopular though widely known. In Japan, and, I am told, throughout Asia, karaoke is beyond pervasive. Any of Tokyo’s countless entertainment districts will have at least one karaoke bar, club, or box-building. After readily acknowledging that I had to partake at least once before I left Japan, I finally got a chance to karaoke, when I piled into a glass-doored room on the fourth floor of a karaoke box-building in Jiyugaoka last week.

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1
1
Dec

Pachinko

Here is a nation-wide phenomenon that is as annoying as it is widespread. Meet Pachinko, called a mix between a slot machine and a vertical pinball game. The idea is to toss hundreds of small steel balls into the game and, while most will fall completely through the machine, some will fall into holes that activate a slot machine, the hope being that three of the same pictures will appear at random. The player, to this I can attest, tends to seem like an emotionless machine himself, only controlling the speed with which the hundreds of tiny ball bearings are entered into the game. I know, exciting.

Still, there appears to be nothing stopping their popularity, particularly among older Japanese. The Pachinko industry employs nearly a third of a million people, is responsible for about 40 percent of Japan’s leisure industry, including bars and restaurants, and has an estimated 30 million regular players spending more than 30 trillion yen ($254.2 billion USD) a year, according to Japan Zone, an online travel guide. Those pachinko profits top the entire service industry in Japan, according to National Geographic. Like most effective forms of gambling, it is fairly startling how quickly one can lose his money, as 500 or 1,000 yen will likely yield nothing more than a few minutes of disappointment.

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