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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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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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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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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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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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Fall Colors: Episode Seven

My seventh episode, Fall Colors, in which I take on a few small trips away from Tokyo, including Nikko and Kyoto, where I spotted three Geisha women (with a bodyguard off camera, of course):

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The Tokyo International Film Festival

A Sociology Professor with whom I have become friendly offered me an expensive ticket to the Asian premiere of that Al Gore-narrated climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, a few weeks ago. The ground was in the midst of being pounded with the typhoon season’s last hurrah, but that was too little deterrent. I quickly snapped the ticket with a gracious “arigato gozaimasu,” agreed to meet him and two of his friends later that night, and readied excited thoughts of the chance to attend the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Established more than twenty years ago and annually offering the coveted the Grand Prix, given to the best film, the Tokyo Film Festival is clearly the continent’s premiere festival and one of the most respected in the world. Japan’s celebrated, though recently beleaguered, film industry has produced some of the world’s most respected cinematic productions, and they all take hold during a Tokyo October at the city’s film festival. Along with Asian masterpieces, films, documentaries and popular movies from throughout the world find their way to Tokyo in late October.

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Nikko: Part Two of Two

I awoke before 8am, my icy nose the only portion of my body that was susceptible to the morning chill, as my eyes were covered with my winter hat. I peeled my hat and hood off my face, and discovered some sunlight trickling through a wide, frosted window pane.

I got up enough strength to force the body of blankets off of my chest, only hesitating a minute in the warmth of my bedding. I repacked my bag and folded up all that had made the uninsulated, seemingly unwelcoming autumn sleeping quarters more than bearable, indeed, quite comfortable.

I forced open the old door, which made enough noise to chase away a few deer that had been standing not fifteen or twenty feet from my tiny, isolated cabin. After brushing my teeth and marking an unlucky tree as mine, I hiked back out and rediscovered the messy home of Nikko National Park’s maintenance crew.

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Nikko: Part One of Two

Even if you are to visit the Tokyo region for a short time, Nikko is a worthwhile destination. For me, the city of just 93,000 sprinkled over 900 square miles has been the trip I had most wanted to take since I learned of it months ago. Less than 100 miles north of Tokyo and accessible by just a three-hour train ride, after a couple exchanges.

Tucked in the center of the Tochigi Prefecture of the Kanto Region, Nikko is known for its World Heritage Sites and shrines that ar considered among Japan’s most visited. Still, my excitement was outside of Central Nikko, beyond the surrounding temples. I was excited to wander through the 540 square mile Nikko National Park, which is known for hosting Japan’s most beautiful and celebrated fall colors, at their tops during the first week of November.

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In my typical fashion, I have kept copious notes on a great deal of information that will likely interest no one. Still, I will share it with you now, just a week from my leaving this country. On that bicycle of mine, I managed to clock about 593 miles since I bought it Thursday, September 21. That is nearly the distance between Philadelphia and Indianapolis, Indiana and works out to be about nine miles a day or roughly 60 miles a week. Seeing that I will be selling Newton, my bicycle, to a mutual friend for 5,000 yen, half of her original cost, I certainly think I got my money’s worth. (Don’t worry; Newton’s new rider is a kind, gentle man, who will treat her well).

Here at home, I finished five 5-kg bags of rice, meaning I ate 55 pounds of Japanese-grown grain in less than four months. That is like me eating a healthy ten-year-old boy’s weight in rice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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