Just finished the last of my mid terms. A Kanji midterm that sort of went like this: study about 150 Kanji characters, both the Chinese and Japanese variation of them, know the hirigana translation (another much easier Japanese writing system) and then study the three or four words associated with each kanji character: and the midterm will randomly test you on about thirty words. And yeah, it’s about as difficult as it sounds, especially for a class that is only one credit. It is what it is, and at the very least I saw that other people were stressing out about the test, too — people who’s Japanese is a hell of a lot better than mine.
So yeah, the last couple of weeks have been spent in preparation for these tests, so that’s the reason for my absence from this blog. Tomorrow is another national holiday so I have a little mental break now. I am not sure what this national holiday is — I never really do, actually. I sometimes ask and it’s usually met with a kind of vague response. I think it’s go to an Izakaya and drink national holiday. I’m not sure.
I’m not sure that I have much to report. I mainly wanted to break this silence.
If anything, I’ve still been having frustrating days due to my lack of language ability. Really, it comes down to seeing, basically, every other fucking student in my group and in my class being better at the language than me. There’s a part of me that thinks “Well, they’re all ten years younger,” but maybe that’s not such a good excuse. I could say that that’s why they retain information better than I can, but I have no real proof of that. I could claim that I’ve taken lots of mind-altering substances in the past and that’s why I have a hard time remembering (which is kind of lame), but many of these other students are drinking until five in the fucking morning and then showing up to class and speaking Japanese and turning around and doing it all over again. Unreal.
Well, enough about that. Everything else here is good. If only school would just fuck off then I could have an even better time in Tokyo. Alas, I have to put in some sort of effort, in part because I think my scholarship sort of depends on it and that’d be a hefty bill to have to pay back if I, say, wrote the foundation saying “Yeah, I decided to slack off and just hang out, and I used your foundation’s gift money to buy clothes and to go to expensive restaurants and shit!”
Even then, the money they gave me wouldn’t last terribly long in this city if I were to blow it. If you can buy a twelve dollar cup of coffee in a cafe in Ginza, then imagine how much some stylish new outfit would run you? Like I mentioned before, a single soft drink in a bar can be more expensive than a lunch set. If you figure out how to live on the cheap here, then it’s pretty cool. So far, I’ve been able to do that pretty good. Lunch is substantial and not expensive, the subways are not too expensive, and convenience stores sell lots of cheap, good treats. Having a cheap routine allows me to occasionally go a little more extravagant.
My favorite clothing shop here is called Uniqlo, which is like the equivalent of American Apparel in the U.S., but maybe cheaper since it routinely has big sales. Half-off sales. And the sizes here fit me really well. Merino Wool sweaters, simple and sleek tee-shirts. There’s also H&M, which is a Scandinavian company, I think, that has some relatively cheap and stylish stuff.
That’s the thing about Tokyo: it’s fashion-conscious here. No young-ish person here looks like shit, unintentionally. If they do look absolutely ridiculous, you can bet that it’s probably the new trend. It’s mostly in Shinjuku and Shibuya. There, you’ll find every style you would and wouldn’t like to see. When Mr. T came to Tokyo I took him to Shibuya, and when we were walking around the main area we saw a bunch of teenage girls sitting outside of a department store filling out applications for an event. It was probably a fashion shoot because they were all decked out in wild dresses and had cartoonish rouge circles painted on their cheeks. And glitter and shit. And the kind of disturbing thing was that they all had bleached blonde hair and big eyes — and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they had that done. I mean, Anime-style eyes! Maybe that’s not a real procedure, but I wonder. It does seem to be what’s hot: to have female models that have large eyes. I see it on ads on the subway every day. I’ve seen some girls going for the stereotypical Parisian look — and when I mean stereotypical, I mean like a dumb American’s stereotype of a Parisian. Basically, girls that look slightly like mimes and who also wear berets. All they need is a fucking cigarette. I saw a guy wearing a salaryman suit…with a pair of hiking boots. But you know, it’s what makes it really fun here. There’s always something to see.
For the most part, it’s things like this that I’m able to report on. Since I don’t know enough of the language, it’s hard for me to present any sort of accurate depiction of the Japanese “character” or culture. I can’t describe cross-cultural relations because, for the most part, I’m unable to have a real conversation with someone. I mean, I can say some topical things like “Wow, the weather is really nice today, isn’t it? Do you think it’s going to become rainy?” Or something chunky and clunky, like “return. because. host family’s house. from there, sometimes, I eat a lot. It’s delicious. Lots of food, isn’t it?” It’s getting a little better, but you know,…I’m still at the point where I sound like someone who’s had a stroke.
Though there are some pretty specific things one can point to when viewing Japanese culture, such as the levels of politeness and the hierarchical system, it’s still quite difficult to get a read on what people are really like. When I have a little more brain power I can talk about that one, because it’s a subject that sort of deserves it’s own blog post. It’s kind of extensive, and there’s a video that I might direct y’all to, in order to hear the perspective from a white guy from New Zealand who has lived and worked in Japan for the last ten or fifteen years. He seems to get it. There’s also a link to this whiney piece of fuck white guy Otaku motherfucker that thinks that the word “Gaijin” is the equivalent of calling someone “nigger,” and is really upset at how much of an outsider he feels as a foreigner living there. He thinks it’s an outrage that, all of a sudden for the first time in his life, he’s feeling like an outsider. And he posted a video because he thinks that it’s a pretty unique and important situation that he’s found himself in. Maybe some of you out there in the world can relate.
More on that on the next post. Now, gonna catch up on some sleep. Till then…