Sunday, 27 September 2009

Turning Japanese

Hello folks, what's the crack eh? Well, I'll let you know what's been going on here, but first I'd like to apologise once again for my lack of recent blogging. Excuses aside, It's pretty bloody hard to write one of these things every week, so you'll have to accept a less frequently posted addition every so often when I have the time.

So where do I start? Last time I blogged, I mentioned my arrival at the dormitory and all the stupid rules of the place. Well, having met a few people and got a feel for just how far the rules can be bent, it's not as bad as I first thought. When they say you're not allowed people of the opposite sex in your room/ people in your room after 11, what they mean is "if we see this happening, we'll say no". Also, the curfew only really means "the door will be locked at 12, so get your pal to let you in if you come back after that". No real biggie. On top of that, I have my own little secret way in, which I shan't divulge here - just to maintain the secrecy of it, but to suffice to say, "s'all good in the hood". I've managed to have a few late night "parties" in here, and no-one has complained, so it seems like the rules are more relaxed than they appear.

There's a photo of my room as best as I could take right now. Like I said before, I have a massaging toilet seat, a electronic stove thing, shower, bed, fridge, desk and plenty of storage space.

I started classes last Monday, having sat a placement test during orientation to decide my level of Japanese. I'm not sure how exact the test, which took 4 hours and included an interview, was as there are people better than me in lower classes, and worse than me in better classes. As usual, I wound up slap bang in the middle class, and while I find some of the material a little easy, they say it is because some of my skills (such as listening and speaking) are pretty shitty, and so need the lower level to be brought up. I get another placement test before the start of the second semester, and I hopefully hould perform a lot better then. The biggest problem of the classes however, is that they are all at 9am. Had I been a lower or higher level I would have had a bit more of a lie in.

I was also permitted to sit in on some Spanish classes, and am now signed up for "Advanced Spanish Speaking", and "Japanese to Spanish Advanced Translation". The latter of which is causing me some concern as I don't think my level of Japanese is suffice to produce a satisfying Japanese translation, but I suppose it is some incentive to study harder.

Aside from the mundane educational aspects of this year abroad, I have also been partaking in much social revelry with some good friends that I have made at the dorm, university, and those that I knew before my arrival in Japan. I have so far had the chance to attend the time honoured traditional social activity of カラオケ three times in the last week, each time messier than the last. I also ended up going to a club last Friday night, which proved to be a rather unwise decision. Not only did it involve staying out until 6am (not due to curfew, but to having to catch the first train back), but the night itself was something I would rather forget. Nonetheless, an experience in itself.

As well as night time activities, I have been able to take advantage of some of my 9am starts to make the most of the days, and have been travelling around Tokyo, visiting the sites and what not. Also, I have just returned today from (not very proud to say this) Tokyo Game Show. A few years ago, I would have given up my kidney for the opportunity to go to such a place, but having matured a bit, and not really played video games for the past 3 years, I wasn't overly keen to fork out the £25 it cost to get there and back. But, Naoko insisted she wanted to go, and I have to say, I wasn't disappointed. Yes, it was a complete nerd-fest, and there were a lot of creepy things going on there, but on the whole, I had a good time, and was able to rekindle the video-game-playing kid in me that I thought I had lost forever.

I know it's not a terribly long entry, especially since the long time between my last blog, but its almost 1am and I have to be up at 7, so I think I'm going to call it a night. Hopefully I can get something else written soon, but having learnt from experience, I won't make any promises about when I'll write the next one.

As they say in Spanish (as I am yet to learn the Japanese expression for it) "hasta la proxima", and I leave you with some sound advice from JR train's "JT group"

Speak to you soon(ish)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Heading East

OK, so it's been more than 2 weeks since my last blog, and I am aware that many people are anxious to know how my life has been getting on - after all, I have been in Japan for a week...

My reasons for a lack of blogging so far have been primarily time constraints and the general absence of internet. But before I begin talking about my life in the east, I'll round up the end of my western adventures.

Since the return to Buenos Aires from Mendoza, and the writing of my last blog, I spent the remaining three days in Argentina saying goodbye to family and friends, and pigging out on as much cheap good food as I could. The weather was good, and on one of the days I visited San Telmo with a couple of my cousins to see the sights, and drink some mate in one of the plazas. Mate is the national drink of Argentina, and the drinking of it is a tradition of the Gaúchos - cowboys of the Pampas. Unlike drinking tea or coffee, drinking mate is much more ritualistic, with friends gathering in parks, gardens, houses in order to partake in the drinking of it. Someone brings along the mate (a hollowed out gourd used as the cup) as well as the yerba, hot water, and a bombilla (a metal straw with a filter on the end). This person then becomes the cebador, and is responsible for the preparation of the mate and it's serving. The drink itself has a strong taste described as a cross between green tea and coffee, but sugar or honey can be added to sweeten the taste. It is a highly social activity, and a walk though any park or plaza in Buenos Aires will reveal its popularity amongst the locals.

Anyway, I arrived back in the UK on a Thursday to many cheers and much applause. While I thought 9 days would be plenty to prepare myself for a year in Japan, the days seemed to fly by with very little being accomplished. I had to sort out insurance, money, documents, luggage allowance, packing and transfer files from my old PC to my new Mac (moving up in the world, some would say...). Though this doesn't seem like much, it seemed to take me a surprising amount of time, and until it was fully done, I could feel it all weighing on my shoulders, so to speak. On top of that, I spent a lot of time with friends, drinking, socializing, and generally having a good time - thanks to them for making my last week in the UK a good'n.

With more or less everything set in order, I left for Japan on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Narita airport on Sunday at 3pm local time after an 11 hour flight. I was lucky enough to be given the emergency seat with almost endless leg room, which made the journey a lot more bearable, even though I barely got any sleep. I was supposed to meet Naoko at 3.30, but due to "unforeseen circumstances" she was an hour late. Nonetheless, I was able to get to my hostel in time to drop off my things and go out for dinner. It was bloody hot, and I didn't struggle to soak my T-shirt despite it being late afternoon. We ate at a nice Japanese restaurant, but due to the long flight and lack of sleep, it felt more like a dream, and I fell asleep instantly when I returned to my hostel. For the next two days, I did a few touristy things with Naoko and some of her friends whom she had met at Sheffield and who had also arrived in Japan a few days earlier than me. We visited "The Great Buddha Kamakura" amongst other sites, and ate some pretty good food. With the "current economic crisis" of today however, the pound has weakened a lot since I was last here, and most activities have become a bit bucksy malone. Nonetheless, I've been able to get by, and I'm sure once I get into the swing of East Asian living, I'll be able to survive on minimal expenses. Hopefully.

I got to my dormitory on Wednesday, and discovered that it ain't really all that bad. It is on-suite complete with a heated Japanese toilet, and shower/bath room. There is a little "stove" thing that allows me to cook if I buy myself a steel pan, and the bed/study area is spacious. I requested to rent bedding, and on the whole it is pretty good, apart from the pillow. I had the same problem in the hostel, as it was the same kind of pillow there. It's about 30x50 centimeters in size (i.e. tiny), and rather than being filled with comfortable down pillows, it has the same hard ball things as a bean-bag. Not only that, but there isn't enough to actually raise my head any higher than the mattress. I've ended up stuffing some of my clothes in the pillow slip as a temporary solution, but will have to go out and buy a decent one at the next possible opportunity. Pillow rant over, there's not really much else to complain about, apart from the dormitory rules. The most annoying being the midnight curfew - something which I failed to adhere to on the very first night (luckily, a Japanese girl also arrived late at the same time as me, and was able to phone her friend to open the door and let us in). With the dormitory not actually being located in Tokyo but the neighboring prefecture of Saitama, it means having to head for home from Tokyo before 11.30. I have been told however, that there are ways around the majority of the stupid rules the place has, which I will no doubt learn during my time here.

I'm not quite sure when classes actually start, but I know I have orientation at the university on Monday morning, and a placement test on Wednesday. Other than that, I think I am free to explore and have a good time. Sorry about the long pictureless entry this time, I haven't yet got my camera out much, but will try to do so more often in order to provide some photographic evidence of my whereabouts for you guys. I'll also try to get another entry done soon, providing I get the chance.

Until then, take care folks.