Posted on 2007.07.27 at 18:18
I chanced upon a feature article in Metropolis, a Tokyo English language magazine, called “Boy Toys” (http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/687/feature.asp
). The article begins: “No longer under the shadow of their sisters, Japans hosts have taken center stage”. Hostesses and hosts are an interesting topic to me because I have met one hostess and two hosts, and because I have been encouraged by many friends to attend maid cafes and hostess Izukayas. My reaction to such encouragement has been dismissive, as I feel uncomfortable with the idea of ignoring the fact that someone is acting to entertain me, and as I completely rule out anything sexual involving strangers. In Japan, though, as I have learned from others and from this article, there are various levels of hosting, and not all of these levels are even considered to be on the same spectrum as that which includes sex. One of the hosts that I met told me that, if I have a Japanese girlfriend, she’ll be “allowed” to be angry at me only if I attend certain types of hostess bars of cafes, but that if I sip coffee presented to me by a woman dressed as an old fashioned servant girl, my girlfriend would have no reason to become upset. This was an interesting way that he chose to introduce the variety in host/hostess business and in the way that it is perceived. Often my friends at Hiyoshi campus of Keio University tease me, telling me I ought to go to a hostess bar so I can meet some fun girls. I took this to be bantering and never considered it an actual suggestion until one of them mentioned to me that he’d go all the time himself if it weren’t so expensive. With these and other similar conversations in mind, I read the Metropolis article eagerly.
The article explains the business of male to female host entertainment in Tokyo, and it covers not only specifics on what the hosts and clients do but also on the specific backgrounds of various hosts interviewed. The former topic is what I’ll focus on, since exploring what kind of people are attracted to the host profession seems to me to be something to focus on after establishing what the profession is about. The boys dress is really expensive and fashionable clothes, upturn their collars, and spike their hair. They entertain ladies by dancing in synchrony together, by singing solo karaoke acts, and one on one over fancy dinners (on the ladies).
What’s curious is how personal everything is. The hosts are rated and ranked based on the number of clientele and the revenue attained by each. Clients are more often than not aware that if they refrain from purchasing a very expensive bottle of alcohol to share with their host over dinner, they run the risk of embarrassing the host in the presence of his colleagues and diminishing his rank. Regular clients get so caught up in the game, trying night after night to boost the reputation of their favorite host, that many spend huge sums of money and have to take on additional, part time work to support the hobby. Sex, in the particular category of business covered in the feature, is purely personal and is in no official way related to the financial transactions of the business. However, the connection is obvious: sex deepens relationships, and clients who are more attached to their hosts are more likely to spend more on him than those who aren’t so personally invested. The other point that stuck out was how much alcohol these hosts drink. If they have to entertain four ladies a night, and if it’s rude of them not to match her drink for drink, and if these ladies are, for the most part, looking to have a good time and lose themselves a little, then the hosts are likely to drink so much that they would run daily risks of hospitalization were it not for their trained ability to manually detoxify.
I am both intrigued and disgusted by this whole thing. I would feel horrible on both sides of the business. As a host I would feel fake and insecure and sick. Worst of all, I would feel terribly guilty, leeching off of sympathetic girls in order to boost my ego and my reputation among other, similarly insecure men. As a client I would feel even more dishonest, as, rather than pretending to adore someone I don’t know anything about, I would have to pretend that the false shower of attention and respect and devotion I received from my host was real. To indulge in that frightens me horribly. What kind of person is capable of that indulgence? It must be someone who is terribly lonely and unloved. Scary! The only thing that I like about the whole mess, and it’s only because I’m such a nerd and so curious about people, is that the hosts are also expected, when they can finally drag themselves out of bed each morning, to keep up by email with all of their clientele. At night they do nothing but woo, but over email they learn all about who the women actually are, and they are able to befriend them and offer encouragement. This introduces, as a possibility, the new hot topic (and very serious, very real problem) of blog alter-ego-ing. People may pretend to have a life that they don’t, and I would not want to deal with that.
To sum things up, I have discovered that there is such a thing as relationship trade, and that in Japan it is not necessarily affiliated with sex trade. People can do very different things in Japan than in America while still maintaining social dignity. Finally, this, like capsule hotels and curry-train restaurants, would never work in a big American city. I can’t see the average American single woman doting over some boy toy host who she doesn’t know. I think that, in America, when you begin a business relationship with a stranger, there is less of a widespread social obligation to become that stranger’s friend and to maintain integrity. People use each other to get ahead in America, and they are trained by the business world to be unsympathetic to the problems of those with whom they do business. In Japan, all sorts of interesting, and to me, sometimes discouragable, businesses exist because people are not expected to sue if something goes wrong, and because people are expected to be socially considerate and entirely trustworthy.
As for research, I am a little disappointed about project one (single atom transistors), because summer vacation (Mid July through August) has changed everyone’s work ethic and work hours. Some people have gone out of town, and others have simply cut back on coming to lab. This is entirely understandable for them, but I did no expect it and had planned on have fuller weeks in which to get things done. I have mentioned this to Tian, who is actually in Sukuba near Tokyo now, and I am under the impression that since last year the lab has perhaps changed policy regarding people researching by themselves. It is one thing for a student to stay in the computer room alone (all night) drafting a report, but it is entirely different if the student wants to run an experiment alone in lab. I have been told by several people not to touch the equipment or do any experimenting on my own. I think this is because we have had a recent history of explosive machine failure, and, although nobody was hurt, safety precautions are increased.
I have learned yesterday that the Itoh group would like me to give a presentation on August 6th about my research at Rice University. I was surprised that they did not want to hear about my present research this summer helping them, and I feel a bit like a failure. On the other hand, the presentation made recently by the students of project 2 (nano-scale MOS FET), whom I helped, was a big success, and I think people realize that I contributed to that. With two weeks left in the internship, and with many helpful lab members away, I don’t think I will be able to pull off developing project 1 or 2 enough to warrant a new presentation. So, I think I ought better to present my research from last semester at Rice as requested. As a way to challenge myself and impress the group (they all have to give their presentations in English), I will attempt to give my presentation in Japanese. I will therefore devote a lot of time in the near future to studying Japanese and preparing my slides.
Posted on 2007.07.24 at 11:20
Odaiba, the manmade Island east of Tokyo (considered part of it), is home to several theme parks and monstrous shopping malls. The subway line that runs there winds its way up and over Tokyo harbor, and all the glorious skyscrapers and flashing, neon restaurant boats drift by like the low rolling fog that surrounds them in the rainy season. I went with Yoko. We ate Italian food for lunch, which, though presented as gourmet and charged accordingly, looked, smelled, and tasted exactly like Chef Boyarde. This last sentence reads like a diss, but the only thing I meant to protest was the price. We both paid a little extra so that we could get free refills from the juice bar, and, so that we felt wholly like we got our money’s worth, we each downed about four tall glasses of this bright neon green syrupy melon soda that was so sweet it invoked involuntary chill spasms. After this, we hit up the cat store: a store shaped like a giant cat that sold everything cat related except for actual cats. Here we bounced off the walls and burped neon green gas and bought Miki some cat stuff for her birthday.
Small interlude: Miki likes cats. Yoko likes pigs. Yuki likes Mickey Mouse. In Japan, many of the friends I have made have some kind of favorite animal or cartoon character, and they become ecstatic whenever anything relating to this animal or character is presented to them. Yoko flips whenever a cartoon pig dances across an advertisement on a screen in the subway, and Miki likes cats. Easy to shop for, these girls.
We then entered the giant, round, sliding doors of JoyPolis, Tokyo’s largest indoor amusement park. The first thing we did was buy a day pass (around $35), which enabled us to go on any ride we wanted until 22:00. We got there at about 14:00, so you can imagine how many rides we went on. Actually, we didn’t stay all the way until ten, as our ride lottery tickets could not be exchanged for prizes after 20:00. Each time we went on a ride, we got our card stamped, and various additional numbers of stamps corresponded to various additional lottery credits. The more attractions ridden before exchanging the tickets, the greater the additional amount of credits awarded per ride. We ended up winning free ice cream and a bunch of coupons and two chocolate pirate coins. The virtual reality rides were dizzying: they strap you into a little convertible and then scoot the thing forwards 10 meters or so into a dark room with a big screen and about one million amperes worth of audio speakers. The screen lights up to depict a space battle or jungle jeep ride or something like that, and the convertible jostles around and sprays the riders with hot air and steam, when appropriate. Tilting the convertible forward and introducing cold wind in our faces in reality when the jeep falls of a cliff and plummets toward white water rapids in virtual reality is surprisingly convincing. Yoko screamed and laughed and punched me. Then she said her stomach hurt. We rode several of these virtual reality roller coasters.
The haunted house was, thankfully, narrated in Japanese, and so I did not understand specific motivations of the characters. When torn out hearts and ghoulish zombie children came rolling and stumbling out of the dark, though, I think I understood as well as anyone what was going on and what was expected of me. The premise, as I think I understand it, was that a deranged old witch mother with a dead little daughter takes the corpse to a haunted shrine and uses the counterfeit souls of the daughter’s old doll toys to trick an evil spirit into accepting them in exchange for reanimating the daughter. We are first debriefed by a uniformed worker, who talks slowly and deliberately with wide eyes. This frightful woman then escorts us into a dark hallway and abandons us after telling us we are not allowed to exit through the entrance. The hallway is decked out like the interior of a traditional Shinto temple, only there are occasional quick flashes of candle light from very convincing electric candles (or were they tv screens?) up and down along the way. This, and shadows dart back and forth emitting faint, whispery voices in the split seconds during which the hallway is slightly illuminated. Yoko made me go first, and she clung to my back and screamed in my ear until we finally found our way in to a wooden room with a lot of little dolls lined up along the walls. We sat at a table and were again debriefed by another costumed JoyPolis personnel (again, a great actor), who this time explained that a little talisman which he placed on the table would protect us from any harm. We were made to wear headphones, and the actor departed suddenly. The next 5 minutes were very scary, and I mean it really, even though I didn’t understand most of the Japanese I heard. The room was full of hidden screens and humanoid robots, and the stereo panning on the headphones accompanied the action perfectly. There was suspense and surprise release, over and over, until I think the old which got killed by her daughter before the lucky talisman blew her up along with her evil doll minions. Hot air spewed from hidden vents in the table when the old witch got gutted. I honestly thought I’d been splattered with blood! Similarly when the talisman blew up. The coolest part, though, was when the old witch was gathering ingredients for her evil stew, and the stereo panning followed her scissors as she snipped hair from above our ears. I wanted to raise my hands to my ears, but I didn’t dare. Scratch that; the coolest part was when Yoko got too scared and screamed and then jumped on me and punched me in the chest.
We also went dragon-egg hunting in an Eragon (that new live action fantasy movie) “course”, in which we were guided by enthusiastic actors dressed like elves from Tolkein’s Rivendell. We had to all touch one of the guide’s swords together and shout something that I have now forgotten to get the sword to light up and blow down the doors to the dungeon. We got chased away by an evil ogre monster (another convincing actor in an awesome costume; man I wish I was a little kid again so I could get a costume like that and trick or treat). Additionally, we rode a giant mechanized skateboard up the sides of an enormous half pipe. During this ride, if the players both tap their feet on corresponding points of the skateboard at the precise moment in which the board is at the bottom center of the half pipe, the board begins spinning as it swings up the ramp. Continue tapping successfully, and your board racks up points on a giant display monitor. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. I tried hard the first time and we sucked. The next three or four times, though, I lifted up my feet and let Yoko control the whole board. We got second place out of the whole day’s worth of riders. I congratulated Yoko, and she responded as usual: “of course”. Finally, my favorite “ride”: House of the Dead Number 4. The abrupt and slightly robotic voice at the beginning says “Grace has lost contact with her partner, Jude, and is forced to wander aimlessly”. This is the only background we get of this terribly gruesome shooter video game, in which both players hold realistic semi-automatic guns and shoot body parts off of attacking mutant zombies on a large and rounded television screen. When grenades are thrown or when a zombie barfs on your character, hot air is blown and the platform jostles accordingly. Yoko got a top score for headshots, and she’d slap me whenever I’d let an easy zombie bite my face. Sometimes, friendly non-zombie characters would warn us to “turn left quickly!”, and the entire platform on which we stood would swerve suddenly to the left to face a new screen, and some grizzly rotting monsters would be waiting to attack. We made it halfway through level two. I think we played 6 or 7 times. It was completely awesome.
That’s it for rollercoasters. We played air hockey, but Yoko destroyed me 9 to 2 in a little under a minute, so we had to move on to darts and whack-a-mole. I won some prizes, here, and restored my faltering pride. I got us two inflatable swords which we fought with for the rest of the evening, and I also got an inflatable squid backpack with “rather bad smell of squid” written on it in large kanji. By the time we got back to Naka-Meguro, we were both peko-peko (famished), and so we hit up Art Café for some shrimp toast. Some drunk guys poked fun at my backpack, and Yoko and I teased me and the backpack and them until we were all friends. We left before they bought us any alcohol. We then watched a Casino Royale at my place. A wonderful day of total indulgence. That’s kablamo.
Posted on 2007.07.24 at 11:19
Another recent development in lab has been the spontaneous fainting of presenters or audience members during early morning group meetings. I call this a recent development, but I seemed to be the only one in whom serious alarm was invoked as a result of witnessing the fainting, so perhaps the activity is actually fairly routine and I had yet to witness it until recently. So, this one kid was giving his early morning presentation. He had obviously stayed up all night the night before. I had too, but I wasn’t so out of it that I couldn’t tell that he was on par with me. Anyway, he made it through the presentation and did a fairly good job, but when someone asked him a question afterwards, he paused, nodded, and then keeled over onto the floor behind his podium. His feet came swinging up, carried by the momentum of his fall, and then they, too, thudded to the floor. A nurse with a wheelchair came rolling in a few minutes later, and the poor guy admitted ashamedly that he’d only had 30 minutes of sleep unintentionally when he fell asleep on his keyboard. That put an end to his presentation.
Likewise, during the next presentation, one of the audience members got up and headed for the door, but slumped against the wall on the way and fainted on the floor. Again, the nurse with the wheel chair sped her off to the infirmery. These two students fianted because they were sleep deprived from overworking. I think I made some good insights during my previous speculations about lab life here with my group at Keio, but perhaps I was a little naïve in tying such a neat little bow and dusting my hands. There’s a lot that I still don’t understand, including what I suspect is a strong social pressure for students to hide their problems, discomforts, and personal needs for the sake of maintaining the crisp appearance of general order and cheerfulness. I’m not saying that everyone is starving and tortured and hasn’t slept in months, but if any are somewhere partially down this path, they refrain from showing it until they can’t help otherwise.
I saw the new Harry Potter movie with Yoko. I don’t know when it comes to the theaters anywhere in the world except in Japan, but in Japan seeing it a full six days in advance was quite a hip thing. For once, I was in the know about something trendy, and not only that: I was ahead of the wave. The movie’s out now for real in Japan (as of July 20th), so I missed my chance to talk criptically about the ending to crowds of googly eyed girls, but perhaps I can still inspire googly eyes elsewhere in the world. Ogwats-hay akithover-tay! That ute-cay one is a rator-tray! Don’t rust-tray er-tay! Entaurs-say are adass-bay!
I need to compare karaoke in Japan with karaoke in China. Doing so can, with all due respect and necessary precaution, be expounded to comparing Japan’s understanding of Americans and American culture with China’s. This is not at all to say that karaoke is American culture, though I wish I didn’t have to drive for 20+ miles when at home in Houston just to find a neighborhood with a machine in the bar. No, karaoke is not American culture. It is, however, popular in Korea, China, Japan, and hopefully some other countries that I plan on visiting more later. At Big Echo, for instance, a friendly place found in many areas of Tokyo and probably other parts of Japan, interested singers can find songs by Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Willie Nelson, Harum Scarum, the Misfits, and even Anthrax. In China, at least they have a couple Michael Jackson hits, like “thriller” or “Billie Jean”. I was overwhelmed by the gerth of American songs in the giant catalogue they gave us. Karaoke in Japan is, like most anything else, much more expensive than in China. While I haven’t had the opportunity yet in Japan to attend karaoke with a bunch of middle-aged natives like I havei n China, I can still say that karaoke is, for this particular American, and much funner experience in Japan than in China. Sipping Suntory whisky and shouting along to “blowin in the wind” as drunk business men shout Japanese in the hallway and as pre-recorded welcoming greetings play automaticly with the opening of the Seven Eleven’s sliding doors outside the window is a great feeling. “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind! The answer is blowin’ in the winnnnnd!”
Posted on 2007.07.24 at 11:14
It has been such a long time since I have written that I will have to cover events now in the order that they occur to me as I am writing.
I’ll start with dinner at the Okonomayaki place in Hiyoshi with Yuki’s music circle. It is a tradition for the music circles to play all day every Sunday and then to follow the playing with a late dinner/drinking party in a large room at the favorite local restaurant. Okonomayaki is like a Japanese pancake with cabbage, sweet black sauce, mayonnaise (to taste, thankfully), and one or some of an extensive list of possible fillings. The time I went, I think we had bacon ones at our table. The tables have grills at the center, and everyone sits on the raised floor around one of these tables and orders numerous drinks from the 2-hour all-you-can-drink menu. A couple of students at each table set their beers down to mix bowls full of Okonomayaki ingredients before dumping them on the grill. The resulting pancakes sputter and send steam swirling, and the students laugh and shout through the continually thickening and warming air. By the time things really get going, the guy giving a toast at one end of the room is barely distinguishable to the people at the opposite end of the room (not more than 7 meters away), and everyone is perspiring to various degrees. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I can’t sit on the floor for more than an hour comfortably, so I was thankful that Yuki began moving me around to talk to people that he insisted wanted to meet me. I believed him, though most everyone seemed rather shy when I joined their table. I attribute this to their feeling obligated to cease whatever conversation they had been carrying on in Japanese and attempt to strike up a new one in English. People would get pretty happy and excited again, though, given a little time, and the conversation would begin to flare once more in a jolting mix between short periods of fast Japanese and longer ones of slow English; Yuki would then call me over and tell me I ought to go talk to such and such over there who was curious to get to know me. Some students get extremely plastered and make their way after dinner to hang out on the floor in the covered plaza outside the subway station. Most of this bunch eventually make it home, but a few inevitably get stranded after their last train has left, and they are forced to spend the night on a bench or something. The days when work starts at 7am, I can pout and feel sorry for myself all I want as I ride the train and then trudge up the hill with Thom Yorke’s “Black Swan” in my earphones, but when I pass kids on concrete benches outside the music building and smell the alcohol on the drizzle, my lower lip retracts and I swallow my self pity.
I spent a day visiting Ethan at his laboratory in a Tokyo University grad student research campus. We toured his student room and the clean room, which I would rather call The Intergalactic Command Center. I’ve seen clean rooms before, but this one was huge and very elaborate. There were several rooms of MBE’s making the pair my lab group owns look rather clunky and obsolete in comparison. The floors were metal grates. The air was still and scentless. The lighting was fluorescent in some rooms, but others were filled with a dreamy yellow light that made me second-guess what color everything was. Before entering the Intergalactic Command Center and after Ethan signed me in and ran his daily fingerprint scan, we had to suit up in the uniforms that the astronaut jerks wear in E.T. This takes about 10 minutes for Ethan, who is used to all the complex Velcro and belt loops and hardly has to fidget to make everything stay on without pinching or poking. After suiting up, we walked through a pair a hissing Darth Vader doors and into an air jet closet. The doors closed behind us and we were blasted with a series of air jets from all sides. R2D2 beeped his approval, and the doors on the opposite side of the closet hissed open to reveal complex 12-lane power cord super highways winding around the walls and ceiling. Humming machines with tiny blinking LED lights lined the floors, and similarly suited scientists strolled importantly down the pristine hallways. It was truly breathtaking and very fun, and I imagined that, had I been assigned to work in this lab, all these fancy machines combined with the aura of formality, order, and complete meticulousness would give me a sense of motivating importance. This idea faded away in the yellow light, though, and after 30 minutes I was ready to de-suit and go hug a tree or something. We kicked a soccer ball around after lunch, and Ethan taught me some outrageous moves that I doubt I personally will ever be able to pull of during a real game.
My program sent me to Kyoto for a weekend, and my boss gave me the following week off. I used the extra time to hit up Osaka and Hiroshima. I’ll cover each place in order. The program packed my Kyoto stay full of cultural events, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There is some kind of big Japanese culture company called IORI that owns traditional style hotels; hosts and teaches tea ceremony; and demonstrates and provides lessons in waraku, Noh, Kyogen. These were the activities that we sampled and watched, although IORI also deals in traditional dance, flower arrangement, zen meditation, and ceramics. We stayed in an ancient merchant house ( http://www.kyoto-machiya.com/www_english/weekly/machiya/nishioshi.html
), which was beautiful. It was interesting how the engineers found ways to wire electricity and stash air conditioning units. Light switches were in very odd places, like in the corner on the ceiling above the stairwell or directly above a doorframe. The company does a very thorough job explaining everything that they do or have us do: we had a tour of the house when we got there, and during the cultural events, a gentle though burly white guy with a goatee talked us through each activity.
These explanations were great, as I felt that, at the end of the day, I not only had a sense for what these traditions are like to attend but also where they came from and how they have continued to develop. Examples include the different schools of tea ceremony (a practice dating, in Japan, from the 16th centruy) and the new age and handicapped spin-offs (chairs and tables, left-handed people, modern attire, etc); the origin of the dramatic and archetypal display of emotions in theater and the integration of such themes into modern anime and television shows (gushing tears and wide-mouthed howls whenever anyone is remotely sad); and the branching off of Japanese martial arts into various meditative and recreational non-violent practices (television aerobics, morning calisthenics, yoga-hybrids, etc). Members of the lab group I work with in Tokyo are interested in several of the activities that we participated in, and I think I will be able to grow closer to these people and learn more about their backgrounds and perspectives as a result of all this. We were also in Kyoto during July seventh (this year was 2007, too!), a holiday called Tanabata (http://www.rumela.com/events/tanabata_index.htm
), during which two stars (lovers) come into view of each other. People celebrate the lover stars by writing wishes on paper and hanging them on evergreen trees. We did this, too. The only thing that seems a little strange to me about the Kyoto trip, in retrospect, is that some of the scholars had to pay a lot of money and travel quite far to reach Kyoto, and to stay for only two days before heading directly back seemed like quite a splurge. I was lucky to have a week off.
In addition, in Kyoto, I had a great time wandering the streets. When I was lost, which happened rather frequently, I would either stop, or, more commonly still, be stopped by a little old woman in a shawl or a middle-aged man with an unbuttoned over-shirt, and I would be thoroughly debriefed on or even personally guided to my desired destination. Seeing the other scholars again (it had been since our arrival in Japan) and hearing all their stories was also very interesting. I thought that the group meeting was productive. I brought up the stark differences between some of our internships, and I suggested that the program might assist those of us who are stuck all day every day with less dynamic and more detached research teams. I assumed that other students wanted to take Japanese lessons, visit homes and museums and cultural events, meet other research teams, and perhaps travel on the weekends. I was surprised when the other students turned my ideas down, remarking that the program shouldn’t force research groups to turn into “crazy party labs”. Though I feel very lucky that my lab is so dynamic, international, and plugged in, I feel ashamed that I’ve made it come across as an unproductive Japanese version of a fraternity, which it most certainly is not. I was reminded recently that I am in a science program, and that the type of students who participate in these programs are generally not keen on their being any kind of social opportunities, much less obligations. I know I’m sacrificing work that could be accomplished in lab every time I do something else instead. I suppose I’m trying to work out a balance that maximizes my overall gain.
Back to the hiking, though. In Kyoto, after passing under enough tori to make me dizzy, I went on a particularly memorable romp with Andrew, and the two of us ducked under some rope and climbed a small mountain on an old, overgrown trail. The trail was not so much overgrown with weeds as it was infested with giant spiders. We noticed, as we walked, that our shirts were adopting a certain tendency to glisten when the rays of light that penetrated the canopy chanced upon them. We then felt our faces collide with webs. We joked about this until we noticed the spiders. They were not quite tarantula size, but they were a good inch and a half to two inches in diameter, and they weren’t just legs. After this rather sobering realization, I began to carry our Kyoto street map (almost a foot long when folded) held at arm’s length in front of me. I would move it up and down and back and forth as we walked, like I was conducting some magical elf symphony to protect me from harm. At one point, I let my guard down, as I hadn’t swatted any webs with my map in a while. I was looked down at my feet to avoid some slippery mud when I almost ran into a huge web. At the last second, I noticed it out of the corner of my eye and barely managed to duck under it. I laughingly warned Andrew over my shoulder, and then I ran right into another big web. I fell over onto my back, I was so startled. The spider, and I kid you not, scampered right over my glasses before I swatted it off with my flailing arms. I tried to act very tough the rest of the day.
A word of caution about JR passes. As was recommended to those of us in the program interested in traveling, I purchased a JR pass voucher at STA travel office in the Rice Village back in Houston before coming to Japan. I attempted, on Friday the 6th in Tokyo, to exchange this voucher for an actual working JR pass to use to get me to Kyoto. Though almost everyone I talked to knew what a JR pass was, almost no one had heard of vouchers or knew where or how to exchange them. Yiming and I went to 7 offices in 6 different stations before we were able to successfully exchange our vouchers. Turns out, you can buy JR passes directly from Tokyo station for the same price we paid in Houston, minus the hassle of making a voucher exchange. I would recommend that next-year’s NanoJapan Tokyo dwellers do the same.
There are a lot of great places to hike in Kyoto, and Nijo castle is fantastic. I would recommend the park of 1000 tori (Japanese wall-less gates) for hiking, and I would definitely recommend the castle. Finally, Osaka, an amazing city, is only 30 minutes and Y330 or so away from Kyoto. Osaka castle is breathtaking, and many parts of it still date back to 1583, when Hideyoshi first had it constructed. There are really amazing original tapestries describing battle scenes and the decorations of heroes. The castle is tall enough to provide a great view of the city, as well. If Tokyo were New York, Osaka would be Houston. It is more spread out, and there are fewer pedestrians. This also means, however, that Osaka is not a very good city to explore on foot. Andrew and I, in search of Osaka’s renowned Okanomayaki (topped with sweet sauce! .. and nasty mayonnaise, too, if that’s your thing you nasty mayonnaise eater, you), decided to walk from Osaka station. We didn’t find our little hole in the wall until almost 4 hours later, and we only succeeded because a biker dude walked us the last 30 minutes. It was delicious, however, and don’t let anyone dissuade you from ever ordering cheese-topped Okanomayaki on the grounds that it is non-traditional. Years from now, when it is the most popular food in the world on account of its utter deliciousness, it will have become a proud tradition, and that same hypocrite will munch it along with everyone else. Yummmm…
We got ripped off in a little darts bar. We saw a sign: “All drinks Y300, darts Y100”, and so we entered. It turned out that drinks were regular price except for women on Wednesdays between certain hours. It also turned out that darts were Y400 and that there was a cover charge to enter the bar. We spent $30 the two of us on a drink each and two darts games! I thought I knew how to travel and deal with this kind of thing. I’m ashamed. Japan let my guard down. I stayed in a cheap capsule hotel for my two nights in Osaka, which was a very interesting, culturally distinctive, and cheap option: completely shoeless interior, nice public sauna, lockers to safeguard literally and enforcedly all your belongings when you change into the pajamas they provide, and comfortable little cubbies with televisions and reading lights to sleep in. I think students in my program next year who have an extra day ought to go to Osaka, and I would recommend capsule hotels in general to any traveling males (women are prohibited).
The city of Kyoto was spared in WWII from the Americans’ atomic bombs because it was decided the place was a cultural heritage. War is always proven ridiculous when those involved in it make efforts to show they are still civilized.
What’s arguably even more heart-wrenching is that Hiroshima was selected to be the target because the skies were clear over the city on the morning of the 6th of August. I went to Hiroshima after Osaka, and the major event in Hiroshima, besides meeting up with friend for life and former band member Brad Colquitt, was the atomic bomb museum. It was not full of vengeful slogans, but was instead clearly fully devoted to presenting war in general as an atrocity that must be stopped. I think because I am sympathetic to this, I was particularly moved and was unable to detach myself per usual from the gruesome and violent displays. The history of the atomic bomb was presented in a way that I had never heard before. I got the impression from the museum that the bomb was dropped even though there was still a strong possibility to diplomatically end the war, and that the true reason was simply that the weapon the Americans had been constructing had too many people invested in its development for it not to be used without sacrificing some serious domestic diplomacy. I don’t remember these kind of details from my history textbooks growing up in America, but I’m certainly under the impression now that America did a lousy job warning Japan. Look at it in this light: Japan could have been presented with a straight forward threat, “We have this bomb. Here’s what it can do. You cannot prevent us from using it on you unless you surrender”. Sounds very logical. Now I’m reminded of the thousands of Americans who called for revenge on Japanese civilians for Pearl Harbor. That kind of revenge doesn’t seem very logical, even if the two countries were in the midst of a war, so perhaps the Japanese were in a similarly illogical rut, unable to simply surrender without first making some kind of huge sacrifice. What is there in life more important than life? Pride, it would seem. Nationalism. That museum gave me chills.
Deer Island. Brad and I took a ferry to an Island and got rained on by a huge, powerful tropical rain storm. I felt like I was in Houston again, except that it was woodsy, and there were deer everywhere. Seriously, we got off the ferry onto the island, and the first thing we saw were two deer standing by a woman in the station. We thought that the deer were hers, and I assumed she was going to offer to take our picture with them for some not so small fee, but then I noticed that there were deer everywhere. It was like the Galapagos. They just kind of strolled around and ate sheets of paper out of trashcans. Brad squatted to put his backpack in a locker at the station (these coin lockers are so handy!), and he turned at a nudge to his shoulder to find a skinny deer staring him down. It did not react at all when we tried to pet it, but it did take a bite of my shirt. The chunk never tore off, though, so the shirt’s still in tact. We saw a famous “floating” tori constructed below the tide line. At high tide it rises from the water. We also climbed a mountain part ways in the pouring Houston rain. Then we left to find coffee and warm up. Hiroshima was beautiful.
Posted on 2007.07.14 at 14:20
Again, answering some questions:
1. People aren’t loud in lab, with the exception of spontaneous laughter. So, no one yells at anyone, even to joke around. People tend to discuss things quietly, in case someone nearby is concentrating, which, of course, they are. Music, however, is welcome, so long as the volume is not high enough that the bass interferes with the AFM tips. It’s funny how someone next to me will talk in scarcely more than a whisper to a fellow researcher so as not to distract me from my Applied Physics article, but then the same person will crank up some Asian Kung-fu Generation then next minute and drum along on the desk as they head bob. This begs the question: how deeply cultural is the quiet voice thing? I mean, if people were consciously preoccupied with not disturbing others, then the music thing would settle down, so that can’t be the cause. Perhaps it doesn’t occur to them not to speak quietly. Perhaps, like wearing clothing is a natural and obvious thing for me to do in society, speaking quietly in a work environment is an ingrained and subconscious cultural disposition of the Japanese. Either that or Asian Kung-fu Generation is so outrageously hip that people can, without the slightest fear of suffering reprimand or of losing face, use them to break any unwritten rules. There are countless other possibilities, but I can’t help but generalize a bit in my speculations. It’s fun.
(ア) In Itoh-sensei’s lab, people don’t call each other such-and-such-san or use words like ごめんえさい. They are very informal with grammar and pronoun choices.
(イ) When it comes to work, people aren’t so indirect when they disagree as I had thought. Remembering the meaningless or seemingly unrelated responses, full of subtle hints and vibes and body language, that I tend to get when I make offers to friends or potential friends, I came to accept the Japanese “no” that I had read about back in the States. I ask a girl on a date, and her head cocks sideways and she hums abruptly, as if thinking, but then makes no further movements. This means no. I ask whether the team can play soccer in the morning, as I need to get to my landlord’s office to pay rent, and the players smile and nod at me before changing the subject. This means no. However, in lab, when someone states an objective fact, and someone else is in disagreement, they pipe right up, often beginning with something as bold as “that’s wrong, because …”. I think that it’s precisely because we’re all dealing with science that such directness is warranted. No one’s personal preferences or plans are being handled, and we all bow before the dictator that is the objectively right answer. I suspect that the combined affect of the two sister tendencies, that to shy away from personal conflict and that to maintain an unmistakable air of objectivity in the work place, is a contributing factor to the productivity and smoothness of the lab. Notice that I quote “That’s wrong” and not “You’re wrong”. I think that there’s a big difference in the lab between these two interjections.
2. My lab has four women in it, out of 16. This is much better than I had feared. My lab is much more informal than I had worried, perhaps because we are functioning at a university rather than as a branch of some ancient monster company. My lab is not reflective of the typical Japanese work environment. Itoh-sensei is a serious, motivated, respectable overseer, but he teases students in the hallway and has entered us in a softball league. I think we’re fairly relaxed and liberal in here, but that we collectively rise to whatever occasion. I have developed the sense that ordinary Japanese work environments are far more rigid and involve far more extensive bureaucracy and social organization than I am immersed in. Weee.
3. 4. 5. Hard work, long hours, and team spirit are indeed highly valued. Actually, I might even go as far as to say that they are assumed prerequisites and only noticed when they are absent. In other words, everyone works hard for a long time for the sake of the team, and when someone deviates from that norm it is noticeable and may require some explanation. For more on this and how it relates to my experiences in the US, I’ll attach an essay I wrote to an online periodical. The essay describes a particular experience I had playing softball with the group.
Softball with a Japanese University research group.
We formed a circle on the dirt field and stretched before proceeding to jog around the perimeter. “Alright, good running Miki! You can do it!” shouted Goh to the most timid and petite of the group. “Hiroki is such a monkey, look at the way he swings his arms!” chimed in another player. Everyone began to trade both taunts and encouragement, where appropriate, and this balancing of group dynamics did not cease and still hasn’t. We threw catches in small groups after the jogging, and then we scattered to different positions and began a wild, swirling, and very noisy game. Some players were experienced and could throw and hit. Others, myself included, were novice and could barely connect the bat to the soft, arching, underhand tosses that the pitchers deliberately presented us with. One novice team member dove for and managed to snatch a fast punt on its way to right field, but, rather than gunning the ball to third base for a double play, sat there in the dirt, laughing and holding the ball until the whole team followed suit. This is a typical Wednesday morning for the quantum computation research team at Keio University that I have joined recently and have found to be so enchanting, down to earth, and yet so remarkably productive.
To my fresh American eyes, accepting into a norm that promoted the sharing of such recreational activities among colleagues was confusing and challenging. While good fun is never hard to turn down, I was worried that we were sacrificing productivity as a result. Not only did I reason that we could have spent the time used to play ball in the lab working, but I also feared that the relaxed comrodory we seemed so prone to develop on the field would inhibit our ability to work together productively after we did return and attempt to buckle down. I was wrong on both counts.
I am an American undergraduate student, and I have worked for two years in three different research laboratories in the States. One of them was at UC Berkeley, and the other two were at Rice University in Houston, Texas. One might expect that research labs at different universities be run in different ways or hold different expectations for their employees. One might also expect that, within the same university, life in a research lab in the one department varies from that in another department. The laboratories that I worked for in the States were all different from one another, but comparing them to each other is not nearly as interesting as comparing them as a group to the Japanese research laboratory in which I am now employed. This is by no means a just comparison of American and Japanese culture in general, and the conclusions that I draw from my own limited personal experiences can serve only to clarify those experiences, and are not applicable to what writers call the American or the Japanese experience. Hopefully, the conclusions do, however, make for interesting reading to others besides myself.
I currently work at a lab in Yagami campus of Keio University, in a team of seventeen graduate students, post doctorates, and tenured professors. The group is, of course, made up of individuals with unique beliefs, attitudes, styles, and backgrounds, but I was struck immediately with how well they function together as a unit. Everyone works very hard, and deadlines are generally met with time to spare. The whole atmosphere exudes a sense of acceleration, as the skills and knowledge of each team mate increase and as the time for which each task takes is reduced. This successful standard is accomplished in part because the group members know each other so well and are so devoted to each other. I feel as though I have been adopted into a large and dynamic family. This is as much a home as a work place, and, though such a combination would have sounded awkward and rather absurd if I had heard about it in America, it is a natural and fitting combination to these people, and I cannot deny the evidence of its overall utility. This is, hands down, the most productive lab that I have ever worked for.
My lab mates are all very respectful of one another, but the tatemae (建前) style relationships that I had expected to find while working in Japan are non-existent here. Instead, I have been witnessing firsthand what Japanese people call honne (本音) relationships. Personal quirks, hobbies, and love lives are open topics of conversation and are often the source of numerous jokes. For example, my primary mentor, a long-haired, darkly clad graduate student who occasionally wears safety-pins stuck through his shirts, pants, and even his watch, is not merely recognized as being artistically inclined but is thoroughly understood by all members of the lab to be an avid figurine carver. My lab mates know the various awards that he has won and the fairs in which he has participated.
It seems inescapable in capitalist societies that details concerning such personal habits are shared only during times spent with one’s friends and family, as they are unrelated to work and hence would impede productivity. In my experience in labs in America, this amounts to a work environment filled with people who know little or nothing about each other, and who prefer it that way. These American scientific researchers are not necessarily lonely people, as they may share themselves more freely with friends and family when not working. At work, however, they feel the need to be productive, and so they isolate themselves from the playful, idle, or indulgent parts of themselves.
For a colleague of mine at an American lab to understand in such detail and depth the interests of another colleague would be an exceptional thing. I have grown to recognize the value of such a link between colleagues, not merely as it pertains to the personal satisfaction of mutual understanding and familiarity, but now as it also pertains to the development of a functioning team. Socializing with colleagues, as I have experienced it in Japan, is a fruitful thing for capitalist institutions to promote.
In the mindset of the members of the lab group at Keio that I work for now, fellow researchers are certainly friends and may as well be family. They have a heightened sense for each other’s strengths and weaknesses that was lacking from the labs I worked at in America and that contributes to the smoothness of the lab’s daily operation and overall productivity. The mechanism that makes this possible is the distinct mix of social and formal gatherings that make up the work week. Monday and Tuesday both begin promptly at 8:30 with student research presentations, while Wednesday begins at the same time with a lab softball game, as described above.
Monday and Tuesday’s student presenters have undoubtedly spent the two nights prior to their presentation polishing speech details, touching up their PowerPoint slides, and even preparing answers to possible questions. During the months that precede this, the students read publications exhaustively and perform their experiments meticulously. I have been awestruck by the caliber of their presentations. The professors and post doctorates are very tough on them, however, during the presentations. They ask numerous questions, always pushing the students beyond the limits of their knowledge. This is a difficult but powerful way to motivate the students. Rather than develop subtle antagonisms, however, the students seem to appreciate the efforts of their superiors even as they are grilled with difficult questions in front of everyone. They get nervous and confused, but they never act defeated or even defensive. It is experiences like the morning softball games that allow for this promotion of team spirit and individual sacrifice. The students’ personal feelings are not cast aside by an unconcerned and detached collection of self-promoters; instead they are understood by a circle of friends to such a degree that an unspoken consensus tracks their sacrifice and plans their recovery. The students are stronger, more resilient, and more open as a result of this atmosphere. It’s an adventure and a joy to work here.
Posted on 2007.07.14 at 14:03
I have some questions I have to answer about my experiences in Japan. Next week is the mid-program weekend excursion to Kyoto, during which time we’ll do absolutely no science, and during which time I’ll be hanging out again with other Americans. Although I am curious to explore another part of Japan, I am not excited to leave the wonderfull people and interesting schedule that I have grown accustomed to here in Tokyo. Right, so, on to the questions, one by one:
1. What has been your biggest personal accomplishment to this point? It can be something major (i.e. climbing Fuji!) or something small (i.e. successfully ordering a meal in Japanese on your own at a local restaurant.)
My biggest personal accomplishment will have to be drawn forth later, after agonizing deliberation, from a list of four things that immediately come to mind. I hit a double in softball and almost got someone home, which was a big deal for me, since I suck at softball and tend to drag the team down; I made a whole batch of good Si samples in lab, which even Shiren says are fine and will make good bases for our subsequent experiments; I made Yoko laugh so hard that she almost fell over; I gave a satisfactory mid project presentation to Kono-sensei during his recent visit to Tokyo, despite general lack of sleep and incessant failure of recent experiments to produce usable results.
2. What has been your biggest personal challenge to this point?
My biggest personal challenge has been remaining awake and attentive during our Monday and Tuesday morning graduate student presentations. The science is beyond me to the point where even basic definitions of the terms being tossed around are unknown, and I have to really kick myself to approach speakers afterward and ask questions. A lot of times I feel like, “These projects aren’t even related to mine, and no one is going to care if I didn’t follow what was said, and I’m tired and learning plenty enough as it is, so what’s the point?”. This is not admirable, and so I struggle to act in ways different from how I feel and to change how I feel in this regard. Sorry!
3. How are you progressing with your research, especially with regards to your anticipated timeline? Are there any issues with your research about which we need to be aware?
My research is shifting more and more from the original project (silicon stair-step quantum computers with isotopic transistors) to another team’s project (metal-oxide semiconductor field effect transistors), for which I am studying boron diffusion in silicon. There seems to be no problem for anyone with this shift, and the projects are related enough that RQI drafts aren’t totally wrong.
4. How are you progressing with your Japanese language studies? How would you rate your proficiency at this point?
I can hold really silly basic conversations with people. Comparing my progress here with my progress in China, I would give myself much lower marks for acquisition of new words and grammar structures, but I would give myself (surprisingly) higher marks for listening comprehension. I think that this may be because I am working in an environment in which Japanese is the primary language, so I am personally affected by how much I understand. I also think that Japanese is easier to understand than Chinese. I wish I was learning more, but I’m here for only a short time, and the days are packed as it is.
5. Are there any other issues that you would like to discuss during the mid-term meeting that are related to the success of the rest of your summer in Japan?
I want to learn how to make two important purchases: an international cellphone and a kanji dictionary. I have learned that IP card cellphones work in any country in the world, that they often have much better rates than pre-paid card phones, and that they are the top choice for people who travel frequently. I have also learned that electronic dictionaries exist that not only allow users to draw kanji and obtain a bilingual definition, but that these dictionaries contain kanji learning games! There are even models that are trilingual: English, Japanese, and Chinese. I want to make these two purchases before I leave Japan, and I am having trouble learning where and how. Any help would be much appreciated.
Posted on 2007.06.29 at 15:09
Right, so, as promised, I’m now going to write about Yoyogi park. It’s huge, and full of life. Overflowing, even. I noticed signs of this when parking my bike across the freeway: sounds of drums, shouts, and of occasional metal baseball bats. I walked across the six lane overpass and past a group of high school girls, tanned a very dark brown and wearing pale yellow lipstick and dark dark blue eyelid paint. They wore huge platform boots and short skirts, and they looked pissed off. I’ve noticed that, as far as groups of high school girls in crazy costumes go, this angry disposition predominates. Puckered lips and squinted eyes, they thrust their shoulders forward dramatically with each step, and I half expected them to march right up and slap me, one at a time, and then to huff, point their noses skyward, and march onward.
A man with seven or so Dachshunds in different colored jackets smiled with pride and adoration as his struggled with his leashes. Andrew and I had ducked into a pet store in Roppongi once, and there wasn’t a puppy on sale for less than Y21,000 ($1750). Also at this particular entrance was an old man with no shirt, strutting in circles with his beaming face turned skyward. He lifted his knees high as he walked, and he was singing merrily. I half expected the tired looking mother and her two daughters with their giant pink hair ties to jump up and join him, like a scene from a musical, but she dug her mobile phone out of her purse instead.
I could go on like this about people and the half expectations that I had, but I’ll try to broaden the image I’m painting a little. The park is shaped like a big egg. Very very big, like central park in NY. In the center is a giant fountain and a building, that, despite every conceivable indication otherwise, contains no restrooms (Honestly, sings with pictures of skirted stick figures and straight stick figures point to the building, and, in addition the wizened old man I asked told me to head that way). Leading from one end of the egg to this center is a brick runway lined with benches. On this runway I passed a drum circle of about 20 or so. I sat down next to an empty drum and made eye contact with the old guy next to me. He smiled and nodded, so I picked up the drum. I lifted my palms in excitement, but the old man gave a sudden signal, however, and everyone stopped playing. I think that it was time for the song to end and that I had just joined at a weird moment.
Continuing on the runway, past jugglers, picnic blankets, badminton players, kissing couples, and shrieking, sprinting children one runs into the fountain. Past the fountain is a grassy hill covered in the bare backs of sunbathers. Past the hill is an enormous field on which every manner of game involving objects that move among people is played. Soccer, rugby, baseball, Velcro ball catch, Frisbee, and, of course, more juggling and badminton, are only a few examples. These are also examples that I can give names to; many I was unfamiliar with, like the Korean version of volleyball played with the feet and using a really high net and very small boundaries, or the game that bowling pin jugglers play where they try and knock each other’s pin away while continuing to juggle.
I met Jake and his crowd for a picnic. It was quite a crowd. 40 or so. I played hacky sack with a few for an hour, then I played soccer, then Frisbee, then I sat down exhausted, and talked to new people. It was a wonderful afternoon, reminding me a bit of the summer family reunions that I used to go attend. Next to our group was a band of fire-twirlers (think Bruce Lee or Michelangelo nunchucks, but the end that isn’t held is on fire). These girls were practicing without the fire, but they were still fun to watch. I met one named Ira, who told me that she had just recently started juggling, which I couldn’t believe. On the other side of our gang was a group of glass ball juggling artists (Think David Bowie from The Labyrinth; a few even had similar hair!). One of them was so good that Andrew let the hacky sack bounce off his chest and fall to the ground between his feet. It would have been easy to react, to step back and kick the thing, but he kept right on staring at Bowie and let the ball drop. Eventually we took a break and all watched Bowie.
By the way, there's a brand of Japanese whisky that they sell in coat-pocket size flasks that's better than Johnny Walker and that costs the same as a plastic bottle of coke. of course, coke here costs a bit more than the other Americans and I were expecting, but this whisky is still dirt cheap. In fact, it has been a terrific discovery, as I tend to buy alcohol in 711 or Sunkus and then drink it on the sidewalk with friends. Both of these shops sell a large variety of alcohol, cold and shelfed, and one can find both of these shops twice per every three blocks in Tokyo. Open alcohol in public is totally fine, just kind of frowned upon if you're on the move. The sidewalk is also the cheapest bar. I would say that the majority of the groups I saw at the park had some amount of alcohol with them. Jakes group had a lot. I had none, as it was still mid-afternoon and as I wanted energy and appetite for later, but it was still fun to watch it all go around. Jake’s crowd is a bit older than we NanoJapan scholars, so at times things were a bit awkward. I have noticed that a few years difference really does mean less and less between friends when the fraction of their ages that this difference makes gets smaller and smaller. However, throwing a ball around with these professionals on their day off felt a tad strange to me. It was a blast, though, overall.
As usual around Jake, I met cute, English speaking women, and their presence further enlivened the picnic. I took a walk to buy some ice cream at some point, and here I must diverge slightly. Ice cream in Japan is rather lake ice cream in China: it comes in huge variety, is sold exclusively but abundantly in slide-top freezers in convenience stores, it almost always involves a flat wooden stick, and, most importantly, it’s cheap. This one kind is particularly delicious, featuring vanilla cream with chocolate wafer wrapped in a crunchy waffle cone shell (the whole thing is shaped like a real waffle). I bought one and ate it and then heard a drum set. On the edge of the park, along the street, are power outlets spaced every 30 meters or so. At each station, a band had set up and was performing to a small crowd and all the mobile pedestrians. From more than 50 meters away, all the music blended together and sounded like a train wreck. Closer, though, I made out hip hop and funk and ska and punk… Fun fun fun. So that’s Yoyogi park.
Posted on 2007.06.24 at 21:01
Last weekend will take more energy than I have right now. It needs to involve descriptions that I cannot generate currently, and so I will break chronology and introduce it to you next entry. I will then start with last Monday. Today is Sunday, the 24th.
Monday started with a lecture, of course, and then some lab stuff happened. Nothing extraordinary about Monday. I ate at home and read and slept. The rest of the week, I discovered that Japanese students defy the “being late is like spitting in someone’s face” rule. We were supposed to meet at 7am every day this week but Monday, as our work currently involves very time consuming processes. I was thirty minutes late on Tuesday, but I was the first one. I was early on Wednesday and Thursday, but I was 2 hours before Jun, and Shiren didn’t even show up. We got a lot done.
On Tuesday there was an international students’ party at Yagami campus, and I met a lot of people from all over the world. My new close friend, Alfonso, a metal enthusiast and avid soccer player, is one of the most interesting guys I’ve met. He’s extremely science-engineering (this is an adjective here, though it can also be a noun, an adverb, and an exclamation), very reserved and quiet, but clever and fun and relaxed. His willingness to follow me down my winding ADD strands of narrative make him a easy friend to me.
Thursday, I went drinking with Jake. This was a bad idea, as I had gotten up at 6am the last three days to run experiments all day. I hadn’t planned on drinking, but Jakes friends bought me rounds of sake. Jakes friend Shiniji is a really cool guy, and I talked to him for a while before they brought out the fish and fried it with a blowtorch. Talk about my work led to talk about Yoko, who, during this conversation, called me to ask me something that I couldn’t hear above the noise of the Restaurant. She told me later that I was loud and funny and sang to her.
Friday, barring a tedious trainride, was a wonderful day. It began at 7am, however, at which time I was very angry to be awake. When the beeping started the incurred explosion of anger needed to find a target, and my cellphone, which serves as my alarm clock, was the natural choice. After I silenced the offensive thing with a swift and powerful jerk of the power cord, however, the anger I felt only swelled and swirled about in search of a new target. I became angry with myself, due to the realization that I was the one responsible for having set the alarm. This train of thought, having been driven by such a stubborn and illogical emotion as anger, did not lead to the obvious question of why I had set the alarm, but instead manifested itself in groans and to tossings of my throbbing head upon my itchy pillow. “Idiot; setting my alarm and waking myself up at whatever ungodly hour it is!” I luckily did not fall back asleep, as I was too angry at yesterday's alarm-setting Alec for having woken me up. Also, there was some glimmer of suspicious apprehension that accompanied my awareness of the unnatural state of my affairs. Ok, enough attempts at Tolstoy mimicry.
I realized that Yoko had sent me an email the night before, which, at the neglect of others, I had checked before falling asleep. She suggesting that we meet for breakfast at 8am. I jumped out of bed and called her. It was 7am. She seemed wide awake as ever, and, although our McDonalds breakfast was not in the least a good hangover cure, Yoko's energy and humor certainly were. So I arrived at work in high spirits and ready for anything. No one else arrived, so I hung out, unable to go back to sleep because of the Boss Coffee I’d purchased from a vending machine on the way in. I checked those other emails. I went on a walk. I would have read Tolstoy, but I was too angry at Pierre.
Although the machine that I predominantly use at work is called a Molecular Beam Epitax, it is actually less complicated and less impressive than the machine that Yoko’s team uses, which is called the Furnace. The apparatus combines themes and details from both Starwars and Mario, with broad-nozzled pipes connected to complex circuitry. There’s even a light-saber handle. Anyway, the experiment that Yoko’s team was engaged in caused the machine to explode. I was probably in the elevator on my way down to the room at the time, because when I entered the room, people were still scrambling around putting things back in their places and shouting. The machine which “had some problems” had shot sparks from a fissure where some wiring had disengaged. The wiring went flying, and everyone hit the deck screaming.
I met Alfonso for lunch. I eventually met with Jun, who, though having slept half the day, was still exhausted, and the two of us did some work.
Cleaning chips in our MBE is horribly boring unless two people do it. Current must be increased in tiny increments to heat the chip to 800 Celsius without raising the pressure in the vacuum above 2.0¬ -10 Torr. If this pressure is reached before the chip reaches 800 Celsius, the machine must be left alone until the vacuum decreases again. It’s easy enough to read the dials and crank the nob, but, when two people are involved, they can make bets as to how much current will be obtained before the pressure maxes out. “Ok Jun,” I’ll say, “I bet we can go up another 0.2 amps before the sample casing starts emitting oxygen and the pressure really jumps.” After Jun understands my bet, Jun will laugh at my boldness and accept the bet, and Jun will subsequently win the bet. I’m a terrible gambler when nothing important is at stake, as bold bets are always more fun for everyone.
After Jun left for his part time job, I hung out with Yoko’s team and followed them into the TEM lab. It was fun for 10 minutes to watch. The man spins the ball on the computer system’s special keyboard, and the monitor shows a blurry readout of the sample’s surface. We looked in vain for impurities for an hour. Yoko took me aside and told me that we’d meet at 11pm, that we’d to on the roof and look at the stars, that afterwards we’d watch a movie. I was thrilled, concluding that I’d done well at breakfast. I asked her why we would do all these things at Yagami, rather than going somewhere else, and Yoko explained that we’d have to rerun the explosive experiment at 4:30am in order to get the timing of the machine right. Yoko left to tutor a student until 10, and I went to Andrew’s apartment, which was far away. Andrew has a beautiful, three-room, ground-floor corner penthouse with a kitchen and a TV. Liang, Andrew and I made dinner and watched a movie, but I left for Yagami soon after it started. I discovered, to my horror, that there are no express lines after 22:00 from Andrew’s station, so, after 17 stops, I arrived at Yagami 1.5 hours late. Each time the doors opened, a few people got on, but no one ever got off. This continued until the train was so packed that everyone was pressed against one another and my left arm, which earlier I had raised above my head to grip a hand-rail I had since been pushed away from, could not be lowered and remained held high, like a persistent student with a question at a lecture. When I arrived, it was raining, and Yoko and her group were waiting for me outside the station. We did not climb on the roof, but instead played soccer and volleyball in the narrow hallway. Eventually, we brought a projector to a lecture hall and pushed a bunch of desks together. We sat on the desks and tried to get the movie to work. After trying five different laptops, mine finally worked, and we started a movie. Yoko fell asleep, her head on my laptops case, and then her alarm went off. We all ran down to the lab, where we proceeded to finish the experiment. We went back upstairs. I finished the movie while the others slept, but I was distracted by a beautiful sunrise through the windows of the fifth floor lecture room. It had stopped raining, so we went out on the roof. Yoko was full of energy, singing and dancing around and teasing everyone. We all sprinted after her back to the student lounge, where she fell right to sleep.
She woke up and packed up, and I offered to take her to breakfast, but we ended up going to my house, where she slept while I attempted to make Gioza (饺子，dumplings). They came out ok, though slightly oily, and we ate them up before walking back to the station together. Yoko went to class, and I went to sleep.
I woke up and cleaned my room, emptied the house’s dish drying rack, took out some trash, and did laundry. Excuse my bragging; I am sighing in pride as I write this. Yoko invited me for lunch at Jiyugaoka, and we went to Starbucks for coffee. I told Yoko that I wanted to make some business cards that I could hand out to potential English language students. She took me to her station and helped me buy them. We then both rode on her bicycle to her house, her balances skillfully on the rear brakes, me straining and bumping my knees on the handlebars. She’s shout “left is right!”, and I’d swerve all over the road while she screamed and cars honked. It was awesome. At Yoko’s house, she tutored a student in physics while I attempted to design my business cards on her computer. It was tough, working out the 10-card-per-page design on her Japanese version of Microsoft word. She took over for me after finishing with her student, and then her mother and sister came home with her sister’s 1-year-old baby boy. He was as scared of me as Yoko’s dog was, and immediately burst into tears as the dog barked and growled and ran around me in tight circles. There was an awkward period of twenty minutes or so during which Yoko showered and changed clothes and I sat on the floor around the table with the family. I was dizzy with lack of sleep, and I did my best to keep conversation going in Japanese, but I was only met with puzzled stares. The baby cried whenever he saw me, and any gesture or sudden movement on my part would set the dog off barking and growling, so I was grateful when Yoko came down and we left. She told me I was invited in July to stay for a weekend. I’m excited. I think I’ll shave and not wear glasses, and then perhaps I’ll be less scary.
Yoko went to another part time job, and I went to Shibuya. I ate some kebab from a vender and wandered around trying to find a place that felt right to hand out my business card at. I found a large group of students at McD’s, and, concluding that as they were all sitting, as they were not engaged in anything in particular, and as people constantly came and left the group, I ought to make an offer to them. I asked two boys sitting across from one another if they were interested in taking lessons, but they sneered, and one of them handed my business card back to me, saying, in perfect English, “sorry, but we already speak English”. Oh, ok. Wow. They began laughingly to tell their friends what had just happened, so I left in embarrassment. I bought some ice cream and felt better but also very sleepy. Halfway back to the station, I was stopped by a Japanese couple and asked if I wanted to be a model in a magazine advertisement. I was flattered enough that I gave them my name and email, though I had no intension of pursuing the matter. I handed my ice cream to the girl to write down my information, encouraging her to have some and warning her about the chocolate on the side of the cone. She handed it back after I’d finished, telling me she wanted it to be in my audition picture. What? He then took a picture of me. They told me if I made the shooting I could expect Y20000, then they thanked me and left. Me, a model? Very strange, indeed. After asking friends, though, I’ve discovered that, “in Japan”, only a fool would turn down an offer like that. I’m in Japan, and Y20000 sounds ok. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll just pass the gig along to Yoko instead.
I slept late today, only waking up when Liang texted me asking whether I was going to the beech. I stuck my hand out the window and felt rain. “When?”, I texted back. “Don’t know. Making plans,” was the reply. That was as far as we got. I ate the best homecooked breakfast ever: boiled udon noodles with Japanese-style tomato curry sauce (!), and then I went to Hiyoshi to watch members of my music circle perform. I saw covers including the Cure’s “boys don’t cry”, Queen’s “we will rock you”, and the Seatbelts’ “tank”. Daniel, a Chilean guitarist who’d read my drummer-seeks band classified ad and had since called me several times, accompanied me there. We didn’t get a chance to play music with each other, which I was bummed about but he seemed fine with. We did, however, arrange to play a concert Monday night at a bar in Roppongi, which I guess we’re both okay improvising when it comes time. The day was fun, though I got a little bored in the music building. That cute girl Nami seemed finally to warm up to me a little. Maybe all it took was me dancing to her songs. She sang Japanese ska covers in her band’s performances, which I gaped at, took pictures of, and then danced to.
Posted on 2007.06.17 at 12:36
Drunk writing: a hobby I’ve been informed I’m destined to develop. “Well,” close friends used to observe, “you’re always the last one up after everyone else has fallen asleep watching the movie. You sit through to the end, turn it off, and then actually go upstairs and brush your teeth and find a bed. That’s why you’re the best and worst rested.” This kind of behavior, and the encouragement from my high school friends, have together sowed the drunken writing seed. If you can’t understand the connection, you must not be a drunk reader. I have the reason about, and I also have the recent emails I get from people saying, “Loved the blog, a bit overzealous in our literary staggerings are we?” or simply “Were you drunk?” Well, no, I haven’t been, but I am tonight.
Righto, so, blog time. What’s happened since last Tuesday? Life has fallen into a semi-routine, now; I go to work 5 or 6 times a week; I listen to student lectures 2 or 3 times a week; I study Japanese in little snatches and scold myself vehemently at the end of everyday for my inaptitude and my inability to find cheap classes that aren’t 2 hours away from work; I play sports with the lab group once a week; I play sports with my mates once a week; I waste time on the weekends and meet new people; and I play snatches of drums with vibrant Hiyoshi campus Keio University students during rare cancellations or official downtime at work.
Jun was back on Wednesday for the lab softball game. He didn’t play, because his eye was still teary and sensitive, but he took pictures and retrieved lost balls. I didn’t see him the rest of the day. Thursday, I made TEM/STM/AFM tips out of tungsten (I stabbed myself with a tungsten needle. This sounds like the name of a goth-punk album, but it really scared me and I frantically looked up information about how poisonous the stuff is. I’m okay…). Friday I played drums with two terrific musicians in a 4-foot wide hallway. We were the only three out of the 15 or so in the hallway who weren’t wearing noise-canceling headphones and practicing by ourselves. We played a few Radiohead covers over the din of saxophone scales and arpeggios and snare drum solos etc. Then we jammed for a while. I played well, for me, which was well enough to inspire friendship from the crew.
Ahh, this reminds me. Big foot. Right, so one of these nights I went out for food with the senior chair members of “Beat Pops”, one of the music circles of which I am now a member. The guys were hilarious. They are, like most Keio University students, terrific at English, but these chaps have the guts to strike up conversations and attempt to express complicated ideas, just like Jun and Yoko at lab. The result is that I hear such phrases as “He is taking the joke now to a far away place” (instead of ‘too far’), “We might need to spank the road” (‘hit’), “You are so very about as polite as an old man” (this means too polite), and “Pizza is so eighties” (perhaps pizza is uncool). The bass player, known as Big Foot, taught me that Japanese say “high touch” instead of “high five” when they slap each other’s hands in expressions of shared accomplishment. He then put his foot on the table, drawing earned support from his friends as he did so for just how large his foot was (it was very large), and telling me to give him a big foot. I thought of ninja turtles and put my foot on the table, too, and touched his foot. We’ve all been close friends ever since.
Ahh, yes, back to Friday. After the music, away from which scampered Jun, who had come to listen, on pretext for having a need to find mobile phone reception. I assumed he was bored or his poor ears hurt. I resolved to give the guitar and bass 5 more minutes and then to follow him out, since I assumed he was up out of the basement waiting for me. We finished playing about 15 minutes later. It was just soo fun. Then I ran up the stairs and almost bumped into Yoko. Jun had brought her down to hear. She then hung out with me till 9pm. It was only about 7pm then, so this was a long time to just sit and chat. We’ve hung out together for much longer periods of time before this, but we’ve always been either on our way somewhere or doing some kind of work at the same time, so we really focused on each other. She seemed less bubbly than usual. Her manner had a question in it. I suddenly realized that Jun must have told her that I thought she was cute and that I hoped that she might become the girlfriend that Jun felt so sure I ought to have by now. She had until 9:30pm to meet her friend. I, for reasons that follow, could not bring myself to ask her to become this girlfriend that Jun was right in pointing out that I want and need. Right, so, reasons: Uhh. Shit. I’ve dug a hole here and now I’ve put myself in it.
I think it’s because I’m still all tangled up in Azumi and even Ryoko. This sort of thing never happens at Rice. In fact, I’ve never had this happen to me at all, that I can recall right now, and I’m doing nothing at all but sit and think about it and write what I think. Hrmm. I’ll stop writing and just think for a minute. I’m drunk, after all. … Yep, still no examples come to mind. So I had feelings for multiple women, and I had no means then to sort them out and make a move. I didn’t make a move, and I think that it was my chance. That’s a singular. Chance. I missed my chance. I’ll explain evidence for this soon. Anyway, so I thought it over during the museum visit today, which I’ll also explain later. I decided the following: Ryoko is cool but cold, and she obviously wants nothing more to do with me than occasional story swapping in small groups. She’s not busy, as I’ve learned, but she never has time to hang out except every other week on some random weeknight. Azumi has disappeared. I got several more emails from her saying that she was sick with a fever and a cold and a headache and then some physical injury, and the fact that she sends cute pictures with each email does not mitigate her tangible absence. In other words, I believe that she’s putting me off. The pictures deny this, but, I have decided, as I peered down at 15-meter long torpedoes, that I want Yoko. Yoko, I discovered from Jun, is not in a relationship with the big strong smart handsome funny guy that she calls her brother, “because he’s so much like her”. There was a serge in the possibility I recognized when I first learned that this guy she flirts with is her brother, and, hence, not actually a target of flirtation. Then I learned that he isn’t her brother, and someone even once called him her boyfriend. I pulled back down a big mental lever. Now, the lever is unjammed and back up again.
But I missed my chance. We sat there on the bench and actually experienced awkward silence. This is something that I thought was impossible for Yoko ever with anyone in any language. She could find a way to carry on a nice chat with Чингис Хаан (Genghis Khan), even while he made ready to bore her off and kill Itoh-sensei’s lab group. By the end of this chat, the great oceanic king would not only have changed his mind about Itoh’s lab group, but Yoko’d even have developed some inside jokes with him. They’d start dating over lunch in the grad student cafeteria. She’d tease him about his airag and tell him he shouldn’t drink alone. Ahhhem. Clearing throat sound. So Yoko was slightly colder towards me today. No more surprise attacks from behind or spontaneous launches into the Indiana Jones theme song (the second part of which she refuses to acknowledge, let alone sing). And no more searching looks into my eyes when we struggle to communicate, looks that I realize were fun to dwell on. Well. That’s enough emo for now. Let’s talk about football.
No really. This paragraph is going to be about football. I played football today with Jake and some other mates: Andrew, Jun, and Hiyoki. We walked all the way up to the soccer field (that’s right, all to hell, we’re not playing American football, we’re playing football proper. [Jake’s had his influence on me, as you see]). The field was in use, so we wound back down through the jungle to the softball field. It was in use, so we played in the batting cage. It was surprisingly spacious. We played a little half-court game, using sections of the mesh fence as the goal. It was great. Of course we wanted to shower, except for Andrew, who does not sweat. There’s a stereotype I heard from many, including my ex-girlfriend, that Asian people don't sweat, or that they don’t sweat much. Let’s all jot down this counterexample: Andrew, dry as a stovetop; Jun, leaving puddles and launching little droplets from his forehead like in Japanese comics. We found the office where non-students have to get a pass from an official by signing various documents and including a record of the precise time. However, we could not obtain said documents to take to the second office in another building where we stamp them and then sign additional papers which we trade for a rubber pass that we turn in out front of the shower as we record our precise time of entry. The reason for this was that the first office was closed. We ran into Yoko and Miki. Whoa. I’m going to pretend in this paragraph that my sweat and BO repelled her. She led us, however, to the tennis team showers. On the way, a nice rugby fellow in a sleeveless shirt sprayed me with a hose.
The shrine/ museum. We were a good 45 minutes late. Itoh-sensei had offered us a week ago to come with him to an extremely controversial shrine: Yasukuni Jinja,
<http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/index.html>. He shrugged off our apologies, saying that he knew we’d be late, being such a large group and having had our soccer game and all. I don’t know how he knew about the game. He said he’d walked around with Hong (MIT whiz) for a while before coming to the designated meeting place to find us, so he’d only waited about 10 minutes. He’s a wizard, and Hong’s a whiz. The shrine was very interesting. Stay tuned for details. Sleep now.
Posted on 2007.06.10 at 22:16
Ok. The last that I’ve written about was Monday. Let’s see here.. Ah, yes, Tuesday was an important day, or, rather, Tuesday evening was an important evening. But, we begin with a two and a half-hour lecture. This lecture was given at 8:30 by Hiroki (as opposed to Monday’s Hiroshi, two names that are apparently as different to the Japanese as Jonathan and Bilbo are to me, making my tendency to mix the two up go without sympathy), and the lecture was given in a different building than on Monday. I was late, but luckily, so were some of the grad students, who I luckily ran across while running across an over-cross. I surmise from the nonchalant air they adopted and the slowing of our pace after they found me that I was a suitable excuse for their tardiness. Whatever. Hiroki, laser-pointer in hand, laughed his shrill, hysterical laugh when we entered the lecture room. This laugh serves many purposes for Hiroki, but just then I think it was a welcoming and forgiving laugh. It was the only laugh I heard him give during his lecture. Itoh-sensei grilled him, asking many questions and constantly requesting that he click back to a previous slide. At first I felt pity for Hiroki, as it seemed that all his plans to progress smoothly between Powerpoint slides were being sequentially demolished. I felt differently, however, when I noticed that, although he was nervous and confused, he was not defeated. It was a language issue, in the end; Itoh-sensei requires all his students to give their presentations in English. At times, the conversation between Hiroki and Itoh-sensei would shift to Japanese, Hiroki would grow animated and confident, and Itoh-sensei would emerge to summarize the point in English to the rest of the group. He looked at me on several occasions when he did this, but I suspect that he would have given these English summaries even if Hong and I hadn’t been there. He prides himself in running an international laboratory, and I recall the basketball shoes that stuck out from beneath his pant legs as he chatted with the SHARP’s second in command after Monday afternoon’s quantum computer lectures at Toyko University. Anyway, we became pressed for time, and Hiroki was made to give each of his last 8 or so slides in 20 seconds each. I’ve rarely seen Itoh-sensei smile.
The majority of Tuesday was spent in the student room. Shisho (meaning “boss” and referring to Jun’s and my grad-student mentor) was absent, and so Jun and I had nothing arranged for us to do. I chatted with Hong, an MIT student originally from Thailand, who is a gold medalist Physics Olympiad. I asked him several questions about Hiroki’s work, and he patiently listened and explained. He is very good-natured, even though I sense that I am predictable to him and hence slightly boring. Then I met Yoko. I had been introduced to her on Monday, along with the other 16 members of the group, but I hadn’t really had a chance to look at her, much less to talk. She is extremely cute and energetic, not to mention brilliant, and talked me through some points that she wanted to clarify further. Jun informed us it was lunchtime, which, unlike yesterday, I had kept an eye out for and had been about ready to say something about myself. I had curry miso ramen, a combination even I wouldn’t have thought of and which was, as per usual, delicious. I sat with Go and Yasuo, and I learned that Yasuo is a senior grad student and a fantastic English speaker. He gave me a lot of knowing looks when he asked me about why I came to Japan, whether I liked Japanese women, and why I did. I didn’t like the portrait of myself that this zeroing in of his was painting. Sure I like Japanese women. I like other women; lots of women. I’m 21, and my “no time for a girlfriend” Rice experience does not help me pass time in Japan alone any easier, but I can list 20 different things about Japan that got me here. I can, to his credit, also list 20 things I like about Japanese women. Anyway, Go asked me if I’d been to Akihabara (the electronics town), and I said yes. Everyone explained that Go is the “master”/”king”/”supervisor”/”detective” of Akihabara, and that if ever I was in need of some fancy electronic gadget, I should request that he be my guide. I don’t remember what I did until 21:00. I think we read the solid-state physics grad student textbook. Yeah, that must have been what we did.
Tuesday night I went to Azabujuban station and waited for Azumi. I was 5 minutes late. In Japan, on time means 5 minutes early, and being late is very disrespectful. I sprinted from the train-car up the seven flights of steps (the freakin’ Oedo line is freakin’ 100 meters underground), trying breathlessly to fabricate a smooth explanation for my tardiness. I took the wrong exit, and decided, stupidly, to look for the right one on surface level, rather than running back down. I wandered east and got lucky. I had found the right exit. However, Azumi wasn’t there. I sat down, starting to sweat, and waited. After 15 minutes, I was forced to conclude that my tardiness had offended her and that she’d left. I realized that Barack Obama was still reading his autobiography in my headphones, so I backed up a few tracks and sat listening for another 20 minutes until, to my astonishment, I saw Azumi. She was on the phone, stamping her feet impatiently and talking to her mom, I deduced proudly from my budding Japanese skills. I came up to her and made faces as she squirmed in impatience. She hung up abruptly and gave me a big hug and apologized 7000 times for being late. It was totally fine. Then we went to Shibuya to find the hiyaku-en ($1.00) sushi place. It was closed, since it was already 21:00 by the time we got there. We ate curry, instead. Again, I was amazed at how easy it was for us to keep a conversation going. We took the train back to my place. She asked me, when I told her we’d reached me street, whether my place was that one (the apartment building next to my house). No, it wasn’t. It was the little beat up place next to it. When I opened the door and she saw all the shoes (I have my own private room, but I share a house with four others), she stepped back and got all apologetic. We talked it over, or tried to, and she eventually left me at the door, saying she was “hazukashi” (embarrassed). I maintain that this word means: “I want you but I have to go right now but we’ll see each other again and I want you”. Anyway, my sulks turned to worries after she left, because I realized that the last train for the night had already left and she was stranded. I was about to run out and look (it had been about 10 minutes since we’d parted), when I remembered my phone and called her. No answer. I emailed her something like “Hey the last train is gone you don’t understand this but I’m worried and I want you” and then ran out to look. In the morning, I learned that she’d gone to her friend’s place somewhere nearby to stay with her.
Wednesday consisted of my first experiment. I got up early; I guess I was worried. Then I checked email. Azumi's mail explaining that she'd stayed with a friend was one of them. Then I went back to sleep; I guess I was sulky. I got to work at 10. This, I assumed, would be a serious offense. To my surprise and relief, I was one of the first people there. No morning meeting, so everyone sleeps late. “It’s summertime, after it all”, Jun later explained. Wednesday was boring. We ran our first reaction and read solid-state physics. I didn’t understand the reaction. There’s this huge freakin’ machine (HFM), actually called a Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) that heats things to several thousand degrees Celsius. For a picture, check out all the ones labeled MBE2 at <http://www.appi.keio.ac.jp/itoh_group/>. I learned all about how we heat up silicon chip sandwiches with beryllium or boron in between to spread the impurities out and prepare it for subsequent phosphorus treatment (we want phosphorus molecules spread evenly in straight lines along the edges of “stair steps” that we later make out of the silicon). I learned about all this, and then I learned that this is not what we were doing. I wrote all over my copy of the physics book. Jun warned me that there would be a review session for us undergrads about the physics on Friday. I wrote even more. Reading this stuff is slow going.
Wednesday night I had all the Tokyo NanoJapan students and Hong over to my place for food. Ryoko and her friend came early to help me shop and cook. What ended up happening was that, by the time we carried our spoils home, we were running out of time, so I ran to the station to meet the others. They were all 30 minutes late except Ethan. Eventually, the four of us got back, and Rokyo and Atsuki had already made the salad and prepared most everything else. I got to cut the sashimi, which was harder than I anticipated. We watched Japanese TV: the explosion channel, which, so far as I could tell, featured cartoon representations of large-scale explosive catastrophes followed by footage of the real thing. I don’t watch TV in the states, and was “a bit out of sorts”, as my Japanese grammar book would have it, but the others seemed to take the explosion channel well. “A bit out of sorts” is a phrase that the Japanese claim we use in America. They have translated this phrase into Japanese and use it to describe how an American who doesn’t watch TV might feel watching explosion network in Japanese. Everyone seemed tired. Everyone left early. Eh.
Keio University has, I think, five campuses, but I keep learning of additional ones. Hiyoshi campus is the big freshman/sophomore campus next to the subway station. On the other side is Yagami campus, where our group does its research. Thursday was the International Opportunities Festival at Hiyoshi campus, so Itoh-sensei was going to spend the day there encouraging Japanese students to go abroad. He invited Hong and I to stop by. I read some physics, chatted with Yoko, noticed that I had email (the connection shorts in and out, and has therefore been decreed too frustrating to use) and then headed to Hiyoshi. I didn’t see Itoh at the building, so I stopped by the music building where I had met Yuki and the other fusion rockers. This time, I met thirty or so enthusiastic students who wanted me to come back before 2pm to play some rock drums for them. I agreed, but tried to explain that my schedule was not in my control. They said they’d see me after lunch. I found Jun and waited with him for Hong for about an hour. Jun was very worried that Hong might not have had lunch and might be looking for us. I eventually convinced him to come with me to find Itoh-sensei. We found him and Hong in the building, and Hong and I talked to some students in English about their desire to go abroad. Itoh-sensei is of the mind that students who want to go to America should go to Europe as undergrads, then come back to Keio for grad school, and finally to go to the States. I wonder if the reasons behind their wanting to go to the states will be gone by then. I wonder, further, if Itoh-sensei senses this too, and whether he disapproves of these reasons. After, Jun and I had lunch and then went back to work.
Thursday was unremarkable, except that on Thursday I played drums. I felt lousy when I woke up, so I resolved to take it easy. There was nothing much going on in the basement (where the MBE are), so I tried the student room (5th floor, neighboring building). Still nothing. I hung out for a bit, then I walked over to Hiyoshi campus and met the musicians from Wednesday. As it turned out, they’d been unsuccessful in reserving a practice space on Wednesday, so even if I had made it out of the International Opportunities Festival in time, there would have been no music. I felt bad, all the same, for having stood them up. We went downstairs and played music. I was hoping I’d get to play with some girls, as the group is almost half girls, and as I never get to play music with girls in the States, but, unfortunately, after about 15 minutes, all but a few of the students left. Initially, everyone stood watching. It was a strange feeling. I wonder what they expected. I just jammed with this bass player and guitarist. The bass player didn’t change much, but he was solid enough that it was fun to experiment over him. The guitarist soloed well but was hard to work with. People switched up and I had a lot of fun. This lasted about an hour. Then lunch, then physics. I spent some time helping Yoko and Miki on their upcoming presentation. Thursday night I hung out with Shiho, a Japanese in her early 30s who lives across the hall from me in my house; Jake, an English teacher from the UK, next door to Shiho; and Mark, from Canada, who works somewhere doing something and has lived in the house for several years. We talked about my room’s former inhabitant, a British fellow who left an awful lot of trash lying about, and we shared a few beers and some edamame that Mark had brought home.
It becomes necessary, at this point, to tell the story of my bicycle ticket. On Monday, after work, when I returned to Naka-meguro station, my bike had a ring of stapled paper around one handle bar. Several other bikes had these, as well, and I assumed they were advertisements. I unclipped it and rode around a bit looking for a trashcan. Tokyo is like London in that regard: no trashcans. I rode home. Tuesday I biked to Yutenji station instead of Naka-meguro (my house in right in between the two), and, after work, before my date with Azumi, I returned home to shower. My bike was gone. I assumed it had been stolen. I walked numbly home to take a cold shower (I hadn’t yet discovered that we do in fact have hot water, if a certain switch is flipped a few minutes prior to shower usage). I learned from Yasuo and Jun on Wednesday, much to their amusement, that my bike was not stolen and that the paper had not been an advertisement. My bike, they concluded, was in the local “bicycle prison”, and that all I needed to do was go there and pay a fine.
Friday I no longer doubted that I had caught a cold. Funny, since my air conditioner still didn’t work. Houston is hotter than Tokyo; it’s undeniable. Houston is more humid; there’s no question. Tokyo, however, is still rather hot and humid. No air conditioning means sleeping is tough. My first night, Sunday the 3rd, had been a funny one. After a freezing cold shower, I emerged to realize that I had not bought or brought a towel. I dried off as best I could with my t-shirt, and then I battled with the air conditioner in my room. I got it working, but it shut off after 20 minutes and didn’t turn back on. I had no fitted sheet yet, either, so my bed became slippery, as I was still wet. No wonder I had a tough time staying awake on Monday. Right, so back to Friday. Somehow, I had caught a cold. Oh no! I woke up and decided that I needed to get my bike back first thing and then head to work. In the kitchen I ran into Shiho, who told me that the electrician was coming to fix my air conditioner. Yes! I waited for him and, when he arrived, tried my best to explain the 20-minutes-then-shut-off problem. He replaced the entire window unit and accompanying outdoor vertical fan with larger and sleeker looking new machines. They’ve been humming softly ever since. Sweet! Hilarity then ensued, at least in retrospect, as I attempted to locate my bicycle. In Tokyo, police hang out in Kobans, or “police boxes”, which are siz-square-foot buildings with a desk and lamp and map inside. I attempted to enlist the aid of several of these during my adventure, and, I am happy to say, that I only ended up back at the same one once. I wandered around with my head in my own map, trying to follow the conflicting directions that everyone had given me. Eventually, I asked a little old man who was making his way, inch by inch, up a steep hill. He looked at me oddly, then he pointed to a boarded up shack under the subway. Sensing my confusion, which was no difficult task, he began inching his way toward the shack, which was a difficult task. I tried to stop him by pretending that I did understand, nodding and “ooohh, so desu!”-ing as I approached the foreboding looking junk pile. A train rumbled overhead, and the boards of the hut shook and rattled ominously. I was going to knock on what I decided was the door when a muscular old man jumped out and yelled, in Japanese, “bicycle!”. I agreed enthusiastically, and he ushered me inside, where, to my amazement, I found countless bicycles locked and stacked in a crazy looking, though well organized heap. I found mine, showed him my papers and my key, and then signed my name several thousand times on as many papers. Yay! I got my bike back. I got a call from Jun then saying that our physics session was cancelled. I was so disappointed that I stretched out and went on a nice, soothing little jog and then took a nap.
Friday night I went out with Yoko. And Jun. And Yasuo, and Yohei, and Go and Kei and everyone else, including Itoh-sensei. We went to an Okanomayaki place, where we all proceeded to get drunk and eat a lot of food. The deal was, for Y4000 a piece, we could order anything from the menu and eat as much as we wanted for two hours. The catch was that we had to first finish the exhaustive supply of appetizers provided for us free on the house. We ate and ate and swapped stories, etc. Itoh-sensei was lots of fun. He told us about getting arrested while studying at Berkeley for trying to sneak in to hear a speech, only to be immediately bailed by his host professor, who happened to be walking by. A discussion about differences between Japanese and English pronunciations also led him to tell us that, when Eisenhower got re-elected and returned to Japan, he was greeted at the Imperial Palace with a sign that read “Congratulations on another erection”. Eisenhower reportedly smiled gravely and thanked his welcoming hosts. I was going to go with Hong to check out the international student housing that I elected not to reside in, but I couldn’t find him after dinner, so instead I went out with Yoko and her brother and a few others to play darts and pool. I was thoroughly destroyed. And I don’t mean drunk. In fact, by this point I was very sober, having only had a beer and two shots of sake, while most of the others were still glowing red. It was fun, but, thinking of the cold I was not conquering, I went home after a couple of hours and passed out by 00:00.
Saturday I cleaned out my room, went through all the discarded junk in the front hall to select things with which to furnish my cleaned out room, and then went to work. I spent the day with Yoko and Miki, who had spent the last two nights in lab trying to finish preparing for their presentation on Monday. They had a new draft for me to edit, and I did my best. I fell asleep at about 6, and I woke up at 7. I listened to several practice presentations, and then we fought with the color printer for an hour. The blasted thing kept spitting out pages of computer cuss words: “*%$@” and “*&%^#(*&@” were some of the milder things that it said. Yoko was understandably too exhausted to come to dinner, but we rode together to Shibuya, where she transferred to her home and where I met Andrew and Liang (NanoJapan students) for hiyaku-en sushi.
Today I did nothing. I slept really late and then did laundry and showered (the hot water for the shower controls the washing machine too, so I dyed all my whites pink!). Then I went back to sleep. Eventually, I read some Tolstoy and some physics and wrote some Japanese and this. I hung out with Jake and his mates from another guesthouse down the way.