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(no subject) [Jul. 2nd, 2006|02:53 pm]
[mood |ii]
[music |Radiohead - Palo Alto]

I do not know if I an even able to write about "my day". Perhaps I can use some time to digest it further, but it just might not translate well into text.

At least I can say that I am finding myself feeling more at ease being in Kyoto, navigating streets and riverbanks without much nagging concern for where I am or how I'll get back to wherever I came from. It is an easy enough city for getting around, gridded and pedestrian-friendly, with more than a sufficient supply of landmarks. Today it seemed very familiar, and though not quite like home, very comfortable and inviting all the same. Today everything was beautiful, and not even my feet hurt.

Furthermore I must remark that the subway trains of this city make the most excellent sound as they pull out of a station. I think it sounds exactly like how the year 2006 ought to sound.
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yesterday [Jun. 28th, 2006|03:21 pm]
[Current Location |Dohokan]
[mood |oh just right]
[music |Rose's jazz compendium]

I stumbled onto the grounds of the Imperial Palace quite accidentally.

Last year I viewed a film by Takashi Miike at Bard's Weiss Cinema called Izo, which essentially lacks a plot, but carries on what I guess is a standard Miike theme of endless suffering and nihilistic destruction. Apart from the scene in which Bob Sapp is severed neatly in two, the element of the movie I enjoyed the most (also aside from the whole vengeful samurai spirit traveling through all time and existence and killing every living thing) was the soundtrack, solely contributed by a phenomenal artist named Kazuki Tomokawa. I've read somewhere that the style of his music is called existential acid folk rock, but we all know the trouble with naming things. If Tom Waits gained fluency in Japanese and was stung in the neck multiple times by bees, he might sound a little like Tomokawa. His music was presented in the film in very intense, brief interludes, cutting away from all the cutting and giving the musician a still presence, a window through which he could sip his glass of water, claw at his guitar, and scream his curses at the demiurge. I had never heard anything like it and still have not, and I figured since I'm in Japan and all, perhaps here I could pick up an album. So far no one I've asked - Seika students and music store employees, mainly - has even heard of the man, despite his being a prolific artist with over twenty albums pressed.

The night before last, some friends and I traveled to Imadegawa Street to find a rumored porn shop and to eat at Mos Burger, Fine Japanese Burger & Coffee. The search for elusive Japanese porn apparently ended prematurely, with all of us but Ben turning back after about a 40 minutes of walking. Determined Ben, who has gained the moniker "tsukeben" for his reputed horniness, truly no more than your average red-blooded American youth, continued a block or two further and found it, and so some night this week there will be a dorm activity involving rope bondage porn and probably ice cream. The rest of us scuttled back to the burger joint for our dinner. Next door there was a fine media store, with some quality specialty magazines. I picked up a bilingual architecture magazine for way too much money but with too many fascinating images to but back on the shelf, along with a Japanese text (with redeeming pictures) about walking around Southeast Asia with dope. Rose picked up an ad mag, and Jen got a magazine called Gothic Lolita, for Japanese girls who dig the hot topic look (and for tsukebe Japanese dudes who dig those girls). On the second floor was an extensive CD store, and above that a DVD floor. I asked the CD floor employees about the artist, but definitely improperly recalled his name as Tomugawa or something equally easily confused. I decided yesterday to skip conversation session just because, and walked down to the Hateada post office to find out the hours of operation. It was breezy and the sky was blue for the first time in days. I decided to hop on the subway and explore. I chose to get off at Imadegawa, hoping to find the promised porn castle and the Tomokawa CD, his name properly spelled in hiragana on a small shred of paper in my wallet. The CD store, directly across the the street from the subway station, still did not possess a single album of his. I noticed something I had not the previous night; on the other side of the busy road, across from the station and the quality media outlet, was the corner of a tall and lush woods.

I crossed the road at the sound of the chirp (the road posts chirp here when it is permissible to cross), hoping to find a park where I could enjoy my delicious Aquarious grapefruity drink and rest for a while. The woods are lined by a stone perimeter wall that, from the corner, continued further than I could resolve. The wall runs parallel to the sidewalk, and children balanced on the uneven stones that formed an extension of the edifice. I was thankful for the shade. The buildings of most of Kyoto are not very high, and so do not form a penumbra as in New York City or Tokyo. At last I found an entrance marked for pedestrians and bicycles only. The gateway looked like that of a temple, but led immediately to a narrow path into the woods, from which an elderly woman emerged, stylish as Jackie O, holding at the end of a leash a fat corgi. The path led to a shady grove of the largest cherry trees I'd ever seen, and at that moment I decided to return to this city in the Spring, knowing exactly where to go. Two of those lovely Japanese ducks (without red, globular nasty creeping all up on their faces like at home) sat unperturbed on a rock in the center of a shallow pond, around which some men had gathered, talking about I don't know what but definitely contemplating getting through the bicycle lock on the gate to the footbridge. I continued on, enjoying my fortune of finding this lovely municipal mark, past a children's playground and onto another path spilling around moss-loved trees, when I saw a plane of white gravel stretching on to a solid terminus, young folks jogging, a few men in business suits casually riding their bikes across it.

I got closer. The gravel surrounded a wall. The wall was a wall. It was tall and eggshell colored, with thick wooden shafts protruding from under the gunmetal grey shingles, their wooden skins bleached and peeling from all the photons and oxygen. I could see nothing beyond this wall. Immediately before it was something of a moat, or more properly a small drainage canal, in which water flowed slowly and lilted the algae growths down the slight stream. The wall continued on that side for what seemed several hundred yards, broken here or there by a thick wooden gate, locked thoroughly. I walked the perimeter to a corner, around which I saw much more wall, but an even taller gate. The roofs of interior structures poked above the swirls and flourishes of the wall's shingled top, and I began to suspect that the structure was not a temple, for temples are typically open all the time, and do not generally need siege protection. It was enormous and rectangular, guarded by armed policemen, and around which grew ancient cherry trees and generations of perfect ducks, and I suspected that I had actually found my way to the Emporer's Kyoto home, which the subway map confirmed. It was so much more pleasing without the prior expectation, but you all know how that goes. While sitting on a bench, a young mother and her two young boys entered the gravel plane next to me. The older of the two, maybe six, was playing with a remote controlled backhoe, and the younger, just a toddler, spotted me brushing the lint off my bare feet and toddled up, offering me a small cup of stones he had collected. Not wanting to be rude, I took the cup and added a small white pebble to the top, and handed it back to him. His mother told him to say arigato, but he did not, which was fine, and I tried my best to tell her that her child was sweet, but it just came out the rough equivalent of "cute kid". He politely waved to me.

So you all know how that went.
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(no subject) [Jun. 28th, 2006|12:42 pm]
[Current Location |library]

Otosan and Okasan got me drunk. I stepped into the Kino-ryo's common room around nine last night, thirsting for the milk tea I'd left in the kitchen refrigerator. Otosan and Okasan, the charming middle-aged couple who act as caretakers of the dorm, were sharing dinner with four Chinese international students, who had each prepared a dish for the meal. I was invited to sit, and of course did, as it would be rude to refuse. This is not to imply that I was not also interested in their company, but I had just woken up from a long respite of exhaustion and was still feeling groggy, and had just wanted some liquids. Along with a small portion of the very tasty food, I was offered a cup of sake, a rather large cup at that, and not wanting to be rude, I of course did not refuse. Every time my cup emptied, Okasan kindly refilled it. The Chinese students were surprised by my adroit use of chopsticks, and I explained to them that I learned to use them as a child, eating in what are called, in America, Chinese restaurants. The dishes they had prepared were unlike any plate I'd ordered at home, consisting of chicken and cabbage, rice with egg, and kimchi with pork (yes, oishikatta des). Conversation was mostly incomprehensible to me, though I was asked a peculiar dinnertime question about the treatment of the dead in America, and whether they are buried or burned. I'm still not quite sure what everyone was talking about, though it certainly was very funny. It is much easier to laugh for no good reason when tipsy, and easier still when one has no clue what the person next to them is saying. Context clues are important. Some idiomatic terms echo up through the floors of the tower. In Japan, they say kampai!; bottoms up.
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(no subject) [Jun. 25th, 2006|02:39 am]
[Current Location |Dohokan]
[mood |hungryhungry]
[music |Al Green - So Tired of Being Alone]

Another rainy weekend day in the Kansai region. I'm presently waiting for the awakening of hungry people, so that I may have some company for a visit to a local restaurant called Reata, which is operated by Seika University and gives some sweet discounts to students. I knocked lightly on a couple doors but all I got were groans and turn-downs. It is about 11:30 AM. Everyone is spent from constantly being in motion, walking up seventy feet of subway steps, hiking around Iwakura, hitting up flea markets. The change in diet has been significant for a few of us, too, heavy on carbohydrates, with typically less protein than a health-conscious American might eat, and, by consensus, not nearly enough vegetables, prompting many of us to go out of our way to seek salads and broccoli, or score some citrus, or sojourn out to the shopping district to find a quality Mos Burger. I have not found myself feeling unenergetic except for one day at the end of the first week, when all the walking and time adjusting and dietary alterations caught up with me. Now I want me some eel and rice.

The bad weather today is made acceptable by the incredible meteorological fortune we had yesterday, for our class field trip to Chikubushima, an island temple complex located a few miles into Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater body in Japan. The temples are a combination of Shinto and Buddhist styles, the oldest of which were build, as I recall, in the 700s. I was a little worried that I might miss the bus to the ferry, as it was scheduled to leave Seika at 8:20 AM, and I had spent the previous night out at Karaoke with an assortment of Bard and Seika students, loosening my vocal cords with whiskey and belting out Gangsta's Paradise, Little Green Bag, Paranoid Android (with assistance from Gen-san) and, gorgeously, Freak On A Leash. The best single performance was definitely Rin's Green Day. And of course there was a collective howling of Bohemian Rhapsody. Urara sang a beautiful Japanese love song, and Ben covered some Slipknot. Holy god, what madness. We didn't get back to our dorm until pretty late, and with some booze in me, I suspected that I might oversleep. Didn't. The temple-island was beautiful and swamped with tourists both national and gaijin, my feelings of vulgarity mollified when I saw that there were as many old Japanese men videotaping the buildings and processions as we foreigners. Still I felt a little like an intruder at first, imagining, say, a busload of Japanese tourists popping into a synagogue during prayer services and taking digital pictures. Authenticity and respectful distances are difficult to measure, however, and when the same hall serves as both a shrine, filled on occasion with chanting pilgrims, and a giftshop, stocked with overpriced good luck charms and commemorative fans, the ugly American in me can feel a little easier popping out the camcorder and recording some of that oh-so-genuine, old-time religion, and then buying some Boddhisattva keychains for my pals. I take my materialsm cold, thanks.

At the highest point of the Chikubushima complex is a beautiful and aged temple. While improperly cleansing my hands at a small pool of fresh, cold water, I heard peculiar screams coming from the temple, maybe about fifty feet away. The screams were coming in pairs, and intrigued, I entered the open area of the building, where one could keep on one's street shoes. Within an inner hall were two monks practicing some martial art form involving stick-weapons, the young monk taking on an immovably calm older monk, thwacking away defensive moves and bringing the end of his staff within a few inches of the elder man's trachea, both of them screaming weirdly at the completion of the move. They both then stepped back, laid down their weapons, and bowed respectfully, as another younger monk stepped in to practice with the elder. Then another monk popped into their room with a digital camera to take a few snapshots - it was that cool. We got some ice cream at the docks, and then the ferry took us to Nagahama, where Satoshi, Max, and myself got some delicious soba for lunch and wandered around the old streets, finding an Edo-period temple courtyard and visiting a store run by a very small, very ancient woman, wherein only soy sauces were sold. Satoshi bought some soy sauce. I bought a coke at a vending machine outside. Walking back to our bus we spotted a restaurant called Ramendaigaku, or "ramen University," which Satoshi found funny enough to photograph for his friends back at Seika.
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the world loves ramen [Jun. 21st, 2006|11:19 am]
[Current Location |Dohokan, girliedorm]
[mood |tiredtired]

Tonight at the ramen restaurant, Ben and I met a man from Cameroon here in Kyoto for a week to attend a science lecture. He sat next to us and gingerly remarked that he couldn't understand a thing. All of us gaikokujin (a less harsh, modernized gaijin) are grateful for the pictures on the menu there. Just point and say kudasai, or just point. I went out on a limb and ordered sans pointing, and the waiter nearly got my order right, giving me kimchi on the side instead of in the broth. Not bad. The Cameroonian gentleman, who had, to me, the air of professordom circulating around him, spoke excellent English in a West African accent, which reminded me of my first semester at Bard with professor Dongala. I should have asked the gentleman if he knew Emmanuel Dongala, who was a Dean at the University of Brazzaville in Congo before expatriating to America during the civil war there, and is something of a famous novelist besides. Perhaps that would have gotten me extra cool points with the world-wandering African dude. I then could have reported the cool points back to the folks at Bard, where maybe I could redeem them for street cred (read: Annandale Road cred - not much to brag about). Anyway our Cameroonian fellow interestingly suggested that the Japanese would be much better off in the long run if they completely did away with the kanji-hiragana-katakana writing system and replaced it instead with the Roman alphabet, a suggestion I imagine stemmed largely from his not unreasonable frustration with the language. He did cleverly observe that the actors of Western history had no bitch with incorporating useful features of other cultures into their own, adopting as they did the Arabic numeral system when the Roman version proved to be too limiting. He dismissed the difficulties one might expect with entirely overhauling a complete linguistic system with an analogy to the switch from left-side driving to right-side after the Cameroonian liberation from British left-side domination. "Everyone was saying, 'there will be thousands of accidents, it cannot be done', but it was nothing like that. Everyone just drove very slowly and cautiously," he said, "for about a week."

Anyway the flea market on the grounds of Toji Temple was a bust. Most of the stands were closing up by the time Brian and I got there, though I was able to find some nice wooden shoes for my sister and a decent fan. The good stuff went fast, probably before anyone in our class got there, though Briana scored a sweet Mao clock and Ben found a sleek nylon kimono for cheap. The temple itself was beautiful and imposing, and I would have liked to have been there without all the clutter and bustle and van fumes. We met up with a few other Bardians there, as well as a Seika student named Eri (who also goes by 'Shanaynay') who we are becoming friends with, and her totally cute, English-skilled friend, whose attention was directed almost exclusively at tall, blond Brian. It was good to become acquainted with the subway system, at least.
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(no subject) [Jun. 20th, 2006|02:22 pm]
[Current Location |Seika library]
[mood |deviousdevious]
[music |Talking Heads - (Nothing But) Flowers]

I walked out of conversation tutorial today, since only a few people seemed to be conversing and I wasn't one of them. I ought to feel a little bad for not engaging, but I'm not in a particularly outgoing mood today, and really, I've never been one to insert myself into a conversation I didn't find truly interesting. Instead I watched a butterfly flex its wings outside the window, and then walked off to the library. There is a buzz on campus today. I keep hearing mention of Koizumi, the Prime Minister, and "Iraku," and "Kita-chosen," which is Japanese for Iraq and North Korea, respectively. People are talking about Koizumi Junichiro's announcement for a total withdrawal of Japanese soldiers from Iraq, where there are, I read, about six hundred stationed, none of whom have engaged in combat but rather have helped to rebuild the infrastructure of a few towns. A positive contribution, no doubt, but the deployment was never popular, and was done, it seems, to appease Japan's American allies and a small but marginally powerful right wing segment of the government who wish to see a stronger military culture, something which was denied to them by the constitution drafted under Gen. MacArthur's protocol during the American occupation. The anxiety about North Korea surely concerns the imminent test launch of the new Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, purportedly capable of striking any Japanese target (as well as the Western coast of the United States). Not that my observations at Seika, essentially the Bard College of Japan, can be read as exact indications of larger cultural trends, but I have noticed that peace and diplomacy are highly valued here, and there is an emphasis on demilitarization in the politics of the youth. Today, outside the cafeteria, some students and faculty were handing out fliers reading "Marines Go Home," alluding to the presence of American Military bases on Japanese territory. Of course no one has said anything to me, but I sense some stigma attached to me to the extent that I represent a country presently at war, and an unjustified war at that. It is something I would like to talk to the Japanese about. I do not anticipate any blame being placed on me personally, just as, I don't think, anyone today can rationally blame contemporary Japanese for the national involvement in WWII, but sensitive issues such as these are intensely interesting to me, and I wish I possessed the linguistic skills to guage the sentiments of students here regarding the sometimes conflicting values of "internationalism" and pacifism.

Incomprehensible as I may be, I have begun to have actual conversations with people here. Yesterday, after a vocabulary-building game of pictionary during conversation tutorial hour, I hung around class with a graduate student named Satoshi, who told me about his thesis project on American-style capitalism (the Starbucks Effect). We discussed, in a foggy combination of strained English and hesitant Japanese, out cultural studies, as well as our appreciation for the music of Paul Simon and Miles Davis. We also talked about drinking, a national pasttime of the Japanese, and how we take our whiskey. I mentioned that I'd bought about a gallon of Suntory premium on Saturday and that I'd like to see it drained by good company, and we sort-of hatched a plan to gather our friends at the girl's dorm on Friday evening, get some tipsy, and head out for a night of karaoke. People seem to like this idea. It would make my weekend to be able to make a fool of myself through song and thus endear myself to cute Japanese girls. Rin-san also seemed to like the idea. I met Rin at the welcoming party last week, where I taught him "bling bling." He happened to be randomly assigned to me as my first English conversation tutorial student, and we met yesterday. In addition to a few useful English phrases and an explanation of idiomatic speech, I taught him the word "schvitz." When I told him it was a Yiddish phrase, he knew immediately that it had its origins with the Jewish people, which truly impressed me. I don't expect most Americans to recognize a marginalized language like Yiddish, and across the Pacific, here's this funky college student in a rasta hat who knows what a Yid is. In part because he was wearing such a hat, and also because he is a cool dude attending a liberal arts college, I asked Rin the Question, which prompted uneasy laughter and a joking search for cameras in the room. No one has yet to satisfactorily answer the Question, and the half of our Bardian group who truly wish for the Answer are beginning to resign ourselves to abstinence. All the same, Rin-san knows what a mizu-pipu is.

An unnerving fact is beginning to settle upon our group: we do not have enough time. At lunch today Stephanie brought up this truth. Last semester, the prospect of five weeks in Kyoto seemed like So Much. To the extent that we are all very fortunate to be here and to have an opportunity to flirt with another language and culture, it truly is So Much. But the cliche that time flies when you're having fun is magnified in its significance when there are just so many things one can be doing with one's time. I've been here a week and I have not visited a single temple, when this city is renowned around the world for its multitude of astoundingly beautiful, intricate temples and shrines. Is it a base, consumptive urge for me to want to take in with my eyes (and my camera) the edges of the ancient castle and the glint of the golden pavilion? Just as I want to gorge on sushi delivered to me by a conveyor belt, so too I wish to know all the ways to all the shrines, all the art museums, all the public parks stocked with enormous koi and graceful cranes. And there is simply not enough time. It is difficult enough to resign my stay here to a single city when Tokyo calls to me from the novels and cinema etched into me, and the sea surrounds the whole nation, wet and warm and probably free to the public. I may go to Nara to dip myself in the hot springs and stand in the shadow of the peaceful Buddha, but even that is a compromise, one less day in Kyoto.

My exploration of the city so far has been limited by my bike-less-ness (to be entirely honest, I never learned how to ride, but certainly will before I return here) and my ignorance of the mass transit system. Saturday was a little shitty. We're here in the middle of uki, the rainy season, and while I wouldn't say that the weather here is as wet or as erratic as it is in Florida, in Florida I am less inclined to adventure. It rained all of Saturday, but all the same, Pavel and I set out from the Kino-ryo in the afternoon, intending to locate the post office, an important circuit of Japanese life, since the post office also functions as a bank, cashing traveler's checks and such. It turns out that it our local post office is only open for an hour and a half every day, and we'd missed our window. A little down the street we saw a clothing store called Right-On and, hoping to find something wacky and unique, went in, only to find that it is about the same as the GAP. Heading back towards campus, we stopped by the Life Is Wonderful liquor store, which offered for sale the tallest, thickest bottles of hard booze either of us had ever seen. I went with a relatively small model, the aforementioned gallon of Suntory, with which I expect to make it a relaxing time.

Sunday was a little better. Gen, Georgia, Max, Bethany and myself left in the A.M. by foot for central Kyoto, and after two and a half hours of continuous walking (with intermittent experimentation with vending machine beverages - Bikkle is my new favorite, followed by Qoo, and then C.C. Lemon, with the equivalent of 70 lemons' worth of Vitamin C in every bottle) we found ourselves at the point where the city's two main rivers converge. We spotted a Pachinko Parlor, one of the agreed-upon destinations of our sojourn, but decided that nothing else could be done until we had eaten lunch. After polling and vetoing a few vendors, we found a quaint, sit-down restaurant where I ordered a big bowl of saucy rice with unagi (eel, a favorite of mine) on top, which came with some amazing Japanese pickles which really ought to be exported as a national treasure. After having walked for so long in the breezy heat, the simple dish, with a few glasses of iced water, was probably one of the most satisfying meals I'd ever had. While we digested our meals we also had to digest what we were seeing on the TV mounted toward the rear of the restaurant, on which a petite Japanese girl was shown eating a mountain of rice with curry sauce about the size of a road cone. She probably finished it, but I had to look away, so I will never know. Considering that a skinny Japanese dude has out-eaten his obese American counterparts at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest for the past five years, I'm going to guess that she succeeded in her task. I sure hope she won something nice.

We left the restaurant and went straight into the Pachinko Parlor, which was about as loud inside as a shooting range. Pachinko is a game similar to "plinko" on the American afternoon life-waste The Price Is Right, sort of a combination of a slot machine and pinball, wherein one pays money for a large quantity of steel ball bearings which are fed into the machine and rapidly propelled through it. The object is to control the force by which the balls are propelled (by a trigger or dial) so that they bounce along a series of pins and into a slot. Get a ball in the slot, get three back. Gambling is technically illegal in Japan, but the proprietors of Pachinko parlors have cleverly skirted the law. If one has sat at a "lucky machine" and has acquired more balls than he put in, he may take his bucket of spheres to a counter in the back of the parlor where he may exchange the heavy mass for any number of "gifts", such as cigarette cartons or leather goods, which he can bring to another shop next door, where these "gifts" will be purchased back for a set price. In this way one can break even. None of us did. After a few ten thousand yen notes we all decided to call it quits, admiring and envying the small, chain-smoking men and women who had accumulated around them bucket after bucket of ball bearings, stacked like loot from a raid. We did some shopping and got our daily recommended requirement of ridiculous English from a store called "Bruce-Pee: Ill Store Kyoto, Extra Dope Select Wear". Lipton Teas has a cafe in the enormous multiple-city-block covered mall where they serve the most amazing deserts you are likely to ever find. There is also a store there which sells bladed goods of every imaginable variety, from hair trimmers to throwing stars. I shall return.

All for now.
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こんにちわ、ビチェズ [Jun. 17th, 2006|11:37 am]
[Current Location |としょかんで in the library]
[mood |optimisticoptimistic]
[music |Jeff Buckley - Lost Highway]

So after I finished writing my first entry to this blog, I went back onto campus with the rest of my class for an evening welcome party held for us in the cafeteria by certain members of the administration, our Bard professor Michiko, and the good students who have volunteered to assist us with out lessons. We were asked to sit two Bard kids to a table and to write our names in the katakana syllabary (used for the phonetic spelling of foreign words), so our new friends could more easily figure out the pronunciation. The volunteer students come from a broad range of disciplines. I sat with two design majors and a psychology major who called herself "Sakura" and who spoke her limited English with grace and finesse. When I told her, in Japanese, that her English was skillful, she giggled adorably. I was glad to see that the Seika students were as nervous to meet us as we were to meet them. A hip, skinny dude named Yuzu-san and I talked about the hurricanes and alligators of Florida, and how much cooler Japanese cellphones are than those in America. Can your cellphone translate "alligator" into six languages, store and play complete movies, and take print-quality digital pictures? Perhaps you'll have one in a couple years, but by then the Japanese will be using theirs to travel through time, or perhaps communicate with deceased relatives in the land of wind and ghosts.

The administration had the excellent insight to provide us with a copious supply of Asahi beer, and this party, which had no music, was held in a concrete cafeteria, and was populated by two groups barely on the cusp of comprehending one another, turned out to be just about the most purely enjoyable social event I've ever been to. The students were so outgoing, and nervous, and attractive! Humor was continuously found in the mere attempt at communication, and mundane topics such as the seasoned French fries being served became points of departure for ridiculously funny, adorably awkward exchanges. Slang is popular linguistic currency here, and "ohhhh shitzu" needs no explanation. Bling-bling was traded for pika-pika, and once an American is able to translate "shut your pie-hole" into "kindly close your rice-hole", there is no use attempting to stem the flood of absurdity. The administration allowed the party to continue a half-hour after schedule, but then had to close it down for cleaning. Many of us decided that the night ought to continue, and I suggested a Uiskii paatii, remembering the bottle of Jack Daniels my friends and I had purchased duty-free somewhere over the Yukon territory. A UC Davis student also named Jonathan and I fetched it from my closet in the Kino-ryo and then brought it to the Doho-kan, where it was rapidly drained by a few willing Americans and our Japanese friends. Excellent pictures exist somewhere of excellent faces being made.

Classes began the next day. I managed to kill my mild hangover in time for the 9:10am class with two cans of vending machine coffee and a wacky breakfast hot dog pastry they serve in the cafe above the cafeteria. Some simple things I love about Japan include 500¥ coins, which is about $5 but the size of a quarter and with which it is delightful to purchase a whole meal. I have also developed a great fondness for onigiri, which are (often triangular) rice balls wrapped in nori and filled with some yummy substance which is a consistent surprise for me because I am practically illiterate. Also there are vending machines everywhere, stocked with chilled and delicious beverages of an amazing variety and which ought to be brought to the States. Does Coca Cola Citra exist stateside yet? Ever have any Qoo? Milk tea? I can now attest to tastiness of beverages such as Pocari Sweat and Calpis. "Engrish" exists everywhere, in various forms, and the text I've seen on clothing includes the following:

"Battered is better," on the back of a girl's shirt. Open to interpretation.
"Shoot the life"
"Hot apples hot apples hot apples hot apples..."
"Too Drunk To Fuck"
"Hard Boiled Here To Stay"
"Grapefruits Existence Bewary"

I have also seen a few DARE shirts, as well as a couple guys wearing what can only be described as doo rags but which can serve no practical purpose, as I've yet so see any Japanese men with braided hair.

Let me tell you about Japanese children's television programing. It is the shit, and American producers ought to raise their big, shameful eyes and take note. In particular there is a series of segments which run at around 5pm which teach children English (and not in the lame way that Dora the Explorer tries to teach gringo kids a few Spanish phrases), encourage physical exercise, grace, and harmony, inculcate an appreciation for classical music (a puppet show called You Gotta Quintet!), and teach the customs and ritual practices of various social classes from throughout Japanese history. All this while also managing to be very funny, aesthetically creative, enthusiastic, and endearingly cute. In particular are the segments with little Japanese kids (quite possibly the adorable element of the human species) running around and playing games, called karada de asobu, which translates to "leisurely passing time with our bodies." It has occurred to several of us to try and record these shows on VHS and bring them home, where we can enjoy them all over again with reddened eyes and profound philosophic insight.

Japan is fun. Surely we Americans are a people prone to an infatuation with novelty, and little difrerences can fetch a lot of attention. Even in a major city like Kyoto, one finds patches of land behind residences flooded and sprouting with rice, full of thick tadpoles which race away upon seeing the pedestrians approach. Erotic magazines are sold across from hair products in the convenience stores, where one may purchase hard liquor and fresh octopus, and a tube of shaving cream about the size of a Hi-Liter costs about the same as a six-pack of Kirin. And when the novelty of the commonplace wears off, there will still be Disco Bowling, and the Japanese Honky Tonk, conveyor belt sushi restaurants and karaoke. I have yet to visit the any of the many shrines, temples, art museums, and open markets for which this city is renowned, but it is now only my first weekend here. I will go out into the city today. Yesterday, after conversation tutorial (where my Japanese partner was a girl who went by the nickname 'Shanaynay'), a few of my classmates and I decided to walk over to Takagaike Lake and Park, a beautiful forested area in the hillsides of the northern ward. We entered the park through a mossy graveyard, where there were cute Sanrio-style animals drawn on the posted signs. Rose, the charm of our class, and I rented a rowboat for an hour from a man who was desperately concerned that we'd tip it over as we switched seats. The green of Japan genuinely seems more vibrant than that of Florida or New York, just so much green. Koi and handsome ducks (quite unlike the tumorous beast-fowl of my hometown) swam right up to our boat. I had not been out on calm water in maybe ten years, had nearly forgotten what it does to me. Rose is good company, too, and told me one of the best stories I'd heard in a long while, about herself and a dead black bird and love, which I cannot repeat here because it is not my story yet. We walked around the lake and practiced our funky Japanese, and then found a coffee shop and specialty goods store run by a Finnish woman who's been living in Japan for the past thirty years. This coffee is delicious. Your clock is cute. I am dirty. You are a [mental] patient? Alligators in Florida. Is warm. Is scary! Believe me, it was lots of fun.

Last night I ordered pizza in Japanese. Torturous? Yes, but it arrived, and was totemo oishii.
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(no subject) [Jun. 17th, 2006|10:39 am]
[Current Location |Seika University library]
[mood |jiggy]
[music |Echo and the Bunnymen - The Killing Moon]

So far it is agreed upon by all: Japan is sweet. Save for some minor frustrations involving the lack of street names and incredibly confusing, inadvertant keyboard settings, Japan is sleek, modern, sexy, and totally green. Check it: there are no napkins to be found anywhere, and it scarcely seems to matter; the Nihonjin are remarkably adept at not making a mess, and after a busy lunch session in the cafeteria, there isn`t a spot to be found on a table, unless, of course, someone like me was sitting there. The ubiquity of paper wipes in America sends a message to the motor neurons: you don`t have to try too hard. Additional waste-prevention measures include clever Western-style toilets (as opposed to the traditional squatters) which have a sink in the tank lid. Upon flushing, fresh tap water flows from a faucet and into a hole in the lid, filling up the tank and providing clean water for a wash. Neat!

Then there is the major frustration of the language. The Japanese language, as a system, is strikingly self-consistent, especially in comparison with English, in which it seems sometimes like exceptions are the rule, and idiom dominates. In English, for example, expressing the idea of a particular language may involve any number of suffixes, -ish, -ese, -ian, -ic, etc. In Japanese, it is always "go". Japanese is Nihongo. English is Ego. French is Furansugo. Arabic is Arabiago. This consistency undoubtedly helps in the learning of the language, but the grammatical forms are hardly Romantic, and it is more than just a little difficult to master the thousands of pictoral characters borrowed from the Chinese, called kanji here. So far I have had two days of intensive, three-hour, Japanese-only classes, followed by lunch and conversation tutorial with Seika students, and I've come to feel a little like an autistic toddler. The types of thought I am proficient in expressing run the gamut from ---- is ----, Is ---- ----?, ---- is ----, right?, and I like/love/dislike -----. I've got a few more up my sleeve, but when it comes time to play them to a Japanese audience, my apprehension often causes me to stumble. Hai, hai, hai, sou deska? Arigato goziamashta! Ittekimas! It's getting a little old. Perhaps now would be a good time to do some serious studying, huh?
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(no subject) [Jun. 14th, 2006|03:59 pm]
[Current Location |Kyoto Seika University, Iwakura district]
[mood |pleasedpleased]

The first culinary delight I enjoyed in the ancient cultural capital of Kyoto was a small plate of squid purchased from a 24-hour convenience store (a Circle K, to be exact) a couple blocks from my dorm. It was delicious. We arrived yesterday, and after an astoundingly easy pass through customs at Kansai Airport our group boarded sexually segregated shuttle buses for the two-hour ride from Osaka to Kyoto. The lot of us had just spent the past fourteen hours straddling the stratosphere and the shuttle ride, though not exactly exciting, was welcomed for its proximity to solid matter and the bright signs of pachinko parlors and other visible, non-cloud objects. Those of us in the men's bus played a game of geography for at least an hour, during which we recounted quite possibly every place on this traversable sphere which begins and ends with the letter A. Then we tried playing a version involving animals which quickly turned into a debate as to whether the ring worm qualifies as such. When we arrived at the dorm for male international students, the Kino-ryo, we were introduced to the charming older couple who live on the first floor, Okaasan and Otoosan, polite and proper for 'Ma' and 'Daddy', who speak only Japanese and who strictly enforce the no-shoes-beyond-the-vestibule rule. We were given our in-house slippers and led to our rooms, where we were warned, with the help of a polyglot Finnish student, about the poisonous centipedes (tongs on every floor) and the odd gentleman who is sometimes caught masturbating on his moped outside (tongs on every floor). We have air conditioning and free laundry machines, but there is only internet access in the women's dorm, the Doho-kan, where I am right now, waiting for Georgia and Briana to return from their ice cream excursion.

Kyoto Seika University is on the outskirts of the city, and we've yet to go exploring beyond the campus itself, which is beautiful and well-designed, with fabulous facilities that must be duplicated in America. For example, there is a section in the library with short tables, tatami mats, and pillows, where students are free to nap or browse their erotic manga or whathaveyou. It is agreed upon by all that the ratio of attractive students at Seika is astronomical, and we've already developed a code term for cute girls ("hot apples," based on a shirt a cute girl was wearing), though I'd say the ratio is about equivalent to that of our own group. We're a cute bunch. I've yet to see any monkeys, though I'm told they wander the campus and will brazenly seize any unattended food items. There are also peacocks and deer on campus, and, like I said, lots of pretty students.

Class begins tomorrow, and everyone is appropriately nervous. I think all of us feel like our brains have entropied over the three weeks between the end of the semester and our arrival here. Thankfully, in addition to class there is a casual conversation session every day between us Bard kids and Kyoto Seika students, and I've also signed up for an English tutorial in which I help Japanese students with their English speaking skills, so hopefully the linguistic interchange will boost my vocabulary and perhaps land me a few friends.

I think that's all for now.
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