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The Dreamer and the Mouse

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 22/12/2007)

A lot has happened since I last wrote and there’s a lot I want to cover so consequently there probably won’t be the same level of detail for these events as for earlier entries.

I had my first negative cultural misunderstanding the other day.  Considering I’ve been here for a full semester I’d say that’s not too bad.  It was also kind of encouraging to be able to have an argument in Japanese, win (if there is such a thing in arguments), and be able to apologize successfully afterwards.  Learning foreign languages is very difficult because even if you understand the word you don’t necessarily understand the meaning.  You know what the word means but you don’t know what the word feels like to hear or to be spoken in a certain way.

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A few nights ago I went bowling for the first time in Japan.  Bowling in Japan is pretty much like bowling in the US except the bowling alley here is much more modern than any alley I’ve ever been to in the US.  Bowling alleys in the US seem to me to be relics of the past that are struggling to hang on in today’s society.  This bowling alley was clean and the ball return worked every time and the pins were always set up correctly.  However, the sensor that detects which pins have fallen over and which are still standing seemed to work entirely randomly and almost every time it would show pins standing that weren’t and miss some that were.  I ended up bowling the best game of my life with a score of 132.  The ball just felt right and I was able to get spares almost every time.  Kaitlyn had a really bizarre style where she would charge headlong at the lane and end up sitting after shotputting the ball out in front of her but despite her unorthodox approach she achieved very good results.  I was happily surprised that the bowling shoes came just up to my size (32) but they looked absolutely ridiculous.  After the bowling I finally had my first purikura (print club) experience!  I’ve been wanting to do that since I got here because my roommate always comes home with really cool-looking pictures every time he goes out with his many Japanese girlfriends.  We put our coins in the slot and all of a sudden colored curtains began dropping in the back (on top of my and Peter’s heads) and the camera began counting down (san-ni-ichi-click!).  The booth takes six pictures and you choose the best four and then run outside and scribble all over some touch screens for a few minutes until you’re happy with the pictures and then everyone gets a set.  It was deliriously fun and I think we ended up with some really good pictures.

Purikura Makino Bowling Me, Kaitlyn, Peter, Ryousuke

The other day I carried a large package for a friend to the post office and got it sent off to Korea for her (she’d already returned during the weekend) and then I cashed in a money order and decided since I had lots of free time and energy that I should do some exploring.  I went to Yamadaike Park again, this time during the daytime.  It’s a really big park with lots of paths running all over through the forest and a big pond in the middle and a big field on the other side.  Yes, big is the word of choice to describe this park.  The previous time I was here the park was overrun with wild cats but during the daytime it definitely belongs to the crows.  There were hundreds of them.  There were many people out enjoying the afternoon in the park but I was the only one I saw under fifty years old.  Perhaps it was because of the time of day (about 2:00 in the afternoon) and maybe most kids weren’t out of school yet and other people were still at work.  I was happy to see all of the signs next to trees giving the Japanese names and I thought it was interesting that most tree names either end with “gi” or “ki”.  They are always written in katakana but I wonder if the kanji at the end is “ki” (木), the kanji for tree.  Anyway, I walked around, took some pictures of crows and cats, greeted a few elderly people who were staring in wonder at the lanky foreigner traipsing around in the trees, and then walked to Kuzuha because I hadn’t been there during the day yet either.  I had a good time poking around in residential areas for awhile and then I wound up at Kuzuha Mall right next to the train station.  I went in to check it out and it’s pretty much almost exactly the same as any other mall I’ve ever been to.  I really don’t care much for malls or for shopping in general.

On Wednesday I got to dress up and pretend to be Santa Claus at the local kindergarten in Makino.  One of my classmates came up to me in the dining hall a few weeks ago and asked if I would be willing to do it.  I said sure and after that we were able to become really good friends and she introduced me to a really cool family.  Anyway, I had to sneak into the school about 9:30 in the morning and I changed into my costume in a small room in the back of the kindergarten building (separate from the rest of the elementary school).  I sat there drinking tea and talking with my friend Noriko-san (my friend Anna’s host mother) and my glasses kept steaming up because of the fake beard I was wearing.  Finally, it was time and I threw a bag of presents over my shoulder and entered the room where all the children were waiting.  There must have been a few classes combined there because I think there were about ninety kids (it felt that way anyway).  First the teacher would read off student’s names and pass me a present which I would then pass on to the student when he or she came up to the front.  When several of them had come up to receive presents, they all stood next to me in my chair and a photographer took pictures.  Then I would do it all over again with another group of five or six.  After everyone had received their presents and returned to their seats they stood up and sang a song for me.  It was really cool but I have no idea what the song was about.  Following this, the teacher asked me a few questions and then I was supposed to whisper in her ear for a little bit and then she would make up the answers for me.  She came up with some really good answers!  Anyway, there was some more smiling, waving, and ho-ho-ho-ing and then that was that.  The kids all seemed really happy but I think probably the happiest of all was me.

Can you see how fogged up my glasses got?  Those aren’t sunglasses!

Santa 1

Another shot:

Santa 2

I went to USJ on Thursday with some friends and was a little nervous at first because some friends were mad at me to begin with but we got everything worked out and had a great time together.  This was my first time at a theme park (well, other than Legoland, which is in a class of its own) and my thoughts about theme parks were confirmed – you spend a lot of money to stand around for an hour and then ride a ride which lasts a couple of minutes and then stand around another hour to ride a different ride which lasts a couple of minutes.  What I didn’t know is that the rides ARE REALLY FUN!  It’s totally worth standing around because after the first ride everyone is so hyped that you can talk with each other while waiting in line about how awesome the last ride was and about how much you’re looking forward to the next.  We did Jurassic Park first which is pretty much what I expected.  You ride a boat around and see dinosaurs (just like the movie, except with robotic dinos), and after a few dinosaurs spit on you you enter the control zone which is overrun with velociraptors and just before you’re about to get eaten by the T-Rex you plummet over a waterfall and drop a REALLY LONG WAY straight down!  You hit the water with a splash and everyone gets soaked.  Man, it was awesome.  After that we did the Spiderman 3D ride which was probably even more fun and the drop part of the ride was even more spectacular than the Jurassic Park drop except in this one you’re not actually going anywhere, the car’s just shaking and the virtual reality ground is rushing up at you.  It was great.  We also rode the roller coaster and I was quite happy with it.  You know how your stomach sometimes tingles a little bit when you’re riding in a car and you go over a hill suddenly?  It was just like that except for two minutes.  We did the ET ride after that and ET said our names which was pretty cool and we ended with the Back to the Future ride (another virtual reality ride).  There were souvenir shops everywhere selling cheap junk at outrageous prices and the hundreds of restaurants smelled great but were extremely overpriced.  It was interesting to see the Japanese vision of “America” as we walked up and down the streets.

I went to the airport last weekend to send off one of my Korean friends and it was a good experience to ride the trains out there and poke around the airport for a bit.  I think I want to check out Wakayama someday because it looked nice and semi-country with lots of promising looking mountains in the distance.

I’ve done about as much trip planning as I want to do and I’m 95% packed.  The last five percent is the hardest.  Luckily, I seem to have lots of room in my luggage even though I’ve collected more stuff this term (mostly books and pottery).  One bag is obscenely heavy though because of all the pots.  I’ve been kind of depressed the last couple of days for various reasons but I think I’m sort of pulling out of it and I should feel good once I start my trip.  I want to start off with lots of energy and a positive spirit because I know once I get tired it’s going to get pretty miserable for awhile.  I bought a compass and a thermometer at the hundred yen store so I’ll at least know what direction I’m going and how cold it is when I’m sleeping under a bridge.  I’m actually really looking forward to using my coupon for half-price chicken nuggets at McDonalds sometime.

Well, this was kind a of strange post but I had a lot of things to say and not a lot of energy with which to include details and musings.  Questions about something I’ve said (or neglected to say)?  Send me an email! (^_^)b  I’m not sure if I’ll post any more before I leave on Christmas morning but I’ll try to write a few times from internet cafes while I’m on the road.  I’m going to be keeping lots of paper notes and responding by email to anyone who sends me emails while I’m out and about too.  Merry Christmas, and good night.

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