So one distinctly Japanese thing that I was quickly introduced to was Karaoke boxes. These are private rooms that you rent out, alone or in a group, that have a audio system installed. This includes 2 microphones to sing into, a screen that plays music videos, and a little tablet device with a list of songs to choose from. The general process is to pick one song and then pass it to the next person in line, then wait till it comes back to you. Repeat until you get too tired (though the process does dissolve somewhat as everyone starts to feel their drinks more). You of course get to sing during your song, but people often sing along with others songs as well. Certain hits (lose yourself, dream on, etc.) and nearly guaranteed to turn into a whole room experience, while slower or more niche picks are more likely to be solo or duet performances. The place I have been to is called manekineko, and a big plus it has it that included in the cost is endless soft drinks, coffee, popcorn, and ice-cream. One downside is that you don’t choose your room, an different rooms have different songs, so you can quite often find out that what you wanted to sing is not offered there. I, for example, have not yet found a room that has Rap God by Eminem, much to be regret.
While initially wary of the whole concept, after experiencing I can sincerely say that America should get on board. If you can go with the right group, it can prove very entertaining and refreshing. It’s a great way to get a peak at the personalities of other people, not to mention learn some new songs.
So after being in Yamagata City, Japan for a little bit, I think I have developed enough of an opinion to write about it. First off, I would like to say that the comments I heard about it being a small city were exaggerated. It might indeed be small by Japan standards, but compared to Norman its a veritable metropolis. There is a movie theater across from the dorm, a variety of stores, karaoke bars, and easy (if a little expensive) travel to the larger city of Sendai. Oh, and buildings taller than 2 stories that aren’t on campus. The natural environment is also much more interesting: the mountains are a constant backdrop and the sky has the interesting quality of hardly ever moving. This last bit gives everything a very picturesque quality to it. One thing has remained constant: college involves a lot of walking. However, unlike at OU where the walking generally took place in getting from class to class on the huge campus, here at Yamagata the campus is quite small. The necessity of walking arises from the distance of the dorm from the university, and the lack of a car. This makes any type of trip-entertainment, grocery, food-a more involved affair. For example, you may have to wonder if your backpack is big enough to hold the amount of groceries you bought, not to mention what that’s going to do to your back on the 15 minute walk back.
Still, I can safely say that I appreciate the change of scenery, and am not looking forward to my inevitable return to OK.
This semester I took a class on the Italian Renaissance, and it made me want to go back to Italy. Me and my mom traveled there for about a week 2.5 years ago, which was a really fun time. However, after learning about the importance of certain cities (Florence springs to mind) and famous places, I would like to travel back so I can look at everything in a different manner. Church’s will seem even cooler if I know an assassination attempt took place there, art pieces will be even more interesting if I know how much the commissioner hounded the artist for that piece, or who it was dedicated to, or why some modern man’s face appears as a background character. I suspect the same thing will happen after I take my Japanese history class, which will be a shame as that takes place after my trip abroad. In any case, I would recommend taking history/literature classes for people who like to travel abroad, even if you are in a STEM field like me.
So it should be apparent to anyone who has read these posts that my preferred international events are those that involve coffee or movies, and this is no exception. Apparently there is a movie theater in Headington Hall, and they hosted an event a while back where they played the Brazilian drama “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation”. Pizza was included, of course. Plot: a boy’s parents drop him off with his grandfather when they have to go on the run, due to the father being a communist. It turns out the grandfather has just died, and the boy is cared for by the community (primarily a neighbor who was a friend of the grandfather) while he copes with his new situation.This movie was much more of a slow burn then the others I have watched this semester, as it relied on the interactions between characters to get the viewer invested. The first part of the movie, when we didn’t really have a reason to care for any of the characters, was consequently the least the interesting. However, by the end I had reversed opinions and found the plot very engaging.
For the final meeting of Japanese club, we watched the animated move Kimi no Namae (Lit. Your Name). There was pizza once again, but this time they ordered enough and not as many people showed up, so seconds were a reality. I enjoyed the movie: the animation was really nice and the story had its emotional moments. Some background: a boy and a girl who do not know each other one day start swapping bodies occasionally. The ending was a bit of a cliche, but overall I think it was a fitting film to end the semester with. I imagine Japanese club is going to look very different when I return next year, as many of the regulars will have graduated by then.
The Second Wind meeting last week (we had two this semester!) was over study abroad experiences to Latin America. It started off a bit rocky where I thought I had gotten the day wrong again and the first people didn’t know if they were in the right spot, but we eventually settled in fine. There were 4 or 5 people who had stories to tell, but lots of people had questions so discussion went smoothly. There were so many people that after a little while the table split into around 3 sub-groups with their own individual conversations. One of the most interesting differences discussed was emphasis on accent. People were talking about not going to countries because the Spanish accent there was not to their liking. I’m sure my outlook was colored by my choice of language. For Japanese, there is one small country that speaks the language so if I don’t like the dialect/accent, tough. It seemed an embarrassment of riches to get to mark off entire countries for something that I consider such a small detail. Anyways, I am glad that Jaci is continuing to setting up these Second Wind meetings; they are probably my favorite GEF event.
The Japanese club had its first movie night, and of course it was a Studio Ghibli movie (not that I mind). The vote went to Howl’s Moving Castle, one I had seen before. Still, the ending is probably the most complicated part of any studio Ghibli movie (things always get hard to follow when time travel is introduced), so it was nice to get a second run through. The event was extremely popular: chairs from another classroom had to be pulled in and there was a scarcity of pizza. I think a lot of non-regular club members were drawn in by the allure of free pizza and the stand-out fame of Ghibli movies. The movie itself was as great as I remember. The visuals remain amazing, the characters are great, and the music -especially Howl’s Theme- is some of the best in all the Ghibli movies I have seen. The next movie is going to be a live action Japanese movie, which I have less experience with. Hopefully it will be interesting, though I doubt it will be as great as Howl was.
The other event I went to last week was an information session on the JET program. It wasn’t really a discussion format, so I will just relate some of the major points and how they relate to my situation: JET members receive funding to travel to Japan and teach English at a school there. You can re-apply after the term ends to stay another period, with the max being somewhere around 5 years. Knowledge of Japanese is not required. In fact, they would prefer if you were not too skilled at the language. Your job is to be a representative of the U.S. in Japan, bringing the culture and language to a foreign audience. That’s not to say people who have taken Japanese classes are barred, just that they are usually placed in more rural areas where the Japanese language has a deeper hold. Those with no experience are more likely to be put at a school in Tokyo or Kyoto or some other major city, where there is some English to fall back to if they get overwhelmed. JET members generally act as teacher’s assistants, with high school being the highest level of education taught. For me personally, I don’t think I will go for it unless something goes wrong. I am already applying for fullbright after graduation, and going to graduate school after that (or instead of if I don’t get accepted). The hope is that I would have a job after graduate school/post-doc studies. However, if something doesn’t follow the plan, its nice to know that there is a backup.
Last Friday I went to another of the Second Wind coffee meetings hosted by Jaci, this time with the topic being travels to the Arabic speaking world. I had another event before this so I showed up late, arriving in the middle of one student’s story. What I thought was really interesting compared to the other meetings was how much of an old hand everyone appeared to be on the subject. One of the main speakers is from the region (if I remember right, it was Egypt), another was quite proficient in the language and went so far as to dupe the study abroad program so he could travel to the country he wanted to, and the last major speaker was Jaci. The conversation at one point evolved into a linguistic argument about the merits of teaching a variant of Arabic that was supposed to be Universal but was actually rarely spoken. This also manifested itself in the ways the stories were told: everything was very personal. Cities were spoken about in ways that tourists can’t. Overall, I thought it was nice having people with such deep knowledge of the area leading the discussion. Plus, there were free donuts, which was great.
Yesterday I finally got around to watching a movie that I had heard quite a lot about: Schindler’s List. I will say that the choice to have the film be primarily black and white gives a pretty daunting first impression, but it is actually quite easy to get accustomed to. The movie definitely deserves to be remembered. It has good acting, great music, and a compelling plot. It gives one of the best portrayals of the absurdity of the whole situation that I have ever seen. Certain scenes deliberately highlight the contrast between what you would think are mutually exclusive events. Notable examples are children singing happily as they are forcibly removed from their families, attempting to repair a broken gun right in front of the man you are preparing to shoot, and scenes of parties being mixed in with brutality. The film is also great at making a point using parallel situations, most notable when a scene near the beginning of Schindler ordering opulent food for a party he’s hosting for Nazi officials is mirrored at the end when he is ordering supplies for the Jews he has saved. One last point I would like to make is that it was very meaningful seeing the gradual deterioration of the state of the Jewish people. The film starts off with minor (relative to the what happens later) restrictions and ends up at Auschwitz, with every step in between surprising you with just how effective a society can be at cannibalizing its own people. I highly recommend the movie, though you should prepare to leave in a worse mood than you came in with.