Yesterday in Japanese club I was able to play some of a game of Go. I say some because the game can take several hours, and when you have a bunch of novices who are unsure of the rules the turns can understandably take a while. Still, I appreciated Professor Frydman bringing the board and letting us play. Playing made me remember how much I like strategy games, and put the urge to go to boardgame club into me. Go, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a Japanese strategy game. You place colored stones on a board, with the goal being to surround as much territory as you can. The possibilities with every move combined with the simple mechanics make it a very enjoyable game, in my opinion. I hope to get to play it again.
Japanese club is timed a little unfortunately this year. It starts during my Japanese history class, but at least i am able to head over there right after class and get some club time in. It seems more organized this year, with announcements every meeting, talks about the JLPT, and developing communication with OSU’s Japanese club. Bonus: they had food the first two meetings I went to. It is also a lot busier, with the classroom regularly filled with members.
So Japan has a week long break called golden week, during which I thought it would be a great idea to work at a hot spring close to Yamagata. The weirdness of the experience starts with the ease at which the job was attained: I called the number on the card I picked up when my culture class visited the onsen, and told them I would like a job. They asked until when, then told me to meet in front of the University early the next day. This was much less stressful than I expected, but the problems of bypassing all the usual steps soon presented themselves. For one, apparently a good Japanese language base is useful, as my coworkers did not speak English. This made learning all the ins and outs of hotel cleaning staff quite interesting. But the biggest shock came at the end of the day, when I was shown to my room and told to go to sleep. Apparently my stay here was more involved than I had previously believed. Workers stayed here all day, waking up early to work, having a midday break, then going to sleep in a private room. While not completely against this idea, I would have at least like to have it mentioned, as I do not generally carry around the necessary tools for daily life. Things like, you know, spare clothes, or a toothbrush, or books/homework, really show how important they are when you do not have them.
Language classes are similar here in Japan, but with a more high school-lean. Generally, we meet once a week to take a quiz and learn new grammar/vocabulary, then get homework to turn in the next week. Lessons are almost entirely in Japanese, which is nice, but the actual content is pretty simple so it doesn’t feel like I am learning as much as I could be. This is further hampered by the lack of opportunities for self-expression in the homework or tests. Teachers here generally want a reiteration of the right answer, without giving the student an opportunity to exercise their ingenuity. This is part of why practice outside of class is so important.
One downside of the way school works here in Japan, and which is particularly relevant in a secluded place like Yamagata, is that there are not very many breaks. Aside from golden week, the devouring of which deserves its own post, the first holiday will be the 17th of July. Most days of class are not too intensive, but the lack of longer breaks makes leaving the area difficult. Compounded with the cost of travel, this makes even trips to Sendai (the closest city worth the name) a luxury. Because of this, there are still many things I want to do in Japan that I doubt I will get the opportunity to. For one, I am living on an island smaller than some states but still have not yet seen the ocean. The biggest city* in the world is a few hours by shinkansen, Kyoto is a little bit further, and Korea is a short plane trip away, but I have not been able to experience any of these. Hopefully I will have a chance to do some of them before I leave, but the time after classes and before the plane ride is very short.
In recent weeks, it appears I have finally started to settle in to Yamagata. Classes have fallen into a regular pattern, weekends have become less hectic, and favorite spots have been established. Top of the last list is Yamonosuke, a ramen shop another exchange student took me to. It is far and away the best ramen I have eaten in Yamagata, and some of the best I have ever had. I even have a regular order: miso ramen with extra spiciness. The noodles come with chashu pork, and the broth is delicious enough to drink afterwards. A personal coffee shop has not yet been found, but this is partly due to the expensive nature of poured coffee here in Yamagata. I go to one (closer) grocery store, eat more regularly, and have gotten better at managing time. It’s too bad I acquire this a month before I leave…
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.