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The day started auspiciously enough -- despite a steady rain caused by an approaching typhoon, I got to the station and to campus just fine. Although my energy waned due to a lack of coffee, I got through class without any major problems. Then I went to the computer lab to take care of a whole bunch of tasks, including my e-mail. From there, I went home. My pad holder did not. Inside is my homework, my notes, and my passport. Damn it. I called the university from my destination station, and they told me to come to the office tomorrow morning. Hopefully they'll be able to reunite me with it.
I had pointed out to my host family that although we were in Japan's rainy season, it had not rained beyond a mist since I arrived on July 3. Well, on Thursday, July 11, typhoon number 6 (aka Typhoon Shatan) will hit the city of Tokyo. Already, the city has been soaked all day with rains that ranged from mist to downpours. On television, images of the southwestern Kansai region showed entire neighborhoods submerged in flood waters. Thousands are in shelters now, and the damage is expected to be moderate in that region. I'm not sure what to expect.
In class today, our professor displayed the relatively unconcerned attitude about oncoming typhoons that many Tokyo residents seem to echo. Typhoons can be dangerous, he said, but they can also be fun. After having lived through many hurricanes, I personally find the idea of big rainstorms to be anything but fun, but we'll see how the locals handle it. On the news, live reports from train stations showed stranded commuters waving at the camera just as idiotically as on any American news broadcast. One elderly woman remarked that you can't change nature, so you might as well live with it.
Personally, I'm more worried about earthquakes. Japan is near a fault line, and every year thousands of earthquakes occur. Of course, most of those are too small to be detected, but there are occasionally low-magnitude earthquakes that can be felt in Tokyo. It has been almost 80 years since the last major earthquake hit Tokyo, but a devastating earthquake hit Kobe just seven years ago. A lot of people have a cavalier attitude towards earthquakes here, as in California, but I'm still not ready for that. If it starts shaking in a place, that's God's way of saying that you shouldn't be there.
One of the big draws for a lot of people to Japan are the modern and not-so-modern forms of entertainment here. I've been gravitating towards the ever-present video arcades and electronics stores to try out games, while others prefer anime, manga, J-pop music, or the many other diversions out there. Unfortunately, I won't make it off the waiting list for the trip to a Kabuki play, so I won't get to experience the more traditional side of Japanese entertainment.
Getting back to gaming, my older brother Toshi is the resident gamer here, and earlier this evening he showed me how to use the fantasic Sony TV upstairs to play games. He started by demonstrating how to use the PlayStation, but I wasn't interested. There was another box beneath it.
The Nintendo Family Computer, or "Famicom" for short, was marketed in the U.S. as the Nintendo Entertainment System. There are small differences between the two systems: the U.S. version could use third-party controllers, while the Japanese Famicom's controllers are hard-wired to the base. The Famicom's controllers are different, too: while both player 1 and player 2 have directional controls and A and B buttons, player 1 has START and SELECT while player 2 has a microphone (!) and volume control (!!). I didn't get to play any games that used this feature, but it looks impressive. Toshi has a collection of at least 40 Famicom games, including a couple of "copies" with plain-looking labels, and a couple of games for the Japan-only Famicom Disk System. It took a little legwork to get the connectors in order, but the system works! I am impressed -- most of those 16-year-old NES's I see in homes have long since passed into technology heaven. Even my Sega Genesis, which is only 11 years old, is taking a turn for the worse. Still, I'll enjoy it while I can. My big weakness as far as gaming goes is classic gaming. While computer-based emulators are fun, I still prefer the real thing wherever I can find it.
Whether it's over lunch or over morning coffee, social interactions are obviously a big part of my experience here. Meeting other students from all over the world is a great part of the fun. Fortunately, I've met a lot of very nice people. Not being in the dorm limits my ability to fraternize with other students, but at the same time one of the dorm students was lamenting that he doesn't get to speak Japanese enough in daily life.
As an international student here, I can now sympathize and identify at least basically with the concerns of international students back at Carnegie Mellon. Students who always speak in their native tongue, refer to their home country very often in conversation, and generally refuse to assimilate into their new culture are often criticized in the U.S., but every day my fellow students and I do the same thing. I probably speak a lot more English than Japanese every day. Interestingly, Japanese is practically an international language on campus. I'm surprised to hear people's accents manifest themselves when they speak English, but no accent is detectable in Japanese unless the person is really trying to speak improperly.
This Friday, I am part of a group heading to nearby Osawadai Elementary School to spend some quality time with 5th-grade students there. It should be an amusing experience, as the ICU students are looking forward to talking with local students while the local students feel the same way about us. Many photo opportunities abound, too.
This Saturday, Star Wars Episode 2 premieres in Japan, although I've already seen it twice and don't want to see it again. On the same day, "Pokemon: The Movie 5" premieres. That's right: there's a fifth Pokemon movie. The first one came out at least four years ago in Japan if I remember correctly, and the fad is thoroughly dead here. I was thinking about trying to get the special Japan Railways Pokemon cards, in the hopes that they will be worth thousands like the special ANA cards distributed years ago, but it's not going to happen. I'd rather be working.
The rains are pounding down on Tokyo, my passport is miles away -- hopefully behind a locked door of some kind -- and my host family has a Famicom. Things get better every day!