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weill in japan: day 17

The second week of classes is over, and yesterday some friends and I commemorated that fact with a trip to the bustling commercial district of Shinjuku. Getting to Friday was quite a challenge, though.

Classes are still very boring, and a chore to get through. Several students have started to talk about skipping classes because of their whole pointless nature. Of course, that would prevent students from receiving the five to ten handouts we receive each day, many of them in annoying large-format A3 size. I have been keeping up on homework assignments, but I don't know how much longer I can hold up. There's still four full weeks to go, after all.

Another annoyance: teachers are supposed to give three breaks each day, from 9:20 to 9:30, 10:20 to 10:40, and 11:30 to 11:40. Every day, one of these breaks is given more than 10 minutes behind schedule or not at all. Result: planning activities with friends in other classes is very difficult. I tried to give my home number to a friend of mine during the 11:30 break, but we spent that time walking to the computer lab as a class. That effectively shot down my plans this weekend, although I will probably still go out solo Saturday and Sunday.

go for a ride

Today, I met up with three other Carnegie Mellon students to visit Shinjuku, Tokyo's booming business and shopping district. We spent much of the first hour there getting hopelessly lost in and around the mammoth Shinjuku train station. This station spans about four city blocks, and has connections to virtually every train and bus system imaginable. Like most big stations, this one has acres of shopping located just steps away. I went to a sporting goods store, but still couldn't find any affordable Japan soccer team merchandise, or any professional Japanese baseball merchandise at all. We did, however, find an arcade across the street.

Milestone: Today was the first time that I played Dance Dance Revolution while in Japan.

The game was DDRMax2 (Dance Dance Revolution 7th Mix), which was one that I had never played before. I was also about two months out of practice when I stepped up, struggled through one song, and failed a second. My friends got some good laughs and photos, though. Three "Light Mode" songs later, I was satisfied but not exactly willing to walk. The DDR machine, along with many other crowd-drawing games like Guitar Freaks, Beatmania, and Drummania, was located in a semi-enclosed ground floor with no air conditioning. Physically intensive games shouldn't be played in 90-degree heat and high humidity.

Because of the large crowds in Shinjuku, we happened to cross paths with a large anti-war protest with hundreds of people gathered to speak on a megaphone. We must have been offered flyers by about 20 different people. This was one of the events that American students were specifically warned about at the pre-departure orientation, and so we made our way through the proceedings as quickly as possible.

While in Shinjuku, we met up with another CMU student, a graduate student in Chemical Engineering. He was very familiar with the area, and showed us to the Tochu Tower (aka the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower). Like the Tokyo Tower, a famous tourist trap, the Tochu Tower allows visitors to see beautiful panoramic views of Tokyo. Unlike the Tokyo Tower, the Tochu Tower is free of charge and didn't have as many people visiting when we went. A vending machine, a small cafe, a (closed) souvenir stand and a Print Club photo sticker machine were the only ways to spend money while at the 45th floor observation deck.

The view of Tokyo from this tower was breathtaking. At 7:30 PM on a Friday night, the city was alive. Because of the city's proximity to Haneda International Airport, all of the buildings had bright red beacons on their roofs. Offices and apartment buildings were lit up, and the shopping district glowed brighter than anything else I've seen. In the clear evening sky, Mount Fuji was visible in the distance. I took a ton of pictures, but the quality won't be the best because it was night time. Maybe I'll go back during the day some time.

Dinner was at yet another small noodle place, this time in the basement of one of the department stores. The food was very good -- even though we only had noodles, soup, seasonings, and some gyoza dumplings, it was very satisfying.

Shinjuku has a lot of shopping, but I didn't get to check that out too much. Maybe another time. Our grad student friend pointed out that at the end of the day, a lot of food places in department stores and stations will deeply discount prices to avoid having stock left at closing time. This is true: as we made our way back to our respective homes, a lot of stores were practically disposing of goods, reducing prices by 60% to 80%.

Milestone: My train home was the most crowded I've ever been on, and the first one in Japan to close its doors on me.

Even though my evening ended fairly early, I was exhausted from dragging my full backpack through city streets for hours. I got some ice cream from the station, walked home, and did some laundry.

Like any day, Friday means that a lot of homework is assigned to be done over the weekend. I'll get it done, but I won't let it stop me from pursuing fun in nearby places like Kichijoji.