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last step before the fall

weill in japan: day 29

The class is unhappy, the midterm is about to happen, and the future of the course is up in the air.

Yesterday, our third period began with a discussion of our concerns with the course's content and methods. Several students have expressed their displeasure with the repetitive nature of the class, and the midterm will be no exception to this rule. The "interview" section of the exam simply consists of answering prewritten questions by reciting a section of the textbook verbatim. No independent thought whatsoever is part of the test.

Although we've already started the next unit, the future of the course is being left up to us -- at least on paper. Today at the opening of the third period, we were given two large-format sheets of paper. One contained the syllabus of everything we've done to date, with blank spaces in the fifth and sixth weeks. The other sheet contained several blanks for us to write things that we would like to learn. Of course, these suggestions are optional and will be accepted at the discretion of the course staff. Somehow I'm doubtful that things will change. Although we're being given the option, it's very hard for students to effectively rewrite the lesson plan on a few days' notice. Somehow I would think that the professors should be in charge of planning worthwhile lesson plans.

I have seen few courses crash and burn like this one has so far. It's getting to the point where if someone were to ask me for advice about going to ICU, I'd say "don't come for the classes." Other classes' students are complaining of high homework volume, although boredom doesn't seem to be as much of a problem outside of our class. The focus for many students has shifted to recreational activities, especially as just 2 1/2 weeks remain in the summer program.

Project work also seems to be a question mark as the course continues into the second half. We have had one group presentation assignment, but it was centered around the same data as all other groups. Outside another classroom, several oak tag posters display brightly colored posters illustrating the surrounding area. Although it seems to be even more unproductive busy work than the poster we made on Friday, the other class's project smacks of creativity. We were told in the first week that a PowerPoint presentation was in the schedule, but I don't know how that will pan out.


It's unusually expensive to call a mobile phone from a pay phone. When calling today, it cost 30 yen (25 cents) to leave a 30-second message on a voice mail system. I didn't even have enough time to give my phone number on the message as the coins dwindled down. At least the remaining 120 yen ($1.00) that I put in the machine was returned to me.

It's a good thing that I checked my bank balances on-line today. Postal Services ATMs, which accept my ATM card, withdraw only from checking. Net result: my checking balance for the past few days has been less than negative $100. Fortunately, I can straighten everything out on-line.

Some students in the dorms are having a competition to see who has the most outrageous outfit. One woman wore a common shirt that says "Financial disclos (sic) is like a bikini / What it reveals is interesting / What it conceals is essential." She was one-upped by a male student wearing a blue bodysuit reading "Ganbare Nippon" ("Let's Go Japan") that he picked up from the World Cup merchandise clearance racks at a department store. Something tells me he won the grand prize: drinks from everyone else participating.

Milestone: I have used a word in real life that I learned from a video game, without any awkward moments. One elder in Final Fantasy IV (Japanese) uses the term gosenzo to refer to his ancestors; I used the same word with my professor on the bus when discussing my family. Word understood, mission accomplished.

Used book and CD stores are a Good Thing. They sell used discs for ¥1000 ($8.30), substantially less than the ¥3000 ($25) that a new CD typically costs in Japan. If I cared about manga, I could get it for half price at these stores too.

Time to wrap up studying, get a solid night's sleep, and be ready for the exam tomorrow.