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weill in japan: day 37

On this day 57 years ago, the United States Army dropped a second atomic bomb on the western city of Nagasaki, prompting Japan to surrender the Pacific theater of World War II. Today in class, a surprisingly tolerable week came careening back to reality.

It's not the fall, it's the sudden stop at the end. The first three days of this week had been pretty good: little homework, but late nights due to games and miscellaneous slacking-like tasks. We had been exploring new material in class as per our suggestions last week, but today at 10:40 AM was when one of our professors stopped all of that in its tracks.

Before getting into the details, I should point out that the class's attitude as a whole has not improved visibly this week. We have been conditioned to expect very little, and we give less in return. Today we had 10 out of the 13 people present at 8:30 AM for the start of classes. One would arrive a few minutes late, another would arrive after the second hour, and a third was staying in the dorm, explicitly refusing to come to class. After the second hour, one student took the rest of the day off. We had no more than 11 students in the room during any point in class, and 1 1/2 of the two absences were voluntary. Earlier on in the program, I remarked that we were "losing students"; today, we were gone. I was likely unconscious for brief (less than one minute) sections due to a lack of caffeine and a less-than-full night's sleep.

That said, on with the horror story. The first two hours were with the more entertaining of our two professors, but even then the mood was very tired and lackadaisical. I blame my fatigue on insufficient sleep, and I don't think most of the class is getting their eight hours every night either. The first two hours were a bad sign of things to come. I should have bailed. The third hour began with students receiving a two-page article and being directed to read it. That made up the entirety of the third hour. Worse, most of the new vocabulary words had no readings presented, forcing students to bury themselves in dictionaries to look up the characters by their component parts. This is often a clumsy and time-consuming process. I zoned out completely, reading about halfway through before completely losing interest. The fourth hour was "discussion," which essentially consisted of a long sheet of questions which we were to spend 20 minutes answering and 30 minutes discussing collectively.

I don't have an English-language dictionary on me, but if I did I would look up the meaning of the word "discussion." Today's debacle signaled by far the most horrific and pathetic exercise that this class has done to date. If you've been following these writings for the last five weeks, you would know that this class has been defined in my mind by pointless exercises and little actual learning. Today's "discussion" consisted of the professor reviewing the material by asking questions and expecting people to answer by reading the appropriate section of the text. Having zoned out for much of the reading period, I was completely clueless and tried to ad-lib my responses when asked. The professor, naturally, disapproved of this digression from the script. I didn't care. There were long periods when the teacher would ask a student a question, wait several seconds for a response, and then ask a second student the same question. Even with the air conditioner fan blowing, you could have heard a pin drop. It was absolutely terrible.

One other student was visibly upset by all of this, and responded -- in English -- "I don't know where we are" in response to a question. The teacher offered to clarify, but my classmate knew as well as the rest of us how poor the professor's explanations are and declined. He later excused himself from the classroom. I walked with him to the dining hall after class in complete silence, awed by the complete vacuum we had just left.

My post-secondary school experience has been humbling to say the least. However, today was completely inexcusable. I was so stunned by the way we pissed away two hours today that I couldn't complain to anyone in the program's administration. I don't know if I will personally, but I will happily reiterate these complaints on an evaluation form if one is provided.

As we began to eat lunch, my classmate and I began to vent our shock at the other ICU students from other classes with whom we sat. That was a form of therapy, at least until we could change the subject. The bitterness towards teaching methods seems to be concentrated in our class; nobody else is complaining about quite the same things as myself and my classmates. The most common complaint across the board has been a high homework volume and fast pace, but today was defined by a pace so slowly it was moving backwards at times. I write this some 12 hours after my last class concluded, and I still have trouble believing what went on there.

Tomorrow is Friday. Oh yeah, we also have a final exam (or a "second midterm exam" as the summary sheet describes it) this coming Monday. That test, announced four days in advance, will be our second in a span of two weeks. We don't have a final project like some classes, but we do have a presentation of some sort on Wednesday. My last weekend in Tokyo will likely be spent studying if I feel like passing these last few assignments.

game therapy

Rather than go home right away to whine in Japanese to my host family, I stayed on campus for a while. After taking care of some technical business by uploading 493 pictures from my laptop to an on-line photography site for future sharing, I left for the bright lights of Kichijoji. A friend of a friend offered to reimburse me for the cost and shipping for up to ten Dance Dance Revolution games if I could find them for less than $15 each. Kichijoji has a few used-game stores, so I checked them for DDR games. Most places didn't have any, but one store had the first four titles on the list (DDR 1st, 2nd, 2nd Append 1, and 2nd Append 2). The prices were right, too. The price for one of the discs I bought was ¥80, or about 67 cents U.S. That's cheaper than it costs to play DDR in an arcade! I could have sworn it was a typo or that the price was just for the soundtrack instead of the game. When my order was rung up, I was charged just ¥80 plus 5% sales tax for the full game, pre-owned. If that disc works, that could just be the best bargain I've found anywhere.

I'm really truly honestly done with my gift shopping now, having purchased a couple of small items and some trinkets to give away at a College Bowl tournament in November. I have purchased about 12 capsule toys while in Japan, at prices ranging from ¥100 to ¥200. Half of those will be gifts, while half are for my own use. I was overjoyed today to find a machine dispensing "tin badges" (usually called "buttons" in America) of scenes from classic Nintendo games. Since I didn't have any 100-yen coins, and since a friend of mine reported that such a machine mysteriously disappeared the day after he bought badges at it, I bought a cheap pen just to get change. I got four buttons: one shows Link fighting the first boss in The Legend of Zelda, one shows Toad saying "Thank you Mario! But our princess is in a different castle!" from Super Mario Brothers, and two have a generic-looking "Game over" screen that's supposedly from Donkey Kong. Maybe I can trade or give away one of them.

That little capsule machine saved the day. I also had fun playing through the first part of Riviera, an RPG for the SwanCrystal that I bought today. Released as a launch title on July 12, the game plays like a traditional RPG but has special moves during battles that look more like an SNK Versus Capcom game than a role-playing battle. Very, very sweet. The SwanCrystal is based around RPG franchises, and it does not disappoint there at all. I now have four games for it, three of which are RPGs. All are entirely in Japanese, but only Riviera includes Kanji characters on the low-resolution screen.

Bad day at school means good day at play. That's a good system. I really hope nothing catastrophic happens on Friday.