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The fifth week of classes is over, and there are just eight days separating me from home. I don't feel homesick, but I also don't feel that next week will be all that much fun.
This class week started off smoothly, with activities on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday bordering on enjoyable. Then came Thursday, and its disastrous second half of reading and one-dimensional "discussion." I think the professors actually picked up on the students' discontent, because today's focus once again shifted.
Today was almost entirely devoted to real discussion, with the first activity of one-minute presentations leading to some interesting discussion on things like toys and food. This sort of activity engages the class in interesting topics, something that we had been practically begging for last week. After the second hour's more academic but still entertaining content, one student left for the day expecting a repeat of yesterday's horrific second half. She joined two other students who didn't show up today. (One other student left at 12:00 PM due to a pre-existing commitment. We ended the day with four people absent in a class of 13, none of whom was sick.)
Surprisingly, the second half was actually discussion-based as well. By playing a game of keep-away with yesterday's reading material, we managed to cover topics of environmental interest that weren't boring or preachy. I personally hate reading and hearing people drone on about how we're destroying the planet, as was trendy ten years ago, but today's discussion was much more internationally-oriented. With students from the U.S., Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Slovenia in the class, the discussion actually went well. The fourth hour was taken up by discussions with Japanese native speakers about the environment, bypassing the professor entirely. This sort of hands-off approach went over well with the class, ending the week on a positive note.
Plans will be light this weekend, as I tie up a few loose ends with a final visit to Akihabara (buying things to ship rather than pack) and study for our second exam on Monday. With a presentation on Wednesday and a brief report due Thursday on an environment-related topic of our choice, I expect to be pretty busy in the days to come. That's okay -- I wasted too many hours into the early morning playing my three Japanese RPGs this week.
Milestone: I am a Taiko no Tatsujin. Today, after being rudely knocked out of my Virtua Fighter 4 game by a sly challenger (more on that next) I played one game of Taiko no Tatsujin 3. After a perfect first round, a 98% second round, and a 95% third round on a four-star song, I broke 1,000,000 points for the first time. My ranking was Taiko no Tatsujin ("Taiko Master"), the highest possible. Of course, I'm not nearly as good as some of the schoolchildren who play on hard mode all the time.
Communication in arcades between people who don't know each other is pretty odd. When I and a friend played DDR with an anonymous Japanese person, the only communication was hand gestures to indicate who picks the song. Today I managed to start playing Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution in one-player mode due to a lull in the crowd. One gentleman was sizing me up, looking at my play intensely, before deciding that I was an untalented gaijin and that he wanted to play. One hundred yen and three ass-kickings later, my game was over. No words were exchanged with this guy, but I mumbled my English impression of him in less-than-nice words afterwards.
Hundred-yen shops can be deceiving. I bought a little desk clock with a thermometer today for ¥100 as an accessory for my dorm, but found that the clock didn't work. It turns out that the clock is powered by a small LR-44 size battery that is sold separately. I hope to pick one up tomorrow in Akihabara from one of the many electronics shops, but something tells me that it will cost much more than ¥100.
I called Japan Air Lines yesterday to ask about the possibility of bringing four bags: one large suitcase and three smaller soft-sided bags. After some stilted Japanese conversation and a brief wait, she came back to me with the upcharge for an economy-class passenger to add an extra bag: ¥20,800. That's more than $170 to bring a bag whose contents are probably worth less than half that much. Following the representative's advice, I think I'll put my laptop inside my carry-on bag and pack the accessories separately. I don't plan to use the laptop during the flight due to the limited battery life and lack of power outlets on board, but I'd rather keep it close at hand. My luggage will be a very tight squeeze due to the large quantities of Stuff purchased in Japan.
The student who sits next to me in class is from Hong Kong, and she told me that her English, not her Japanese, is improving as a result of the program. Between classes and whenever the professors are not present, side conversations take place in English. Hey, at least she's learning something.
I bought a few more Nintendo tin badges today: two duplicates will be given out as gifts, while I got a new Donkey Kong badge for my collection. My classmates were pretty impressed by the badges today, and I spoke at length about how I love capsule machines during the one-minute presentation today. Trivia: Many kids refer to the process of buying a capsule toy as gacha-gacha, mimicking the clicking sound of gears turning inside the machine.
In Tokyo, ordinary alkaline batteries are cheap -- even cheaper than in the U.S. Rechargeable batteries are not, however. To replace the one battery that I lost on Tuesday, I bought a pack of two rechargeable AAs from a camera shop. Cost: ¥700 (almost $6), slightly more than in the U.S. Most shops I've seen sell rechargeables for about that much. They're good high-capacity batteries, so I'm not complaining too loudly about it.
Just about every day this week, I've gone to bed at 1:00 AM for no good reason and woken up at around 7:00 AM. Six hours of sleep is still manageable, but it's been a battle at times to stay awake. A high priority this weekend will be lots and lots of sleep.