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The summer course has ended. Please deposit 250,000 yen to continue.
As I write this at 7:30 PM on Friday, I am less than 12 hours away from the moment I'll leave this house for the last time. While I had a lot of fun in Japan, I am happy to be returning home after six weeks.
The course I took was underwhelming to say the least, underscored by our terrible culture-related skits today at the end-of-summer party. Nevertheless, the less-than-enjoyable class situation brought the students closer together towards the end of the class. Only six people out of our class's 13 were in their seats at 8:30 AM today, although two more joined us late. Four of the five students who didn't show today likely failed the course, but they don't care. As long as they had fun, their summer was not lost. Our evaluations, handed out on Thursday, included a sheet intended specifically for our class alone. Hopefully our constructive criticisms will improve the program next summer.
It has been a fantastic six-plus weeks here in Japan. The weather has been scorching hot every day with high humidity, but these are the sort of conditions that I'm used to from summers in New York and Pittsburgh. The food, capped off by a dinner of unagi (broiled eel) tonight, has been good for the most part, although it had its moment. Among the more unusual foods that I've eaten -- and liked -- during my stay here are takoyaki (octopus cooked and served inside dough) and nankotsu (chicken breast cartilage breaded and deep-fried). There have been uneasy nights when I disliked the food that my host mother made, but I worked with her to decide what foods I would like and not like to eat.
Life at home has been very quiet and relaxing. Nearly all the time, I have enjoyed privacy and enough personal space to be comfortable. My two older brothers who share a room at home have been out of the picture due to late nights of work and study, but my relationship with my host family parents has been very good. My host mother and I talked about anything and everything, while discussions with my host father have centered around sports (Japanese and otherwise) and technology. My host father is 60 years old, but is still fascinated by computers and technology. He has printed around 30 photos from his digital camera using his new inkjet printer. I helped him pick out both the camera and the printer, deciphering the sales spin-doctoring across a huge language barrier.
Life on campus was easy-going, due to the fact that International Christian University is not ostensibly international or Christian. While I met people from all over the world, the majority of students in the summer courses are from the U.S. English became the dominant language of conversation between the summer course students I met, but there were also a large number of students who conversed in Cantonese. I was very apprehensive about applying to a school with "Christian" in the name due to my Jewish upbringing, but there was very little that is outwardly Christian on campus. At the opening meeting, campus minister Rev. Paul Johnson led the students in a non-denominational saying of grace. After that, I never saw Rev. Johnson or was exposed to anything religious as part of daily activities. Of course, ICU's centrally-located church is highly visible as a sign of the Christian principles on which the university was founded. Bilingual religious services are held every Sunday. I sometimes saw posters promoting religious seminars and lectures around campus, but they were not at all mandatory. I even met a few openly anti-Christian students in the summer course, and there was no hostility associated with discussing and questioning Christianity in the dining hall over lunch. During the regular academic year, more than 95% of the student body is native Japanese. Christians make up less than 1% of Japan's population, so I would suspect that religious activities are also low-key during the regular academic year.
I think Tokyo is a wonderful city where I would not like to live full-time. Coming from New York and having visited Manhattan on many occasions, it was very easy for me to adjust to the blistering pace of life in Tokyo. While I do not enjoy being smashed into impossibly-crowded subway trains, I felt that Tokyo has a little bit of everything. Very friendly towards the large numbers of foreigners who visit for business and/or pleasure, Tokyo has more restaurants than any other city in the world (more than 50,000 in total) and imports everything from perfumes to motion pictures. This makes the city the most expensive in the world in which to live, beating out second-place New York City. Public transportation, while extremely convenient, is managed by several private corporations. Some students, myself among them, had to purchase passes for different bus and train companies rather than a single transportation pass that would have saved us even more money. In any case, it's better than driving in Tokyo. When the traffic isn't bumper-to-bumper, I am still terrified by the prospect of driving on the left on impossibly narrow residential streets and understanding traffic patterns on the major roads.
I would not rule out the possibility of returning to Japan. Because I still had homework and projects to do, I didn't get to have as much fun as I would have liked. I still want to do a lot of traveling around, to places like Kyoto and Osaka. In retrospect, I might have preferred to travel in the one month before coming to Tokyo, but the World Cup made travel plans expensive or outright impossible in most cases. Although it is very difficult for foreigners to secure full-time employment and residency in Japan, I would be interested in a job with a company that has offices in both the U.S. and Japan. In this job market, it's hard for me to wish for anything.
My week ahead will be filled with sleep to relieve previously-unseen jet lag, unpacking, repacking, traveling around the New York region, and otherwise preparing for my seventh and final semester at Carnegie Mellon. I am glad that ICU provides students with public computers to check e-mail and otherwise stay in touch, since I have become dependent on those means of communication.
It's not the flight that I'm worried about tomorrow, but rather getting to the airport on time. I have two legs of transit, with my host mother accompanying me to Shinjuku before I take the Narita Express solo to the airport. I'm down to my last 3,000 yen and change, which should last me until I arrive in New York. It's an early start, and I say my last goodbye to Japan at 12:00 PM tomorrow -- unless oncoming Typhoon 13 sidelines my plans.