Kenny 'n Kobe

One year in Kobe... What will happen? When I find out, I'll let you know.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Boys are in Town!

If there is a disturbance in the harmony of this land, it was no doubt caused by the arrival of several of my college buddies. I made sure to finish up my reports and papers, because the next week will be lived with adventure: sighting by day, and a comprehensive survey of Japanese watering holes by night. I am really excited to have them here and to introduce them to my beloved Japan. While we may go to some famous sites, in general I hope to get them deep into the parts of Japan not seen if you stick to the usual route.

Gus, Micah, Brenden, and Josh all flew in from Hong Kong, where they had been visiting our other friend Dennis. We met up and made our way to the Rakuen, where I showed off my local bar. The guys were tired from their week in Hong Kong, so we took it easy and started the long process of exchanging stories from the past year.

On Saturday, after a hearty lunch at Tarou Ramen, we hopped the trains to Kyoto. The weather defied the weather forecast and cleared up, which led to some great views at Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion). The guys are not too pleased with Japanese currency, especially all the large and unfortunately valuable coins. Carrying around a coin purse, let alone a man-purse, is out of the question for these guys; they preferred trying to throw them into little stone-bowls for good luck. When this failed, we opted to convert some of the change into green tea ice cream.

After the not-so-subtle beauty of Kinkakuji, I decided to show the guys Ryoanji. This is the home of a very famous Zen dry landscape garden. However, the guys seemed more interested in the inviting green moss that covered much of the temple’s grounds. With a bit of humidity in the air and a slight breeze, it certainly was excellent weather for a nap – I went in for a closer look, and can report that the moss is as soft as it looks.

Taking in all that Kyoto-culture really worked up an appetite. We returned to Kobe after stopping in the JR Kyoto station long enough to check out its architecture, contemplate running all the way down its abundant downscalators, and activate the boys’ JR Rail Passes. I took the boys to a small neighborhood restaurant that is well known for its Kobe beef. It is a whole-in-the-wall with pictures of signatures of famous Japanese people on the walls.

The beef was divine. We had sirloin and tenderloin, as well as typical Japanese seafood and beef yakisoba, accompanied with some draft beers. I was very pleased that all the guys were impressed with the meal, and they have informed me that we will be going back there again while they are in Japan.

Well fed and reinvigorated, we took showers and got dressed for a night out on the town. A certain karaoke bar in Osaka will never forget us, that is for sure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Handbook: Download the Full thing!

Well, how about showing you the full handbook, huh? Trust me, I want to. But "Blogger" is crafty, and it is sort of hard to put up PDF files here. But never fear, I figured a way around this little problem. Just click on the image above, and then click on the handbook link to get the file.

It is a 2MD file, and the images probably won't look too good if you print it at this quality. But check it out! Remember, it is a manga-theme, so it goes back to front... the first page is actually the last page in this file.

Handbook: Wrapping up

As you can see from the sample of articles listed here, all the Fellows put a great deal of time and effort into the handbook. Here is a picture of the 2005-2006 Fulbright Fellows to Japan, all of whom hope that this handbook will be useful to future Fulbrighters. And, here on the internet, maybe it will be useful to a wider audience. On the back cover of the handbook I wrote a little something in Japanese, a sort of “charge” to those who follow. I won’t translate it here, in part because it includes a lot of idioms that don’t work well in English.


願道のひとこと

先輩達の植えた樹の桜も咲いてから散るように一年一年が過ぎてしまう。まあ、諸行無常。我々が各々の道を辿りながら体験したことに踏まえる知識に含んでいる本稿を新たな時代の到来を告げようとして皆に与える。
迷っている時こそ良い勉強になるが個別な運命を探す中にこの本は役立ったら嬉しいでがんす。良い助言が望むなら老人に相談しなさいと言われるにもかかわらずこれを書いた人々も若者なので必ずドンドン反対し議論してもいい。雨降って地固まる。
備えあれば憂いなし。確かにそうなのでこちらでは細かい忠告も示してある。しかし、「着眼大局、着手小局」という諺の両方を意識すればと考えている。どんな道を歩んでも積極的な心を堅持しなさい!

Handbook: Non-academic life, clubs

I've mentioned my experience on the lacrosse team many times, and it got included in the handbook as well. Below is my brief description of what it means to be in a club (I also threw in a picture of my working the grill at a BBQ):

"Club Life – the Bonds of Friendship:

Five days a week (including Saturday and Sunday) I wake up at 6 a.m. in order to make it to lacrosse practice, which starts promptly at 7:30 a.m. and regularly goes until around noon. This is club life – the club is your life. We practice together, we go out drinking together, we go on trips together, and the highly prevalent konpa system of dating means we go on group dates together.

Why would anyone sacrifice such a huge part of their life to a sport they have no aspiration of playing professionally and no hope of receiving a tuition scholarship for? Hmmm… because you want friends? Seriously, making friends with Japanese students (except those that want to study your English) is difficult for foreign students. Actually, it is the same for Japanese students: joining a club (or circle) is the way of building up that all-important “in-group.” A club in Japan bears a great deal of similarity with the Greek system on US college campuses: in addition to strict formality between older and younger students, even the graduates (O.B. - “Old Boys”) come around to practice and party.

You’ll have to decide whether to join a club or circle, but I would highly recommend joining something, and doing so soon after you arrive in Japan. Why did I choose a club? Because I wanted to play a sport in college, but didn’t make the time; because one of my goals of the Fulbright year was to get in shape; because I knew how hard it is for guys to make guy friends in Japan; because I wanted to meet and get to understand the Japanese students who don’t speak English; and because time is one thing you have plenty to burn on a Fulbright, and I worried I’d end up sleeping into 11 am everyday without this kind of structure."

Handbook: Non-academic life, capsule hotels

Yeon Wha wrote a great piece about Japanese capsule hotels, which reminded me of one I stayed in one when I journeyed to Nagasaki while an exchange student in college. I cannot resist the temptation to quote her and include some pictures of my experience. While I haven’t stayed in a capsule hotel this year, I did buy a night-bus ticket to Tokyo that included two hours in the spa/shower area of a capsule hotel – a great way to shake off a rough night’s sleep and get clean at 6 a.m. to jump start your day!

Here is Yeon Wha’s article, along with my pictures:

“If you…

1. are over 5’8” (or like to strech out your legs to sleep)…
2. are claustrophobic…
3. are high maintenance…
4. don’t mind spending money for a place to sleep…
5. are traveling with a larger group…
6. can’t take communal baths…

…a capsule hotel is not for you. Otherwise, capsule hotels are great! I stayed at a capsule hotel in Fukuoka with a women-only wing. If you are traveling alone and just need a place to crash, a capsule hotel is the way to go. It’s Japan, so they’ve already thought of everything you need. What happens is: You check in and pay, they give you a key to a locker, and your pod number. Then you put your luggage in the locker, change in to pajamas provided in the locker, take a bath in the communal sauna, and relax (towels and hygiene equipment like disposable toothbrush, toothpaste, hair products, hair dryer all provided). Next, you go to your pod nice and clean in your borrowed pajamas, watch some TV in your pod, and fall asleep. Finally, wake up, pick up your stuff at the locker, change in the locker room, and check out. It is a very simple and wonderfully convenient system. Unfortunately, this option is not always available to women, but it is a highly recommended experience.”

Handbook: Non-academic life, “Frugal Fellows”

In far and away the largest section of the handbook, we addressed the ‘play-hard’ side of the equation, with advice on travel (such as to Miyajima Island, off the coast of Hiroshima, as shown in this picture), making friends, and saving money.

Japan is an expensive country, but there are a variety of ways you can greatly reduce your expenses. To pass along our tips, the group compiled a section titled “Frugal Fellows.” The one about the cultural activities card is particularly nice, and I’m including a picture of me at the Kobe Aquarium, which I got into for free! Nice statue of Doraemon, huh? I’m quoting some of the tips below, beginning with an introduction to the section written by Luke:

“At the end of your orientation in Tokyo you will be handed a check for a very large sum of money. You will take this check to the bank down the street and they will hand you a very thick envelope stuffed with several thousands of dollars in cash. You might stuff this envelope into your trousers, like I did, and walk around Tokyo very self-conscious for the next few days, with the knowledge that it will take a week or two before you are able to set up a proper bank account and deposit your windfall.

This situation will likely result in the desire to rid yourself of this burden as soon as possible. Adding to this growing danger will be the fact that no matter how much you tell yourself that the money is real, the truth is that Japanese yen bears a striking resemblance to board game money.

* There is no reason to ever buy tissue paper in Japan. Small packages of tissue paper are used as forms of advertisement in Japan, and there are people standing on every street corner just waiting for the chance to hand you one or several packages.

* You can also get away with not buying soy sauce or ginger, as sample packets are available for free from most supermarkets. Let it be known that some consider this borderline behavior.

* There are all kinds of crazy discounts in Japan that you would never know about unless you asked. In certain places, for example, you can get a foreigner discount at the movies. And women have it the best. There is almost nowhere that doesn’t have a special discount available for ladies, and in the most unexpected places. At an internet café right across the street from the JUSEC offices there is a big sign in the window: Women ¥300/hr Men ¥500/hr. This may be your only chance to take advantage of sexual discrimination.


* As an international student at my university I was eligible for a “Cultural Activities Card.” This card gets me in for free to any “cultural location” within the prefecture – museums, temples, castles – you name it. Those ¥200-300 entrance fees add up, so ask to see if such a thing exists at your location.

* Resist the urge to buy drinks out the countless masses of vending machines and convenience stores. Paying ¥150 for a bottle of green tea does not make a lot of since considering you can easily get a box of 40 tea bags for only about twice that much. Have a water bottle and carry it with you (no, probably not a monster Nalgene bottle). This is especially necessary for the oppressively humid summer months. And since even guys in Japan carry man-purses, everyone should have a place to tuck along a little something [I won’t go anywhere without my man-purse – Ed].

* In Japan if you go out to eat with someone older than you are, they will generally pay for your entire meal (note that this does not apply to classmates, only working professionals). Objections are out of the question, and even considered rude. Now, a shrewd Frugal Fellow could conceivably take advantage of this cultural phenomenon. I myself have been treated to many, many fine meals. I leave it up to you to navigate your own comfort zone, but let it be known that finding your way into these situations can take a sizable chunk out of your monthly food bill.

* Even if you buy a monthly pass for the trains, that only covers you along a specific route. The cost of riding on trains adds up in a hurry, especially if you enjoy taking day trips to places a little ways away from where you live. Here is one way to save a little cash – outside of almost all train stations, there will be a small little hole-in-the-wall shop where they sell train tickets for cheaper than the automatic ticket machines. While you may only save ¥10 on a short trip, the price from Kobe from Kyoto can drop by half, particularly if you ride during off-peak hours (10am to 5pm). Also, the farther a store is from the station the deeper the discount. Not only will you pocket the difference, but instead of throwing coins into a machine, you will meet and speak with the discount ticket clerks: just one more small step on the way to enduring US-Japan relations (some ticket stores also sell movie tickets, baseball tickets, basically any kind of ticket; these can also save you a bundle).”

Handbook: Academic Life

I couldn’t resist using the “Way of Philosophy” as the image for the section on academic life. The Japanese on this section title means, roughly, “The ‘work-hard’ part of ‘work-hard, play-hard’,” which is one of the many Japanese idioms that I love. Though I wrote a bit on research tips, it is long and I’ve covered most of what was written there in other entries. If will, however, quote a bit on my method of studying kanji:

“The worst thing about kanji, for me, is forgetting the ones I’ve studied. I came to see that learning vocabulary surrounding a certain topic didn’t work for me. What I wanted was a system, and no class could offer it. While styles of learning are different, I’d encourage you all to check out the “Kanji in Context” series, which consists of a reference book and a workbook of quizzes. What I like about it is how it teaches you kanji in increasing difficulty, clustered by similar radicals and meanings. Memorization is about building connections, and this book does that.

It also breaks up the mammoth task of learning the characters into manageable lessons – about 150 of them. Regardless of your current level in Japanese, anyone could start at the beginning and do one lesson a day (takes about an hour). I make flashcards that use each of the different readings and make example sentences (so that you learn usage – very important).

If your language studies are a big part of your goals for the Fulbright, then by all means figure out a kanji studying system that works for you. “

Handbook: Getting Settled, Cell Phone

As I've written before, cell phones are a major part of life in Japan, even more so than in the United States. Cell phones are so ubiquitous that they threaten to become a nuance, especially on trains. Unlike in the United States, you will rarely see Japanese people talking on the phone on buses or trains, nor do you hear those loud, annoying ring tones everyone seems so proud of. This is the result of a major campaign to have people put their phones on “manner mode” (silent mode in the US) and refrain from talking while riding. Signs like the picture here are pasted everywhere on buses and trains – the first and last cars of all trains are designated “cell phone OFF” zones, where even messaging is not allowed.

Luke wrote a bit about cell phones which is interesting, and which mentions the dedication I showed in fighting to get the other Fellows the student discount (which we are not supposed to be able to get):

" You will need a cell phone in Japan, how else will your friends get a hold of you for late-night karaoke? Add your keitai to the same list of utilities as electricity and running water.

Before coming to Japan, I had never owned a cell phone. Now my cell phone is large and gold in color, contains a 2.1 megapixel camera with a 2x optical zoom and the ability to watch television shows and record them to the internal hard disk. And it was free. Very cool.

The most popular choice for cell phones is au (www.au.kddi.com) since they offer the only student discount. Herein lies the rub, as your designation as “student” is a little dodgy. Technically, you will be a research student which depending on who you talk to isn’t really a student at all. My student ID card has no mention of research student on it at all and I have no problems receiving discounts, while some Fellows are issued separate, “lesser” ID cards that won’t be honored for student discounts. You will also need your Alien Registration card (some shops will accept the temporary proxy that can be purchased at the ward office for ¥300). Also make sure that your phone is capable of switching to English characters, as not all models have this option.

If you are having troubles receiving your discount, just try another cell phone shop; the discount is given at the discretion of the individual stores, not au itself. So keep trying until you find someone nice. Or you could just send an email to Kenny, who is rumored to have personally broken the knees of several au shop clerks on the behalf of no less that three other Fulbrighters in the process of acquiring them their discounts.”

I also added a blurb to what Luke wrote, commenting on how best to make international calls between the United States and Japan for cheap or free:

“You mean you actually want to talk on your phone, instead of sending text? To the States? Your only hope to call home yourself is the Brastel card - a prepaid, conbini-rechargeable card whose application can be found in bars & restaurants frequented by gaijin.
There are two better options:
1. Have your family/friends in the US buy a Sprint International Prepaid Phone Card (it doesn’t charge extra for calling cells, and is cheap) and have them call you (no charge to you).
2. Join the revoluation: download Skype and talk for free!”

Handbook: Getting Settled, Gomi

Well, it is unlikely that any Fellow will end up living in Osaka Castle, shown in this picture. However, there is plenty of advice to be given about finding a place and putting together one's "Japanese life." I wrote about making meishi (business cards), but I wrote about that in an earlier entry.

Here, I'd like to talk about trash (gomi in Japanese). Kristin wrote a nice little bit about garbage, and I'm reproducing it below:

"No joke, Japan has gotten gomi down to a science. In larger metropolises, trash is separated seven to eight different ways, so be sure that you get it right, otherwise you’ll get a nasty note on your door from the local garbage man (while hilarious, it’s still hazukashii). You can buy your city-approved trash bags at any grocery store and can start by separating items into burnables (paper, discarded food items), non-burnables (things that would make us flinch if it were flung into the atmosphere [actually, they burn plastic bags here, so plastic bags are considered “burnable” – Ed]), PET bottles (the plastic bottles you buy at your konbini while rushing to class), glass and milk cartons/newspapers/cardboard. In Osaka, you have to put special notices on any trash bags that contain any hazardous items like gas cans… just think of it as your year to work extra hard for the environment!"

Really, please check out this picture of how to separate garbage. The pick-up times are different for everything, with some items only being taken once a month. That means that if you forget to put out your unburnable garbage this month, then you have to wake another month before getting rid of your glass bottles, etc. I seem rather incapable of remembering when the recycle is put out, and I have quite a collection of plastic bottles stores in my apartment. I don't know what I'll do if I cannot remember the right dates and it becomes time for me to leave Japan... You can return bottles and cans at certain stores, but I'll look like the Santa of plastic if I heave a garbage over my shoulder and walk to the return center.

Handbook: Predeparture, Medical School Applications

We also wanted to give the future Fellows some advice on what to do before they come to Japan. I remember that last summer I was applying to medical school and studying for the MCAT, as well as spending as much time as possible with my little brother. There was, in reality, little time for serious preparation for my Fulbright year. I was required to type up a project proposal for Kobe University’s Graduate School of Law, and the necessity of doing this was difficult at the time, but a boon once I arrived.

Anyway, check out this beautiful picture Kavitha took of Mt. Fuji, and see what I wrote about applying to medical school. Though I’m not sure if anyone next year is applying to medical school, I think this is a pretty good look at what it is like to apply from abroad. Now that I am finished applying, looking back I can see that completing my application process took up a big part of my year in Japan. Not that it was a bad thing: it would have been impossible for me to do everything I wanted senior year and still successfully apply, so having the freedom and time to do it here worked out well.

Applying to Medical School from Japan:

If you are applying to medical school while a Fulbrighter, then by the time you come to Japan a lot of the work will already be done: you’ll have submitted your AAMC application, taken the MCAT, and gotten together all those letters of recommendation. Despite my best intentions, I only completed those secondary applications that had extremely early deadlines before heading to Japan. Just as a general tip, be sure to read all the schools’ essay prompts and determine how many you can combine – I only wrote three or four essays, and then made small changes in length or content for each school.

I ended up purposefully submitting the bulk of my secondary applications fairly late, with the hope of not getting any interviews before January. My reason was simple – in order to eliminate as much cost and time out of the country as possible, I wanted to make only one trip back to the States. In three weeks I did eight interviews and spent some time with my family. This was exhausting, and it required a lot of careful planning of plane flights and negotiations with the staff at various medical schools. Enough schools were flexible and understanding to make up for those that were not, although I had to pass up one interview because they could not accommodate my schedule. Here are some tips: use Chicago as a base of operations, as United has relatively cheap and abundant hopper flights to many of the cities you will be going to; use the weekends for the cross-country travel and to rest, and stay with friends wherever possible; and be sure to call (don’t email) admissions offices if you want to elicit more sympathy.

Unfortunately, the game is not over after the interviews, as you also have to apply for financial aid. Collecting the proper tax forms for yourself and your family takes time – don’t wait until you hear from schools before applying for aid, and get that FASFA in right around January 1st if possible.

Handbook: Places

After introducing all the Fellows, the next task was to introduce where we live. The section was titled "Places," and I couldn't resist using my picture of Kiyomizu Temple in the Fall.

Here is my introduction of Kobe:


Kobe – The Gateway to Heaven

When I leave my apartment each morning, I look north to Mt. Rokko: the mountain reveals Japan’s flowing seasons and is responsible for the city’s altogether appropriate geomancy – it’s comforting, really.

Turning around, the bay reveals both itself as well as several manmade reclamation projects – one of them, Rokko Island, was formed by borrowing mass from its namesake mountain. Within a few moments a Hankyu train will pass across my view, running east or west as all (three) train lines of Kobe do.

This is Kobe: mountains north, sea south, trains traversing across. This simplicity is not the only reason the city of about 1.5 million people is easy for foreigners to live in. A telling example would be how a woman in my neighborhood asked me without hesitation, in Japanese, where she might find the nearest post office. Perhaps it is the lack of tourist destinations, or the shear number of gaijin, but the Japanese residents of Kobe by and large figure that if you’re here, you live here.

What? No must-see attractions? Well, almost. Let’s say that you do not end up placed in Kobe, and you only want to spend one day here. What should you do? My first bit of advice would be timing. Come to Kobe around the middle of December for the Kobe Luminarie. This festival commemorates the darkness of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake by lighting up the night and bringing together the masses to view the spectacle. Walking alongside thousands of strangers under an accumulation of lights so intense it has a palpable heat will scratch your yuletide itch for Christmas lights, although if you don’t want to feel like herded cattle I’d avoid opening day and the weekends.

While you’re in town for the Luminarie, do Kobe properly. Get its justifiably world-famous beef for lunch in bustling Sannomiya, and head to the Chinatown of Motomachi for some nikuman (meat dumplings). And how convenient, Motomachi is where the pathway through Luminarie begins!

By the Way: You may associate Kobe with beef or the earthquake (when the resident yakuza began handing out food and water before the Red Cross), but Kobe to a Japanese person is likely to mean one thing: the Hanshin Tigers. If you are a fan of sports or a fan of fans, follow the lead of Kristin and I by going to the famed Koshien Stadium, even if you have to wait outside to buy “resale” tickets. We went to the game right before they clinched their division (after which they were swept in the championship series), and the sea of fans singing individual songs for each player gives the baseball game a European soccer match kind of energy. These are, quite frankly, the best fans in the world. Enjoy!

Handbook: Character Introduction



In keeping with the manga theme, we did the profile section as a “character introduction.” Roxanne drew manga images of each of us – I’m the guy playing Go.

Below, I am pasting in the text from my profile section:


KENNY GUNDLE
AFFILIATION: KOBE UNIVERSITY
FAVORITE MANGA: HIKARU NO GO

In less than a year you will be writing your own introduction to a Fulbright Fellows Handbook.

My name is Kenny Gundle. I hail from Portland, in the honorable state of Oregon, and in June of 2005 I graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Human Biology. In college I attempted an honors thesis on organ donation policy in the United States, and was pleased to have my advisor inform me, “Well, Kenny, you’re not a bad writer.” That about sums up my unrequited love of English, which seems especially found of rejecting my good-intentioned attempts at neology, and partially explains my endeavors to learn the abundantly foreign Japanese tongue (speaking, that is… I leave kanji to my keitai).

Threading together interests in Japan, the bioethics of transplantation, and medicine in order to convince the authorities in Washington DC and Tokyo to support a year aboard proved challenging, but I elected to examine the “relationship between Japan’s brain death dilemma and the country’s interest in regenerative medicine research.”

But what would you say that I do? In the spirit of strengthening international understanding and cooperation, a mission that I take heart in, I joined the Kobe University Lacrosse Team. A university club is an immense time commitment with commensurate rewards. It insures that, if nothing else, I wake up very early for morning practices. I also took up the game of Go, and yes, this did have something to do with reading the manga series “Hikaru no Go.”

Being a Fulbright Fellow in Japan has provided an opportunity for riskful thinking and has helped me develop a sustained state of questioning. You may learn more about yourself than your research topic during the course of the year, and that is nothing to shy away from. I will be a sad panda if none of you email me about something or another.

Handbook: Table of Contents



Check out this image, which shows all of the Fellows at the Mid-Year Conference along with Dr. Satterwhite, the Executive Director of JUSEC. Below the image is the Table of Contents for the handbook.

Fulbright Fellows Handbook:



For the final three weeks of May and the first week of June, I great deal of my waking hours were spent doing the layout and production of the Fulbright Fellows Handbook. Each year the Fulbright Fellows in Japan make a handbook that is then passed on to the following year’s recipients. The idea is to depart advice and experience in living in Japan, particularly under the rather unique circumstances of a Fulbright Fellow. The two handbooks that I received over the summer were really useful in my preparations and gave some specific, reassuring advice on moving in, conducting research, and enjoying life in Japan.

Luke, the Fellow in Hiroshima, was the editor of the handbook. In a moment of apparent nostalgia from working on my high school paper and putting together my fraternity newsletter, and as I have the right software on my computer, I offered to do the layout. What I had forgotten about this process is the enormous time it requires, and in comparison the size of the handbook dwarfed anything I had done before. As the weeks went by Luke and I were increasing saying, during our many conversations over Skype, something along the lines of, “Um… this is taking a long time, huh?”

In the end it is a great product of the accumulated knowledge and experiences of all this year’s Fellows, and I hope it will be useful to those in the years to come. The handbook had a manga theme, which meant that among other things that the pages go in reverse order (which, among several other reasons, made printing and binding the handbook require many an hour at – of course – Kinkos).

Since it really was what I lived and breathed for about a month, I want to share some of the things that I wrote.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Week in the Settled Life: Saturday

A lot of lacrosse games were scheduled for Saturdays. There was an ongoing “Pride” tournament for all the teams in the Kansai region. I didn’t play in these teams, both because there were concerns about my status as a “research student” and because, frankly, there are some really good defensemen on the team who are faster and more talented than I am (though I wish they were more willing to knock their opponents around).

Unfortunately, throughout much of the spring, it would be sunny and clear all week and then rain on Saturday. Seriously, this happened on more than half of all scheduled game days. The dirt fields cannot be played on in the rain and the games would be rescheduled for the following weekend, but not before everyone on the team would travel an hour, hour and a half away from Kobe to meet up before the game. Sacrificing Friday nights to be ready for games is one thing, but waking up at the crack of dawn and going all the way to a game site to have it cancelled was frustrating.

Though part of me wishes I could have played in more games, I was happy enough to be a part of the team and watch them compete. I would hang out and watch with the younger and lesser players (who neither play nor sit on the bench), which was good times. Once I got a ride to and from the game in a player-packed minivan, and I really just felt like one of the boys – there were really long stretches where I could freely communicate, understand everything they were saying to each other (in fast, colloquial, young-person Japanese) and contribute to the conversations.

Whether a characteristic of Japanese teams or just this one, I learned a good lesson about leadership and teamwork by seeing what happened after the team lost a tough game to an opponent that played harder and better than Kobe. Immediately afterwards, the whole team gathered around to hear the coach, who is really just a recent graduate, give the statistical rundown and then a tongue-lashing about their performance. Then, the two captains continued with a composed but merciless analysis.

This part may or not have been productive, but then the different positions split up and each formed a circle. I was with the defense. After some general remarks by the defense captain, they went around the circle and each person talked about what he thought went wrong, both for himself and the defense as a whole. What I thought worked well about it was that each person get a chance to speak, to vent some frustrations and publicly comment on their personal lapses. It was an inclusive circle that was hard but equal, and I particularly liked that rather than just asking for comments, each person had to speak.

At the beginning of the following practice, the captain said that although they lost, that it was only a loss if they don’t learn from it. The intensity at practices following this game was much higher, and they won the next game.

A Week in the Settled Life: Friday

While I occasionally ended up at Mister Donuts on Wednesday afternoon, the part-time employees there might as well reserve a seat for me on Fridays. Each Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. I meet with my Japanese tutor, a third-year Kobe University student named Kenichi. He is a nice guy who is kind enough to read over and correct all the writing I do in Japanese. If it weren’t for the lacrosse team, Kenichi would probably have been the Japanese college student I got to know best. A lot of the time I don’t have specific questions for him, so we just chat in Japanese and he corrects me as we go along.

Somehow Friday became my quiet night, which seemed odd at first given how I lived at Stanford. With the thought of practice or an early game the next day, going out until the wee hours was not an option. Ideally I would take a second shower, chill out, and maybe play my mandolin before heading to bed by 10 p.m. at the latest.

A Week in the Settled Life: Thursday

Because I neither have class or practice on Thursday, it is my one-day of the week totally free. Thursdays are the day I might travel to Kyoto, or meet with a professor on my research, or just run errands and clean my apartment.

I did start watching a Japanese drama on Thursday nights that is about seven female lawyers. While is doesn’t quite compare to Jack McCoy and “that sound,” it is highly entertaining. The only problem is that it starts at 9pm, which means I cannot watch it while eating dinner. Grrrr… once I got used to downloading and watching shows whenever I felt like it, it became much harder to fit my schedule around the whims of television programming.

A Week in the Settled Life: Wednesday

For some reason, I feel like Wednesday is my most typical of typical days. The pattern is practice, shower, lunch, and then probably a short rest while reading Harry Potter in Japanese. I’d say that Wednesday afternoons often find me at my favorite coffee joint, Mister Donuts, to study kanji – I really can only spend so many afternoons working in my room, especially since I don’t have a desk.

There is another reason for heading out on Wednesdays, either for coffee or just to a nearby temple’s park: Wednesday is when I get the pleasure of listening to Robert Harrison’s podcast “Entitled Opinions on Life and Literature.” Professor Harrison teaches at Stanford, and I got to know him my senior year when I participated in the Stanford Philosophical Reading Group. I highly encourage everyone to listen to this show – if you want to get hooked, go download the one on Heidegger. Even though (or perhaps especially because) he is a professor of French and Italian, which is clearly not my area of expertise, I learn a great deal from him and his guests. Being able to take a Stanford professor’s lecture on my iPod and go ponder for an hour makes for a great afternoon.

Entitled Opinions on the Web: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/fren-ital/opinions/

A Week in the Settled Life: Tuesday

Actually, Tuesday means one thing and one thing only – a new episode of “24.” I must say that watching “24” each week really helped keep me grounded, and I miss it now that season five is over. Being able to stay connected with your favorite show is something that was basically impossible, and definitely either illegal or expensive, just two years ago when I was an exchange student. The iTunes Music Store changed all that. If I’m feeling down, knowing I can download an episode of “Law and Order” is like a warm fuzzy blanket.

Tuesday is also a “definitely cook dinner” day, as nothing is quite like sitting down to a home cooked meal and watching Jack Bauer save my homeland from terrorists. (Jack also did some ads for a health bar here in Japan)

A Week in the Settled Life: Monday

By all means, I sleep in on Monday. Sadly, “sleeping in” usually means I wake up by about 7 a.m. and am wide awake. If the weather is nice, Monday is laundry day (since I have no dryer, as is standard here, I have to hang up my clothes outside). Since my mind is fresh and I won’t get exhausted from lacrosse, Monday is also a prime day to work on translations or readings for my research.

This semester I decided not to take any classes at Kobe University. There were no classes directly related to my research, and I felt like studying kanji and meeting with my tutor would better serve my Japanese language goals. However, I did find a lecture series taught at Osaka University directly related to my topic. The title is “Science Technology and Ethics,” and it is taught at Osaka University’s Center for Innovation. (Actually, I would translate it as "Scientific Technology and Ethics" - here is the poster for the class)

As one goal of the class is to foster discussion of ethical issues in scientific technology among the public, the series is open to anyone who wishes to attend. I was surprised that not only students are registered for the class, but scientists, engineer, and self-described housewives who have no direct connection to the university and receive no course credit also come each week. I was equally impressed by the wide-ranging attendance and the apparent outreach effort given to publicizing the lectures – for my part, if there had not been a large poster about it hanging in the lobby of the Kobe University library, there is no way I would have heard about the class.

(A brief aside – lifelong learning has quite a history in Japan, but the declining birth rate is really pinching the universities and they are starting to establish special degrees for retired people. The must popular field, which I read about in the Nikkei Newspaper, is a degree in managing non-profit or non-governmental agencies. In Osaka University’s new program, a person’s tuition cost is directly related to his or her age!)

A different professor lectures each week on a specific topic. One highlight was a professor who focused in on the difference between science and technology. He specified that while scientists produce knowledge that is disseminated as journal articles and conference lectures, technologists (uh… engineers… bad Japanese to US translation, though it seems odd that technologist isn’t a word) produce tools or, in this professor’s word, art. Also, he suggested that the mixing of science and technology, such that today they seem almost merged (especially with the case of biotechnology), occurred as a result of the involvement of industry and the development of modern warfare. The reason I look back at this lecture with particular fondness is because two days later, on Robert Harrison’s radio show “Entitled Opinions” – see the posting for Wednesday – the same point was mentioned and I thought it was incredible that two scholars from two totally different fields living in two totally different worlds would focus on the same issue within 48 hours of each other.

The class is not all positives, however. I am particularly disappointed with the questions asked after the lecture. First, the lecturer never leaves much time. Then, the students never ask questions. Next, when one of the older audience members does ask a question, it takes them five minutes to do so, and it always ends up just being a question of whether the professor agrees with the questioner’s monologue. I usually approach the lecturer afterwards to ask more questions, and sometimes I get the cold shoulder when I directly question something the professor said – for example, one professor seemed rather offended that I would challenge his notion that because animals can experience pain they are the same as humans and should never be used for research. But then, are you trying to say I cannot eat them either?

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of the city of Osaka, and it is kind of a drag to travel down there for a 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. class. To treat myself a bit for going to class, and because the lecture falls right at dinnertime, I always eat at a Yoshinoya for dinner. Yoshinoya is a 24-hour, cheap restaurant that caters to busy businessmen and students by serving rice bowls and curry. You sit at a counter and get served your food within about 60-seconds of ordering, and many customers seem to eat in about the same amount of time.

Buy the time I make my way back home after the class, it is bedtime – Tuesday means practice!

A Week in the Settled Life: Sunday

No wild Saturday nights for me – Sunday morning was just another day of walking up at 6 a.m. for practice. After practice I would come home, shower, and make lunch. At this point I was making a lot of okonomiyaki and miso soup filled with potatoes and onions. Then I would settle down in front of my TV and watch the Go lesson at noon on NHK Television. The lesson was simple enough that I understood it, but yet still dealt with interesting tactics I have no experience with. Sometimes I would get out my folding Go board and stones and play along to help remember that was being taught. After the lesson is a televised professional Go match, which includes two commentators that do play-by-play analysis, as part of an ongoing tournament. I usually get lost at some point – these pros can play so close to disaster that I cannot read the board.

There is a Go magazine put out by NHK that explains the Sunday lessons in more details, and when I cannot figure out what is going on in the pro match I continue studying the basics. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to subscribe to it in the United States (a small note… apparently Japanese people don’t do yearly magazine subscribes much, instead just opting to stop by a station bookstore each month). I enjoy Go, and I hope it will be one of the ways I keep up my Japanese back in America. Not only do I play and practice Go using Japanese, but I hope to find some old Japanese men in Boston to play with me and chat.

Studying kanji, shopping, and cooking dinner usually takes up the rest of Sunday. Sunday is also one of two nights available to go out drinking with the lacrosse boys, as there is no practice on Monday.

By the way, if you are wondering what “Go” is, check out the Wikipedia article at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Week in the Settled Life:

Sometime around late April, I realized that my life in Japan had found a steady routine. Between lacrosse practice, classes, my research and independent study, and all the little tasks involved with daily life, my schedule was pretty full. This was one contributing factor to the slowdown in postings to this site. While I am actually writing this in June, I am posting it to early May, to give a glance at what a “normal week in the life” looked like for a solid few months of my time here. Each day of the week had its little differences, though.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

New School Year, New Recruits


The Japanese school year begins in mid-April. This has always surprised me, as I believe it should surprise anyone who has experienced a Japanese summer. The haunting humidity sucks all the energy (and water) out of people – especially when every school I have ever been in lacks air conditioning… except in the teachers’ area and principal’s office. I would have guessed, then, that a very long summer break might be in order, and that therefore beginning a school year as the climate cools into autumn would be most suitable. In other words, I believe that the American system makes a good deal of sense.

Or at least that was what I felt before I saw the Japanese sakura – cherry blossoms. Almost overnight the country exploded into pink and white as trees I had hardly ever taken notice of suddenly consumed all my attention. Sakura are everywhere in this country, with beautiful effect. What amazes me most is that these trees, which are abundantly normal for 52 weeks of the year, occupy so much space in a space-deficient country.

There are so many events and traditions that pervade the sakura season. The most common way to celebrate is to gather with friends under the sakura (and usually drink/eat copious amounts). And, as I mentioned, this is the time of entering student ceremonies at schools and colleges. A new batch of students means that the clubs for every conceivable activity go out to recruit new members. So it is only natural that the lacrosse club held multiple weekend barbeques for potential new members (along with the Kobe University women’s lacrosse team, of course). These are some pictures of the club and me taking in the fine weather. The more astute readers may remember this little waterway – these events took place about three minutes from my apartment, and this is where I used to go running!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Sakura at Kiyomizu Temple:





The name Kiyomizu means pure water, in case I haven’t mentioned that before. The goddess enshrined here is Kannon – a Buddhist deity of compassion and mercy. Considering the proximity of the sakura season to Easter, Kiyomizu was a meaningful place to visit. Wandering around the grounds, and remembering that I have been here in fall, winter, summer, and finally spring, I began for the first time to feel a sense of completeness about my experiences in Japan. Certainly there is so much more for me to see and learn – and not only about the language – but I am starting to have hope that I’ll leave Japan satisfied with my year here.






Sakura at the Path of Philosophy



I can let these pictures speak for themselves. The only addition I could make would be to say that the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto is a special place for me, and it has been for several years. Seeing it in full bloom under blue skies was a significant event – the kind of day I hope to remember when life gets complicated. Or, rather, since it is impossible not to reflect on our own ephemeral existence when surrounded by the short-lived blooms, I hope to remember what I saw whenever I feel like wasting a day away.




Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sumo in Osaka



So I finally went and saw sumo – though, actually, very few Japanese people have seen sumo live. Most people see the highlights on television, or even tune in live, but physically being in the stadium is not common.

Sumo is rich with opportunities for insight into the Japanese soul. But as the Japanese have at least three hearts (for the public, for the family, and for the self), any truths to be found in the world of sumo wear layered masks. Quite naturally then, when the false appearances are removed, irony is often revealed.

How can a country of the skinny, one of the few industrialized countries not facing an obesity epidemic, turn its broadest members into revered athletes? These massive men, who I saw walking around outside the Osaka sumo arena wearing traditional Japanese clothes, stand out. They are exceptional, in a country where the idiomatic warning reads, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” For them to grow to such gigantic proportions (though there are svelte competitors, and there are no weight classes) requires its own form of discipline. How can these images of barely concealed flapping flesh be reconciled with the merciless way my old host mother reminded me I was fat, or how the lacrosse players call an ever-so-slightly pudgy guy “fatty”?

Is sumo a sport? Yes. Is it just a sport? No.

There is a structure like the top of a Shinto shrine that hangs above the sumo arena. From each corner hangs a colored rope that signifies one of the four seasons, and there are four major tournaments a year (as well as two smaller, more recently added ones). The referee in the ring wears a kimono of the style worn by samurai in the Kamakura Period (about 600 years ago) and the traditional hat of a Shinto priest. What if tennis courts were built to remind us of the monasteries in which the sport was invented, perhaps with the officials wearing the smocks of abbots? Sumo remains deeply rooted in its origins, in the seasons, and in its country. This is little doubt of the connection between sumo and the nationalist movement.

Yet the current grand master “yokozuna” (Asasyoryu), as well as his predecessor Akebono, are foreigners. The rising star of Japanese sumo, Kotooshu, is not even Asian in appearance. Although I was lucky enough to see Asasyoryu face Kotooshu, Kotooshu was injured and it was not much of a contest. I was surprised, generally, with the number of foreign wrestlers. Even more surprising was how the die-hard fans seemed mostly warm to the foreigners – one of them got the biggest welcoming ovation of the day.

Sumo has a history of 1500 years. Yet if one were to take every major tournament ever held and add up the amount of time during which two wrestlers were actually engaging in physical competition, I be surprised if a week’s worth of action has taken place. In the course of the four hours I was at the stadium, there were about twenty-five matches. Each actual match lasts a few seconds – if a full minute elapses, that is quite a happening. Most of the time is spent ritually calling the wrestlers’ names, watching an intricate display of throwing rice to purify the ring, and then looking on as the two combatants engage in psychological combat as they line up to battle only to back away and start the whole process anew.

Prior to going to the tournament I thought that it would end up being a good experience, but rather boring. I thought it would be like football, but with ten-minute huddles. However, I only left my seat once during the entire four-hour affair, and then I almost ran in order not to miss anything. There is something captivating about the built-up tension that explodes into focused intensity as the bout enfolds. At the same time, I would not go alone – it was nice to have Kavitha and Kristin along to talk with… sort of like an afternoon baseball game.

I cannot claim to understand sumo any better after seeing it firsthand, but it was a fabulous experience found only in Japan, only at a few special times a year. Though I still would have liked to watch Duke lose to LSU in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I guess this will have to do.