Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 38

Oof, I am not posting as much as I had expected I would. My time in Japan is already more than half over.

Lately I've been hanging out in camera stores around Tokyo. I finally figured out that the Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku is a compound spread around several streets within a small area. Despite that, they did not have the stationary component which their Akihabara branch posesses, where Friday I caved in and bought a folding fan to compensate for the end of the rainy season and the the true start of summer.

Somehow, despite wandering aimlessly through Electric Town, I realized that more than anything I want to buy a camera, and old camera. One that uses film. Imagine that. Yodobashi and Bic both carry the overpriced Holga and Diana crap-boxes that I could find in the Urban Outfitters in New Haven, but they also both carry 135mm, non-SLR, extremely expensive Fujifilm rangefinders. I was taken with them, and thought of buying the cheaper Natura Classica until I realized that I had subconsciously removed one zero too many from the price in yen, thinking a $330 camera a steal at $33. Damn. The more expensive, "professional" (I suppose) camera was about double that.

Yet in a strange, long-but-extremely-narrow store in Electric Town, a store devoted to selling the most unglamourous of electric (not electronic) components, there was a second floor filled with fascinating used gadgets. National brand radios, a Famicom in the box, an ancient portable Sony b/w set, those tin robots (replicas?), it was a retro-nerd's paradise. Amongst it all, there were even used cameras, from the horribly useless earliest of digital cameras to a Nikon F, still a pricey and high-quality device. In one cabinet, there were several old rangefinders, Olympus and Canon, and a sign stated that all of them were... something unreadable. I hoped that such beautiful toys were not... broken. I asked the man in the store. "Over there there are cameras; there's something written but I cannot read it.... I don't know if they work or not...."

Ah, the fine line between directness and impoliteness. I didn't know the polite way to ask directly for help, so I had to rely on vague statements until the man eventually helped me out. Naturally, the $30 vintage cameras did not work. Just as well, I have a digital camera that serves my needs just fine.

Japan is teaching me the truth in the statement that small is beautiful. I am a country boy at heart and any city, especially one as big as Tokyo (as big as they get) will wear me down after all. Yet I love that Tokyo strikes a balance between compactness and sprawl. The city may stretch out for as far as I can see, even from the top of the Metropolitan Government Building, yet it's so incredibly developed. The city is dense - if it had been an American city it surely would cover the whole of Honshu. After a rough introduction to dorm life I am learing to love living in a small space. Even now, I can barely remember my family home in California. When I showed my host family a satellite photo they all thought it was quite big. Though we live in a much less dense rural area, the house itself is smaller than average, and I assured my host parents that my home was modest by American standards. That may be so, but I am slowly forgetting the American standards.

My host family lives entirely in a tiny apartment, bigger than the one I am alone in, but undoubtedly with less space per person. My host mother seemed desirous of more space and I can certainly understand why, but personally I am more and more interested in living in a small space. The problem arises when I wonder where I want to live in the future. I appreciate the conveniences and the excitement that a city like Tokyo has to offer. Unfortunately, there may not be any other city in the world that can possibly live up to the standard Tokyo has set.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Catching Up on Day 21

This last weekend I had my homestay. Unlike the generally program-long homestays with other Japanese Light Fellowship programs, mine was for the weekend only. Still, I stayed with an understanding and helpful family in Saitama-ken. The family had three children, all ten or younger, and my host mother's younger sister also brought her two young children, and the neighbors brought their young children. For a time I felt like I was living with all of the children of Japan. It was very kawaii, and being bombarded with relatively simple spoken Japanese helped me recall how to use some basic structures that I learned but never had the chance to practice.

I envy the students in other programs who have the complete immersion that an extended homestay offers, but I can't argue argue against living in Tokyo either. The city is vast and complex, and I have a tendency to lose myself amongst its barely labeled streets and unfamiliar wards. Today I walked back to my apartment near Nishishinjuku Gochome Eki from my class in Shibuya for the second time. The first time I walked through Yoyogi Park, past the Meiji Shrine, but today I stayed on city streets. For a good deal of time the only landmark I could see was the NTT Docomo skyscraper. I must have walked east of the tower this time. After passing the building I lost my way. Stupidly not carrying my map and refusing to buy one at a konbini, my only option was to find a subway line. Tokyo being what it is, I inevitably arrived at an entrance, to Shinjkuku Sanchome Eki. It was right under the Tokyu Hands department store, a place I have heard of but never seen. I followed the subway's underground walkway, hoping it would lead me to the main Shinjuku Eki. After a long walk, I began to worry and popped my head above ground like a gopher to locate myself. Naturally, I went above ground just one entrance short of arriving in the station. Easily a kilometer or more of tunnels later, I made it back to familiar ground in Nishishinjuku.

Kanto was the name of the region the original Pokemon games were set in. This is Kanto. The world of Pokemon has large underground tunnels, convenient stores that seem to sell just about anything you could need, multistory department stores, and high speed rail. I'm living the Pocket Monster dream.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day The Eleventh

Day the Eleventh:
the rice cooker exploded.
Room now a sauna.


So much for haiku. On to Dora the Explorer in Japanese. Why not? I've seen Ni-hao Kai-Lan in Mexico City. At least I can actually understand 99% of what's being said here. The title credits billed it as a bilingual show, but so far they've worked in French as well as the requisite English. Unfortunately, Dora has now arrived in Africa so for me to understand anything I have to translate it through the Japanese. There goes comprehension. Time to get back to studying.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 1&1/2

Tokyo-Narita Airport is deceptive. First of all, the airport is over 60 km from the city, and it's in the middle of a bunch of farms. I knew that coming in, but it didn't stop me from being surprised, nevertheless. Taking the Limousine-Bus (ha!) to Shinjuku, one passes by Tokyo Disneyland. To a somewhat jetlagged gaijin, that seemed like a logical place to mark the start of the city.

To note: what's with all the tiled external wall coverings? It's a very Japanese thing - it's everywhere - even on the gigantic drab apartment buildings that seem to populate everywhere but the supertrendy districts.