Jan 13, 2009
101 Things About Tokyo (Pt. 1)
Posted in: Academics & Research
A belated happy new year! „ÄÄÔºà„ÅÇ„Åë„Åæ„Åó„Å¶„ÄÅ„Åä„ÇÅ„Åß„Å®„ÅÜ„Åî„Åñ„ÅÑ„Åæ„ÅôÔºÅÔºâ
So I'm in Japan this IAP!
Last IAP, I spent it in Madrid, with MIT's IAP Spain program (which is being conducted right now again! hope they're having fun =p)
Following the "tradition," I've decided to spend this IAP in Tokyo, refining my Japanese skills.
Unfortunately, because MIT does not have a IAP Japan program (hinthintnudgenudge administration? =p) I had to do this on my own, so this isn't *technically* related to MIT but I hope you (and the powers above) will forgive me for blogging about it. >"<
Last IAP, we had 3 hours of class everyday in the morning (10-1) with Profesor Gessa, and stayed with a Spanish family arranged by MIT. This IAP, I decided to follow the same format and seek out a language program (my current program meets 1:30-4:30) and a homestay as well.
Through some arranging and some rearranging, I'm now staying with an elderly Japanese couple who loves to travel (the grandmother, at 67 years, is embarking again on a cruise to the Carribbean next week). I go home for dinner and have most of the day (except class hours) to have fun in Tokyo!
It's been really fun so far, exploring all of Tokyo's neighborhoods - peering into ancient shrines sitting adjacent to quirky shops - trying to not stare too hard at "interestingly attired" young people in Harajuku - and getting to know Tokyo to a deeper level than I had ever before just traveling, but not living, here (Tokyo had been a frequent family vacation location when I was still going to school in Taiwan).
Also, I'm trying really hard to refine my Japanese ability (so I can keep up with the constant chatter that is around me - Japanese people speak so fast with so many contractions! =/ ), but it has been pretty rewarding so far. :)
Although I'm still not qualified to comment on what it's like to spend IAP at MIT (I'm probably going to do this finally during my senior year) yet, I would however say that I've been really happy with my two IAPs so far and I think this is a really fun alternative way to spend IAP! (and Reason Why MIT is So Awesome #2103 - We have IAP while other college kids have school!!!)
(sorry - I just love traveling too much to stay in boston over IAP. I just renewed my passport last April, and I've filled up about 1/4 of it already =p)
(and, after all, since this blog is to introduce to you an other way to spend IAP, I don't think I'm off the topic too much at all. =D)
=p without further ado:
101 Things You Didn't Know About Tokyo
1. There is MATCHA Ôºà„Åæ„Å£„Å°„ÇÉ„ÄÅÊäπËå∂ÔºâFRAPPUCINO in Japanese Starbucks!!!
2. Americans are so protective of their "personal space." Pfft. Come to Japan and they'll show you what the lack of personal space means during their rush hours.
3. Japanese Subways (now, the restaurant) cost twice as much as Boston Subways.
4. They like ~ (read: tildas) so much. They think it makes everything cuter. For example, kawaii-ne~ Um, that looks too American wannabe. Try it with kana: „Åã„Çè„ÅÑ„ÅÑ„Å≠„Äú
5. The Japanese cell phone is a fusion between a high-def digital camera, a mini-laptop, and an entertainment center. It's rarely used in the method described by its given name.
6. Tokyo is full of crows. Perhaps the residents looked at the birds and started imitating them through their clothing.
7. It is weird given the Japanese love for cutesy, bright things (anime, Pokemon) - rush hour at the subway station looks like a huge funeral (because of the crow-like black clothing - suits).
8. The Japanese are pros at falling asleep in difficult positions. We introduce the "keeping-your-back-completely-straight-on-the-subway-with-two-strangers-beside-you," the "let's-take-a-nap-while-waiting-for-the-train-to-arrive-and-wake-up-right-when-the-train-comes," and of course, the esoteric art of "standing-and-keeping-your-balance-without-holding-on-to-handles-or-leaning-on-people-while-sleeping-while-the-subway-is-still-running."
9. I think the samurais perfected the art described in 8.
10. By the way, the kanji for samurai Ôºà‰æçÔºâis the same as "servant" in Chinese. Not many people know this.
11. Speaking of which, "koi" Ôºà„Åì„ÅÑÔºâ means both "love" (ÊÅãÔºâand "carp"„ÄÄ(ÈØâÔºâ in Japanese. "Koi no koi,"„ÄÄ(ÈØâ„ÅÆÊÅãÔºâ anyone?
12. Subway signs are misleading. When they say "transfer is available at this station," sometimes the other transfer platform is 700 meters away (all underground!). Transferring at Park Street (Boston's T) = a couple of steps?
13. Sorry for mentioning the subway so much - you can see that I think the subway is the best place to observe the people in its natural habitat.
14. When you watch businessman (salaryman („Çµ„É©„É™„Éû„É≥Ôºâin Japanese) eat in their popular lunch places (like Yoshinoya - they are famous for the gyuudon - beef rice in a big bowl, Áâõ‰∏º), you are reminded of the efficiency of a factory (they're all wearing suits, they all order the same thing, they eat at the same pace, and they leave together).
15. Another sound-alike (ok I shall stop here - there's a lot in Japanese): kuuki ÔºàÁ©∫Ê∞ó„ÄÅ„Åè„ÅÜ„ÅçÔºâis "air" in Japanese, but I think it sounds an awful lot like "coo-kee" (try saying cookie the kawaii way). When Japanese say "let the air in," I keep on mentally translating it as "let the cookie in." ^____^"
16. If you're 5 minutes early, then you're late.
17. I'm really suprised at the number of public toilets there are in Tokyo. Shame on you, NYC.
18. Japanese employees are remarkably efficent. Even if there is no one in the shop, they'll still find something "productive" to do, such as sushi chefs arranging and rearranging the placement of the fish in the refrigerated containers or Starbucks employees incessantly putting the chairs in order and wiping the tables. "Standing around" doesn't exist in Japan.
19. They smile at you really big and always make contact when you buy/order something at a store. I think it's in their employee manuals.
20. Japanese eyeglass stores started offering free cleaning services for your glasses by placing cleaning machines (for those that haven't seen them, it's basically a water basin that sends out vibrations through the water and "knocks off" dust/oil particles stuck on your glasses) outside their doors.
21. When in doubt of what the clerks are staying to you in the restaurants/shops, just say "hai." It's usually right. When it's not right, tilt your head 30 degrees to the left, say "e-to" (ay-tow), and smile awkwardly.
22. The (Double) Quarter Pounder is a huge deal in Japanese McDonald's. I just discovered that the Quarter Pounder is actually a seasonal product (ie. comes and goes) in McDonald's - maybe that's why it's so "popular."
23. Japanese McDee's burgers look cute. The bun is perfectly rounded and the insides don't slop out like Whoppers in the states.
24. Even the French Fries are neatly cut and don't leave grease trails on the tray paper.
25. If = there is a Pokemon store in the mall. Then = that store has 5 times as much customers as any other shop in the same mall.
26. Pokemon plushies are so cute. <3
27. Speaking of Pokemon, the Japanese are largely unaware of the Mudkip phenomenon which ran rampant on US internet.
28. Speaking of plushies, Tokyo is filled with arcade shops that abound in "claw machines", which I think are so Asian. (the Japanese call them "UFO Catchers")
29. Among the many claw machines now in Tokyo, Rilakkuma plushies are extremely popular.
30. This sentence from the Wikipedia article made me die a little on the inside: "It is speculated that Rilakkuma was created to promote a less stressful environment for the Japanese. It encourages the workforce in Japan to relax from over working."
Tokyo Harbor from Odaiba - an artificial island in Tokyo Harbor. The bridge is Tokyo Bay Bridge, the tower in the back is Tokyo Tower (site of many, many Japanese dramas), and the Statue of Liberty is, well...the Statue of Liberty.
31. "The San-X company puts staff members under obligation to create one cute character per month." ......wow.
32. Learning English is apparently very popular in Japan - you see English cram school advertisements everywhere. It's ironic because a lot of these signs are written in English (to challenge the Japanese from deciphering the signs) and I'm here in Japan, trying to do the opposite. -____-"
33. Apparently, a gaijin (foreigner, Â§ñ‰∫∫„ÄÅ„Åå„ÅÑ„Åò„Çì) man marrying a Japanese woman is okay, but for a Japanese man to marry a gaijin woman is frowned upon.
34. I met a couple (the dad is Japanese, the mom is Spanish - their son speaks Japanese but looks Spanish) at Tokyo Tower - I initially noticed them because they were speaking Spanish. I found it very curious that their family embodies the two languages I've been so dedicated to learning. (it's also relatively rare to see Spanish speaking people in Tokyo, so I thought it was cool).
35. Japanese vending machines carry both cold and warm (!) drinks. Warm green tea does wonders on a cold day near the harbor.
36. Japanese KFC has "Fried Chicken Coated With Garlic Soy Sauce and Chili Spices" (it's very good).
37. The Japanese manga industry is incredibly impressive. Manga/anime sales aside, the industry has spiraled into action figures, games, DVDs, collector cards, keychains/small goods...etc. Special edition figurines can cost up to hundreds of thousands of yen.
38. As you may know, the three sentences above are nowhere doing the subject as a whole justice.
39. "Maid cafes" (predominantly found near Akihabara) feature waitresses dressed as anime/manga-style maids (the appeal is more cute than sexy most of the time) who address you as masters and follows your commands.
40. To satisfy the insatiable desire of popping bubble wrap, the Japanese had invented "Putiputi." This is in shops everywhere! I wonder who came up with the idea. -____-
Yokohama harbor at sunset/moonrise a few days ago when it was full moon! :D „Åô„Åî„ÅÑ„Äú
41. Today (January 12) was Seijinnohi (national holiday in Japan to commemorate those turning 20, Êàê‰∫∫„ÅÆÊó•„ÄÅ„Åõ„ÅÑ„Åò„Çì„ÅÆ„Å≤). 20 is the legal age in Japan to do just about everything (vote, drink, smoke), so turning 20 is an important event that is celebrated with the family. On Seijinnohi, many muncipal governments host "coming-of-age ceremonies" for young people turning 20 in their precincts, reminding them to be responsible adults. Afterwards, the young people visit jinjas ÔºàÁ•ûÁ§æ„ÄÅ„Åò„Çì„Åò„ÇÉÔºâ(Shinto shrines) with friends/family to make wishes (oinori„ÄÅ„ÅäÁ•à„Çä„ÄÅ„Åä„ÅÑ„ÅÆ„Çä).
42. Young woman usually dress in very fashionable kimonos„ÄÄÔºàÁùÄÁâ©„ÄÅ„Åç„ÇÇ„ÅÆÔºâ on this day to mark the celebration.
43. Putting the kimono on is a great deal of work - if your mom doesn't know how to do it herself, then you usually visit a kimono shop, where the shopkeeper will help you put it on. Such a service usually costs $20,000 yen.
44. Notice that the sleeves on the kimonos are really long. Those signal singlehood. After marriage, the kimono sleeves are kept short.
45. This year's festival commemorates everyone that turned 20 between January 14, 2008, and today, January 12, 2009. Which includes me! =p What did I do? I went to Meiji Jinja (the biggest shrine in Tokyo - along with the throngs of everyone else„ÄÅ„ÇÅ„ÅÑ„Åò„Åò„Çì„Åò„ÇÉ„ÄÅÊòéÊ≤ªÁ•ûÁ§æ) haha and afterwards drank a cup of sweet wine (amazake Ôºà„ÅÇ„Åæ„Åñ„Åë„ÄÅÁîòÈÖíÔºâ- which isn't not wine at all since there's virtually no alcohol content) to symbolically signify "coming of age." I guess I'm an "adult" now. hahaha. =p
46. To prevent minors from purchasing tobacco products, Japanese vending machines that sell cigarettes now have a sensor that detects a "TASPO" card. The card basically verifies that you are of age to purchase cigarettes and can be obtained through applying. If you do not tap a TASPO card to the vending machine, you can't buy cigarettes.
47. Marriage ceremonies (kekkonshiki, ÁµêÂ©öÂºè„ÄÅ„Åë„Å£„Åì„Çì„Åó„ÅçÔºâin Japan are often held in Shinto jinjas, under the auspices of the torii (the entrance to a Shinto shrine - usually red - often translated as "fairy gate" in English - „Å®„Çä„ÅÑ„ÄÅÈ≥•Â±Ö). However, funerals (osoushiki, „ÅäËë¨Âºè„ÄÅ„Åä„Åù„ÅÜ„Åó„ÅçÔºâ are most often conducted in the Buddhist fashion, with a monk chanting sutras to accompany the deceased.
48. The wood in the biggest torii at Meiji Jinja came from Taiwan! (when Meiji Jinja was built, Japan controlled Taiwan and shipped a lot of Taiwanese cedar wood out to Japan for their shrines and buildings)
49. I'm in Starbucks right now. Some Americans sitting next to me pointed at my Macbook and gave me a thumbs-up and proceeded to praising Macs (in Japanese).
50. Do I look Japanese? o____o
The Meiji Jinja Main Torii
The continuation to come with a lot about Japanese food! :)
ps. This is going to come up sometime in the comments, so I might as well answer it here.
I don't have any money! How can I do something like this?
A language program + homestay during IAP for four weeks generally cost around $50-65 per day. It was like that last year with MIT Spain and this year, even when I did this Japan program myself, it's about the same. 50-65 dollars sounds like a lot, especially when dorming is already included in your tuition for IAP and all, but this includes 2 meals, a place to stay, language school tuition (AND free language practice with host family!). In a location like Tokyo (where the living is expensive and hotels run up to $500 a night) or Madrid (with the Euro going strong against the Dollar), I don't think this is unreasonable, given the benefits that you will reap in the end (touring opportunities, added language proficiency - seriously, you learn more than a semester's worth of the language in just a month - and of course the ability to live in another country).
Of course, I still think this is entirely up to the person. I love traveling and going places, so for me, this is the ideal way to spend a month away from school (I just can't bear to look at more calculus =p) but to each his own :D