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Posts Tagged ‘SOAS’

Just when I thought I had seen it all in Japan, I realised I have only been scraping the surface of bizarrity. (That isn’t a word but it sounds right somehow. My English ability has dropped to the level of a 6 year old.) I went for a mosey around the public library at Tsurumai Park the other day, and was more than a little surprised to see that there is a Sugakiya (ramen restaurant) inside. Not attached to the outside, but actually inside the library. I was thinking how amazing it would be if SOAS had something similar – during the exam period and 24hr opening a ramen restaurant in the library would be the perfect antidote to a hard nights revision!

But it gets even weirder than that. After a hunger fuelled stroll in search of a new and exciting restaurant, we found the perfect place that the producers of Hells Kitchen would probably commit acts of indecency in public places for Gordon Ramsey to sort out. A restaurant called “Mountain”, which specialises in interesting types of rice and spaghetti. Naturally, amongst the list of about 60 types of spaghetti (which actually turned out to be more like a noodle-pasta hybrid; best not to ask) you have standard sauces such as bolognese, carbonara and Japanese style flavours such as Mentaiko (spicy roe). What is surprising however, is seeing strawberry pasta make an appearance on the menu. Or kiwi pasta. Or banana pasta. There were a lot of very strange combinations – none of which sounded very appetising! I saw someone eating said strawberry pasta, and it seemed that it was the sauce and not the actually pasta which was strawberry flavoured. I must say it looked truly horrific. However the absolute worst item on the menu had to be the “Italian Tomato Parfait”. What part of  mixing ice cream and tomatoes seems like a good idea?! And what sort of person orders such a vomit inducing concoction?! Whats more, the portion sizes were bigger than American sizes, enough for 2 very hungry people or maybe even 3! After eating about a third I had to give it up to Michael who has the appetite of an mammoth. I would love to see Gordons reaction to the menu and restaurant…

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This weekend was a blur. A very overwhelming blur! Even though I’d been told countless times that Tokyo is a very hectic place, nothing could have really prepared me for quite how crazy it is! Its like London on acid; so much bigger, buildings which touch the sky as far as the eye can see in every direction; adverts on every spare inch; people everywhere; flashing lights, television, music and sounds surrounding you wherever you walk…  Its multi-sensory overload. I’ve never felt more like a country bumpkin!

I apologise in advance that this is going to be a long entry!

We left straight after classes ended on Wednesday and took a Nozomi shinkansen which arrived a hour and 20 minutes later in Tokyo. It was my first time on a bullet train and I was incredibly impressed. They run every 10 minutes and are so fast – the same trip by coach takes over 6 hours! (They are also very comfortable; it is little wonder that they have such a good reputation.) Ironically, because we took a while to figure out where we were going on the metro, it took us almost the same amount of time from the JR Shin-Yokohama station to get to Joy’s cousins house! Luckily we got there just in time for delicious homemade Japanese curry and rice. As Noriko had had a cold, Joys aunt came over to help. It was really nice to get a glimpse of Japanese family life! Later on Joys long-time friend Chris came over and he took us for a drive around central Tokyo. I will not easily forget my first impressions of Shibuya at night – it was a Wednesday night and the streets were packed! Cruising around in a rather fast car with spoilers and listening to techno was a bit like being in the Fast and the Furious or something! Definitely the best way to see the city.

On Thursday we went shopping in Shibuya with Cynthia’s aunt, and I was really glad to have someone who knew the area show us around as the department stores are like mazes, and there seem to be amazing shops in the oddest corners where you would least expect them to be! We went for a slap up lunch – I had tempura oysters which were delicious! – and hit the shops really hard! Managed to find a really nice super long knitted wool cardigan with a real silver fox fur collar for only £30! I also got some glass gems to pimp my keitai phone, and a few gifts for people. That evening after a feast of temaki sushi we wandered around shibuya, took some purikura (sticker photos) and quite randomly got handed sweets by a salaryman.

We got one of the last trains home – the most crowded train I have ever been on! Between 6pm-12pm all the trains are packed to the brim. The marks on the platform tell you where to line up, but any sense of order ends here; once you are inside it is every man for himself! This is a photo of people being pushed onto the train by one of the white gloved conductors, something unique to Japan.

I can’t really express how squashed we were! We couldn’t move at all, backs twisted like a pretzels and feet trodden on! I don’t know how people can do this everyday. For those who miss the last train the sorry fate is a night spent on the platform, at karaoke, or sleeping in a manga cafe (a kind of Internet cafe) so most people get on these trains at all costs.

Along came Friday and a visit to Harajuku. Disappointingly didn’t see a whole lot of bizarrely clad individuals, but had a nice wander around some of the boutiques and interesting shops. As it was Halloween, the later it got, the more we saw people in costume wandering around. Before we came, about 10 of us had planned to meet up and go to AgeHa – a superclub on the industrial outskirts of Tokyo, but after we got off the bus and saw the queues of about 2000 people we realised that there was no way we were going to get in. A few of our friends had already queued for 2 hours and were still 40 minutes from the entrance! Luckily a friend from SOAS told us about another event we could go to in Shibuya which turned out to be the most amazing party! It was an invitation only club night with performances by a dozen different artists for about 200 people, on the top floor of a 12 storey building, complete with swimming pool outside, so it felt very exclusive. People dressed up in the most amazing Halloween outfits, so although it was quite surreal it was definitely one of the best nights out in Japan so far!

After the party ended at 4.30 am we headed out into Roppongi to another club. Anyone will tell you that Roppongi is Gaijin Central (foreigners = yuk) but at that time in the morning we couldn’t really be picky. We got the first train in the morning there and by the time we arrived it was light outside! Unfortunately the club we went to was of the very worst kind, and it was even worse that I had anticipated, sticky floors, perverts and vomit. So we didn’t stay long, and decided to go for breakfast ramen (noodles) instead. By the time we got home it was 9.30 am! As you might expect we slept till 3pm!

Later that evening Joys cousins family took the three of us to the Tokyo Tower where we got some fantastic views of the city at night. As far as you can see in every direction there are skyscrapers and bright lights. It makes London look like a hamlet!

After that we went to Onsen, which are like hot springs which you bathe in. The particular one they took us to is an Edo Period themed one where you can choose your favourite colour yukata, enjoy some dinner at the food court and play some old fashioned arcade games before going bathing. Its always a little embarrassing bathing with all the other naked with other people but its so relaxing that all of it slips away after the first few minutes. Obviously the main baths are single sex, but after you get out and dry off you can enjoy the outside foot baths with everyone.

So thats the general idea of my weekend! (I had to leave out most of the details otherwise it would have been ridiculously long!) I had such a fun time, and I will definitely be going back at some point because as a city it has so much to offer and I only really scratched the surface. I was really expecting to love Tokyo, as I love living in London and I’m fairly used to city life. But despite having an amazing time, I was so relieved to get back to Nagoya! The air and streets are cleaner here, people walk half a heartbeat slower, they apologise when they bump into you, there’s hardly any foreigners, the trains seem almost empty, and obviously its a lot cheaper. Nagoya is by no means perfect, but as a place to live it is everything I need in a city.

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Toyota factory tour

Yesterday afternoon the CJS office arranged a trip for students to go around the Toyota factory and museum which was really interesting. We saw all the “dancing robots” doing welding, and it was like something out of star wars or the matrix, or that Picasso advert where the robot goes crazy and starts painting the car all over! The most amazing thing is that now 97% of the manufacturing process is done by robots/machines, and they can produce almost 1000 cars a day. The museum was pretty good too, but what I found most interesting is how they developed the hybrid cars by using nature as inspiration. They studied a particular bird which can fly high over Mt Everest purely by using thermals and very little effort on its own part, and from that they developed the concept of a hybrid car which is much more environmentally friendly. They also showed what they hope cars will be like in the future – environmentally friendly, affordable, and able to react and respond to other cars/objects to minimise collisions. The tour ended with a performance by the a robot which can play the trumpet – and pretty realistically as well! Certainly better than I could!

Ive been struggling to find time for myself  this last week as every free moment I have is filled up instantly with preparation for classes, homework, trips to the bank and trips to the ward office! Ive finally got my Foreigner Card and have sorted out money now, but since the bank is only open Mon-Friday 9-3 and classes finish at 5 most days, its hard to find time to go there!

Ive been meeting a lot of really cool Japanese people at uni, but sometimes I feel intimidated by how smartly everyone dresses for uni. Whilst SOAS adopts the “wear whatever you can find on the floor which hasn’t been covered in mud from the last protest you were at or isn’t being used as a towel” approach to dressing, Japan takes dressing for classes much more seriously. All the girls wear heels and jewelery, and the boys are all so stylish; its unbelievable. SOAS people should clean up their act! 😉

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The first few days have been a total whilrwind of food parties, meeting new people and JAPANESE! Its already been such good practise as I have to speak Japanese 90% of the time, and my confidence has skyrocketed. Theres no way I could write it all down, but a few things that have amused me so far include:

Jelly in a can – bought from a drinks vending machine. Is it a drink? Is it food? Im not quite sure, but its very yummy!

Engrish – its absolutely everywhere. I have a file which says: “Yeah, I want to make my arms like ham… pretend like you`re a pretty kitty” and a notebook which says: “tiny flowers of shine”. Ive also tried a beer which according to its description on the label* “taste of autumn”… whatever that means.

Oh and we went to a fake English style pub last night where you could choose from 4 sizes of beer: half pint, Pint, 3/4 pint, and a LITRE. (I had a 3/4 pint just to see what it looked like, but it is actually just a 3/4 pint sized glass filled to the top, not a pint which isnt fully filled up in case you were wondering.)

Everything is going really well, everyone is really nice, my jetlag is non-existent and the food is delicious. Today I had yaki-soba for breakfast, mochi icecream for lunch, jelly in a can as a snack and who knows what for dinner. Not particularly healthy, but very Japan.

There has been a LOT of orientation (more like disorientaion in the case of the talk on finance) and had a campus tour, Ive discovered internet which you dont have to log-on to (we havent had that orientation seminar yet!) in the CJS office so thats where I am right now. The campus is amazing, and massive compared to what Im used to at SOAS, so its going to be a while before I really know my way around! Theres a gym, a pool, (free to use!) a (proper) bookshop, a movie rental store (free!!) a language exchange centre where Japanese is prohibited so to promote other languages, about 4 or 5 cafeterias, a couple of cafes, sports grounds…. whereas SOAS is essentally one building! So I feel like Im having a real university experience! Its much more what one would expect uni to be like. The best part is, my dormitory is literally spitting distance form the main gates! 

Will try to update again soon, Im thinking about getting internet in my room; its very expensive (25 pounds per month) but I think its a necessity. Especially since there are no wireless networks on campus (its all dial-up!!) all the wireless networks around my hall are secured and even though there is a room where one can skype from on campus, the computer rooms shut about 8.30. Even to using an internet cafe requires registration, so its a bit of a hassle really.

Hope you are all well back home!

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I spent what seemed like a large proportion of yesterday morning running around London gathering bits and pieces for my Visa. A quick trip to SOAS, followed by a hurried scavenge around Mayfair looking for a photocopy machine and somewhere to have passport photos done. Unfortunatly I look like I am giving a horrific death stare in my photos, but I didn’t have the time/money to get new ones done! Hopefully the visa should be ready in a couple of days from now; just in time!

I’ve just found out that I am going to be living in an International Hall of Residence called Nanzan Nagoya Koryu Kaikan 【名古屋交流会館】. If you want to send me English chocolate/PG tips/interesting things/letters then that would be lovely! Apparently it is “located a few metres from the university gates” which I hope isn’t an exaggeration – allowing me to get as much beauty sleep in as possible! I’ll be in one of the Halls’ apartments, sharing with 3 other international students and one Japanese student. Luckily MJ (fellow SOAS exchange student) is also going to be in the same building, but I think the whole concept of this hall is to encourage people of all different nationalities to “culture-exchange”, and so I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new people.

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I’ve finally booked my flights now, so I’ll be leaving on the 31st August and I’ll be in Nagoya for the 1st September. I’m excited and wondering what its all going to be like: who I’m going to meet, what the classes will be like and what Nagoya is like too.

I’m not really so nervous but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how much I’m going to miss London, friends and family, and even the over-keen socialists of SOAS! Having been to Japan before I have some idea of what to expect; I am preparing myself for a drought of bacon, and cheese, and Sunday roasts. Bad times. But on the plus side, Japan offers a lot of things which I wish we had here, most notably vending machines 【自動販売機】every 50 metres which serve tea and coffee in cans (hot in the winter and cold in the summer – amazing) and obviously all my favourite Japanese foods such as Tempura, Yaki Soba, Okonomiyaki, and Takoyaki – good times. I’m even excited at the thought of eating my first humble Onigiri again (rice-ball with fillings/flavourings and wrapped in dried seaweed) at newsstands and convenience stores.

I’m going to have to find a way of getting regular red meat in my life since Japan observes a predominantly fish/rice/vegetable based diet. The business minded amongst you should start buying shares in Kobe beef NOW. No Meat = No Meal.

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