After finally being released from the hospital and conquering my medical issues, I was free to continue my fun experiences and explorations in Tokyo. These past few weeks I had a series of new experiences that differed from what I have done in the states. The first experience was:
1: Basketball Scrimmage
I joined the basketball club during the first few weeks of the winter semester but, due to my hospitalization I had to take a few weeks off from club practices. When I returned I participated in an end of the year scrimmage. Now one may think that this is a perfectly common event in America, and of course any sport will participate in various scrimmages throughout the season, but this was slightly different. Instead of scrimmaging against a different team, the club invited past members who had graduated to return and scrimmage against the current members. But the best part was after the scrimmage had ended.
Once the games had ended, the teams gathered together and the graduated members as well as the members who would graduate at the end of this semester gave advice. I wasn’t able to understand everything that was said, but I received a warm feeling hearing the advice given. Basketball wasn’t the only topic, but balancing club activities with school and enjoying life in college and finding hobbies you truly enjoy and sticking with those hobbies. Two of the sempai (older members) who came were already married with children and yet they still came to this practice to support the current members. It was a heartwarming experience and I truly felt the sempai cared for the younger generation and their desires to succeed and to play basketball.
Afterwards we all went to an izakaya to talk, drink and have fun. It was a nomikai (all you can drink) and different appetizer-like dishes were brought for us to enjoy while we drink. Some of them I recognized, like a meat dish of sausages and fried chicken or a salad of different vegetables in mayo (mayo is incredibly popular in Japan) but some I had never seen before; for instance, motsu in stew with vegetables. When I asked what this was, my friends looked up the translation on their phones and it came out as “variety meat”. I thought this must mean it was some kind of sausage… but when I asked my Japanese teachers in class I found out it was actually chicken innards… it didn’t have much taste and was very chewy… This is one of the foods I never thought I would ever try… I still feel kind of weird haven eaten chicken innards… or innards of any kind… Anyway, we ended with sweat potato ice cream which is delicious.
One of the more interesting subjects of conversation had to do with blood types. In America, horoscopes have gained some popularity, but in Japan horoscopes and the like are incredibly popular. Blood types have gained a similar importance as horoscopes with each blood type attached to a different personality and have different “love luck” etc, each month or week that can be read in different magazines. In America not everyone knows their blood types unless they have it checked for a particular reason. In Japan everyone knows their blood type. Supposedly different blood types work well and are attracted to each other while other blood types will clash. According to this website (for more info go to this website as well) —-> (http://www.issendai.com/rpgs/takemywings/bloodtypes.htm)
Type A: People with blood type A have a deep-rooted strength that helps them stay calm in a crisis when everyone else is panicking. However, they tend to avoid confrontation, and feel very uncomfortable around people. A types are shy and sometimes withdrawn. They seek harmony and are very polite, but all the same feel that they never really fit in with others. A types are very responsible. If there is a job to be done, they prefer to take care of it themselves. These people crave success and are perfectionists. They are also very creative, and the most artistic of all the blood types, most likely because of their sensitivity.
Type B: People with blood type B are the most practical of the blood groups. They are specialists in what they do. When they start a project, they spend extra time understanding and trying to follow directions than others might. When they are doing something, all of their attention is focused on it. They tend to stick to a goal and follow it through to the end, even if it seems impossible. They tend to be less than cooperative, as they like to follow their own rules and their own ideas. They are individualists. B type people pay attention to their thoughts a little more than their feelings, and therefore can sometimes seem cold and serious.
Type O: People with blood type O people are outgoing, energetic and social. They are the most flexible of the blood types. They easily start up projects but often have trouble following through because they give up easily. They are flighty and not too dependable. O types always say what’s on their mind. They value the opinion of others and like to be the center of attention. Also, people with O blood are extremely self-confident.
Type AB: People with blood type AB are hard to categorize. They can have characteristics on both ends of the spectrum at the same time. For instance, they are both shy and outgoing. They easily switch from one opposite to another. AB people are trustworthy and responsible, but can’t handle it when too much is asked of them. They don’t mind doing favors or helping out, as long as its on their own conditions. People with this blood type are interested in art and metaphysics.
As in respect to compatibility:
A is most compatible with A and AB.
B is most compatible with B and AB.
AB is most compatible with AB, B, A, and O.
O is most compatible with O and AB.
As we were talking about blood types one of the senpai who had come along mentioned that even though she is blood type “A” she didn’t care for guys who were blood type “A” and she went on for a while talking about the specific traits she didn’t find attractive. A few minutes later our coach, who came along as well, starts laughing. Turns out he’s blood type “A” and the senpai didn’t know this. It was super funny once she realized.
Another aspect of Japanese culture is that of the senpai (upperclassman or people who have been present longer) and kouhai (younger classman or new members). This is within grades, but also within club activities and jobs, it’s a classification and show of respect that continues throughout one’s life. Typically, at least within clubs, the kouhai have to do the odds and ends like picking up balls after practice, cleaning the equipment or the courts, running different errands. The senpai can even order the kouhai to do favors for them, like bringing them something to drink or carrying their bags. However, in return, the senpai will take the kouhai out to eat and pay for their meals. The basketball club has few members, so the kouhai-senpai relationships aren’t pronounced, plus I’m a foreigner so I don’t really fit into the scheme as well (I’m older than some of the members, yet they have been in the club longer than I have). When we went to the izakaya we had 5 different “levels” of senpai-kouhai relationships and that affected how much each person paid. The price was 3000 yen (about $30) a person, for a 2 hour all you can drink plus appetizers mention previously. The coach put in the most money, then the graduated senpai, then the senpai who are about to graduate, then the older members of the club and the people who paid the least were the youngest members plus me (even though I’m older I am considered a kouhai because I am a new member). I find the entire system interesting, and this is present in some American sports club, but this isn’t as ingrained in American culture as it is in Japanese culture.
All in all it was a super fun night and I am incredibly glad that I joined the basketball club and am able to have experiences like the above.
2: Emergency Drill
A few weeks in advanced there was an announcement at my dorm that there was going to be a fire drill followed by emergency training and that participation was encouraged (i.e. mandatory). In the beginning I really didn’t want to go. First of all, the fire drill was at 10:30 in the morning and I had been out late the previous night so I didn’t want to get up. Second of all, what did they mean about “emergency training” I had never really experienced this in America, though we did have fire drills in school.
Anyway the day came, and I was reluctant at first, but the day was actually pretty fun. After we all evacuated the building for the fire drill portion of the day, we started with learning how to use fire extinguishers. But it wasn’t just hearing an explanation or looking at pictures, we got to use the fire extinguishers. Of course they had been filled with water so that the chemicals weren’t wasted but it was still super fun. They even put up a “fire” target for us to aim at.
After that we went inside the building and learned how to use an AED and the basics of CPR. They explained how you have to direct one specific person to call an ambulance and another to bring the AED. I had already learned all of this in health class so this particular portion was slightly boring, but then they had two of the dorm students go through the process as well which was pretty funny. Of course the instructions were all in Japanese so that part was new. It was actually pretty cool because I could understand what the policeman was talking about without the English translation.
The best part was the last part of the training. The policemen/firemen/not exactly sure which branch of the government they worked for brought in a truck that mimicked the effects of an earthquake. We had experienced a level 3 earthquake in our section of Tokyo, but using the truck we could feel the effects of a level 6 earthquake… or was it seven. There was a room in the truck with a table and they instructed us on what to do when one feels an earthquake. The most important thing to protect is the head. Once you find something to hide under, like a table, you have to grab the table legs to hold the table in place. If you don’t brace the legs, the table will move due to the shaking. It was kind of scary to watch because the whole truck started movie. Everyone who wanted to got to experience this. When I was inside the truck for my turn it was honestly something I had never felt before. Everything was jerking back and forth and there was nothing you could do except wait for the shaking to stop. After everyone had done the basic earthquake, a bell curve working its way up from still until 6/7 and then back to still, we had the chance to experience an actual earthquake that had hit Japan. This was a great experience, finding out what to expect when an earthquake hits, but at the same time it was even scarier than the first. The reason for this was that the earthquake wasn’t just a bell curve. The shaking would start and then calm down to be almost still. The man running the drill told us to stay under the table until he told us we could rise up. This was important because the shaking would all but stop and you would think you were safe, but then the shaking would start up again, over and over again. The entire earthquake was 1 minute 50 seconds, but it felt like 10 minutes. The earthquake went up to an 8/9 and then would die down, then go up again and die down, then go up again, etc. Over all this was an invaluable experience and I definitely feel more comfortable about dealing with an earthquake when it happens.
3: The Ghibli Museum
Studio Ghibli is the animation responsible for movies such as “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “My neighbor Totoro”, “Spirited Away” and many more. The famous animator within this group is Hayao Miyazaki. I only recently became interested in Studio Ghibli films but it’s extremely famous in Japan and with my friends who have been interested in Japan since they were young. Within Tokyo, there is a museum dedicated to Ghibli and his films. As my interest has been recent, I didn’t recognize everything, but the experience was super fun. The museum had rooms on the different films, but also on the creation of animation. Plus there was a series of rooms based off of Hayao Miyazaki’s work studio with water color paintings hanging all around the walls of his art. It was incredibly skillful and beautiful.
One of the unique parts of the museum was little secret ways built in that children could take. For instance, there was a normal staircase that went up to the second store, but there was also a “secret” winding staircase that children could climb. Even though I was way too tall, I still ducked and took these secret ways because there were so much fun!
My favorite part of the museum was a short clip you could watch. The clip I saw was of sumo wrestling mice and it was simply charming. I was clapping with the characters in the movie and laughing with them as well. Even though the clip was maybe 20 minutes long, it was sooooooooo cute! The clip was also in Japanese, but because the film is aimed at children, the Japanese was simple enough that I could understand most of it. It was super exciting.
For those readers who are unaware, Christmas in Japan is celebrated in a much different way than in America. Rather than being a religious holiday, or a time to spend with family, Christmas in Japan is a holiday for couples. If one is lacking a boy/girlfriend Christmas is the time to spend with your other single friends, kind of similar to New Year’s Eve in America. Presents are given only to the best friend or to the boyfriend or girlfriend. Of course there are exceptions to this, but generally speaking this is the norm.
However, despite this difference, the Christmas celebration in Japan is visible everywhere. Stores put up Christmas lights and decorations, restaurants will have Christmas specials or couple specials, the spirit of Christmas is still present. One of the coolest activities in Japan during Christmas time is the illuminations. Some of the illuminations cost money and they involve light shows, etc. The illumination I saw was a walkway lit up and covered in lights. It was so beautiful, I actually felt like I was in a fairy tale.
One of the more specialized lights was to show the “relationship” between two people. Underneath a lit up Christmas tree were places for two people to put their hands. After this the tree would light up a specific color. For instance, pink meant love, green meant health, blue meant peace, etc.
By the way, I forgot to mention that we went to see this illumination after the Christmas party that the school had thrown for the foreign exchange students. There was food and drinks, the choir sang “Silent Night”, and some traditional Japanese games such as origami and cat’s cradle. One of the more interesting aspects of the night was that the school provided alcohol as an optional beverage. This seemed super weird to me and the other exchange students from America because there seems to be a huge emphasis on not drinking while in college. However the school wasn’t saying to “get drunk” or any message such as that. It was just let’s all have a good time celebrating Christmas.
Those were my interesting/fun adventures for the past few weeks, hope you had fun reading. I have been in Korea for the past few days, so look forward to my next blog where you can learn about the differences between America and Japan AND South Korea.