On to the Next One

Alas, the prodigal son has returned.

That is to say, after several weeks of procrastination, I’m blogging again. Initially, I had hoped to write some introspective, profound reflection on my summer in Morocco. But then I thought to myself: “What if I just take a nap instead?” And so I did. In fact, I took many naps and enough time passed that I just didn’t want to write about my summer anymore. So if you’re wondering, my time in Morocco was equal parts painful and worthwhile. You can ask me about it if you’re all that interested.

A lot has happened in the month since I left Morocco. For instance, I’m in Japan now, so that’s neat.

In all honesty, I don’t really have a reason to be here. I don’t speak Japanese. I study the Middle East. I could be doing a lot of other things. But being here means not being at Northwestern, and I just don’t feel like going back there right now. Thanks to a program called IES Abroad, I’m studying Japanese language and culture in the Tokyo area at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS). I’m living in a dorm this time around, which is perfect for a creature of solitude and darkness such as myself.

The other students in the program and I arrived about two weeks ago, and the program put us up in a swanky hotel that was far too classy for the likes of me. We stayed there for three days while the program staff tried to give us the basic knowledge we’d need to survive in Tokyo. I was pretty much lost the whole time, but I haven’t died yet, so I’m probably fine.

The library at KUIS

Classes have only just started for us at KUIS, but things are looking good so far. The school’s newer facilities are fantastic, if a little “extra.” For example, one kid in my program mentioned that our student center looks an Urban Outfitters, and now I can’t unsee the resemblance. When it comes to the actual academic side of things, I like my courses so far, but I’ve been wronged by school so many times before that I won’t trust a first impression. 

I’m staying in an all-girls dorm, and I won’t really go into details about it because no one cares about dorms. I will mention that there are some really nice old ladies who prepare our meals here, but I’m pretty sure they think I’m some kind of simpleton because I never know what they’re saying to me.

Now, my school and dorm are technically in the Chiba prefecture, but we’re in the Greater Tokyo Area, which is absolutely immense. Japan’s top-notch train system can get you into the city pretty quickly, and frankly it’s a big step up from Chicago’s trains (which are actual garbage and the bane of my existence). I’ve done a little exploring in Tokyo so far, but I feel like I’ve yet to see 99.999% of the city.

The first neighborhood in Tokyo that I visited was Harajuku, which most people consider the center of fashion and youth culture in Japan. As such, I found it terrifying. Given that I am actually a grumpy, 75-year-old man trapped in the body of a 20-year-old girl, I tend to have trouble relating to the youths. I wasn’t really interested in the shopping scene, and there were way too many people. There were also a bunch of ladies yelling at you to come into their shops, which I hated, because I don’t like being told what to do. However, there were a bunch of weird cafes (cat cafes, hedgehog cafes, owl cafes) that intrigued me enough that I’ll probably go back to Harajuku in the future.

Me and my son in a Shinjuku arcade

I had a better time in Shinjuku, which I visited with my friend from NU. Shout out to my homeboy, Alex Furuya, who found a dope, vegetarian-friendly restaurant just for me. We also went to an arcade, which was 8-floors of crazy. Arcades are super popular for all ages in Japan, and the one we went to had regular arcade machines for the average player, plus a whole floor of harder games that were too next-level for me. I played the crane machine. I won a dog key chain. 

The next day I ended up in Asakusa, which has been my favorite place so far. One one hand, it’s super touristy, but on the other hand, it’s full of amazing shrines and it has the oldest temple in Tokyo,  Senso-ji Temple, first built 1400 years ago in tribute to the bodhisattva Kannon. There are also a ton of stalls selling traditional Japanese foods, which is also a plus.

My most recent excursion was to Akihabara, a neighborhood famous for its electronics, video games, manga, and anime. I went there mostly hoping to look around and maybe grab some gifts for my friends. Like Harajuku, Akihabara was a little overwhelming, but definitely worth visiting if you’re into geekery or have to buy something for your otaku/weeb pals.

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So this is pretty much what I’ve been up to lately. I have literally no idea what the future holds for me here in Japan, but I’ll probably write about it here if I can get my life together and stop being lazy. So stay tuned, folks, there are more adventures to come.

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