Where have I been? It seems like I haven’t updated anything for a while. Well, not much has been going on. This weekend I stayed home. Friday night we had a 新年会 (shinnenkai), which is a new year party. Basically, it is the opportunity to go get plastered with your Japanese colleagues. I sort of dread them but then I always have a good time and of course always drink too much. In Japan, restaurants are geared for large social gatherings because people rarely go to houses for social events. Lots of times people will eat at an 居酒屋 (izakaya), because the ambience is very social. Lots of little dishes shared by the table, and a real variety of food. We had about 20 people at the dinner.
Saturday was a fun day spent working on my Japanese taxes. Lucky me! Or maybe it was Sunday, I don’t know. Saturday night I met some colleagues for dinner at our favorite Okinawan restaurant, Nanpu, It is the kind of place where the chef knows your name (especially when you are a white guy). But the big story was a night out at gothically styled Joy Joy karaoke club. Finally, karaoke in a private karaoke room. It is rare that I can sing Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Cabaret, Hairspray, Les Miserables, and Spandau Ballet (among others) all in the same night. I had a GREAT time. My vocal range was somewhat limited by a cold, but it made Radiohead sound better and I was able to take the songs down a step. The English song selection was a little lacking so maybe the next club will be better.
We saw a very scary drunk though – as a group was leaving this kid basically passed out in the entryway. Stone cold, scary swallow your tongue kind of passed out. His friends got him outside (where it was really cold). Before I knew it, there was a madman on the loose outside, running into to traffic, hitting his friends who tried to stop him, totally out of control. That lasted for a while, then he’d pass out, get energy again, pass out. They tried to get him in a cab, but after a while the cab driver kicked them out. We decided that he needed a hospital, so during one of the quiet moments I told his friends that they should take him to the hospital. How very American of me … but at least I said it in Japanese. I hope I said it in Japanese. Hospital and beauty salon are VERY close in Japanese – byoin (びょういん) versus biyoin (びよういん). Maybe they thought I said he should get his hair styled. Whatever I said, they acknowledged with an affirmation.
Sunday I wanted to eat at my favorite ramen shop, which happens to be in Nagoya Station. As I was going to Nagoya Station, I couldn’t help noticing all the high school students. The ramen shops were filled with them too. How did I know they were students? Most of them were wearing their school uniform. As a matter of fact, students are typically obliged to wear their uniform even when they aren’t in school. I knew something was up. I put two and two together and figured it was college entrance exam day. The test is known as the 入学試験 (nyuugakushiken) which translates to school entrance examination. Clever, huh? This was probably the 入学者選抜大学センター試験 (nyuugakusha senbatsu nyuushi senta- shaken), University Candidate Selection University Admissions Center Test. It is a standard test for most the public universities in Japan and is held over a weekend in mid-January. There is a TON of pressure on this test. Those that don’t do well but want to attend a prestigious public university instead of a costly but easier to enter private university (there are of course, exceptions to private university entry requirements and indeed many are very competitive) typically take a year off to re-take the exam. In this year the students are called 浪人 (ronin), from the term that means “masterless samurai.” I have many friends that did ronin, and a few that did it TWICE!
The links are pretty interesting – check them out.
Here’s a picture I took in Nara years ago that shows Japanese high school students in their 学ラン (gakuran).
I felt very removed from the excitement of Obama’s inauguration. As a matter of fact, I watched his speech almost 18 hours after the fact. I still found it very inspirational. I’m very hopeful that we can do a lot of things right in the next 8 years.
I’m convinced Facebook is a drug. I wonder how many hours I spent tonight popping from person to person? Did I really need to see a picture of me in my junior high school band? I wasn’t even looking for it.