I’m a student!
Well, finally after a whole lot of hassle and running around, I am officially a student – 2 weeks after I started taking classes. My Visa status has finally been changed over, and now I am eligible to start receiving the scholarship. Thank God. Of course, it doesn’t look very cool. The main problem with getting my visa in the first place was that I applied for it in Osaka, but now live in Tokyo. That kind of relentlessly crazy behaviour is something the Japanese offices aren’t used to dealing with, despite the fact I told them about it well in advance, so it’s meant a whole lot of humming and hahhing, and now that I have the new visa, it’s actually just a rubber stamp in my passport with a note scribbled below it saying, “The real one’s in Osaka, and by God, there’s no way we can print off a new one in such a short time frame as three weeks, so just trust us”. Looking forward to putting that to use next time I attempt to enter the country.
So yeah, I’ve been at school now for about two weeks. Which has been mostly spent trying to find my feet and sign all the mountains of paperwork and forms necessary for every aspect of Japanese life (I already did it in Kyoto of course, but after doing something as reckless as moving house, I have to go through it all again).
One thing that really confused me even before I arrived, was exactly what I would be doing once I arrived. I applied and was accepted to be a “research student”, and was told to arrive at University at a certain date for my initial orientation. I turned up, expecting to get some kind of guidance on, you know, what I would be doing at Uni, but instead it was basically 4 hours of people talking about Japanese customs and filling out forms. After it finished, I still had no idea what I was supposed to be doing on a day-by-day basis. After a few more days of going between various buildings and official-looking-but-confused people, I came to the realisation that there are no expectations of me.
As a research student, I don’t actually graduate with any qualifications. And the flipside of that, is that there’s nothing I really have to do. Officially, I think I have to present a written thesis at the end of about two years. And that’s about it. From day to day, week to week, I’m on my own! What the hell are they paying me for? Well, since they are paying, and since I’m here, I decided to use the opportunity to advance my education anyway. I signed up for one more law class, and a bunch of Japanese language classes to try and get myself to the point where I can actually understand what’s going on in the two law classes – which is going to be a way off. I was a bit worried about taking and failing the classes, but when the vast majority of the marks come from simple attendance, I think I’m gonna be OK. Japanese University is really not the same as overseas.
In order to use the school gym and pool, I needed to pass a medical examination. I turned up for it, signed up, and received my little urine sample tube, called “Pee Pole”. I had to fill that tube before the examination could start, so I ran to do that then joined the long long queue of people standing waiting for their examinations. I found it pretty hilarious to think that the hundreds of people standing around in line were all holding onto little tubes of their own urine.
I went through tons of little checks, including height, weight, eye strength, X-rays, and the urine test, which was tested for sugar, protein, and “occult blood”. I don’t know what that is, but I was quite relieved to find that I only had the normal level. I didn’t quite understand why all those were necessary to simply be allowed to use the facilities, but I’m getting used to the Japanese love of categorising and filing away everything they can possibly think of. At the schools I taught at, all the kids had to go through these tests every year, under the pretence of “charting growth”. I don’t really see why that was necessary, or what purpose it could possibly serve, especially when one the tests included things like “sitting height” – not to be confused with actual height, it’s the height from your ass to the top of your head, when you are sitting down.
With the classes and random medical tests out of the way, the remaining facet of Uni life is socialising. I decided to try and tackle that through joining a “circle” – a club. It’s been one of my favourite aspects of school life that I’ve seen, where every student is a member of circle, who spend so much time together they all begin to look alike… oh. Well, students are always best friends with the other members of their circle, so I decided that joining one would be a surefire way to social victory. Since I am more interested in learning the Japanese way of life and language, than imparting my own, I skirted the “international exchange” circles, and tried to go straight for real ones. I have toyed with tennis on and off over the years, so figured a tennis circle would be the way to go. But when I tried to join them, things weren’t so easy. One group declined me because they had “full members”. One group declined me because I was not an undergraduate first year (which really annoyed me. These groups are supposed to be built on the basis of making friends, and to that extent they fiercely protect their own – to the point of being overly elitist. People who transfer into the Uni during their second year, or who, like me, enter at the postgrad level, have a really hard time in such a rigid structure, which defeats the very purpose they purport to stand for). One group simply failed to exist.
I ended up finding another group purely by chance, so went and joined them for an only-in-Asia sober karaoke session, where I was called on to sing in English, and was even more glad than usual that nobody could understand the language. God, do I always sound that bad? Not as bad as one of the other guys, who decided to sing a highly emotional song in Japanese, penned by a woman. I don’t say things like this lightly, but it’s quite probably the single worst performance I’ve ever heard, made even worse by the fact that he was really pouring his heart into it. I was absolutely struggling to hold back the laughs.
In between everything, I’ve also been trying to hang out with the random people I’ve met, including one group of musicians (in a music circle), and going out drinking!
Sorry this entry is in serious need of editing, but I haven’t been sleeping very well since I got here, and I’m too tired to go back over this. My bed is too small for me and I can’t stretch out my legs. I woke up a few nights ago with a cramp! I’ve dragged it out from the wall now, so I can hang my feet off the end. Awesome.
To make up for it, here’s a picture of a second-hand-clothes-store employee doing a headstand in the middle of the road.