The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Thursday, September 02, 2004

And so it begins

Hi, and welcome to my Japan diary. It seems a bit narcissistic to publish the minutiae of my life in any forum, but the fact is that it saves me sending out impersonal e-mails to my friends and family while I'm in Japan, and allows interested parties to check my progress when they choose to do so.


I am living to the East of Tokyo, in Chiba prefecture, in a fair-sized city called Kashiwa (pop. 300,000). In fact, I live in a fairly remote suburb of Kashiwa called Toyoshiki; I know it's remote because of the turnip fields on all sides of my apartment. It does have a number of conveniences, including a Ferrari dealership in case I find $300,000, and a McDonald's right across the street. Considering that I used to have to drive over an hour to get to a McDonald's where I used to live, this is definitely a step closer to civilization. That being said, I'm not sure that having a McDonald's so close is a good thing. I've already eaten there as many times in a month as I used to in a year. Oh well.

I work at Tokyo University of Science, which apparently is the 'MIT of Japan'. I'm not sure how accurate that comparison is, but my students seem pretty clever (which is in no way synonymous with being good at speaking English.) Most of them are graduate students doing Master's degrees in Chemistry or Material Sciences or Civil Engineering... it's kind of funny to think that I have anything to teach them. They have all enrolled in a voluntary, extra-curricular English conversation class. Most of them aspire to working or at least travelling in other countries, which is a nice change from my previous students who, while very nice, often aspired to little more than being fishermen like their dads. That's all well and good for them, but it doesn't really make for enthusiastic English students.

Every day, I get up and meet the other two English teachers who are my neighbours. Mark is from Alabama, and James is from Kent, England. We make for an interesting group, I think, and travelling on the train together means that we get a lot more stares than we would if we were travelling individually. Our commute is mercifully short, and we are a short walk from the station to campus and our office. The campus of TUS is nice enough, although I haven't really explored it yet.

I teach 7 40-minute classes a day, and I have a few breaks in between, so it's a bit tricky to find enough time to do anything other than wolf down some food at lunch, or hop on the web for a few minutes.

After work, we have a few options; we have found a nice English-style pub right near Kashiwa station, which we go to occasionally. In Toyoshiki, there is also a nice Onsen (a hot spring) or Sento (public bath). I'm not sure which it is; the distinction is that an Onsen is heated by natural geothermal energy, while a Sento is heated artificially. Also, Onsens tend to be much more luxurious. This place is pretty nice, so I guess it's natural. In any case, I find myself in there at least once a week for a relaxing bath and soak in the whirlpool. Other than that, there's not much to do. Even my television stubbornly refuses to switch over to English (many channels have two audio signals - one in Japanese and the other in English) so I can't even understand what's on TV except the occasional news story. I wish I could say it's good practice for learning Japanese, but it's really not. You could watch TV for 20 years and not absorb much of anything, I'm convinced.

Well, that should give you a basic idea of my current situation. More later, assuming I can get this page to even show up...