School Has Begun

Well, school has begun.  In the packet we had to read before arriving in Japan said that the instructors were going to be stricter and teach differently then we are use to.  I was not sure exactly what that meant, so I was really looking forward to how school was going to go.  After having been in school for a couple of days, I still do not know what they are talking about.  Nothing is different.  Which makes me wonder how other universities are teaching if most people find the teaching style so much different in Japan. 

Anyway, classes start at 830am every day.  It takes about 30 minutes by train to get from Kichijouji to Yotsuya.  But I leave 45 minutes early to be sure I can get there on time.  Ok, I think I need to explain the geographics of Japan.  Some people get confused when I tell them I am staying in Kichijouji.  I think people assume that Tokyo is a large city so when I say that I'm in Kichijouji they don't understand.  Tokyo is a the capital of Japan, so it IS in fact a city, BUT it is also a prefecture.  Japan is made up of 4 islands.  Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyoushu.  Tokyo is located on Honshu, its the biggest island.  Tokyo is pretty much in the center of Honshu.  Much like America, it has states, or in this case prefectures.  I think Canada has prefectures right?  I am unsure of how many prefectures that there are in Japan, but anyway, that doesn't matter.  I am staying in Tokyo prefecture.  Tokyo, the capital city, is about a 40-45 minutes train ride from Kichijouji.  Japan is divided up really well, it's almost like a grid.  It's modeled after China.  There are also wards, and I am in Kishijouji ward.  The closes ward to mine is Shinjuku.  Wards usually contain several cities.  Then after cities, there are neighborhoods.  The streets have names, but no one uses them.  Except the post office.  People will use either landmarks, or location names like cities and neighborhoods.  So, the break down is Islands, prefectures, wards, cities, and neighborhoods.  Make sense? No?  Me either.  So don't worry about it too much.  Just think of it as I'm living in Arizona and I travel from Mesa to Tempe everyday to school by train.  It's about the same distance apart.  Anywho, if you hear me mention city names, I'm still in Tokyo.  Just think of Tokyo as a big state.

Back to school, after my train ride, I had about 15 minutes to find where my first class was.  It's Japanese popular cutlure, so pretty much anime and mangas.  The instructor is Japanese but speaks English.  But he says um after every 3rd word.  It's like he's trying to speak really fast and his brain cannot catch up with his mouth.  It's super annoying and really hard to learn anything in the class. I'm not quite sure what it is I'm suppose to be learning really.  It's more like philosophy really.  I can't drop this class and change it either or I would have.  None of the other classes in the morning will count as a credit towards my degree.  So it would be pointless to take anything else.  I will just have to figure out what to do to survive and figure it out.  Oh well.  We got out early because he didn't know what else to talk about the first day.  So I had enough time to buy a drink.  I didn't realize that I would not have enough time to get something to eat or drink between classes.  I'm in classes from 830 to 1 everyday.  That's a large gap between breakfast and lunch.  So I headed to first floor and got something from the vending machines that just so happen to be everywhere here.  And I do mean everywhere.  It's more common than gas stations back home.  They are refilled by independant companies too.  So there are an over abundance of drink companies here as you can immagine.  You can also buy beer in vending machines too.  Which I find odd.  The legal drinking age is 20 in Japan, yet they let anyone have access to beer without being carded.  It's interesting to say the least.  But they don't seem to have a legal issue with drinking like they do in the states.  

ANYWAY!!  After my break I headed to my next class which is Japan history, Edo to Tokyo.  It's old Japanese history covering from the beginning of time until 1868, the time of the Meiji restoration and Japan became modern.  Pretty much like overnight.  Anyway, I get off on tangents too much don't I?  I LOVE my history class.  Never thought I would say that about any history class EVER but I guess it just takes the right teacher.  He came to Japan in 1978 studying for his masters in Asian studies and taught at Columbia University, Ohio but felt that no one there had an appreciation for Asian history so he went back to the school that he received his masters and taught there for a few years and now teaches at Sophia University.  He's really funny too.  He told us that he has complete control over the thermastat and if we have a problem with that, we can either bring a sweater, change seats, or drop his class.   He also said that if anyone has a pool out for how many times he will trip over wires during the summer session he has his money on 26.  

After class, I went to grab lunch from the 7/11 on campus.  They have microwaves and a cafeteria area to eat lunch and use the wifi.  After eating I headed to the CIEE study center to set up my MOODLE account.  It's an online database the school uses.  It makes no sense but I have to use it.  Anyway, after I got that set up, I grabbed my package from my mom and headed home.  I ate some of the food that she gave me then read my homework, which took 4 hours by the way, and went to bed.

The next day I get to school and was ready for the next day.  I still don't understand what is going on with my pop culture class.  It makes no sense.  I'll figure it out eventually, but it still doesn't help when the teacher takes so long to say things because the um keeps getting in the way.  I like that my American teacher in the history class is, well, AMERICAN.  He may talk really fast to get all the important facts out for the class in only 2 hours but at least he natively speaks English without his favorite word being UM!!!  So many people are already complaining about his class and they don't like the instructor.  I don't know why.  I seem to like all the intructors that everyone else dislikes.  I have never understood that.  After class we all decided to head to the cafeteria to eat, the only problem with that was that it was closed.  No one really knows why it was because the sign on the door said that it was suppose to be opened on Saturdays from 11-3 and it was only 1pm.  I'm not sure why it was closed.  We told the office and they were confused too.  So we went to 7/11 to eat, but because everyone else did the same thing already, it was pretty much empty and had no food.  I'm just glad I thought to bring some food that my mother sent me from America.  So many people saw me eating the peanut better crackers and would ask me were I got those from and my answer was "America."  Most people laughed at that, one person looked at me really confused and walked off, and 2 people got really mad that I said that.  I asked them what was wrong because I meant that as a joke, but they never told me.  

After "lunch," we took the subway to go to our earthquake simulator class.  The place we went to is apparently the best in the world and the earthquakes it can simulate is literally what it feels like to be in one.  

We get there and they sepparte us into 2 groups.  First we went to how to protect ourselves and escape a building from fire.  Everything we were taught when we were little is totally wrong.  We had to relearn everything.  Since Japan experiences more trajic events then America does, they have better ways of doing things, as well as better equipment to occomdate emergencies.  Like they have exit signs in the floor that illumiate automtically when it senses smoke, earthquakes, or darkness.  There are also exit signs lower to the ground, so in case of fire you can see where to go when the place is filled with smoke.  They have fire proof door handles so that you can open them and not burn yourself, they have special bags that inflate with oxygen and allow you to quickly run to an exit when crouching is not an option.  We were taught how to exit a buring building and they had us through a simulator that fills a room with smoke an makes it really hot inside and lights up to look and feel like you are in a building on fire.  If you stood up too high then the sensor would go off and the alarm would sound saying that we were dead because we breathed in too much smoke.  There was about 30 of us in our group so we went through the simulator in groups of 6.  My group made it out sagely and everyone was alive, but one group had every member die because they stood up and did not take the simulator seriously.  We all could watch everythiing they were doing and hear everything they were saying on screens.  It was funny.  Mostly because they could not see anything but we could see them.  

After that, we were brought to the earthquake simulator and instructed on how to react when there is an earthquake.  Again, Japan has different ways of approaching safety when it comes to earthquakes.  In the states, if there is something on the stove, you need to turn it off first then find safety.  In Japan however, all electronics have sensors.  They will all turn off once they sense an Earthquake.  Furniture like dressers and desks are attactched to the walls and floors.  Drawers also have special locks so as not to fall out during earthquakes.  All buildings earthquake proof in Japan.  If they were not, then were taken down and rebuilt to match standards of today so they won't cause danger and fall over.  

During the 2011 earthquake, it was a 9.0 magnitude.  The quake lasted for more than 5 minutes.  That's unusual, they normaly last for only 30 seconds at the most.  The earthquake that took place in 2011 was a group of hundreds of earthquakes.  During those 2 months, Japan had over 500 quakes.  The actual earthquake itself did not cause any damage.  Buildings swayed and some sank into the earth and there were places where water was coming up from the earth.  I think it's called sink wash?  But I'm not sure.  What made that earthquake such a devistation was the tsunami that followed.  What causes tsunami's are when the the plates snap back to place under the water.  Usually they just slide back and no waves are created.  But in this case, the plate had been dragged down so far that it snapped back so rappidly causes most of Honshu to experience hundreds of earthquakes.  

Now, Japan has a sea wall to protect them from tsunamis.  They have built this wall to be taller than the highest tsunami ever recorded.  But this one that occured in March of 2011, was so tall and so strong, that it actually broke this wall and it because impossible to measure.  With the foundation already weakened by the abnormally long quake the tsunami washed away everything in it's path.  Then there was the back wash.  When the water receded, it took everything with it causing even more damage.  Once the water was gone, there was literally nothing left.  The land was completely cleared out.  Then if that wasn't enough, the tsunami caused hundreds of fires and explosions.  The only thing that Japan didn't have was a tornado. 

The simulator was able to let us experience the 9.0 earthquake.  Only 5 of the us 30 were alloud to do it.  I was one of them.  The table we were under was litterally bouncing.  We were told to hold the upper part of the table leg to keep us safe, and to not get our hands smashed by the leg or chair legs.  Sometimes, they are able to notify people of an earthquake via cell phones, tv programs, radio, ect.  They can only do that when the epicenter is somewhere far in the ocean.  50% of the time it just happens without warning. 

At first we experienced 6.0 then they moved it up to 7.0.  They also had us feel what it would be like if we were in a 50 story building.  It was actually a lot of fun to experience, but it was also scary at the same time.  It fun when its fake, but it's going to be terrifying if it were to actually happen of that magnitude.  Ironically enough, underground levels are safer, as they do not feel the shaking as bad. It's half as strong as being on the sufface.  So a lot of buildings here have bacement levels.  I found that rather interesting.  

After the simulator, we went to watch a documentary about earthquakes in Japan and how they have improved everything since.  It made me want to cry but it was raw footage we saw from peoples phones.  Whatever they were doing filming the tsunami I do not know.  I would have been more concerned with my safety.  What really made me want to cry was hearing the screams of people calling for other people that couldn't make it out of the way of the water fast enough or were being washed away.  It was devistating!  The tsunami traveled about the speed of a jet plane until it hit the sea wall, then it slowed to about the speed of the bullet trains, then halfway to land it was slowed even more to about 45 miles per hour.  I don't care how much is slowed, 45mph is still really fast! No one can out run that!  It was so sad!  Thousands of people died then.  I don't know how you cannot cry after watching that.

After we were finished there, a friend and I went to go to the firework festival.  We headed to the train station to start going to Asakusa.  We figured it would be crowded, we just didn't think it would be crowded so soon.  We were quickly trying to make our way to the train and once we got there, we get off at Ueno and switched to the subway, but that was even more crowded!! There were people in yukata's everywhere!!  They like to wear those for festivals.  They look really pretty too.  At this point, there were so many people that we traveled as just one large mass.  There was no way of getting anywhere else but where the people were going as a whole.  Once at the subway train stop, we were literally shoved into the train.  The workers had to push the people in so that the doors could close.  I don't think I have even been so smashed before.  I am tall in Japan so I could see over everyones head.  I look down and I see 2 eye balls from a girl so squished in the mass of people.  I ask her if she was ok and she said yes.  We get to Asakusa and the mob starts walking to see the fireworks.  Everyone had maps and I'm not sure how we didn't get one, but anyway, we start following the mob and after a very very LONG while we finally found a good spot to sit on the ground to watch the fireworks.  They were amazing!! We don't have anything like the fireworks they have here!!  It's so amazing!!  It was alot of fun!  We were so close that we could feel every explosion with the lights.  It was so AMAZING!  
It started to rain but they kept fire them off!  It was so awesome! At some point though, it really was pouring so we had to leave and go back.  Unfortunately, people Japan is home to so many people!!!! It took us 3 HOURS to get home!!  3 HOURS!  I was completely soaked.  The umbrella did nothing to help me.  It did keep my backpack nice and dry.  Or at least the part of my computer anyway.  

We had a chance to practice Japanese with some highschool girls in front of us as we were moving 2 steps per minutes.  They wanted to practice English too.  It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed meeting them.  Once we finally made it home, I couldn't wait to take my shoes off.  Every time I made a step they swished in water.

Today was nothing speacial, just full of homework, buying my train ticket to Kyoto, reserving my hotel, and staying in the hotel today.  I needed the break from last night.  Oh my goodness.  My back still hasn't recoveed from that yet.