Moore Than This

"Here we are living in paradise, living in luxury..."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Gaijin meet river, hilarity ensues

For me, this week has been all about putting off preparations for moving house. Oh yeah, and going to various people's "goodbye" outings. Yesterday I swung by Kyoto to go to an English pub with some friends. This was a regular thing for them, but I'd just started going recently.

The place did the English-pub schtick with moderate success. The effect of sitting in a pew seat, pint glass in hand, and looking out of the window to the dreary modern skyline of Kyoto was, well, a little jarring. These outings ran on tradition. The tradition was: get in early and drink while happy hour was still going on (sure, I'd love to use the Housemartins song in the post title, but we can't always get what we want) from 5 to 8. The place was usually deserted, so we hung out there, chatted to the bar staff, and got "merry".

Extremely merry. We left a little past eight to go get some sushi, leaving behind a few people who weren't hungry. Despite having eaten at the pub, I was end-of-the-night drunk by 8pm, and needed something more to soak up the alcohol. At some point we twigged that one member of our party was missing, and we started asking each other "Where's Jay? Where's Jay, dude?" Jay had gone home - after doing four tequila shots in quick succession he had apparently thrown up, not in the urinal, but around the urinal.

Probably just as well that was the last regular outing.

In the sushi restaurant, I discovered that like most foods, sushi tastes even more delicious when you're pissed. After shouting for soy sauce at the top of my voice, I noticed the foreign couple opposite our table were giving us dirty looks. I shot one right back - there's no use acting superior. You've probably indulged in some dumb gaijin behaviour before. Don't act like you haven't.

After polishing off a few plates of sushi, I decided I wanted another drink. I got a beer from a convenience store, and went back to the river. In summer the wide banks of the Kamogawa are full of people sitting and enjoying the view. In my opinion, there is nothing finer than sitting by water (a river, the sea, whatever) on a warm summer's evening, drinking a cold beer and watching the world go by.

Fate, however, had different plans for my evening.

I'd met up with the guys who didn't get sushi, and now the others came from the restaurant and found us. Suddenly I heard "HUMAN CHAIN!" and just like when anything stupid gets suggested, I jumped right in. My friends were forming a human chain to reach down the sloping concrete bank to the river. I ended up second from the top, with the guy at the bottom dipping his foot in. Karma must have decided to step in and punish such DG behaviour, because the next thing I knew, the chain had broken and people were scrambling up the bank, leaving two guys at the bottom clinging on to the moulded concrete.

They tried climbing up, as another guy went down to help them. Bad decision. I saw, as if in slow motion, the bigger of the two lose his grip and fall on the lower guy, and both of them fell in the river with a resounding splash. Once I clocked that the river was shallow and they were in no danger, I laughed long and loud. If there's anything funnier than seeing your friends fall in a river, I don't know what it is.

Looking up from watching the guys struggling, I saw a policeman talking to someone. "They're bringing rope, dude!" a friend shouted. Rope? Why the hell do we need rope? I thought. Surely we can just reach down and pull them up. A few seconds of frantically scrabbling on the concrete, I was disabused of such notions. I noticed there were more policemen now. Quite a lot, in fact. I counted about seven, surrounding our group and taking people's details. This is OK, I can wait this out. Then I looked up towards the street, and noticed more officers running towards us, one of which was carrying some rope.

This was something else. I started counting the coppers, then started over. I was sure I'd drunkenly miscounted. No, I was right. There were FOURTEEN police officers surronding us. This was a police swarm. What could bring so many police out in such a short time in the UK? Someone ringing a bell in Parliament Square? Caling a police horse gay? I dreaded to think of anything more serious.

So there I was, drunk, underage, an open can of beer right next to my stuff, surrounded on three sides by the police and on one side by a river containing two of my friends. It was just going to be one of those nights. I gave my details to one of the policemen, while one of them threw down the rope and helped my friends up. They were very nice about it, and didn't even mind when I started taking pictures. (Note: photos are (badly) edited out of respect to the officers of the law who fished these guys out of the river.)

This last photo just you can see a small number of the policemen down there.

Speaking of photos, at one point during the rescue operation someone grabbed me and said "There's people taking pictures from the bridge! We're going to be in the news tomorrow." We later met up with some of our party, and discovered that it was them snapping our brush with the law. Funny as the whole experience was, I want to keep my contact with Japan's police to a minimum for the rest of my stay here.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A watch blog?

Amazingly enough, I was actually up early the day after the graduation ceremony, to go to Kyoto with some friends. There's a flea market held in the grounds of Toji temple on the 21st of every month, which I'd assiduoudly failed to go to for several months running. Last Sunday I broke the habit and went. In between hunting for presents for people back home, I managed to pick up a new watch.

my new watch

As if anyone ever doubted how much I love Boss coffee.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Moore gets diploma, drunk (in that order)

So, the graduation ceremony. I quite like opportunities like this, to get dressed up and celebrate time well spent with people you've met along the way. We all got presented with official-looking folders - in a slight anti-climax, the actual diplomas were in our mailboxes back at the CIE. The American and Australian consuls-general, and Prof. Scott all gave excellent speeches. Actually, the American guy spent a little too long talking about the glamorous life in the consular service, but made up for it with an interesting aside about having to sit next to the repesentative from Burma at some event. I mean, what do you do in that kind of situation?

Afterwards, we wandered over to the dining hall for the lunch. On the way, I discussed the possibility of there being booze at this event. My words paraphrased: "I don't think there will be, but I want to believe in it anyway. It's the beautiful lie that sustains me in the desert." And to think I was stone cold sober at the time.

We got there, and pretty much my first act was to clear an Asahi bottle off the table and pour myself a glass of ice-cold beer. I was filled with end-of-year goodwill. People I disliked no longer seemed so bad. In fact, I couldn't even remember the reason for my misanthropy. I cleared a year's worth of bad blood in a matter of hours, overwhelmingly happy at all these people. I gave my email address out ot everyone who asked, and a few people who didn't. I carried on drinking (in case you hadn't guessed). I lost my friends, wandered around, found some more friends, made a quick run to the convenience store across the road, and said my goodbyes to Kansai Gaidai by necking a beer in front of the CIE.

I met a guy from my Japanese class out there, who told me about my "reputation": "Dude, they say you go home with a different girl every night!" Well, well. That was a pleasant surprise, although I kind of wish I'd heard about it earlier. Maybe if I'd played on that reputation a little, I'd actually be with a girl right now, instead of drunkenly typing this alone at two in the morning. But I digress.

I went home and, well, kind of passed out for a bit, hoping I'd sober up in time for the evening. It took a few seconds after I woke up to realise that this was an unrealistic hope. My friends found me, and we went out to a charming little pub-type place just outside our dorms. I did my best to carry on being the life and soul of the party - and I think I managed it. A few moments from the evening that I can remember:

- When we were playing a word association game and I came up with "buttsex" (hey, blame it on the male mind). In response to my friends' socked expressions, I asked "Oh, did you not hear me? I said... [standing on the table and shouting out loud] BUTTSEX!"
- Shouting down the phone at some girl talking to the person sat next to me: "You didn't look good in that kimono. No siree!"
(In my defence, she really didn't. As well as being a horrible dresser, she was a stumpy, fat white girl. Out of the many international students wearing kimonos, the Asian students pulled it off best. Witness:)

For a last hurrah, it was pretty awesome. Counting in the escapades of the two nights before the ceremony, I was kind of wiped out. All my best
photos are now up on Flickr. Relive my journey into inebriation, in photo-essay format. Peace out.

UPDATE: For any Caucasians who might be interested, see this pic for the way to properly wear a kimono (ie. be very attractive).

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Demob happy

It's our completion ceremony today. There's a definite "end of the year" feel to everything. People are getting dressed up for it - several students have kimonos, and spent last night trying to work out how to tie them up. As there's going to be all manner of fun and games after the ceremony, I don't know when I'll be able to post again. But when I do, you bet I'll have some photos of me looking spiffy in my nice suit.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Chatting in a blog's comment section is the new blogging

Check out the comments on my last couple of posts to see some charming enquiries from Brazilian reader and Illimms fan Juliana. Sadly, not knowing Portuguese, I have to rely on her English - which, she tells me, isn't that good. Hey, it's better than my Portuguese. Still, as much as I enjoy comments, random shout-outs included, a rolling conversation across multiple posts about something unrelated to the posts themselves seems like it's the wrong medium. I think this conversation would be better taken off the blog.

So, Juliana: e-mail me a picture of yourself to moorethanthis -at- ippimail -dot- com (replace the words in dashes with appropriate symbols). If you're hot, I'll learn Portuguese so I can chat to you.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Newsflash: My evil education

Checking through my Hotmail account for the first time in a long while, I found a load of old emails from a discussion group of people I went to 6th Form with (sorry guys, long time no see!), one of which pointed me towards this article from the Guardian:

A US school district has banned the International Baccalaureate after officials condemned it as "un-American" and Marxist, sparking outrage among pupils who are studying the increasingly popular diploma.
A brief note: I went to an international 6th Form college that offered the International Baccalaureate. This was pure luck - it was the closest local school to us, which just happened to be the only comprehensive which offered the IB. If we hadn't moved to Cambridge, I probably wouldn't have heard of the course, much less have taken it. As it happened, studying the IB was one of the best decisions I've made so far.

I took seven subjects (English, French, History, Spanish, Japanese, Maths and Environmental Systems), in addition to a theory of knowledge (philosophy) course and a paper on a topic of our own choosing. I studied with people from all over the world, making friends and learning about the differences and similarities between our cultures. In fact, I think that's why I've enjoyed being at Kansai Gaidai so much - because it recreates the international atmosphere that I loved so much in my 6th Form, and I couldn't find in my first year at Leeds. In addition to that, it taught me the basics of indepedant study, how to do your own research and present your findings. When I got to university I was astonished to find that there were people who still hadn't been taught how to do this - for me it was second nature.

Anyway, now I've given you my side, you can see the opposing view It's mostly a rant on how the IBO's support for the UN and something called the "Earth Charter" (which I never heard of during my time doing the IB) undermines American sovereignty. It's the editor's comments at the end, however, that make that piece what it is:
This socialist-tyrannical indoctrination for the New World Order must be stopped, if we are to preserve the Good America that still remains ... It can be done, dear Patriot!
The Guardian has more on the school board's motives:
Most of the complaints emphasise the IB's teaching of a theory of knowledge course on philosophy and ethics, and that it offers subjects such as environmental systems, technology and social change, peace and conflict studies and experimental science, with an international flavour, alongside the "drier" subjects such as English, maths, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology and foreign languages, that stir less debate, but are actually a much larger part of the core curriculum.
Now this is interesting. What seems to be the problem here is the teaching of philosophy, ethics and other subjects that encourage students to think for themselves. This is a trend that's been seen a lot in US education lately (the British education system deserves its own rant on this subject). The hypocrisy of this is astounding. Teaching creationism is pushed on the grounds of "giving students access to both side of the issue" but an internationalist outlook is treated as some kind of Red peril. As somebody who's seen (and recieved) the benefits of such an education, I'm very angry that small-minded nationalistic sentiment is depriving others of the opportunity I had. I stand with President Bush on this issue.

Yeah, you heard me:
Despite his disdain for the UN, the Kyoto protocol, the International Criminal Court and many other international institutions, Bush specifically called, in this year's state of the union address in January, for expansion of the IB programme.
In the meantime, be sure to check under your bed for me or any of my other former classmates. You never know where a evil socialist-tyrannical nutcase like me could be hiding.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The pocket tape recorder

(...and why it will never be used)

In our last International Negotiation class, our professor told us about a job he once had in politics, where to find out how his behaviour was affecting his work, he got an intern to follow him round with a pocket cassette recorder and tape everything he said. He discovered that most of the things he said were amazingly tactless and rude. The upshot was he got out of politics, and years later gave us the advice that you should always listen to what you say, and try to change it if it doesn't fit the situation. The weekend's fun and games brought that anecdote into sharp relief.

Going to Osaka on Friday on the spur of the moment, we ended up staying out all night. While very fun, this deprives me of the beauty sleep I need so much. Because when I don't get enough sleep, I get angry. Very angry.

I vaguely remember drunkenly slurring my way through vague but ferocious denunciations of the many women who have wronged me in my life. I remember saying astoundingly rude things to the two friends I was out with. I remember shouting and banging the table in a Yoshinoya at half-five in the morning, and seeing the guy behind the counter flit past with a look of sheer terror on his face. I had done it. I had become the big, loud, scary gaijin of Japanese stereotype. I'm glad I didn't bring a tape recorder with me, and I will probably never end up doing so, even when I'm sober and well-behaved. Dredging up vague recollections of the things I said is horrifying enough. Reliving it on tape would probably finish me off.

Fortunately, my worst behaviour often gets written off by those on the recieving end, and we went out again on Saturday evening. The group of us comprised me, the pint-sized Mexican sex fiend, and another guy who I'll call "Bob", because he looks like he should be called Bob. Bob was not a good conversationalist. Anything you said, he would automatically take as a cue to start rambling on some pet topic of his, which would invariably be a) astoundingly boring, and b) completely unrelated to anything you said. In every conversation with him, you'd find yourself frantically trying to get away within the first couple of minutes.

Case in point: at another bar yesterday evening, he was in full flow. One monologue about his love of German beer would give way to one about his German heritage, then about a black beer he'd tried once that was too dark, then he switched his attention to the bottle of Thai beer that he held in his hand. Studying the red star at the centre of the label, he turned to me and said: "Oh yeah, red is an important colour. Across Asia, it means life, vitality, that kind of thing."

Suddenly, that was enough for me. I was sick of this bore, sick of his bargain-basement insights that he had probably half-remembered from something he once saw on the Discovery channel. And I was sick of all the other one-semester wonders like him that clogged up the campus, trying to paint themselves as experts, regurgitating all the mysteries-of-the-Orient cliches that I'd got equally sick of a long time ago. It wasn't so much the content of Bob's remark that got to me, but the ridiculous generalisation in "Asia", the transparent point-scoring of it ("look at me! I know soooo much more about Asia than you!"), and the fact that it followed half an hour of equally transparent point-scoring. I let him have it. I can't remember exactly what I said, but the words "You know nothing! I hope you kill yourself from shame" bob to the surface.

Seeking relief, I escaped from our table and wandered the tiny bar. I talked to everyone, Japanese, gaijin, longtime expats and visitors who were here for a week. In fact, the only person I really struck out with was the most beautiful girl in the bar (of course), to whom I addressed some standard plasantry as an opening for a conversation ... and then completely froze up. We stood there staring at each other, she gave a little embarrassed laugh, and I decided to cut my losses and move on.

Talking to people is something I like to do, and when I do it I learn things, benefit from the experience of others and make connections that weren't there before. To do so simply to ramble about your own concerns and try to get one over on other people is pointless. Pointless underlined, in italics. The upshot of all this? I insult and mock in my head far more than I do out loud. But occasionally, I let it all out. I tell that fat girl in the horrible top that "I didn't know floral prints were in for the amazingly badly-dressed girl this season". I tell people to their faces that I'm not interested in that boring anecdote. I do sparingly, though, because once I realise I can get away with it, wouldn't it be just so tempting to do it all the time? And if I did, how would I ever stop?

Maybe I am just a very unpleasant person. But I don't think of myself as one. So I have to keep the unpleasantness under wraps, because if the bad stuff is actually the real me, I'd prefer not to think about it. The tape recorder stays turned off.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Ritz to the Rubble

So I was out in Osaka last night. Bar-hopping with a couple of guys until the trains started running again, and we rode back to Hirakata at about 6 in the morning. I'd been out with one of the guys to Umeda at the start of of Golden Week - a mild-mannered chap in my International Negotiation class, he turns into a pint-sized Mexican sex fiend when presented with alcohol and Japanese girls. We ended up meeting quite late, and trawling Namba, the main party district of Osaka centered around the Dotonbori canal. Clubs and bars being open until 5am, we had a leisurely search for somewhere to pass the time. A meat-market club seemed to fit the bill, until the guys on the door checked my ID, and discovered I was under age (20, in Japan). To my shame and discredit, I got KB'd. Took me back a few years, I can tell you.

The night improved from then on, as we found a decent rock club in Amerika-mura, a trendy district full of Osaka's young things. I, for one, was overjoyed - the Japanese club scene seemed to be all dance music, and I had no idea you could find rock clubs here. It had the classic atmosphere: dirty, sticky wooden flooring, neon signage, moshing camararderie, the oddly metro guy who kept touching my arms - wait. That's not something you'd find at the Cockpit!

I ran into an Aussie who had come out here to work for a law firm. She didn't speak Japanese, but her work didn't really require it. Although I'd heard previously that for foreigners working in law firms in Japan, language ability isn't that important, it still brought me up short. She has a job, and I'm just a bum of a student. Yet I consider myself superior to people in Japan to people who can't speak the language. There's a moral here, but I'm a little too hungover to process it.

More to come, maybe. In the meantime, see these nice posts on expats and making friends while travelling alone. As I'm going to be staying on for a full month after exams finish, it looks like I'll doing a lot of that.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Laughing, developing, evaluating

Today I was having lunch with some friends and the conversation turned to computer games. Not being much of a gamer, I carried on eating, until someone mentioned the games coming out for the new Nintendo console.
Said the guy:

"I can't wait to get Final Fantsy on my wee."

I knew about the new console's ridiculous name, but I still laughed like a small boy at actually hearing someone say "Wii" in the context of a sentence.

Later, I was rushing for my lesson on the fourth floor of the CIE when the open lift came into view. Unfortunately, it was already stuffed. Seeing the last few people drift in and assume sardine-tin formation, I mimed "WHYYYY?" at someone I knew as the doors closed. I turned and walked for the stairs. Then I started running to get to the top floor before the lift did and laugh at the passengers.

I laughed long and I laughed hard. Before doubling over at the sensation of the lactic acid pumping through my veins. Still, I laughed.

Over the past couple of days I've been developing the film I took with the photography club, using their darkroom. Since I managed to expose one of my rolls while it was in my camera, I was really trying to make sure these ones came out OK. It struck me that it was a really complex process, especially when you're doing it manually with a spool to wind the unexposed film on in the dark. Even if your only encounter with developing prints was dropping them off at Boots, digital photography really is a break with the past in terms of being able to view your work.

Although a few photos from the beginning of the film are lost, and a couple more are overexprosed, I'm pretty proud of what I got. Tomorrow I'm due to develop individual prints for the planned exhibition. I can't wait.

This semester is drawing to an end rather quicker than I realised, and we now have evaluation forms to fill out for all our subjects. I was actually told by one of my professors that these are actually taken very seriously at Gaidai, and the Dean personally reads the individual comments. Well, so much for my previous cynicism. I'm just glad I really put some effort into it this time. I guess it's because having been here for (almost) a full year, I feel more of a sense of ownership, of knowing the good and bad things about this place and wanting to change it for the better. If I'm lucky, I'll feel the same about Leeds when I get back there.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Film review, with added politics

Japan has an intriguing relationship with patriotism, nationalism and its military, tied up with its experience of the Second World War and subsequent international policy. There was recently a big stink about changing the Education Law to define patriotism as an aim of the education system, which shows that even discussing it is still a big issue even now.

Japan is a curious country, as you can see outbursts of extreme nationalism in public, and similar views expressed by public intellectuals and political figures. At the same time, while most Japanese are proud of their country and will always ask you what you like best about Japan (trust me on this), they don't go for big outward expressions of patriotism. In that respect, they've got nothing on South Korea. (Then again, if patriotism looked this good in Japan, I'm sure they'd be all for it.)

So, inspired by this very interesting article on representations of the military and nation in recent Japanese films, I decided to rent one of the films discussed in the article: 亡国のイージス, translatable in English as A Lost Country's Aegis. I watched it with English subtitles, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my Japanese was good enough to recognise the occasional rough translation or contraction from the original phrase.

First off, it was a really enjoyable film. An action flick with a conscience, it has a Japanese Self-Defence Forces Aegis-class destroyer taken over by a group of nationalist naval officers, who claim that a country without a military is a country without meaning or identity - the ship they control is merely "a shield for a lost nation". Only the decent, paternal petty officer Sengoku and a gung-ho secret agent stand between Tokyo and the U.S.-developed chemical weapon the ship is carrying.

The nationalists are already in a conflicted position, being assisted in their takeover by some freelance terrorists/commandos from a foreign country. There's an explicit contrast made between the willingness for mass sacrifice of the commandos and Sengoku's determination to prevent loss of life (he only shoots to kill once in the entire film). In this way, the film presents a triumphal view of Japanese military personnel, but without the WWII-era attitudes of heroic sacrifice in a losing cause.

This is summed up in Sengoku's line towards the climax of the film, also the film's tagline: "生きろ! 絶対に 生きろ!" ("Live! Above all, you must live!") The humanist appeal to life over death is for me, one of the more interesting aspects of the resurgence in patriotic attitudes in Japanese film.

EDIT: I just noticed a post on nationalism in Northeast Asia, written about the same time as this post. Although the writer is blogging from Korea, it deals with all three countries in the equation - Korea, Japan and China.

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So Labour got a pasting in the local elections yesterday. Just as well. Blair's lot have been on the skids for a long time, but recently we've seen governmental corruption and incompetence on a massive scale. If it carries on like this, Britain will soon become like Italy but without the beautiful climate and scenery (ie. completely pointless). I for one registered my disapproval by being on the other side of the world and not voting. But if I could vote, I'd send these clowns a message by staying home and dressing up as a clown.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Long weekend post

Went on a trip to Kyoto on Sunday with the Kansai Gaidai Photography Club. If you know the scene in Help! where the Beatles get off the plane with cameras and snap pictures of each other non-stop, it was like that at times as we turned our cameras on each other. Most of the time though we had nice scenery around Higashiyama to shoot. We wandered through the old streets and ended up at Kiyomizu-dera temple. It was odd to think that the last time I'd been up there was in my first week here. Things seemed to have gone full-circle.

Going out with the Photography Club gave me an insight into a bit of Japanese culture that I've (sadly) not experienced much of - socialising in organised groups. In the evening we headed back to Hirakata for a big welcome party (The Japanese students' academic year started recently). After lots of organised toasts, we sat down and proceeded to eat and drink a lot. A lot. I was not the freshest person when I left Sem House 4 the following morning to join a field trip to the Osaka courthouse.

What could make my hangover worse, you could well ask. How about one of those ultra-nationalist sound trucks that scream far-right rants through their loudspeakers at amazingly loud volumes? Coming right up! This one was quite small by their usual standards (manned by one man with a microphone and a big grudge), but easily the loudest one I've encountered so far.

Court proceedings were very hard to understand - I only got a few words here and there, and probably wouldn't have done any better if I'd been running at full (non-hungover) power. Fortunately, someone with us was very good at Japanese and managed to give us a precis of the case. The Japanese court system is inquisitorial rather than adverserial as in Britain and the U.S., so the judges take a more active role in the case.

I probably would have enjoyed it if I hadn't been a) hungover, and b) trapped with some of the most annoying students ever. The "I don't care" girl was in my group, and was whining about how we couldn't get into the big murder trial downstairs, because it was full and they were issuing tickets to allow people in. Apparently it hadn't crossed her mind that you don't have consumer rights when you're watching a trial.

The trip was organised by the professor who teaches our International Negotiation class, and afterwards he took us to an underground food court in one of the big department stores. I love these places, because they have lovely-looking food, but everything's far too expensive for me. Our professor then took us to a couple of bars, fetching up in a nice establishment with a good atmosphere and a selection of beers from all over the world. By that time there was only a small group, and we got talking to two Japanese girls and a fellow Brit who was travelling around the world. We also ended up doing purikura. These are photobooths where you take photos of you and your friends, customise them and print them out on little strips, a very popular pastime for teenage girls in Japan. We look slightly the worse for wear in all our pictures, and my cheeky grin is definitely cause for concern.

It was a fun night - just like the photography club social the night before, I met some cool people, and did more chatting in Japanese than I have for a long time. It comes back to something I wrote back in September (full-circle again, see?) about language for me being worth it when I get to use it outside the classroom. I will honestly say that the Japanese conversations I've had over the past couple of days have been more useful for me than learning about the Accusative-Passive in our duller-than-dull Spoken Japanese lesson today. Having been out drinking two nights in a row, I was too tired to seem interested. From here on out, a relaxed Golden Week looks more and more appealing.

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