August 4, 2010
Wow, it has been a very long time since I updated, and I have done so much. The reason I haven’t been updating is because I am so tired all the time. I am constantly on the go and I often spend free time catching up on email and sleeping! I am going to try to catch up.
I went to two schools for the deaf after I got back. One is in Chiba prefecture, and my boss and several of the students here went there as children. The school covers from infancy (mommy-and-me programs) through vocational school, but I found it strange because sign language is only used at the high school level and above. Junior high students and below use aural/oral schooling. I asked how the students eventually learn sign language, and the answer was that they learn it the same way deaf kids did in the US during the days when sign wasn’t permitted – from each other. There is a dorm on campus, because the school draws from all over Japan, and students learn from each other there; they use it in the lunchrooms; they learn from Deaf of Deaf children – whatever they need to do. But this explains why so many of the students here at NTUT speak – many of them likely have an oral background, even if they went to a school for deaf children. I do wonder how non-speaking deaf people got through those classes. Sometimes a deaf child doesn’t develop understandable speech (what used to be called an “oral failure”)…what do you do if you can’t speak in an oral classroom? The vocational program was interesting. There are two tracks for high school seniors – college prep, and vocational prep. The college prep students usually come to either NTUT or a hearing college, but the vocational students go into one of two tracks: art, or dentistry. I’m not sure what the exact term is for what they do – the students create dentures, caps, retainers, and other equipment that goes into the mouth. It was interesting (and stinky) but I was again puzzled to see that students are forced into a particular field. If you’re not good at art, you do the dental work. But what if you don’t like dental work? As a funny aside, I kept thinking that there was going to be a glass-blowing program. Even though I had been told the vocational program involved making false teeth, people just kept saying “tooth program” in JSL. The sign for tooth in JSL and the sign for glass in ASL are identical, and my brain kept thinking “glass” and waiting to be taken to the glass workshop – it wasn’t until I actually saw the work being done that I realized there was no glass program, there was only the dental program!
The second school I visited was in Tokyo. It served only junior high and high school students, and all communication was either sim-com or signed. Go read this for the rest, because this entry has been languishing while I fail to write more about the schools.
I went to Hiroshima. What can I say about Hiroshima…basically, if you don’t feel the need to go, then don’t bother. It was sad for me. As soon as you step off the streetcar at Genbaku-Dome-Mae, you’re face-to-face with the A-Bomb Dome. It has been left exactly as it was on August 6, 1945. The reason it survived at all is because it was steel reinforced – the hypocenter was just a couple hundred meters away, and everything around it was destroyed. The dome itself was made of copper, and melted. It was really hard for me because “we” did it. All the horrible things that happened in Hiroshima, the Americans did to them. The innocent civilians…yes, you can say “well every Japanese wanted to kill Americans too” but my god…just the sheer scale of what we did…it’s horrifying. I’ve been reading the Manhattan Engineer District report and we did all this without even knowing what the effects would be. And when they happened, we didn’t believe them: the report contains many comments along the lines of “the Japanese say (insert atrocity here) but we believe this is false.” Just horrible. And I feel we can still be culpable in this situation. I would place no blame on German youth today for the Holocaust: that was one man’s dream, and those who followed him in it are long gone. But the American government works differently, and I still feel there is guilt to be felt about the atomic bombings. What I really don’t get – and there is a section in the Peace Museum about this – is how, after seeing the effects of an atomic bomb, they STILL exist. How can non-proliferation be failing? How can disarmament be at a standstill? If anyone who supports atomic bomb development went to Hiroshima, they’d change their tune. It was just totally striking. To ease myself back into the real world, I walked down Hondori Street, a shopping district, after I was done in the Peace Memorial Park.
I went to Miyajima the next day, and I wish I could have had more time. I slept in a bit, so I only had a few hours. I knew I wasn’t going to make it there in time to touch the O-Torii gate, because low tide was at 7:30am, so I figured I’d just get there when I got there. But the streetcar ride from Hiroshima is about an hour, so I actually had very little time on Miyajima. It was fun though! There are signs warning you not to pet the deer because “they are not always gentle,” but they were utterly tame and people pet them all the time. I saw one eat somebody’s map, it was cute! Nobody was really feeding them, but I’m sure they must get fed or they wouldn’t be so friendly. I didn’t get to see the shrine in Miyajima because there was a long line and it cost money to enter, so I just looked through the shops and took lots of pictures of the famous O-Torii gate.
On Monday I met up with some NTUT students and also an American student who is studying at Meiji University and who knows ASL. We went to Yokohama for the day, and ended up spending a lot more time there than I had expected! Yokohama seems nice, but I would have liked to see it from a more historical perspective. We mostly stuck to the Minato Mirai 21 area, including shopping at the Queen’s East and World Porters malls, riding the roller coaster at CosmoWorld (where I am pretty sure I busted my left eardrum, thanks to too-tight restraints and the ride being so headbangy), and going up the Landmark Tower – which is actually the only time I got to see Mt. Fuji. Apparently you can also see Fuji-san from the trains along the corridor to Kyoto, but nobody ever told me that and I didn’t know where to look, so I missed those opportunities. We had dinner in Chinatown, which was interesting. The American girl with us, Lauren, spoke Japanese and tried to order vegetables with tofu for me…I ended up with a plate of ma po tofu (no pork) and a plate of vegetables! Not what I had in mind, but apparently just like Chinese food is tailored to American tastes in the US, it is also tailored to Japanese tastes in Japan, and they had no idea what I wanted. Oh well!
The following weekend I went to Disneyland! It was pretty spectacular. People thought I was crazy for going alone, but I had fun. On Saturday I went to DisneySea, the unique park for Tokyo – it’s not replicated anywhere else in the world. It was SO HOT that day! I bought a $30 parasol to keep the sun off, but it was still brutally hot. I ate at the Italian table service restaurant, the only place that had vegetarian food, and I got spaghetti sauce all over myself. I got to enjoy a couple of rides the easy way – there is a “single rider” line on three major attractions, so I just walked up and got right on for Raging Spirits, the Indiana Jones ride, and one other thing (forget what). I almost didn’t get to go on Journey to the Center of the Earth because the line was SO LONG that I was going to just leave, but I stuck it out and was rewarded with a really cool ride. I didn’t make it to Test Track when I went to Epcot for one day last year, so it was good to experience the same technology on Journey to the Center of the Earth.
I spent the night at a hotel in Soga, and then went to Disneyland the next day. My first stop was Tomorrowland, where I grabbed a FastPass for Space Mountain and got in line for Captain EO. I love Michael Jackson, so getting to see Captain EO in its original form was really awesome – it was the first movie to incorporate “4-D” effects of smoke, lights, and other things in the theater. The line was pretty long, and I hadn’t gotten any water, so I was so thirsty while I waited…that’s the peril of being alone at such a park! If I were fluent in Japanese, I would have bribed somebody to hold my spot while I got something, but of course I had no way to ask for that. So I just waited, and then the ride let out right before my FastPass time was almost up for Space Mountain! So I quickly bought some water and then ran into the line at 12:24 – my ticket expired at 12:25 so I was lucky! Space Mountain was great as usual, I love that ride. I’m pretty sure it was the same as at other parks, which was nice because most other “thrill” rides in Japan really aren’t that thrilling – Japanese people don’t like to be spun upside down a million times like Americans do. I wandered around for a while, including a stop at the Enchanted Tiki Room. I know the original lyrics from the Disneyland attraction, but not only was this one in Japanese, it had been modified to a Stitch “Aloha E Komo Mai” theme, so I didn’t get to join in at all! I still love the Tiki Room though…my favorite part is how the birds are already moving by the time you are filing into the room. Of course, I had no idea what the plot was, but I could make out that the four main birds were talking about the “Biggu Kahuna” – who turned out to be Stitch, or in Japanese terms, “Sutichi.” That was a little disappointing, to have a classic attraction taken over by something modern, but I guess they have to keep the kiddies entertained. The other ones have probably been updated, too.
I had two more rides I definitely wanted to go on before leaving – rides that I had missed when I went to Disneyland a few years ago. I picked up a FastPass for one of them, Haunted Mansion, and then went directly to Splash Mountain, the other ride I had never been on. It has a single-rider line (the only ride with one at Tokyo Disneyland), so I waltzed right up to the front and got on right away. Once again, everything was in Japanese, but I knew it was themed to the Song of the South movie. This surprises me, actually, because in the US Disney barely acknowledges that it made that movie, because of its racist overtones. That’s all left out of Splash Mountain, of course. It was cute, and the final song ended with “Zip-a-dee-do-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay, something in Japanese, wonderful day!” Yeah…not sure how they came up with that! Anyway, I went to Haunted Mansion next, and I loved it! I have to say it’s one of the best rides in the park. Very well done. Parts of it were even in English, which surprised me. That was pretty much the last important thing I did in the park…I went on Small World, which had ZERO line, and I wandered around a little more, but that was it! It was fun.
My work for the rest of the week included giving a presentation on American Deaf culture, giving a test to two ASL classes, and signing every single word in their ASL curriculum onto video so they could have a native signer do it. On Friday, my boss took me and his assistant out to a lovely Italian restaurant called Faro, I had no idea that such a quaint place was hiding in the middle of Tsukuba’s rice fields! They gave me gifts – I had given them gifts the day before, and gift-giving is reciprocal in Japan – and we had a very nice time.
I moved into the NTUT guest house on Friday night, only to discover that my room had no air-conditioning (at least I couldn’t figure it out) and the LAN wasn’t working (and I couldn’t hit the campus wifi networks), not to mention the lack of elevator (had to haul up my bags). So I spent a very hot and sweaty night with my Kindle. For the weekend, though, I got to hang out with my Japanese-Italian friend, who was back from her trip to Italy. We spent Saturday at a love hotel in Shinjuku, where we sang karaoke for the entire three hours we had booked! (It’s called a “rest” time – because that’s totally what you’re doing at a love hotel, right?) I had never done real karaoke before in my life; fortunately they had a very large selection of English-language songs, including popular hits like Lady Gaga (my friend sang Poker Face) as well as classics like Petula Clark (I sang Downtown). We had gotten snacks and drinks and we had a fine time in the love hotel…it was amusing to see their amenities, like windows behind a thick door, free mouthwash, hair bands, hairbrush, condoms, lotion, etc. The bathtub was huuuuuge and it had a light so you could make the water look colored, but I didn’t want to waste water by filling up the tub. After our three hours were up, we went over to Asakusa and the Sumida River fireworks. It was insanely crowded…about a million people gather at two sites to watch a total of 20,000 fireworks go up. Japan has far more advanced fireworks than we do, and I was treated to smiley faces, an apple, and kitty cats! We moved around a few times, trying to find the best view, and ended up next to a goofy-but-sweet drunk guy. When it was over, we hailed a cab back to my friend’s place, and the drunk guy and his friends joined us in it. (When it’s that crowded, cabs are very hard to find, so we let them join us.) We ended up talking about American movies, and they seemed to especially like Kevin Costner! They eventually got out, and we got out and had dinner at a Chinese place where I stuck to the vegetarian dim sum. (We had fried rice too, and got them to leave out the meat, but some shrimp bits fell in so I had to be careful.) I crashed in her guest room and slept until almost noon! On Sunday we took it easy, just went to Akihabara and looked around, then I went back to Tsukuba for one last (sweaty, internet-less) night. I ate dinner at Coco’s and that was it.
On Monday, I had one final meeting with my boss, and then he had the office call a cab to take me and my giant bags to the train station. I managed to navigate my way to Shinagawa without much incident, but when I checked into my hotel they informed me they didn’t have an elevator. Oh, really? “Well that’s going to be a problem…” but they carried my bags up for me. I took it easy on Monday night, just looked around Shinagawa a little bit, and ate dinner at TGI Friday’s. I felt funny there, but the American food was nice, and I had gotten a free drink coupon on the street, so that’s where I went! On Tuesday I went to Shinjuku and did some shopping and ate at Siam, a great Thai restaurant where they understood only enough English for “no shrimp! tofu! TOFU. NO SHRIMP.” The food was really good though! In the evening, I went to Shibuya and had dinner with my friend Merritt, who is teaching ASL in Japan for a couple of years.
Having completely missed all earthquakes, I decided to start Wednesday by going to the Kita Disaster Prevention Center which has a simulator. There was no English anywhere, but the operator held up fingers to let me know what magnitude he was going to do. It was just me and a mother with two young girls, and we went through 4, 5, 6, and 7 magnitude shocks…I can’t believe Californians scoff at 4s, I thought it was really strong! Next he simulated the Kobe earthquake of 1995, which was quite strong but very short. Then he gave us the big one, the 1923 Kanto earthquake. Holy. Crap. Aside from being huge – 7.9 on the Richter scale – it was also really long. It actually made me nauseous, and I don’t usually get nauseous from simulators or thrill rides. I am disappointed that I never got to experience a real earthquake – the simulator looked out onto normal space, so you could tell that YOU were moving, not the world – but if that’s what they’re like, I guess I’m not so eager to after all! I went shopping in Asakusa for last-minute gifts, and then came back to the hotel for the rest of the day. Tomorrow I get on the plane…