December 17, 2012

Midnight in Odaiba

Well the rate of goal accomplishments has slowed down in the last two days, but I'm still chugging along as today I was invited and attended a Christmas party! (goal 15). But before we get to the awkwardness that was a language school's all-English Christmas party, let us travel back in time to last night:

I truly cannot tell you what I did with the day, but safe money is on sleeping. I was fully prepared to resign to a day of reading as the skies were gray and the streets were wet, but thankfully not everyone is as lazy me. My friend Samantha messaged me and told me that she didn't want to spend her birthday eating cookies and watching Seinfeld alone in her room. I have recently started watching the entire series of Seinfeld, alone in my room, so I was going to take offense at the implication that this was an unacceptable way to spend one's time, but instead I focused on the fact that perhaps we could brave the weather together and have a fun night. Plus I don't expect I'll be in Japan for another friend's birthday, so, as they don't say in Japan: Carpe Diem!

The criteria was tacky, touristy, and fun, and nothing quite fulfills those three like heading to a man-made island in order to eat Italian food at a mall themed like 17th century Europe.

Here are three things most people don't know about 17th century Europe:
  1. Contrary to popular belief, J.S. Bach was not the most prolific composer of the time period as that title belongs to Mariah Carey.
  2. While the corset may have been a popular item for a lady to wear, what was even more popular were loose fitting pants with words such as "sexy" and "angel" inscribed on the seat.
  3. Despite pre-dating disco by approximately 250 years, a staple of most large rooms in 17th century Europe was a large mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling. Now called the "Disco Ball" back then it was called the "Fugue Sphere"
Hard to believe we're in Japan during the 21st century, I know.
Best. Honeymoon. Ever.
Oh yeah, you can get married here!
For those who want to get married in an Italian city square but also want to be able to get sushi catered
And whilst you get married, mall patrons can dine and watch 
We were very confused what part of Europe this themed hallway was supposed to be

We weren't sure if we were venturing towards a restaurant or a prison
But it was indeed a shabu-shabu restaurant. You know, classic 17th century European shabu-shabu! 
Birthday cake!
I believe they were dressed to match certain cars of the ferris wheel
Views of Tokyo and the Rainbow Bridge from the top of the wheel
Conquering her fear of heights
Well I'm sure this goes without saying, but in addition to the hoop and stick game that was popular with 17th century European children, thrill seekers also enjoyed arcade games:


You laugh, but this was one of the most exhausting games I've ever played
Practicing our MJ lean in this Samurai house of tricks
Designated smoking zone
Hello kitty indeed
If ever there was something to waste yen trying to win
Samantha explained that these 150 yen treats were simply charms. Some were for love, others were for  luck, and more than a few were for incredibly kinky wishes 
Another pervert Santa!
And what's a night out without some pretty girl photos?
I'm considering putting on a suit and going to get head shots
Great night; certainly one of the better nights I've had in 17th century Europe.

...........
But now it is today, and while I wasn't able to find any Renaissance-themed attractions, I did have an equally bizarre experience and accomplished a goal in the process.

Remember how I went to a baseball game with Catherine's cousin who doesn't speak a word of English? Well he's now enrolled in language school and today was their Christmas party. And who better to invite than his only English speaking friend! I was truly tickled to hear that Masashi wanted to bring me as his date (especially since no one else brought anyone) and eagerly accepted his invitation. He even texted me to confirm and managed to say "Hi Nicholas!". This was actually a rather jarring moment as I had never "heard" him speak English. I look forward to the day when either I can speak enough Japanese or he can speak enough English to have this conversation, "So what the fuck was going through your head all those times we were hanging out and couldn't speak?"

I met Masashi and his friend at Shinjuku and the three of us walked to their school, but not before I was given a present. It's starting to get to the point where I fear getting gifts because I never have any of my own to give. What constitutes an appropriate gift-giving moment is beyond me, but perhaps when I return to the States I'll just start randomly giving presents to my friends.

Masashi
The school had converted a basement room into a "ballroom" complete with dinner tables, a stage, and a dance floor. The students were all assigned seats at various tables and we were served a feast of cold pasta, cold meatballs, chicken which at one point may have been lukewarm, and peas and carrots. But I'm not complaining, because chicken! Each one of our drink coasters had a question written on it that was supposed to be used to encourage English conversation at the table. The problem was no one really spoke English, but we all managed to piece together some sentences (I attempted to speak in only Japanese) and had a merry meal.

One of these ones is not like the other
But then came the "entertainment" "hour". These are in quotes because there was nothing entertaining about the show and 150 minutes is not an hour. Well, I should clarify that it was particularly entertaining, but nor for the intended reasons. The emcee for the evening was one of the teachers who had introduced himself to me during the meal. I immediately didn't care for him as he spoke to me in a manner that sort of said "Hey, no one else can understand what we're saying so I'm just going to be vulgar". He also seemed very concerned with being "cool" and clearly wanted me to like him. So we weren't off to a great start, but where he really lost me was in his lack of preparation for the "entertainment" "hour". 

It appeared that he woke up in the morning and Googled "office Christmas party games" which would have been fine if anyone other than myself spoke English. You'd think the teacher would know the level of his students, but he was clearly more concerned with matching his sweater to his tie than he was teaching his students English or creating something appropriate for their skill level. So what proceeded for the next "hour" was a hodgepodge of songs, games, and song-games, all in English and all well beyond the abilities of the students. I was even lost trying to make sense of his directions.

At one point he decided (seemingly on the spot) to play charades and asked/told me that I was going to "help" him act out Christmas song titles. I quickly learned that what he meant by "help" was "do it all yourself." I knew I was in deep shit when the song was "Little Drummer Boy". I was quickly able to convey "little" followed by "drummer". Now at this point you'd expect every single human to shout "Little Drummer Boy" because the theme is Christmas songs, this particular song is 3 words, and the first two are "Little" and "Drummer". Well I learned not to expect this when dealing with a bunch of Japanese people. Nothing against them, in fact I envy their lack of knowledge of that terrible song, but it was clear this game was a bad idea. But that didn't stop the emcee from moving onto the second song.

Here, let's see how long it takes you to guess:

3 words
Third word:
On the ground? Making a ball? Making a large ball from snow? Making another ball out of snow?
Snowman!!!

Around this time you'd yell "Frosty the Snowman", right? Well that's because you're not Japanese. So there I was, on my hands and knees, pretending to make a snowman as a bunch of twenty-somethings gave me the most absent looks, interspersed with whispers, "snowman?" "cold people?" "Cold snowman?".

The emcee was clearly frustrated with his students, and I say clearly because he was yelling at them. That's a lot like me yelling at you for not being able to guess Manatsu no Kajitsu.  Here's a 1 minute video I cut of some "highlights" from the "hour" of "entertainment"


I wrote last month about the language mask that has enabled me to do things I'd generally be too embarrassed to do, and while I will always be the first to participate in charades, today should have been embarrassing. But it wasn't. What I'm about to write should be preceded with the acknowledgement that everyone at the party today was probably a very bright and successful person. In fact, one of the guys at my table is an aeronautics engineer, so he's probably not an idiot. But in the few instances I've been the center of attention in a sea of people who can't really speak English, I can't help but think of them as children. I certainly don't treat them like children, but very quickly you have to resort to basic language and gestures, the way you would a child. All talking points must also follow suit, so forget anything of major substance. It's a bizarre experience and it has made me realize just how crucial language is, not just in communicating, but also in dictating how we view and react to others. I had similar thoughts during a college class with a unit about autism and children with speech disabilities. There was a child who was unable to speak until he was given a computer, which he could program, and suddenly for the first time ever, his parents were able to hear from him. And the things he said were wildly coherent and intelligent, but because he had been unable to speak up until that point, he had been treated like a moron. The only moron today was the guy who thought it would be a good idea to have a room full of people guess a song they don't know in a language they were just learning.

A final "deep thought": It is amazing to see so many people attempting to learn a new language. Between today, my time in Miyazaki with Rika, and the few other experiences I've had talking to Japanese adults who have begun to learn English, I am really inspired by their courage and dedication. It's not easy to learn English if you're Japanese, especially so late in life, and yet these people want to better themselves and open up the world a little bit more. That's awesome. These two realizations today remind me of all the people in America who do not speak English as their first language. Boy, that must be hard. We tend to think of those people as less educated and less intelligent, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It is hard to get passed the hurdle that comes from the correlation we draw between language ability and intelligence, as well as to get to know someone when you can't really speak, but one thing I will absolutely take away from my time here in Japan is a patience and newfound respect and understanding for anyone attempting to speak another language.

Atsumi and I showing off the prizes our team won for the best rendition of Jingle Bells.





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