Eliot Cowley | Tokyo, Japan | Post 6

Eliot Cowley | Tokyo, Japan | Post 6

Well, the spring semester has officially begun, and things are off to a great start! Classes seem like they’re going to be a lot more interesting this time around, mostly because two of my classes, Creative Writing and Contemporary Japanese Literature, are taught by an awesome, laid-back, half-Japanese/half-British writer. I’m excited to start writing again; I haven’t exactly written much fiction since high school, even though I’m part of a creative writing club here at Waseda.

I’m also taking a Comprehensive Japanese class (one level higher than last semester), a Kanji class, and a class that compares childhood literature in the US with childhood literature in Japan. If you don’t know what kanji is, it’s the Chinese characters that are used along with hiragana and katakana when writing Japanese. It’s really sad how wide the gap is between my speaking and listening and my reading and writing abilities.

The start of the spring semester means new students, and that means new members of Niji no Kai, the international club I’m a part of. The way Waseda‘s clubs recruit people is kind of like the way Vassar does it, except with a hundred times more chaos. During Shinkan, the club recruitment week, club representatives line up along campus at their booths, trying to get you to take their pamphlets and explain what their club is about. I was trying to get to the Niji no Kai booth to see my friends, but I had to make my way through the hundreds of people shoving papers in my face. By the end of it I was carrying so much paper that I dropped it all in cartoon-like fashion. I was able to meet some of the freshmen, and tried to use my gaijin (foreigner) influence to get them to join. There were several dance performances by some of the clubs, and even a marching band that played the Pokemon theme song! (I fanboyed pretty hard.) I love how much spirit and energy these clubs have, and how much they love their school.

Another thing that the start of the spring semester means is a LOT of nomikai (drinking parties). In April alone there are five, and they’re meant to both welcome the new students as well as prepare for Shinkan Gasshuku, which is an overnight trip during Golden Week in May (a week where there are no classes and people don’t have to go to work). I’ve been to one so far, and I already met too many people to remember all their names. It’s kind of embarrassing actually, especially when someone will come up to me, remembering my name, but I won’t remember theirs at all.

I also went to a fertility festival, Kanamara Matsuri, which literally translates to “Festival of the Steel Phallus.” Yeah, it’s a thing. At the temple there were several statues of penises, including two cannon-shaped ones and penises that stuck straight up from the ground. You could buy penis and vagina popsicles, the proceeds of which go to HIV research, and you could take a picture with a guy dressed up like a penis. Basically, lots of penises. The main event was a procession of monks carrying a heavy pink penis that everyone cheered at. The event is a huge tourist attraction–in fact, I would say about half of the people there were foreigners. It makes sense, I guess–this sort of thing would only happen in Japan. I feel like if it were to happen in the US, there would be a huge uproar and it would be shut down almost immediately. I was a little surprised to see little kids licking penis and vagina lollipops, though.

Due to Japan’s rapidly declining population, I think this kind of festival and awareness of sex and childbirth is more important now than ever. It’s a weird sort of contradiction in Japanese culture: sex is so blatantly out there– porn magazines are right out front at convenience stores–yet when it comes to people actually dating, it’s very secretive and not really talked about. Maybe because it’s so easy to live alone and not date, and instead pretend that you’re dating an anime character (which some people do…maybe you’ve heard of Hatsune Miku?) that fewer and fewer people are dating. I don’t really know, but a lot of research has been done about it, and the concern is a very real one.

There was a monkey there too!

Isn’t Waseda campus pretty?

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