Housing at IUC: San Serite Shinohara

I am finally back from my year of intensive Japanese language study at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC or the Center for short).  Right about now, next year’s IUC students are trying to pin down where they will live next year, so I thought I would run through my experience for everyone.

Like most people landing on this page, I searched online for information on housing in the greater Yokohama area in general, and posts by previous students, in particular.  If this happens to be one of the first pages you visit, I can suggest the group blog What Can I Do With a B.A. in Japanese Studies? They have a whole series on housing for IUC. This post, while it’s only on my site, is intended to fit in with their series. Their housing posts cover:

If you’re reading this post, I am going to assume you know something already about the Center. Housing comes in a few varieties, but can be divided into two basic categories – options students find on their own, and options that are affiliated with the Center. I am going to write about one of the Center-affiliated apartments not covered by the “What Can I Do” crew, San Serite Shinohara.

Before I moved in, San Serite seemed like it might be too far from the Center. The commute is 30 minutes by train in the morning (including walking to/from the station) and around 40 minutes in the afternoon (partially because I never bothered to time when I left the Center, so I usually ended up waiting a few minutes for the train). You can also walk it in about an hour. Considering that you end up with a relatively cheap, sizeable apartment in a lovely neighbourhood, I was quite pleased. It is on top of a hill, but that was mainly an irritant when I was moving luggage.

The neighbourhood is generally quiet and residential. However, there are three decent-sized grocery stores and a number of specialty food stands (fruit/veggies, fish, etc.) within a ten minute walk. There are also two parks, one of which is the largest I’m aware of any of us students living near. If you are the sort of person who wants to party on the weekends, you’ll have to go elsewhere to do it, but if you want a nice, quiet neighbourhood with an easy commute, a number of options to get outside (whether to play or to study), located near a bunch of other Center students, this fits the bill. You can easily walk over to hang out with friends at Myorenji, Kikuna, Shin-yokohama and a few other areas where Center students tend to land.

Living room

As for the interior, it surprised me in a good way, my roommate in a not-so-good way. Your expectations will probably dictate whether you are happy or not. Obviously the fittings are a bit used, and nothing was ever super-expensive to begin with, but it is furnished with all the necessary items (down to utensils and sheets). The landlord is a nice guy with an office on the first floor, so he is easy to get in touch with and happy to replace broken appliances. Additionally, each year’s residents make some alterations to what the apartment comes with. Consequently, I can tell you that next year’s residents are getting a new microwave courtesy of our landlord, and various nearly-new items (yoga mat, cutting board, hula hoop, throw pillows for the couch, covers for a futon, seat cushions for the dining table, et cetera) from myself. My roommate left some things as well.

Bedroom

One of the two major negatives to San Serite was shared by all of the other apartments Center students stayed in, I think. San Serite is made of tekkin concrete, which means there is absolutely zero insulation in the walls. However, we eventually figured out that the in-wall A/C units also function as energy-efficient heaters. For budgetary reasons, my roommate and I left the shared rooms unheated, but you don’t have to. The other major negative is the bathroom. The separate toilet is small, but functional. The furo, while also functional, is a bit of a mess. That said, I believe the landlord is redoing it this summer, so it most likely won’t be an issue for future residents.

Bathroom

One other thing to note about the interior. The kitchen is surprisingly large for a Japanese kitchen, but there is effectively no counter space. There isn’t an oven, either. But then, both of those negatives are standard for a Japanese kitchen.

As far as costs are concerned, the rent amounted to roughly $375 per person. Tenants get to share the landlord’s internet connection for free, but have to pay for the gas, water and electricity, which amount to around $55 per month (the electric went up to around $45/month in the winter; otherwise it was around $20-25/month). At some point, someone from NHK will show up and ask if you have a TV. If you are foolish enough to say yes, you will have to pay for that, too, to the tune of about $10/person every month or two. Finally, you’ll want a transit pass to get to school and back. That is another $100/month, for a grand total of $540. There was a commission to the realtor of roughly $200 upfront, and when we left the apartment, they kept $200 of the deposit for cleaning, but gave the rest (~$325) back.

Kitchen

Well, that was my experience with San Serite Shinohara. I had a wild year, full of interesting people, leaps in my Japanese capability and new experiences. I hope the next residents get as much out of their time in the apartment as I did.

On a more general note, the Center is tough. Everyone knows it – that’s pretty much why we all go there. The Center will push your Japanese farther than you thought it would, but it will be a hard journey. Almost all of the Center-affiliated apartments are for two people. We all bonded over annoyances like bad air circulation and small kitchen counters at the Center, but some people were bothered by trouble with their roommates for months on end. As far as I can tell, all the Center-affiliated apartments were generally nice. Personally, I think I liked San Serite best of the apartments I saw, but they’re all on more or less the same level. The deciding factor in whether people had a good time over the course of the year seems to have been how they got along with their roommate, so I suggest people considering that option to be careful in that regard.

Gaming Linkspams

Having done linkspams of last year’s fall TV season, movies and comics, games seemed like a solid follow-up…  which is why I started drafting this post several months ago.   The Center is currently eating my life, and will for at least another month, so I’m giving up.  Here are your links.  (And yes, I still have a ton of links to go. More original content is on its way, too, hopefully, once I finish up my current study-abroad program.)

A little on the ever-popular topic, female armour:

In more general gaming news:

The Spoiler Rises: The Dark Knight Rises

I’ve loved the Nolan brothers’ and Christian Bale’s take on Batman since the first film came out in 2005 while I was in Japan. Between love of the film and homesickness, I must have seen Batman Begins five or six times in the theatre. I don’t normally see films on their opening weekends, but I was thinking about making an exception for their last Batman.

The Dark Knight Rises was in an awkward position its opening weekend; it should have opened as the culmination of the Nolan/Bale series critiquing policing and citizens’ responsibilities in an era of expanding government and shrinking responsibility, but almost immediately upon its release it was overshadowed by a single person’s anti-human actions.

Psychopathic attempts at terrorizing people going about their daily lives – and everyday citizens’ responses to those terrifying events – play a prominent role in the Nolan/Bale Batman world. The perpetrator of the real-life attack played into the mythos of the films, refusing to explain his reasoning at first, leaving assorted weapons and traps scattered about Colorado and remaining, like Bane, the Scarecrow and the Joker, a cipher. Trying to, anyway. In the real world, as Film School Rejects’ managing editor Scott Beggs notes, films may be touched by a tragedy, but life goes on.

Personally, when I heard about the shooting in Colorado, it did make me pause. Copycat events aren’t uncommon when something like this occurs, and I didn’t want to be caught in a theatre with a crazy gunman. But the would-be Banes of the world can only win if people give in to fear. And I really wanted to see that movie. (Seriously, they started showing ads on TV in JUNE. I waited long enough!)

Now then, about the film itself. There will be a few spoilers here, including a big one about the end. This isn’t going to be a review, more like a set of observations. (Let’s be honest – if I were to write a review, it would consist of, “Good film, go see it!” You don’t want to read that.) Originally, I was going to write mostly about Catwoman, but now I’m going to save the for another post. Enjoy!

One of the things that first drew me to Japanese animation was its limited form. Programming for the very young aside, most anime are created to finish in a set number of episodes, usually a multiple of 13. From an American perspective, this means that they are paced more like literature than television or comics. The Batman comics, for example, were popular when they were introduced in 1939, so DC Comics continued to create new Batman stories over and over again. Occasionally a different person was swapped into the Batsuit for awhile, but ultimately Bruce Wayne has remained Batman. Similarly, as much as I love Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, seasons pass and Buffy is still slaying the big baddie, same as always. If you love her the way she is and want to see her do what she does forever, this is wonderful. If you love her the way she is and hope better days will come, seeing her get hurt and keep fighting over and over and over again is psychologically draining. It never ends, there’s no happily ever after.

The Nolan/Bale Batman is different. Yes, they made a series of films and more films could be made in the world they’ve created, but they have ended the story of Bruce Wayne as Batman with The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce Wayne, after 73 long years, hasn’t just retired to his mansion to oversee other members of the Bat-family, he faked his death and left America entirely for a happy-ever-after with Catwoman. The three Nolan/Bale films give us a full story cycle – a hero’s journey – four times over: once in each film, but also once across the three films.

In this larger journey, Batman Begins covers Bruce Wayne’s departure from the world he knew, with his allowing Ra’s al Ghul to die signifying the destruction of the last bind between Wayne and his old life as a privileged young man of Gotham. The Dark Knight gives us Batman’s initiation. In loving Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne is led back to a normal life instead of his dual existence as part-time Batman, part-time socialite. By killing Rachel, the Joker allows Wayne to separate entirely from normal human concerns, leading to his blind faith that the people of Gotham will choose to risk their own deaths instead of killing others. In The Dark Knight Rises, Wayne faces the issue that countless popular comic, film and TV heroes have before him: why go back? Why stop being the (super)hero who saves the world?

Bruce Wayne is an injured hermit at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. Even though Batman hasn’t been seen in Gotham in years, he still lives in isolation at Wayne Manor as though he himself is only Batman’s ghost or shadow. Over the course of the film, we are reminded of what Bruce Wayne discovered as he created Batman: “As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed, but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.” Batman’s power lies not in the man behind the mask, it lies in the existence of a mask. That’s why Bruce Wayne can “die”. He may leave Gotham, but he leaves his city with the fruits of his efforts: Batman, the everlasting symbol.

The Bat Signal is regenerated for Commissioner Gordon’s use. The Bat Cave has been left ready for Robin John Blake to take up the mantle. Bruce Wayne’s hard-won knowledge has been left to the denizens of his world, leaving Wayne himself free to live again. The story of Bruce Wayne as Batman has come to an end, but the Nolan/Bale Batman world is wide open. The symbol of Batman supercedes the man.

For a quick snapshot of the hero’s journey, try this website, made by the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction

Linkspamming Manga and Comics

Okay, I’d like to write a bit about service to the University and such, but I’m short on time. Instead, I’ll clear out some of the massive store of links I’ve been saving for you. Today’s theme: manga and comics.

A short set of links on the poses artists place their (usually female) characters in:

A scattered overview of what it’s like to work in comics:

That’s it for today, as I have an eye doctor’s appointment and a wedding to get to.

Linkspam the Second: At the Movies

First, a New Year’s Resolution: I may or may not post a whole lot, but I will at least stop promising posts that don’t materialize.

Anyway, here’s your next linkspam, themed around film.   I still have a ton of links on other topics, so more will be coming eventually.  However, I’ve got a handful of other things I want to write about (as opposed to copying-and-pasting about), so things will get done as they get done.

The first lot relates to women in action movies:

Next, some technical/behind-the-scenes articles:

Uh-oh. I thought that that would take care of a hefty chunk of the links I’ve stored up, but no such luck. Maybe I’ll get them all done by next year…

Linkspam the First: Welcoming the New Season

I promised a linkspam awhile back, and then avoided doing it because the list of links I’ve been wanting to share is so long.  My solution: multiple, themed linkspams.  Today, a collection of links about television and TV shows.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but they are thought-provoking and/or informative.

First, some articles about how we watch:

Trends in TV and how to understand how decisions get made about TV shows:

Some suggestions for and commentary about women and men on TV (three more links relevant to this season in the bottom section):

A few about the real people behind the shows:

And, of course, interesting articles about the new fall season:

 

 

Whew.  I should not have started that this late at night.  More installments on the way when I recover.

And then, there was usefulness

One of the oddest parts of a doctorate, at least at the beginning, is that you enter the program because you want to help people learn, but then you basically ignore undergraduates in favor of studying like mad. It can be very isolating; you sit in your apartment and study most of the time, unless you leave your apartment and study. Plus, you have all of the normal household duties (dishes, laundry), and since you probably moved to a new city for your program you also have to set up a new apartment and adjust to a new city. Last year, my biggest “hobby”, time-wise, was shopping for new furniture and household goods. I brought a lot of stuff across the country with me, but most of it was of the clothing-and-books variety.

Postcard advertising tonight's event


All of which is to say that I didn’t feel like I had much of an impact on anything last year. I wasn’t really helping anyone or creating anything, just ingesting books and discussing them. That’s important, and I learned a lot last year, but my background is in the educational non-profit sector. It was odd to be not helping people. I’m already working on changing that this year, but yesterday something great happened. I was wandering around whiling away the hours between classes when I ran across a fellow student from a different department as he was showing a pair of visiting Japanese artists (collectively called Tochka) around. I tagged along for lunch, and suddenly it was seven hours later and I had helped translate subtitles for a short video and a set of informational cards for an exhibit of the artists’ work that is going on today and tomorrow. I had a blast, I got to help some great people, and (I hope) I helped make a suite of pieces that will explain Tochka’s art to the students who show up tonight and tomorrow.

Example of PiKA PiKA


Tochka uses long exposure photography to create gorgeous images of light (usually made by volunteers holding LED flashlights), then brings the photographs together to create short, animated films. They call these works “PiKA PiKA” in reference to the Japanese onomatopoeia pika, which means the sound of light flashing. (And yes, that’s where the pika in the name of Pokemon‘s Pikachu came from. After all, his power is lightning, right?)

I did not see that coming. I have to admit to being tired and behind in my homework, but I can handle it. I’m just excited for tonight. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, Tochka will be leading a workshop tonight, and there will be a showing and a Q&A with the artists behind Tochka, Kazue Monno and Takeshi Nagata, tomorrow. Here are some links with more information:

Details for the event tonight
Tochka’s English-language blog, which has sample video files

New Studio Ghibli: From Up on Poppy Hill

Promo image for Kokurikozaka kara

Umi raising flags in Kokurikozaka kara

I saw the newest animated Studio Ghibli film this week, コクリコ坂から or From Up on Poppy Hill (dir. Gorō Miyazaki, using a script by Hayao Miyazaki and adapted from the 1980 manga by Tetsurō Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi).  I’ve been trying to see a number of films this summer since I’m in Japan anyway, but it’s set in Yokohama (where I’m studying) on top of being a Ghibli film, so I would have found my way into the theatre sooner or later.

 

Studio Ghibli is best known for those of its films which were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the company’s two co-founders, but its other films are hardly low quality.  I may be generalizing a bit too much, but those films not directed by Hayao Miyazaki seem to stray into slightly more adult territory – for example, the possibility of an affair is alluded to in Poppy Hill.  The newest film melds this material with a kind of elegiac tone that made for a nice afternoon.  Beyond that, I don’t really want to say too much about the film.  Being in Japan, I watched it in Japanese, of course, and while I understood enough of the dialogue to enjoy the film, I didn’t quite get enough to feel good about analyzing it to closely.  Luckily, Aaron Gerow also saw it and has written an interesting analysis which I suggest you read.

 

Incidentally, I’ve been saving up interesting articles for awhile now, and I’ll probably be unloading a link spam on you soon.  If you’ve got any suggestions, feel free to leave them in a comment.

Finding Film Theory in Japan

So much for updating more frequently :)

Well, I’m in Japan and partway through my program.   I thought I’d give a run-down on the nuts and bolts of intensive, short-term language study in Japan, writing down some of what I’ve found out about research in Japan along the way.   I’m hardly the only person doing that sort of thing (and someone I know already beat me to actually setting fingers to keys on this one to an extent), but I haven’t seen anything about the specific topics I’m going to cover.

The first thing I want to talk about is a bit boring, but horribly useful: Japanese bookstores and film theory.   Studying film academically is a matter of course in America, but it’s a relatively new development in Japan.   (See here for a short history of its development.)   To be clear, I’m talking about academic study – film theory, not film criticism.   As a result, it’s many times easier to find books or magazines reviewing the latest films, doing photo spreads on the newest hot young thing or listing someone’s favorite horror movies than it is to find an analysis of, say, the recent spurt of manga, TV shows and movies about Abe no Seimei.   That disparity exists pretty much everywhere – talking about the latest blockbuster is as international as it gets – but it’s exaggerated in Japanese scholarship.   Moreover, the way that Japanese bookstores are organized kind of highlights it.   Still, you should know the Japanese scholarship on a topic before you start shooting your mouth off, right?   I’ll show you how to navigate stores for academic books about film, and that should give you a good enough idea of how the system works that you can figure out how to find other kinds of academic books, too.

Let’s say you want to find books about women in film.   Not a specific book, just academic books on that topic.   In America, you’d stop by two bookstore sections – women’s issues and film – and maybe the women’s interest and general interest sections of the magazines/journals area.   In Japanese bookstores, there are far more sections, but they’re smaller and less likely to have what you want.   The various women’s sections (books and magazines) are largely fashion- and diet-related.   There might have been one or two other subsections, but they’re similar in tone (i.e. useless for our purposes).   There is a large section labelled nonfiction (ノンフィクション), but it seems to be all/mostly memoirs.   Likewise, there is a section labelled essays ( エセイ ) which consists of compilations of essays by single authors on a variety of general topics (i.e. a volume won’t discuss one topic in depth, but cover various aspects of society in different essays).

So much for the less-useful areas, on to the good stuff.   Japanese bookstores have at least two film sections – “film” (映画) and “Western film” (洋画) – both sections are mainly filled with non-academic works (“Best Ever” lists, for example), but I found a couple gems in them on my last trip – the second issue of Pop Culture Critique, whose theme is “girls’ combat experience”, and a book on film by one of Studio Ghibli‘s producers.   Nearby, you’ll usually find sections on TV dramas, anime and games.   Similarly, I suggest taking the time to go through the related magazine areas.   Magazines themselves haven’t panned out for me yet, but stores often shelve books and unusual items with the magazines.   On a recent trip to a bookstore I hadn’t visited before, I found a set of specially reissued Ozu films.   Each “volume” included one film and a short (40-ish page) set of specially printed notes, interviews and so on.

Now, those suggestions work for your standard new and used bookstores (i.e. Kinokuniya and Book Off), and assume you don’t have a specific title in mind (if you do, order it).   When looking for other kinds of resources, other guidelines apply.   If you want dōjinshi, for instance, Kathryn Hemmann recently posted an excellent guide to dōjinshi resources in the Tokyo area.   If you have any suggestions or know of other, similar resources, please do comment.   I’ve got less than a month left, and I want to make the most of it.

 

Update: I dropped by the Jinbocho area today, and they have boatloads of used book stores.   (Also, apparently, CD/record stores.)  There’s even a store that specializes in science-fiction and mysteries.  Some of the stores are pretty small, but the flip side of that is that they carry rarer books and magazines.  Happy hunting!