In my last post, I talked about the awesome experience I had at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, and what a fantastic foreign exchange program they had. Midway through the second semester, I realized that Japan was a happening place to be — I was getting plenty of work writing for IGN Dreamcast and C|Net’s Gamecenter (remember, this is back in 1999-2000 right before the Internet bubble exploded). After a year of dynamite fun in Japan, returning to rural Pennsylvania for another year to finish my college degree seemed, well, pretty crappy. My question was: How can I extend my stay here?
The answer lies within! Note the PaRappa the Rapper keychain attached to my bag.
A few months before the end of the second semester at Kansai Gaidai, I figured it all out: I would transfer my credits from Indiana University of Pennsylvania to Temple University Japan, which had a Tokyo branch. I got in contact with the school, which was incredibly friendly and accommodating–during my trip to Tokyo Game Show I took a day to visit the campus, where we sat down and laid out a road map that would let me graduate in 3 semesters, while changing my major from Communications Media to Asian Studies to speed things up.
Things got rolling quickly. I got all of the college paperwork ready, prepared to change my visa from Student to Cultural Studies (Temple isn’t an official Japanese school because of squirrely government nonsense) and started packing for Tokyo. Temple had a dorm in Tokyo, so I had everything shipped there ahead of time. After the final Kansai Gaidai graduation ceremony, I bade my tearful goodbyes, then got the bullet train to Tokyo the very next day so I could make the start of the summer session. I’d be taking five intensive-study classes during the short summer semester, so there wouldn’t be much time for anything else, much less exploring Tokyo! Worse yet, I knew a total of one person in Tokyo, my friend Alissa Takaya (who was working 24-hour crunch sessions — including weekends! — at a small developer called Anchor Inc.).
(Side note: At the time I attended, Temple University Japan was not an accredited Japanese school, meaning you coudln’t get an official Student visa, nor could you apply for the student discount when purchasing your commuter pass. I was told that no foreign schools were accredited because if they approved of an American school, then they’d have to approve of all the Korean schools too. Some Tokyo people will speak ill of Temple grads because of this lack of Japanese recognition, but they can stuff it.)
Temple University, which is basically a converted office building in Minami-Azabu, doesn’t have any on-campus housing, so students stayed in one of several “inexpensive” ($700 a month) dorms a 40-minute train ride away (not at all terrible). My dorm was located in Toda-shi, which is in Saitama, north of Tokyo — my actual train stop was Nishi-kawaguchi, which has a reputation as the Tokyo area’s biggest red-light district! In all honesty, though, a few blocks away from the station the hostess clubs and “soaplands” gave way to beautiful parks and lovely rural surroundings, so I was never one to complain.
Kyoritsu Dormy (sic) Nishikawaguchi 2. Ever-so-tiny rooms, but at least they had a sink.
The dorm room was tiny — 122 square feet — and the showers were shared, but there was a sink in each room, which made things more bearable. There was also a gigantic bathtub — maybe you could fit 10 people in it — that was always empty when I’d roll down to the public bath area at 9AM. There was also an air conditioner in each room, which was greatly appreciated — though the dorm manager always questioned the astronomical electricity bill I’d have every month (multiple PCs, game consoles, and the air conditioner running full blast).
The majority of the people in the dorm were students or workers from out of town. (I can’t imagine leaving your family behind to live in a tiny room five days a week, but that’s just me.) This dorm was guys-only and was relatively quiet. The manager and his wife, who lived downstairs, cooked breakfast and dinner daily, which was more than filling enough for a poor student.
Each morning, I’d grab my free breakfast, unfold my Razor kickboard — I assure you, these were all the rage back in 2000 and could shave twenty minutes off my commute — and head off to class.
TUJ professor Jeff Kingston, Ph.D., an all-around great guy. You’ve probably seen him on CNN or NBC commenting on Japanese stuff. Here he’s making fun of one of my boneheaded theories on the whiteboard: “Williamson Thesis: 1.) Masochistic impulses of Koreans who sought to become even more imposed on culturally, etc. 2.) Effective brainwashing deceived by Japanese duplicity.”
Temple was great. The staff were all Asian Studies specialists, and I took some amazing courses in Japanese history and Chinese poetry (!), taught by people who were passionate about their stuff. Also indescribably fantastic were the film courses, taught by none other than Donald Richie himself; he would roll in, we’d watch an Ozu movie, and then he’d go into exquisite detail about the films…many of which he was on the set of. He was 77 years young when he taught my class, and sharp as a tack. I am certain he has many, many years left — I remember randomly running into him hanging out in Shibuya. What a guy.
Field trip to Oshima Island, home of GOJIRA!!!
The TUJ student body was diverse. Some students were there on a one-semester visit from other schools, while others were bilingual Japanese kids; many of them had grown up attending international schools. The actual graduating class was very small. I am amazed by anyone who goes for a challenging college degree in a language other than their native tongue. The only bummer was that I couldn’t keep taking Japanese language classes, as I had to hit the required courses in order for me to graduate on time in three semesters.
Can you spot Colin?
Though my schedule was filled with classes, I managed to start exploring Tokyo and making some lifelong friends. And after three genuinely awesome semesters, it was graduation time. We put on our robes — a ceremonial garb which baffled a lot of the Japanese students — and had the ceremony in a Japanese hotel’s ballroom. I received my diploma, and stepped through the door into unemployment, and the realization that my visa was about to expire in a week with no future plans. More on that next!