My Journey in Japan, Part 2

(This is part 2 of an ongoing series about my adventures while studying at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka, Japan, along with the lessons I’ve learned along the way. You can read the first part here.)

 

Hello again. Sorry for the wait; so many things have happened in the past few weeks, which is why this post is as late as it is. But the important thing is that I’m back and ready to regale more of the story of my time here in Japan.

As I said last time, my decision to study abroad like this came with a great deal of criticism from those around me for any number of reasons. I also said that choosing not to listen to them was one of (if not the) best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life. It’s shown me how important it is to sometimes throw caution to the wind and take amazing opportunities as they surface, even if they cause some setbacks.

But wait. What setbacks?

Well, for one thing, taking this semester abroad has cost me a lot of money. Not a fortune per se, but a significant amount. I know I’m going to have some student debt for quite some time, and I shouldn’t plan on living beyond meager means for the next few years.

Also, I’m going to have to take an extra semester as a result of this journey. I’ll have to sit on the sidelines and watch as most of my friends walk across the stage to get their diplomas at graduation, ready to (hopefully) set sail on some new chapter in their lives.

And I won’t be able to get that $300 rebate, regrettably. Egads, the horror, what an outrage.

But it’ll have been worth it in the end. No, it HAS been worth it so far. And we’ve still got a couple of weeks left (and maybe two or three more entries, including a post-mortem of sorts).

This was shot on the plane ride over here, a little before landing at Kansai International Airport. See? Already started paying dividends before I even set foot on Japanese land.

 

This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and for me it’s come at exactly the right time in my life. I’ve needed this adventure. It’s made me see the world from a completely different perspective, one that has shown me that most of the things I thought I hated about myself have actually been my greatest strengths.

Take, for example, my deep knowledge of pop culture, as seen in this picture with two Persona 4 cosplayers at TGS. To the Japanese, I’m not really a “nerd” because I like this stuff; I’m just cultured.

I’ve met so many people, some of whom are like me, and plenty of others who are not, and I’d like to think that I’ve learned at least something from each of them.

Pictured: East meeting West with Michael Jackson costumes at Halloween. The dude on the right, my friend Miio, actually did teach me a step or two. My moonwalk’s still pretty sloppy, though.

And I’ve gone to places where I’d only dreamed of going before, particularly during my two trips to Tokyo.

Places like Akihabara.

This is a Club Sega arcade. Two doors down from here, there’s another, bigger Club Sega. I was in heaven here.

 

 

And Shibuya.

 

This is me next to the statue of Hachiko, a dog who was so loyal to his owner that he waited for him at Shibuya Station every day for many years after the man had died. It has a minor role to play in the Nintendo DS game “The World Ends With You.”

 

 

This is the “scramble crosswalk” that pretty much sums up everyone’s mental image of Tokyo. It’s the place you always seem to see in movies that are set in modern day Japan.

 

And of course, Tokyo Disney.

Cinderella’s Castle at night. It, like everything else in the park, was decked out for the Christmas season.

 

I figured I had to pay tribute to the King of Pop somehow, so that’s me, doing an extremely poor impression of one of Michael Jackson’s dance moves in front of Captain Eo, which is best described as a “4-D” version of a really stupid Michael Jackson video. (Though for the record, the song in the video, “We Are Here to Change the World,” is pretty dope.)

All of the Disney cast members at Tokyo Disney spoke Japanese, and very few knew a lot of English. Still, I was able to practice my Japanese in one of the best possible ways: “Watashi to watashi no otou-san wa, Goofy-san ga suki desu.” (“My Dad and I really like you, Goofy!”) It’s a pretty simple sentence, all things considered, but the cast members were all pretty impressed. Consider that as proof that I’ve learned some Japanese while here, if nothing else…

These are the things that money can’t buy, whose value transcends monetary value. In the long run, this trip will pay dividends for the rest of my life, because it’s allowed me to see the world from a completely different perspective. Forgotten lessons from the past have popped up once again, particularly in the wake of my Disney trip (which we’ll delve a bit more into next time).

All that being said, I must say that studying abroad is not for everyone. It’s not for those who want to go to another country just to have a vacation; you have to work hard both in and out of the classroom to properly adjust to the cultural and academic stylings of your country of choice. Furthermore, you have to be willing to accept that your country’s values will often clash with others’, and be willing to reconcile those differences when they emerge. You can party and have fun (and believe me when I say, I totally have), but you’ve also got to remember that, like it or not, you represent your country in one way or another, and depending on the culture, your actions serve as representations of your culture as a whole. If you’re rude, then everyone in America is rude. And if you think that’s unfair, tough luck; just because it goes against your values doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

In summation, here’s a quote from Pokemon X (which, convieniently enough, was released in the middle of this semester, so I got to see its impact in Japan directly). One of the characters, Professor Sycamore, says a quote that is hands down the most relevant and insightful thing I’ve heard and/or read this entire semester (I’ve bolded the important bits):

“Now listen. If you visit many different places to complete the Pokedex, you will probably see Pokemon with many ways of living and meet people with many ways of thinking. First, accept the ways of living and thinking that sometimes conflict with your own. And think about what’s really important—this will truly broaden your horizons.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself, Professor.

Anyway, that’s all for now. As I said above, I’ll talk a bit more about my adventures at Tokyo Disney next time. Until then, sayonara!

My Journey In Japan, Part One

(NOTE: This is one of those blog entries that I probably should’ve started working on much, much sooner. Perhaps one could consider this a testament to the amount of adventures I’ve been having as of late?)

As I write this, I’m not currently in Oswego. Or in New York State. Or even on the North American continent.

Nope, right now I’m in the middle of a semester abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata-shi, Osaka, Japan. I’m only halfway through the semester, and I already have found it to be the most worthwhile experience of my entire life. This is the realization of a dream I’ve had since I was in middle school (and probably even before that), and is the culmination of over a year and a half of diligence, hard work, and perseverance.

Eleven years in the making, and I'm finally here...

Eleven years in the making, and I’m finally here…

 

 

I’ve got so many stories to tell about my adventures thus far in Japan that I’ll need more than one post to talk about them. But first, let’s talk about two things that have been fundamental in making this even possible in the first place: choice and responsibility.

This is my senior year. I plan to graduate in May, which means I have a little over a semester and a half before I’m expected to go out into the “real world” so I can “make something out of myself.”

As a Creative Writing major, I get a lot of comments from people asking me what I plan on doing after undergrad with that kind of degree. These comments often have a somewhat derogatory tone to them, as if I’ve somehow wasted all my money on something completely worthless.

Now, this is the part where you’d probably expect me to say something along the lines of, “The Creative Writing major is actually super-versatile, thank you very much,” and then drone on and on about how I could be a technical writer or a PR manager, both of which are rather profitable jobs.

Fortunately, that’s not what I’m gonna do. Instead, I’ll tell you the absolute truth.

The truth is, I don’t know what I plan to do outside in “the real world.” I sure as hell don’t want to spend my life rotting away inside a cubicle at a job I hate just because somebody else told me to. That’s not me; it’s not my kind of environment. Sure, it’s secure, but it’s also boring as hell. As Joseph Campbell (whom I’ll probably get to talking about in a later post) once said, “There is no security in answering the Call to Adventure. Nothing is exciting if you already know what the outcome is going to be.”

Now, where does Japan come into all of this?

Well, it’s simple: I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was a little kid. Over the years I’ve heard a variety of people say a variety of things about the variety of reasons why it would be impossible and/or stupid to go to Japan.

“It’s too expensive.” (Nah, it wasn’t really.)

“Someone like you wouldn’t survive a week over there.” (Try eight. And counting.)

“You’re too stupid to get into a university over there.” (Honors Program with a 3.3 GPA.)

“What’s the point? You’ll just end up owing boatloads of money over nothing.” (See below.)

“Stop being irresponsible, Tom. Just graduate and get a job like everyone else. Worry about Japan later.” (Again, see below.)

Well, if this post is any indication, in the end I didn’t listen to them, and I’m so glad I chose not to. The truth is, this semester abroad wasn’t just the best decision I’ve ever made, but the most NECESSARY, as well. I’d been exposed to too much cynicism to that point, and I needed to break free.

[*cue minor tangent*]

You see, I hate cynicism. It’s probably one of the worst qualities to find in a person, as it more or less translates as a sign of laziness and apathy (which are two equally terrible character traits). I especially hate when I hear my fellow classmates back home (many of whom are juniors and seniors) whine and moan about how “the last four years have been worthless” and “I still don’t know what I want to do with my life” and “[Insert name here]‘s got a degree in [Insert Liberal Arts major here], so he’s gonna be flipping burgers when he gets out of here.”

Here’s the thing: people who say that kind of stuff seem to have missed the point of college; they act like all they need to do is attend class during the week and party during the weekend and they’ll somehow magically figure out who they are and what they want to do. They neglect opportunities like study abroad or clubs and organizations, saying that they’re just a waste of time. School is work, and to them, work should always be separate from play.

And then when they realize they were wrong, they blame it on their parents and other adults who told them that getting a degree was the only important part of their college education.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

See, the thing that so many of those cynical students seem to forget is that college is about learning to make your own decisions, as opposed to following the will of someone else. Thus, whining about how you gained nothing from college is a sign that you didn’t learn how to think for yourself. That’s a skill you often can’t fully learn how to use in a classroom setting; you can only apply it there. You have to learn about yourself and the world around you by actually getting out and being there.

[*end minor tangent*]

Which is where I turn once again to my experiences in Japan. I’ve known for a while that I probably won’t become a full-time writer; for one thing, it’s been hard to come up with something original, and for another, I have a rather short attention span that makes writing for significant length of time somewhat difficult. (Which is why it’s actually kind of weird that this post is as long as it is…)

[*cue another minor tangent; don't worry, kids, it's all relevant in the end*]

But I do know one thing: I love stories. I love telling them, I love reading them, and I love learning about how they work. And I also love games; playing games, talking about games, and learning the science behind games.

And I know that I can take these two bits of knowledge and tie them together. And I know that by tying them together I can see the world from an entirely different perspective. And from that perspective I can find things to do and make that can change the world as we know it. Things that take my creative writing and cognitive science backgrounds and turn them into the impetus behind a force of good.

Knowing that, I feel there’s only one choice I can make, because I have a responsibility to myself (rather than to the people around me) to do something extraordinary with my life.

And the best way I can think of is to pursue cognitive video game studies in graduate school.

[*end minor tangent*]

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Man, does that Tom Kline likes his tangents. But trust me when I say that this all ties together rather nicely.

Because when I first came to Oswego as a freshman, my parents and high school teachers had already told me that I had a responsibility to study what interested me, because in doing so I’d learn to appreciate the gift of choice that came with that opportunity. And so I became a Creative Writing major and Cognitive Science minor, and somehow ended up in Japan.

There, we’re back on track.

Now, having finally come to Japan, I’ve been rewarded for my self-faith and conviction by being granted so many other opportunities while being here. My birthday, September 19th, was the day of the Jugoya full-moon festival in Kyoto, and I got to go to a celebration at Shimogumo Shrine. That night, the full moon was said to be the prettiest full moon of the year (in contrast to a similar festival in May, which is said to be the most powerful full moon of the year).

It was a great night.

 

What’s more, I spent the next four days in Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show 2013, which was an industry expo similar to E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo, held every summer in LA). Unlike E3, however, the last two days of TGS are open to the public.

The ticket for TGS 2013

 

While I was there, I got to play a bunch of crazy games that might not even come out in America.

 

This guy was from a Sega game for the Nintendo 3DS that had something to do with fighting using Japanese yen. I barely understood what was going on. At the end of the demo they gave me a box of tissues that looked like a 10,000 yen bill. Japan, people. Video games.

And my favorite part of the trip was getting to meet a bunch of independent game developers. These are two-and-three-man studios who come together to make games on their own terms, free from any corporate meddling. They often make more avant-garde games with interesting mechanics that in turn can influence the rest of the games industry.

Here’s me with the guys at VisionTrick, who are working on a game called Pavilion for the PS4 and PS Vita. There’s an interview with them that I’ll post soon. They were pretty awesome.

Rickard Westman(left) and Henrik Flink (right) of VisionTrick Media. Talking to these guys was really, really cool.

 

And here’s me with Henry Fernandez and his brother, who are working on FluffEaters, a mobile game for Android and iOS devices. An interview with them should also be going up in the near future:

Me with Henry Fernandez (aka Henry Kun), left, and his brother (whose name sadly escapes me at the moment…), right. These guys were also really cool to talk to.

It’s great to talk to these developers because they operate on a more easily-approachable level; they make games, but they’re not Shigeru Miyamoto or Cliff Blezinski (from Nintendo and Epic Games, respectively). You can go up to them and talk about game design and playing games without feeling like you’re speaking to a suit (or, in the cases of Miyamoto and Blezinski, a legend). In a way, these guys are artists who are making their dreams come true by creating something unique for others to experience and interpret and learn from. They could’ve gone and become businessmen, rotting away at a job they hate, but instead they decided to do something awesome with their lives.

Thus, we’re not really different at all: I love games, they love games. I’m in Japan at the Tokyo Game Show experiencing the insanity that occurs within, and so are they. And most importantly, I’m here because I never gave up on my dream, and neither did they.

That week alone was one of the greatest and most life-changing periods of my entire life. And none of it could’ve happened (or at least, not to the extent that it had) outside of Japan. If I hadn’t made the choice of going to Japan now while I’m still an undergrad, I’d be letting down so many of the people who got to where I am today.

But that, friends, is a story for another time. Until next time, stay tuned for more coverage from the Land of the Rising Sun!

Look! Up In The Sky! It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s…Some Guy Introducing Himself!

Hmm… given that we’ve been out of school for almost a month, you’d think I would’ve posted at least something by now. It seems procrastination, sleep, summer classes, sleep, looking for a job, procrastination, finding a job, sleep, working at said found job, eating, and sleep have gotten the better of me.

But now I’ve finally arrived, and am ready to finally make my first appearance on this fine Student Blog of ours!

My name is Tom Kline, and I’m a junior Cinema and Screen Studies/Creative Writing double major (with a minor in Theatre). I hail from the lovely (and rather quiet) town of Endwell, NY (which is about 20 minutes from Binghamton, for those of you playing along at home). I went to high school at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, where I graduated as a member of the Class of 2010.

I have what you’d call a “spirited” personality, which is to say that I tend to get excited fairly easily, and my voice often carries as a result. This ability to project is key to being an actor; in the real world, however, it often doesn’t fly. But that’s okay, because I find I’m still able to express my views and opinions (as well as fictitious anecdotes and the like) through writing, which in my experience has been an arguably quieter activity.

And if what people tell me is true (which is not always the case, sadly), I’m pretty good at this whole writing schtick.

Needless to say, much of my extra- (and even inter-) curricular activities involve extensive writing, editing, and other ways to mess around with the English language:

– I’m a member of the College Honors Program.

– I’ve been a regular Staff Writer for The Oswegonian for two years now, and some of my movie reviews have won journalism awards. I even served as a Copy Editor for a semester.

– I am currently a tutor in the Writing Center for the Office of Learning Services. Our office in Penfield Library is a perfect place to find help with papers and other forms of writing.

– My screenplay “The Chase” was featured in the Spring 2012 edition of The Great Lake Review, SUNY Oswego’s semesterly literary journal.

– Last semester, I was inducted into the Alpha Sigma Eta chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English and Creative Writing honors society.

– And of course, I’m writing for this blog!

As I mentioned, I’m also an actor; I most recently made my return to the stage in last semester’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, in which I played Friar Francis and the Sexton. Here’s a photo, courtesy of Lakeshore Images:

That's me in the front, with the Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque robes.

It was my first college theatre production, and I’m really proud of how it turned out. I’m looking forward to working with the Theatre department in the future.

When I’m not chained to a desk, writing, acting, or sleeping (or acting like I’m sleep-writing while chained to a desk), I enjoy playing video games and watching action movies (my favorites are Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and Die Hard, respectively). I’m also interested in mythology; as part of my Honors thesis, I’m researching the various ties to world mythologies found within anime, manga, and popular culture at large. It’s just one of the ways I’ve been able to fully embrace my “nerdy” interests by integrating them into my academic studies (but more on that some other time).

Well, I guess that’s me in a nutshell. In closing, I’d like to thank Tim Nekritz and the others involved with this blog for allowing me to become a contributor. I’m looking forward to posting some of my more interesting stories about SUNY Oswego sometime in the future.

Until then, thanks for reading!