First of all, rest assured that the rest of the Nikko story is still coming. In fact, the text has already been written, I'm only still waiting on the pictures from Bogdan. But it will be soon.
Today there was a festival at Tokyo University's Hongo Campus (Japan certainly has no shortage of festivals :P ), which lots and lots of food stands and a some other stuff as well. I didn't take any pictures worth posting, but I did take a short video of some taiko drumming. I really like that, it's something I wouldn't mind learning if I had the time, it looks like so much fun. And they were very good as well.
I regret not taking a longer video, but for what it's worth, here it is.
I also saw Spiderman 3 today (in English, with Japanese subtitles). It's a decent movie, not as good as the first two, a bit boring in parts, but overall quite fun and in my opinion not nearly as bad as some of the reviews I read. A decent way to spend a Sunday afternoon, anyway. :)
The chairs in the movie theatre were terrible! :P
Today, I finally got two items I wanted to get for some time. A commuter pass and a PASMO.
I got a student commuter pass from Seijogakuenmae to Shinjuku, for the Odakyu line. This covers one half of the route to the Hongo campus I have to take three times a week, and it also covers the route to my lab (then I get off before Shinjuku, but that doesn't matter, it still works). Plus I can use it whenever I need to go to Shinjuku for something else (and since that's usually the first stop no matter where in Tokyo I want to go, that happens a lot). Despite the fact that most people told me I couldn't get a student pass as long as I was only a research student, I still managed to get one. Which is good, since it's a good deal cheaper than a regular commuter pass. I waited so long to get one because I wanted to at least try to get a student pass, so I had to wait until I had my student ID card.
I considered also getting a pass for the second part (from Shinjuku to Hongo-sanchome with the Oedo line), but I only do that three times per week, and there's far less chance of incidental trips that way than on the way to Shinjuku. The commuter pass would cost almost as much as the single tickets would, so I didn't do it. Plus this affords me the freedom of using alternative routes, such as the Chiyoda line, if I want to.
It should be clear from this little explanation that the biggest problem with Tokyo public transportation is all the different companies. You pretty much have to buy a ticket every time you transfer. So far I've been using a passnet pass, which is a magnetic ticket which you buy in advance. It's not any cheaper than individual tickets, but you buy a fixed amount in advance and can use the pass until it's empty (then you must buy a new one). Passnet works on Odakyu and most subway lines (including the Oedo and Chiyoda lines), so it was fairly convenient. It does not, however, work on the JR lines. JR uses a system called Suica, which is a rechargable IC card (chip card), but that doesn't work for anything besides JR (or at least it used to).
A few months ago they introduced the PASMO. It's a rechargable IC card which works on (afaik) every single train and subway company in Tokyo (even JR; the PASMO and Suica can be used interchangably) and even in most buses. Like Passnet it's not cheaper but it is considerably more convenient. What's more, you can also put a commuter pass onto a PASMO, so I can now use this one pass where ever I go in Tokyo, even for the commuter pass route!
I would've gotten a PASMO a great deal sooner, but the PASMO was far more successful than originally anticipated (apparently they sold over 3 million in the first month; they had predicted only 2 million). Because of this currently PASMO's can only be bought in combination with a commuter pass; "normal" PASMO sales have been halted. But now I have one, which will make things much easier. :)
PASMO official site (in English).
Today I had my first Japanese lesson. I think I picked the right level, at least as far as the speaking/listening bit is concerned. Probably the reading/writing part will be a bit too easy for me, but I don't think I could've gone a level higher either. The teacher was nice, but apparently we'll have a different teacher depending on the weekday (since the class is three days per week, that means three teachers). This was the "Friday" teacher. There's quite a large number of students in the class, no one I know though. I do hope they'll pick up the pace a little; today was very slow.
The classes are at the Hongo campus, and I also had to pick up some papers from the office of the faculty of Engineering while I was there. Since I had to wait until the office opened, I had some time to kill which I used to take some pictures. Hongo is simply huge; it takes more than five minutes walking to get from one side to the other.
There's also a few pictures from Shinjuku which I took on Wednesday.
I think Dr. McCoy said it best in Star Trek 4: "The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the Universe". The Japanese definitely seem to have taken it to an art form. In the past few days, I had to fill out more forms than I think in my entire prior life (ok, probably not really, but you get the point).
Forms for the dormitory, for alien registration, for health insurance, for the University, for the internet account, for the Japanese courses... it's gotten so bad I pretty much know how to write my own address by heart. In Kanji.
But at least it's almost over. I think there's just one more major form-signage session coming up, which should be for a mobile phone. Unfortunately Dutch mobile phones don't work here at all, so mine is currently serving as a glorified alarm clock. I've been given two different explanations for this; the first is that the networks in Japan all use 3G, so regular GSM phones don't work, and the second is that foreign providers are banned from the Japanese network. I don't know which is true; it might be both. At least all the phones I've seen in shops are 3G.
Not having a mobile (or "keitai" as the Japanese call them) is a bit of a bother since I also don't have a phone on my room or anything so the only way for people to contact me is by e-mail or postal mail.
Yesterday I signed up for the Japanese courses. I just barely made it to the sign-up office in time because I got lost on the Hongo campus. It's just huge. According to the placement tests I'm level "pre-3", which is what I signed up for. I hope that's okay since the test was just a simple "if you can read this, you can enter level X", and my reading skills are better than my conversation skills. But we'll see; worst case I'll have to work a bit harder the first few weeks. The classes are three times a week at the Hongo campus, which is about one hour travel from here. Fortunately the classes start at 13:10 so I can avoid the morning rush hour.
All this travel is getting quite expensive though. At least when I get a bike I'll be able to get rid of the bus fare everyday. As for the rest, I wonder if they have something like a monthly pass (this is however made more difficult by all the different railway companies in Japan). If not, I'll just have to deal with it. In that case I should at least get a "pasmo", a new type of electronic, rechargable ticket that works for almost all trains and buses. It's not cheaper, but at least it would be easier.
Last november, I graduated my Master of Science at Leiden University, however there was one last bit missing.
At Leiden University, there's an old, old tradition. Everybody who graduates gets to put their name in the famous "zweetkamertje" in the academy building. "Zweetkamertje" literally translates as "sweating room", and it is so called because it used to be the place where students would have to wait for the final exam results before graduation (so they'd be sweating because of the tension). Who exactly the first person was who wrote their name on the wall no one knows, nor why this form of graffiti became a tradition. But it's been going on for more than a century, so the wall of the "zweetkamertje" is filled with many names. Many of the old ones have worn off by now of course, but there's still a lot. Some famous names are kept specially preserved behind glass, including the names of almost the entire Dutch royal family, but also for instance Nelson\ Mandela. Many will agree that you've not really graduated until your name is on that wall.
Normally, putting your name there is done on the day of graduation. But unfortunately, the building is undergoing massive renovation so it's normally closed. But on appointment, graduates can still write their name on the wall.
This afternoon, I added my name to that famous wall.