November 16, 2011

From Ultimate Failure to Success

Most of the readers probably know that I play ultimate frisbee and the title of the entry refers to that. With the intended pun, of course. To tell you the truth, I was not in a rush to start playing ultimate again, because after the very eventful ultimate summer I was not only bruised, battered and physically exhausted, but I needed to put it out of my mind as well. As the weeks passed, though, I had to give in to the temptation to play ultimate again.

Looking for an ultimate team was actually harder than I thought. The major obstacle was the language barrier since all the information was in Japanese. I spent countless hours trying to decipher kanjis using google translate and electronic dictionaries. The other obstacle was the surprisingly large amount of outdated information, which hindered my search. Even the Aichi flying disc federation (the region comprising Nagoya and its surroundings) had a lot of links to non-existing webpages and teams that no longer played. Despite the difficulties, I found out that the teams from Aichi face each other four times a year in a regional tournament, the Toukai Open, which was held for the last time this year at the end of October in the nearby city of Okazaki. A perfect occasion to get to know the local ultimate scene and find a team. Adding to my excitement was also the news that UNO, one of the best women ultimate teams in the world, was participating to the event.

Okazaki Sports Center

I nearly overslept the whole thing, because what was supposed to be one or two beers the previous night turned into partying the night away. Anyway, I was able to leave around noon and arrived to Okazaki around 2 pm, an hour later than I anticipated, because switching trains from two different railway companies and then finding the right bus in an unknown place took longer than I had imagined. Okazaki Sports Center extended over a hill and it took me some time to go around looking for the ultimate tournament. By 3 pm I had been everywhere, but I hadn't seen a single frisbee, player or team. The whole thing turned out to be an ultimate failure. Perhaps the games were already over by 2-3 pm, but I never got any confirmation to this and never found any tournament results. Luckily the weather was nice, so I went for a walk and tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery from the top of the hill despite the disappointment.

But where are the ultimate fields??

At the top of the hill with the city of Okazaki faintly visible in the distance.

Blooms, the ultimate team of Nagoya University, practices every Saturday morning from 9 to 12 am and two weeks after the Okazaki incident, I was able to participate. The team consists mostly of first and second year ultimate players with a few more experienced players, all in all a dozen players. The drills were quite basic throwing drills with one slightly more challenging one, ダンプ練習 (dampu renshuu) or more familiarly a dump drill with a few well-timed cutbacks from upfield. After the practice the whole team went to eat an abundant tonkatsu meal at a nearby restaurant, a custom after every Saturday practice. Such a habit is elusive in Finland, although it could be plausible a little bit more unfrequently, say once a month. At present our team in Finland goes to eat together only at the end of the season, so in my opinion such a habit would be very welcome.

The vending machines at the Sports Center sell two suitably named sports
beverages: Pocari Sweat and Match.

Next week Blooms has a practice match and I will go play with AG Funks, a non-university team based in the city of Toyota. So stay tuned, there will be more ultimate news in the near future!

November 08, 2011

Home Is Wherever I Am with You

Stretching to the south west of the university campus is large residential area formed mostly by small two-story houses. By day the area is not exactly the definition of lively and by night it is as silent as the grave, to the point where I sometimes wonder if any living souls really dwell in those houses. Hopefully the reality isn't as grim as I describe it, and I actually like to go there for a walk, because it is quite different from what I see in my home country.  There is a stark contrast between the modern, wealthier, western-looking houses and the old rickety shacks that stand side by side. It is at the same time repelling but also fascinating, a feeling that often arouses in Japan.

The parking slots are small.

This house definitely looks out of place...

This doesn't look too safe. I wonder what my insurance company would say about it...

November 03, 2011

Everyday Life

Time has flown by these past two weeks and it feels like an eternity from my last blog entry. The lack of time imparts an inevitable and dull fact: I have settled down in a routine of work, studying, sports and sleep. Sometimes, walking down the quiet streets to the mall or jogging in Tsurumai park, I suddenly realize that I actually am in Japan and a cheerful grin fills my face. Luckily, everyday life has been spiced up with a number of interesting encounters.

Weekdays are spent at the laboratory where I work from 9:30 to 17:00, but the working hours tend to stretch past the five o'clock mark. It's not because there is an endless amount of work to do, but rather because in Japan there is a consensus to do extra hours and work as late as your coworkers. If I leave office at 17:30, I'm the first one to go. Heck, even if I leave at 18:30, I'm among the first ones to go. Although it might not be expected from exchange students, it still puts a little pressure on me knowing that everyone else will be working late. And this habit really takes its toll on the Japanese: it is not uncommon to see people taking a nap at the lab, subway or any public place for the matter. Not only is it not considered shameful or unusual, but the Japanese truly have a skill at sleeping. I have never seen people rest in such absurd or awkward positions. Imagine sitting in your office chair, hands crossed on your stomach and slightly leaning back so that your head is completely bent backwards when you fall asleep. I can only imagine how your neck feels afterwards...

It's hard to leave work when the view is like this, isn't it?

The Japanese language classes also began and I'm attending 3 classes per week. We also started a study session or as we call it 勉強会 (benkyoukai) with Noora and two Chinese students, Fuu and Shou. We gather once or twice a week to do exercises. There is a kaleidoscopic spectrum of nationalities at the Japanese classes and it is interesting to notice different cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking. There are a lot of students from the closest countries such as China, South Korea and India, but also Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, Tunisia and Marocco. Western nationalities are a small minority and include Spanish, French and Italian students. There is also a large Brazilian minority in Nagoya and I've met quite a few of them. The funniest encounter I've had so far is when Ankur, the Indian "dude", told me that I'm the shortest Finn he has ever seen! Apparently the previous Finnish exchange students were quite tall even on Finnish standard.