Monday, June 24, 2013

"Vacation" by The Go-Gos

I lived in Japan three times: the first time in Hiroshima, between high school and college; one year in  Sendai, Miyagi while I was in college; and then in Miyazaki, where I lived for 14 years. When I hear certain Japanese songs they always bring me back to a certain "era." Likewise, there are a few Western pop songs that whenever I hear them I am instantly transported back to Japan. The first and strongest is "Vacation" by the Go-Gos.
I went to Miyagi University of Education (MUE) between the fall of 1985 and the spring of 1986. At the time it was an independent school but it is now part of Tohoku University. At the time I was a student there it was a school of approximately 1800 students, and I was one of only three foreign students. There were some Chinese and/or Brazilian Japanese exchange students, too, but they could all "pass." We three Westerners stood out like sore thumbs.
There was no girls' dorm so Deirdre lived with a host family. Jeff had an apartment. And I lived in the boys' dorm on campus. During the first semester I was there two things happened that changed my life: one was me turning 21 on a night it was my floor's turn to clean the boys' bathrooms; there isn't any more to that story, but it makes me smile every time I think of it. The other event was the School Festival.
Each autumn every college in Japan holds a Cultural Festival (November 3 is Culture Day in Japan). During this weekend the university is open to the public and each club tries to make some extra money by having exhibition games or by selling food or drink. By "club" I mean teams (soccer, badminton, swimming, gymnastics) as well as clubs like French Club, Manga Club, Painting, etc. By the time the festival rolled around I was already a member of the Ping-Pong, Table Tennis Club. I had been dumped on them because my dorm room-mate knew somebody who knew somebody in it, and he wanted me out of the dorm more. At the time I was pissed because I thought he was trying to get rid of me, but in hindsight joining them was the best thing that happened to me. They were not only kind and supportive of me but they also knew how to party! I had the best weekend of my college life that weekend, and all of my other fond memories of Sendai have something to do with the Table Tennis Club.
me and my best friend Nitta-kun trying to sell crepes at the
college cultural festival, Nov 1985
Oh, except for this one.
My first friends were my dorm-mates. They had a ball living with a foreigner. I was "adopted" as a little brother by hundreds of upper-class Japanese guys, and because Japan is a society based on rank, I was basically "in" throughout the school. All year I would find people who knew me because, well, because I was the foreigner, but also because I was the foreigner who lived in the east wing on the fourth floor and helped Tanaka with his English test or what have you. It was only later that I was also the Table Tennis foreigner. The point is, almost immediately I was "somebody." And that is why an upper-classman whose name I have long forgotten came to my room-mate one day that fall and told us he wanted our help to win some money in a state-wide contest. He wanted us to go around the campus and be recorded with a camcorder as we "hosted" a documentary about "College Life." So my room-mate and I went to the cafeteria, the bus stop, the track and field, etc and interviewed students. Because the "director" was a fun guy he would point us to his fun friends, and because I'm, well, who I am, I went after the laughs and the funny. We were a huge hit. The highlight was our interviewing some of the college cheerleaders (called "cheer girls" in Japanese). After we laughed with them, they came up with the idea for us to join their practice! They taught us one of their routines; I don't know if the director or my room-mate knew that was going to happen, but I sure didn't! And *that* is where the Go-Gos come in, because the routine they taught us was to "Vacation." To this day, whenever I hear this song I think, "aerobic work-out."
I know our video was a hit because we ended up winning something; the three of us split the prize money. I think I got a copy of our tape, too, but I lost it several years ago.  It would be nice to watch today for sure...
...but this will have to do. :-)


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