Posted by: Zach | May 25, 2009

Taking a break

Dawn happens at 4:30 in Japan. Why, I wonder?

Dawn happens at 4:30 in Japan. Why, I wonder?

Sometimes, you just have to roll with suggestions, no matter how random they are, and experience life to the fullest.

I’ve been negligent in my posting recently, but if you consider that the two (supposedly) largest breaks of my career at Ritsumeikan have happened since my last post, I’m sure you’ll be all-forgiving.

First, there was Golden Week, punctuated by parties and parties and a couple of trips to temples and shrines. And you know what? That was good, in its own way. It was a well-deserved break from the usual studies and tension lying therein.

However, Mukade Wars/swine flu break will be different!

What’s that, you ask? Swine flu break? Mukade Wars? HUH?!

A party at I-House II

A party at I-House II

Well, let’s go with the last first, since it requires a bit more description to do its grisly reality justice. You see, in Japan, starting in late spring and ending in fall, the mukade come out to prey on, well, everything. What are the mukade? Centipedes. I can imagine your skin starts to crawl just thinking of centipedes everywhere. Don’t worry. It’s not *quite* that bad. They’re not everywhere. Just almost everywhere. For your consideration: a couple of days ago, when getting out of the shower, one of the guys found one in his pants (that he was about to put on) as he was getting out of the shower.

Why is this bad, though? These poisonous centipedes are a really scary bunch. They live in the bamboo grove right next to where I live, and the first time I saw one was three nights ago…

…it was a dark and stormy night (I kid you not), and I had just put my bike away in the bike area next to my dorm. As I was walking to the door (in sandals, no less), I saw something skitter/squirm (centipedes deserve their own creepy verb for their movements) across my path. Lo and behold, a centipede had crossed the rain-wet asphalt and had stopped in my path. if it weren’t for my sandals, I would have started the war then and there. However, my squeamish nature towards highly poisonous bugs and my bared feet seemed like a bad combination for a fatal blow to the 15-or-so centimeter animal, thus it was left alive to terrorize another day.


A couple of days later, though, yesterday to be entirely exact, I was up late at night, contemplating whether to do homework or just save it for the next morning when I looked on facebook. Boredly perusing statuses, I noticed a strange thing: “SCHOOL’S OUT TIL NEXT WEDNESDAY BECAUSE OF SWINE FLU!” was littered everywhere across statuses and walls amon my friends here. Thus, I decided to go downstairs to see whether any of these people were up, because I was almost sure there’d be a party to celebrate this momentous and highly auspicious occasion.

Arriving downstairs (at 2 am), I was surprised to see not just a couple of people drinking (bad) beer and playing video games, but a whole throng of card-players, and (bad) beer drinkers.

I decided, in the best of judgement, to join their party and ward off sleep for a while longer longer with a couple of drinks and a game of cards or two.



At one point, a couple of the people decided to go out and have a smoke, and the rest of us decided to continue our card game. After a few minutes of the game, the window through which the people who were smoking had gone from opened, and Bob poked his head out.

“Hey, we just killed a centipede. It tried to fight back, but Elie fought it and we killed it!”

And with that, he closed the window, and we were all left thinking about the centipedes and being much more scared by them than the swine flu itself, which had been pushed far back in our minds by partying and generally knowing that if we caught it, we caught it but if we washed our hands as we came in and tried not to cough on anyone if we needed to cough, everything would be fine, and the worst that we faced was a case of the flu.

Centipedes, however, were a different sort of business altogether.

After a while, Bob, Elie, Julien, Aoife, and Frank proceeded to jump in through the window and sit next to the table, each of them talking about the Mukade Wars amongst themselves, until one of us who were inside asked, “What are you guys talking about? I thought there was only one centipede.”

Aoife, the Irish girl among them, turned to us and said, “Yeah, but that was before another came, and Frank killed it. Legend, man. He’s the centipede killer!” (Legend, for use in this blog, is a British isles word that means ‘amazing’, ‘incredible’ or ‘the stuff of legend’.)

That said, Frank smiled widely and then walked upstairs, comign back with a couple of pairs of scissors from his room that he said we could fight the centipedes with. I felt slightly dubious, but at the same time, I was conforted knowing at least some sort of tools existed to fight their growing threat. We continued our game with our renewed numbers for a while, and then the room started to clear out, since 4:15 am seemed a rather late time for people to be up about about.

It was then that Elie, a French guy, had an idea. Bob and I were gathering up things and cleaning up after our party when Elie said, “Let’s go see the sunrise at the lake.”

“Yeah, why not?” I said, barely thinking and relatively tired.

“Sure. Let’s,” Bob agreed. And with that it was decided.

Elie and Bob on this fine morning.

Elie and Bob on this fine morning.

15 minutes later, after the three of us had gotten our cameras and our things (I was actually in pajama pants) and gotten on our bikes, we proceeded to the lake, which, as pictured above, was wonderful. Leaving out bikes at the entrance, Elie and Bob produced cans of beer and drank them slowly as we watched the strangely bright 4:45 am landscape.

A while of talking and marveling later, Bob suggested that we go to Arashiyama, a local sight more famous among the Japanese than the Gaijin (outsider) tourists, and the two of us agreed. At the time, I wondered why I agreed, but after having taken so many wonderful pictures at such an early hour, I figured that sleep could wait for me, and I climbed onto my bike as we all went to Arashiyama.

Arashiyama as you've never seen it before and will probably never see it again.

Arashiyama as you've never seen it before and will probably never see it again.

Arashiyama, which basically means “Storm Mountain” in Japanese, is a beautiful place during the day, at which time at least 1,000 to 2,000 tourists come on any given day, swelling to even more on weekends or holidays.

At 5 am, though, it was stunning…

…..and completely deserted except for a couple of elderly walkers.

As we walked down the path along the river, it occurred to me exactly how amazing a moment this was. Something that few Japanese people ever saw, I was seeing in its full splendor.

Biking over hills and speeding back down them, we finally reached an alcove or rocks where we sat for a while and talked. The sun, obscured (sadly) by clouds, rose slowly, and as we left, I saw a bird which, in my opinion, made the whole trip a complete success.

…Also, Elie found a centipede on the way home. What a wonderful way to tie up a story, eh?

Said bird.

Said bird.



  1. Hello! I stumbled upon your blog after doing some extensive googling on Ritsumeikan. I’m really interested in going to the university, so I was wondering if you could tell me more about the process, your experience, and if your Japanese has improved over the past months. I’m mostly worried about being accepted because my adviser tells me it is extremely competitive. Does it require a high GPA?

    Thank you so much for your time! Great blog btw 😀

  2. Hey! The process is rather easy, if you’re relatively well-versed in Japanese. All you need is a couple of letters of recommendation and the ability to write a very short essay in Japanese. As far as competition, though, I can’t say. If your University is one of the major exchange partners, then it should be easy to be accepted, but if it isn’t, it could be exceedingly hard to get a spot. My university is one of the smaller exchanges, but they promised a spot and only let me in, so I’d guess anything higher than a 3.3-3.5 should be fine for the University itself. Realize that Japanese universities actually grade on a different scale: 80-100 for A and correspondingly for the rest.

    Other than that, I wish you luck, and yes, your Japanese will improve if you put effort into it. It won’t improve wherever you go if you don’t go out of your way to speak it when you can, and that’s where the real test comes in: connecting what you’ve learned with what you’re willing to teach yourself and learn through doing.

    Also, my personal blog is

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