Follow by Email

Monday, October 29, 2012

Everyone's Japanese (Minna No Nihongo)

Title of the Text:  Everyone's Japanese
So much (too much) happened in the past 10 days, I couldn't keep up with the blog.  I hoped to add more, but studies became more important and I was wiped out most evenings.  The final days of class were intense for me. I felt I needed to do really well  on the final test and prove that all the effort was worth it.  I ended up getting exactly the same on my written and oral tests as I had the first two tests - well, a bit better on written this time...(84%) and 90% oral.  I crossed every t and dotted every i, as it were, on the written exam, but still fell down on particles, getting only half correct - and then I forgot to answer one whole question.  Although particles in simple sentences are easy as pie, as the situation (and sentence structure) gets more complicated, so do the particles.  When I listen to an ESL adult whose native language is Spanish, even if their grammar and vocabulary are excellent, it's the english particles that often trips them up and gives them away.   I mean think about the use of "at" or "in."  Very subtle differences in their use ("I am at the hospital.  I am in the hospital." Both correct but slightly, subtly different and situational).  Anyway, I think when one masters articles in Japanese, one has mastered quite a hurdle indeed.

N..Desu Anyone?
So there was lots of detail in my studies last week.  We also spent time learning how to give and receive - which, as you can imagine is an intricate round of verbs in Japanese.  Those verbs that have to do with who gave what to whom, how close in relationship that person is, if the subject of the sentence is the receiver or the person who gave the present, if the gift giver or receiver is a family member or a boss...all have different verbs.

In my private lessons with Sugita sensei,  I was able to go over in more detail the things that were tripping me up in other lessons.  The use of "n desu," not particularly hard grammatically, but remembering when to use it... (used as a means of explaining why something did or did not happen, it is often used as an apology attached to a verb or adjective...the use of it in a question shows surprise or sometimes disapproval towards the listener.  If the questioner uses "n desu" then you better damn well use "n desu" right back in your explanation.   Or it might not show disapproval but just exceeding interest.  But as it happens, it is such a quiet little addition to a sentence that one may not always hear it, so one has to listen for it in body language and eyebrow expression as well.
Ko-San passes out after finishing final test

But it wasn't all hellishly hard.  I spent a wonderful Saturday in Nagoya at the amazing Nagoya Fall Matsuri with my friends.  We all ended up splitting up because the crowds were too impossible, but it was fun to hang out while we could.  The parade ends in a big battle at the main intersection, showing the fight between three prominent daimiyo to govern and rule all of Japan as Shogun after over 400 years of bloody civil wars.  Of course the final victor is Tokugawa Ieayasu.  But the street battles are wonderfully costumed and even had a dose of comic flair.  The following pics are a mixture of pictures from my camera and Ko-s camera, neither of us had a great picture of the battle scene.  Too busy watching it I guess.

The parade begins with nine huge festival floats pulled by 14 strong men!

The Unicycle club of Nagoya!

Nana-Chan, the beloved mascot of Nagoya!  They dress her up in all different ways through out the year....

Ninjas on Parade!

The Battle Begins!
Tokugawa Ieyasu wins the battle!

After the Matsuri, I walked along the food stands eating fresh grilled whole fish and tasting malt beer.  As I got to the stage at the end of the park, an all men's choir dressed in dark jeans, deep red blazers and blue ties were singing a Japanese song.  The conductor for these 37 men of various ages was a young, very beautiful Japanese woman.   I moved closer to hear them.  After that song they moved into their final song, Bridge Over Troubled Water.  I don't know what came over me, but I was moved to tears.  These earnest men, with their beautiful voices singing "Rike a Bridge Ovah Troubred Watah, I Wir Ray Me Down" at the top of their lungs and in such perfect harmony, (so beautifully that you could almost hear the strings that Paul Simon orchestrated for the piece)...the beauty of their effort and their struggle with the wording and final mastery of the feeling of the song, had me crying all the way through.  Luckily it was dark and the ever polite Japanese are very conscious of not ever looking directly at me, the lone caucasian woman in the park.   So my tears could flow, pretty much unnoticed.

Nagoya Matsuri Food Festival, Nagoya Radio Tower in Background

What I love about the Japanese is this earnestness, it's a great word to describe them.  At school we learned it as まじめ majime (though it might not mean the earnestness I am describing here...) In my experience, there is nothing that is not done here without earnest effort.  At all times, in shops, in restaurants, on the street, in the school office, at the airport, whatever action is happening, the people have every good intention of making sure the task is complete and that all are satisfied.

 I was reminded of this on my first trip to the grocery store this time, which was more like a Wallmart.  I couldn't find a section that had paper supplies, but knew there must be one and so asked a young mother who just happened to be shopping near me if she knew where that section was.  Despite the fact that at that very moment her toddler daughter began to scream her head off the women dragged the child and her grocery basket half way across the store; things kept dropping out of the cart, the child was screaming, the mother and I were picking up the assorted products off the floor as we walked -- all to make sure I got to the paper isle.  No matter what my protestations were, telling her I was sorry and it's O.K., I will find it, please don't worry, it's all right, etc., she continued, ever smiling at me, to complete the request.

I am outside of the culture and I don't know what might go through a person's mind who feels that they have to drop everything to help someone else; are they annoyed? Do they wish they hadn't been asked? Do they feel good about it?  Does it not bother them at all, it simply just is something one does?  I don't know.  I just know that in America someone would have said, "It's about six isles over," and left it at that.  There is something  so beautiful to me about how far people here are willing to go to help others.

And beautiful too is how 37 gentlemen could put their hearts and souls into a song whose lyrics betrayed them, but whose sentimental feeling still rang as true as a lovely bell in the autumn evening.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Just a funny aside.  I have a little crush on one of the Japanese staff here and last night this old Gary Larson cartoon popped into my mind.  Had to share it 'cause this is really how it is (though the genders would be reversed):

Oh well...shikata ga nai (it can't be helped...)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Inuyama Jo and the Big Test

Chen-san and Ro-san came again this evening (like they did last Tuesday) to study for tomorrow's big test.  Our test will be on using grammatical structures like "before I came, after I came, when I came, in order to have XXX become something else, (and, incase you are someone who actually happened on this blog because you study the language the まえに、いくとき、いたとき、と。。。いいですよ、どやて forms(ますぐいて、まがて, etc. like how to show someone on a map),  and the inevitable
。。。んです form which shows natural flow of communication but which DOES NOT come naturally since it uses the じしょ form but is often used within a formal context.)

Agggghhhhhhhh.... plus three chapters of vocabulary.  Here are my friends and I, feigning happiness while we study...

And here's how we really felt....

I'll let you know next time how i did....


The trip to Matsumoto ended up not happening BTW.  We all met at the train station and I had concerns for all of us to try to go that far in a day and actually enjoy the trip- especially since someone told me the night before that the Ukiyo-e museum I was dying to see was not in the heart of the city but another 15 minute taxi ride away.  My Taiwanese friends are students with student budgets and I didn't want to force them to go on such an expensive trip, so we changed our minds at the train station and headed to Inuyama instead.  Inu means dog, and Yama means mountain.  The town is very charming and has the original castle intact (castles are called Jo, so Inuyama Jo).  It is the oldest castle in Japan, and is still privately owned by the same family that owned it since 1617.  The town was charming, the little street leading to the Jo not too touristy, (oh a little, but not like it is elsewhere) and the weather was fine.

Inuyama Jo
If I was concerned that I would have to lead my group of Taiwanese friends and be the leader, I needn't have worried.  Ko-san, the only man, quickly took the lead and Ro and Chen-san instantly took the roles of being my nieces, calling me Julie-chan and aka-chan (Julie baby and little dear one) making sure that I was buying my ticket correctly, making sure I had a seat, holding my back pack for me while taking pictures.  I don't feel THAT much older than they are (but I am) and I kept telling them I was quite fine, I've traveled a lot, but I think the Taiwanese courtesy (much like the Japanese) is about taking care of others, always.  There was also a thing about them being Taiwanese and me being American that made them want to take care of me.  They don't know each other at all from before being at Yamasa.  But they have banned together to form a little Taiwanese group.  Ken-san bowed out since he's been to Inuyama before and wanted to save himself for the next day when he and Ko would head to Nagoya.

We take our shoes off to enter the Jo, and carry them around with us in plastic bags....

Chen-san takes pics

Ko-san overlooking the river.  

Inuyama Jo is situated perfectly for defense purposes, as these pictures show.   A beautiful and useful river behind, the valley stretching out far and wide below.

We gather around our text book, "Minna No Nihongo" ("Everyone's Japanese Language")

We are attacked on the streets of Inuyama!

It was a great and LONG day, since we also went to a part of the town that was an architectural park from the Meiji period -- the Japanese moved hundreds of structures from around Japan to this park, representing various building styles going on at the time that Japan opened its doors to the west.  The European influence was phenomenal and one gets to walk through original buildings, including the front door of Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel (which I forgot to get a picture of).    (BTW, in order to get there, we had to use our newly learned vocabulary about directions...)

After the long day of walking around and speaking in our new language together, we were all very very tired.  We hopped a bus to Nagoya and sped through the night on a 90 minute journey, Chen-san sitting next to me, sharing her earphones so we could listen to music together, Ko-san in the seat right behind us, Ro-san right in front. We all fell asleep together bouncing along the highway.

We arrived at Nagoya train station and then after a great dinner of Nagoya specialty barbecued chicken wings, pork tongetsu on a stick, rice and miso soup, our evening ended in a 5 story Japanese pharmacy (やっ清く)。.

 Ko-san explained to me that Taiwanese are crazy for Japanese medicine.  The place was full of Taiwanese and Ro-san and Cho-san walked me through showing me all the special items that I must buy.  I did buy some vitamins (after checking the label - Ro-san swore by it) and some Japanese medicine plasters for aches and pains (which, I'm actually looking forward to trying).  Ko-san had already been there three times to buy presents for his family, so he waited outside.  When we were finished purchasing, we came out and he was gone.  We looked around a little nervously for a few minutes, then saw him running down the street towards us with a shopping bag.  "I'm so sorry!  I can't believe it!  I just bought a camera and I got such a good deal!"

The most amazing thing was that 90% of the time, we all spoke Japanese.  They can all speak a little English, and much better than they think they can, but we didn't try.  We practiced all of our vocab and grammar, taught each other new words, and just enjoyed each other's company.

There was a moment when we were all walking down the street, away from the lovely Inuyama Jo when I had a sudden pang in my heart.  I know now, from long experience, that these friends of mine may remain friends for awhile, but that because of time and circumstance we will drift apart.  I know that this time and place and feeling, the feeling of love when you open your heart to new people, when you let them in at the exact same moment that they are letting you in, is a precious and fleeting thing.  I know that when I was their age, I believed that you could hold on to that feeling forever, with the people you fell in love with.  And traveling does indeed allow you to fall in love more easily.  My new wonderful friends won't be in my life for long, and it's that recognition of really needing to hold on to a moment, the feeling of absolute love that has only the moment that it is given and no more that breaks my heart.  And yet, I wouldn't trade  this feeling for the whole world.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Matsumoto Here We Come

Well, I've gone and done it.  Just when I was starting to cruise along, not a worry in the world (except next week's test!) I put myself in the same type of situation for which I am (for better or worse) famous. After class today, the gang hung out together in the hallways.  I had originally had a plan to perhaps go somewhere this weekend with Chen-san and Ro-san, my two cute Taiwanese apartment neighbors.  When I asked them during this morning's coffee break, they looked very uncomfortable and said they might have other plans.  That was totally fine with me and I told them that. Daijoubu des, ne? I assured them.

By the time that class was over Chen-san asked where I was thinking of going.  Since we don't speak the same native language everything is in Japanese.  I told them maybe Kyoto (only an hour away by train) or possibly Matsumoto, a town I had wanted to visit last time, famous for it's castle and the most famous Ukyio-e (Japanese Woodblock Print) museum in the world.  It's also famous for it's very old buildings in parts of the city that are made out of mud and grass and still standing.  However some of the town is brand new and sprawling, my guide books pointed out you kind of have to seek out the colorful old areas of the town.
Matsumoto Castle

My thought was that Matsumoto sounded more "doable" in a day then Kyoto, since Kyoto is a little hard to manage from the train station -- a very large city and you must get from the train station to the sights in various ways, mostly subway and bus.  The idea of trying to do that sounded a little daunting with two women who didn't speak my language.  Matsumoto seemed easier, if farther.

Soon, the others in the group were hanging out with us too and Ro-san asked if all of them would like to go with us.  Now, Ken-san, Ko-san, Chen-san, Ro-san, and possibly a few of their friends are coming with me to Matsumoto.  I found out when I got home that it's a 3 hour train trip, not 2, and then had to madly write to my new friends on Facebook in Japanese to tell them of the change and if they didn't want to go, that's fine.

I didn't hear back from anyone, and later as I was taking out my garbage, Chen and Ro were biking up the hill.  They invited me to their apartment and we all discussed it as best we could then they wrote the others and it is now all set.  I am to play tour guide.

Oh, the weight of the responsibility!  Only one week ago I was a carefree single white woman pretending to be a journalist.  Making mistakes and getting lost without a worry at all.  Now I have a band of Taiwanese students in my charge!  How did this happen? Shikata ga nai, ne? (Nothing to be done about it, it's out of my hands...)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Day in the Life of a Nihongo Student

I just finished my first week of study.  5 hours a day of only Nihongo (plus two hours a week of private lessons) is just about the most fun I've had in in a very long time.  My class is a group of 10, a little over their normal limit, but I think since we are all at exactly the same level, they want to keep us together and not split us up into smaller groups.  I really like the bigger group.  I'm used to a small class (only 2 or 3 students) -- this larger group has an energy and dynamic that feels already like we're family. That pushes us all forward together, and we don't seem to want to separate even at lunch or after class...

 Ko-san, Ken-san, Hon-san, Ro-san and Chen-san are all from Taiwan.  All are looking to better their future by working for Japanese companies or work in Chinese companies with Japanese bosses.  Montero-san is from Brazil.  From my understanding, his grandparents live in Japan (and are Japanese?) and he's been living with them while studying (I just learned today that his real name is Luan Suehara de Oliviera Montero.  Cool!)   Dave-san is a Canadian who, like me, has no really good reason to study but does it just for the love of the language.  Lina is from Russia and I haven't had a chance to ask her yet why she's here.

Our classes start out each morning with a review of the homework and study of the day before.   Then new grammar forms are introduced and we study it together and try to converse for the rest of the day using the new structure, mostly using role play.  This practice is truly helpful. The sensei walks around and listens, corrects us and we are to ask questions of her if we get stuck.

Yesterday was a two hour test based on four chapters of our text books, 20 minutes of which was an oral exam.  I was glad to see that I wasn't the last one finished with the massive written component.  In fact, we all finished at about the same time.  The Taiwanese students have a significant advantage over the rest of us since they can easily read Kanji, and I believe they all scored better on the written test than the rest of us.  My score, for the record, was 80% written and 90% oral.  I honestly thought it would be the other way around.  Well, there's nothing wrong with a B during your first week in an immersion program!

It's really fun to be part of this group of late 20 year olds.  There is such a different energy than what I'm used to.  Some of them live together in the Student Village - where they have more of a communal atmosphere.  They cook together, and hang out, but i get the impression that it's a little rough.  The others have apartments near mine.

Last Friday a bunch of us got shuttled over to the local Department store (basically about 8 stores in one huge building).  Some of the students were from the AIJC program, a long term academic study program. They were all in the shuttle (driven by the director of the school, Declan Murphy) to get cooking tools and futons.  That was fun.  I just went along for the ride and Dave-san came too and we just tagged along with the young-uns.  I ended up buying a takiyaki maker (octopus dumpling balls, however I will use shrimp!) and a tamago pan (for the delicious egg dish I have every day).  

Dave is about my age, from Canada.  Otherwise it's all young people and I really love being around them.  It makes me feel young too...

Takiyaki Maker

Today we each got to be the owner of a company hiring someone for a job.  (Today was the only day so far that had anything to do with business.  The rest of the week was all about daily life.)
Because the grammar structure we are learning is actually just about third grade material, I thought it was appropriate that we spent a half hour drawing posters with brightly colored paper and markers to encourage people to work for our company.  My partner and I owned a zoo and needed a maintenance person.

Ko-san and Montero-san discuss their company, Family Mart

Lina-san and Ro-san promote their flower bouqet vending machine
Ken-san and Dave-san upsell their French Speed-Racing Bicycle Shop
Then we interviewed for positions.  Our teacher actually had half the group as the joushi (boss) and the other half of us had to exit the room, enter the room bowing, approach the boss and use proper manners during the whole interview.  How fun! I have no interest, really, in the vocabulary  (goods, overtime, bonus, salary, etc.) but the whole experience of interviewing Japanese style was great.

Today Ken-san (during our interview), asked me about my husband and kids.  I told him I didn't have a husband but I had kids that I missed very much.  Ken-san is the tough kid in the class, the one who comes in every morning looking like he had a bit of partying the night before.  He would be a textbook gangstah in any hollywood movie.  He looked at me for a long time then said, "how old are you?"  I thought it was part of the interview and I said, "does it matter for the job?"  He twinkled..."Oh...Secret!" in English.  We laughed. "Yes, Secret" I replied.

Montero-san, Ken-san and Hon-san - the next generation of successful business people!