Thursday, January 17, 2013

Little Efforts Like These...

January in Los Angeles.
The Japan Foundation Building on Wilshire Boulevard.
Saturday was a big "Re-live Japan" day for me.   There is a wonderful group here in Los Angeles called "The Japan Foundation."  Their purpose is to share the Japanese culture with people of other cultures and they have many events during each month.  Last Saturday they had a "Tea Time and Conversation" class.

I arrived a little late.  The Japan Foundation is off of Wilshire Boulevard, in an area of LA called 'The Miracle Mile," on Wilshire Boulevard.  The office was brand new and a little hard to find in the tall glass corporate tower.  The new office has a beautiful lending library, two large classrooms and a gift shop. Two women wearing short yukkata style jackets greeted me with a bow as I entered and then rushed me into the classroom, each woman holding one of my elbows and guiding me in a hurry with quick little steps.

I took the last seat available at a rectangular table where two gentlemen were already drinking cold iced tea and enjoying senbai (Japanese crackers).  The young woman at the front of the room was saying
あけましておめでとうございますvery slowly (Happy New Year) and the whole class was repeating after her.  It was cute and I felt moved by the effort of such a large group of people learning "my" beloved second language.  I looked around and the tables were full of all types of people.  White, Black, Middle Eastern, East Indian, Hispanic.  There were people in there 60s and people in their 20s.  I was amazed at how many people from all backgrounds were interested in learning Japanese. The melting pot of America, all here in one room repeating "あけましておめでとうございます."

The women and men who ran the program were very attentive to the guests. Every few minutes someone would come by with either hot or cold tea offered, more Japanese crackers, cookies and sweets.  We had a work sheet that had lots of Japanese greetings and "get-to-know-you" questions, lined up in boxes on a page, which we then played as Bingo.  We each shuffled all around the room asking questions and finding out who ate udon noodles on New Years? Who had climbed Mt. Fuji?  Who likes Natto (a stinky fermented soybean delicacy)? Who has ridden a Shinkansen? Who drinks green tea every day?  One young student finally yelled Bingo, just as I had finally found someone who climbed Mt. Fuji.  He won a cup with the Japan Foundation Logo on it, and I could tell that made him very, very happy.

Bill-san and Thomas-san write down their New Year's resolutions 新年の誓い (Shin'nen no chikai)

Montai-san and Emi-san

Karuta.  Not just for children anymore!
I didn't speak Japanese as well as I hoped I would, but I got by.  The class was mostly for beginners, so the three of us (Bill-san, Thomas-san and me) were  there for the fun of it.  Montai-san ended up practicing his English with us and that was fine too.

In the end, each table played a card game  called Karuta.  It's a simple game: cards with colorful pictures are scattered on a table.  Each card has a hirigana kana on it.  One person calls out a description of a picture from a separate  list, and the others are supposed to find that card, based on the first sound of the word.  It's a "hunt the alphabet" and listening game.  It was fun to be seven years old again!

The three of us (and one more man from a different table) played the game for about 25 minutes.  It was quite fun and competitive - the man from the other table was hell bent on winning and so the rest of us got competitive as well.  (I came in second, in case you wondered).

At the end of the day, many of us gathered to ask if there was a possibility of a conversation class for intermediate speakers.  The Japan Foundation staff assured us that it was in the planning stages.  They had so many people show interest lately.  Is Japanese "on trend?"  I wonder...

The nice ladies invited me to stay for a lecture later that afternoon about a therapy robot named Paro, but I couldn't stay.   More about Paro in my next post, but here's a kawaii (cute) picture for now...

Paro, the therapy robot

It felt good to be in an environment of Japanese speakers again, even if most of them were Melting-Pot-Americans, just like me.

My Shin'nen no chikai is: 日本語を上手に話せるようになります。I want to become more skilled at Japanese! Of course!

Me, performing Mochitsuki in Little Tokyo.
Mochitsuki is the Japanese New Year Tradition
of pounding rice to make delicious Mochi.  
With little efforts like these, and a little mochitsuki (餅つき), perhaps my New Years Resolution will come true this time.

あけましておめでとうございます to all!

1 comment:

  1. That kid behind you seems to have the same shirt on.

    Sounds like a fun afternoon and it's probably only a matter of time before you find a few commonly minded friends who are at something like the same level.