Monday, June 7, 2010

Partially Asian

Well I was actually planning on giving a good post but I can't find the USB cord for my camera.

My Japanese is improving exponentially! This past weekend I took a roadtrip with 3 Korean guys and an older Japanese woman and we didn't really speak in any English.

It was a little bit of a culture shock when staying at a Japanese-style for the first time. The Japanese woman I shared the room with couldn't communicate with me in English so I had no idea what any protocols were. I didn't know we were supposed to always be wearing the hotel's kimono robes or how we were going to fall asleep sleeping on tatami straw mats.

Nonetheless, it was great! I finally feel like I am experiencing Japan. I'm going to miss not being able to go to a grocery store and buy octopus and squid if I feel like it.

I reallllllllllllyyyyyy don't want to go home. Everyone teases me about how much I hang out with my Koreans. Most other Westerners that aren't fluent in Japanese just talk with other Westerners but I mostly talk to either Koreans, Chinese, or Japanese people.

I've pretty much decided that I'm going to move to South Korea, teach English, and someday be reunited with my best friend here that lives in Bejing.

My classes here blow. Over half of my class failed our Intermediate Macroeconomics test. The professor here is really indirect and won't tell us anything. My German friend and I were getting really annoyed with him because getting course information from him is like pulling out teeth. "So, how do we access the homework," "When is this presentation due" "What classroom are we meeting in?" "How much is the midterm worth?"

Tonight at dinner a group of us decided that this university just needs to shut down. Everything is completely run down it reminds me of the 1970's. Desks falling apart. Ghetto computers. Torn-up leather chairs around campus. Hallways with permanent marker drawings from 20 years ago. My friend from Iceland (who is starting her own photography business) has been just taking pictures of the campus because she can't believe the condition things are in.

Conclusion: Japan is awesome but Otaru sucks.

I'll try to write more later this week.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Not much going on.

Just studying Japanese as usual!

My intermediate macroeconomics test today was brutal. No one finished, not even the Chinese kids!

It has been so cold here! Like 40 degrees for the entire week cold.

Anyways, we got our JASSO money today. An American from Atlanta splurged on a Nintendo DS with it. I'm planning on buying a new camera once I finish midterms next week.

Just a small update!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Can't Think of a Good Title.

I am probably considered the world’s worst blogger. I’m actually writing this from the library because I am a little tired of studying and figured I MUST get around to this sometime.

I checked out “Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes” yesterday from our university library and so far it has been pretty interesting. It’s chock full of statistics and I am only on chapter 1 right now but I plan on plowing through it at some point.

Anyways, chapter 1 talks about why Japan has such a high rate of return for lost and found items. In 2002 the Japanese police received more than 10 million items and cash totaling $129 million in funds turned in by ordinary people. Of these amounts, more than 70% of the money and 30% of the noncash items are recovered by their owners. I think everyone can agree that if you lose $100 in South Dakota, you don’t have a 70% chance of getting it back. You probably have something around a 20% chance. One story in this book talks of a guy that lost his laptop on a subway in Tokyo and got it back! Something like this definitely wouldn’t have happened in NYC. Maybe I’m being anti-America or maybe I’m just pro-Japan (probably a subtle blend), but this is pretty crazy.

Japanese finder’s law creates incentives to encourage finders to report their finds. It’s a simple system of carrots and sticks, if you will. Japanese civil law provides that a person who finds a lost article shall deposit it with the police or with the security office of the building in which it is found. If the owner claims the object, he or she is required to pay the finder a fee of 5-20% of the object’s value. If no one claims the object in six months and two weeks (hey, don’t ask me - it’s what the book said), the object is returned to the finder.

Although Japanese law contains no penalties for nonrescue, a finder who misappropriates the property for his or her own has committed embezzlement and is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to one year. Apparently undergoing an investigation in Japan is very socially degrading (the book says it will talk about this subject later) and this is a punishment within itself.

Well, I at least said something. I’m going to try to blog every other day now and share little blurbs. I’m off to go practice violin then I am going to go run with my Chinese friend, Wish.


Monday, April 12, 2010

No English Please!

I checked out some more books on Japanese culture and business in order to keep me motivated to learn Japanese. I figure this way, even when my brain hurts from studying Japanese, I can still be concentrating on Japan somehow. I really do like Japan - I’m not sure if I could live here permanently until I die but I’m seriously considering a career that involves traveling to Japan, if not moving here. Lots of other international students feel the same way. On Sunday a girl from Berlin was getting really depressed about how she is going to have to leave Japan in four months. She wants to stay in Japan for at least another two years and is looking into getting her master’s here. My Chinese friend, Sydney, wants to stay in Japan for another three to four years. She doesn’t miss China at all and thinks Japan is really great. I miss my family and friends from back home but that’s pretty much it. I don’t miss my car or my cell phone.

I grown accustomed to the “minimal-English” approach I’ve adopted here. I've distanced myself from the people that only speak English because then I’m only going to speak English and forget all the grammar and vocabulary I learned that day. Even just hanging out with Chinese and Korean people and hearing them speak their native languages makes me focus on things. I’m at the language learning phase where English is boring, ugly-sounding, and stupid. I can already predict that I am going to get somewhat annoyed that my friends back home don’t speak Japanese. I know there is one Japanese girl studying abroad in Vermillion next fall and I hope we can be friends and converse together. I’m going to contact the Sioux Falls Multicultural Center and see if they can place me with a Japanese language partner as well. I’d rather be able to say 10 sentences a day in Japanese than chit-chat in English. I know there are some students that disagree with the philosophy I am following but there are others that agree. There are two Korean boys that do their own thing with other Japanese students because they don’t want to hang out with other international students and speak English, and I don’t blame them.

Well, just a little tidbit of my thoughts for the day. My schedule for yesterday (Monday) included: studying Japanese, doing laundry, practicing violin, going for a run, and sitting through a lecture where the professor speaks super-slow English and I’m bored out of my mind.But, I’m sure some Japanese friends feel the same way about my Japanese ability so it is just linguistic karma biting me in the butt. In my Japanese economy class, the professor started talking about the social problems facing Japan. The powerpoint slide was "Has Japan Dead?" and the first bullet on the slide was the declining quality in the education system. Hmm..

I don't have class today. Just going to go veg out at the campus coffee house for a while and catch up on some reading. I'm meeting my tutor later this afternoon to go pay some bills and then I have to teach English from 4-6. My days are moderately busy - it's the perfect workload.

Here's some pictures:

Grabbing sushi with my Chinese friends last Friday night

The Korean girl I tutor! She refused to smile hahaha.

I like to read Japanese baby books.

Real ramen = amazing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Life is definitely picking up around here. The days go by so fast for me - it's definitely a bad thing. I found out that I may be taking a French class here. I need the foreign language credit and not taking this class would mean I just accrue another pointless economics elective that I don't need. I am waiting to hear back from the international student coordinator here about how this would all work out. If the textbook is Japanese-French it may be a problem..

I got a job teaching English to a little 6 year-old Japanese/Korean girl. She just started 1st grade a couple of days ago. Her parents put her in a private English school when she was 1 but since she goes to school all the day now, they needed a tutor. It pays $20 an hour and I tutor for 6 hours a week. It's pretty much the ideal job. They drive me home when I am finished and said that they would cook for me soon.

I had my first official lesson with her yesterday. It was sort of awkward with the parents initially. The little girl just brought me upstairs to an office and we started the lesson right away. About five minutes later the father came in with one of her old English teachers on the phone. The teacher was really helpful because I really don't know all that she knows or what level she is at and what we should be doing for lessons. He told me that since her lessons are scheduled for 2-hour time blocks, we should only be really sitting in front of a book for about 50 minutes max. He suggested that we go to parks and just have natural conversation so she can tap into the words she already knows - a "use it or lose it" approach to memory.

We ended up going to a really old-looking Japanese ice cream shop. It was pretty amusing to be led around town by a 6 year-old and to have a 6 year-old place our orders. At one point she told me "I don't understand your hard English. Speak to me as though you were 6." She is pretty funny. Then we decided to keep walking around the area a bit and went to a department store quick to look at the Hello Kitty things. It was cute because she wanted to hold my hand and run along the streets but I got a few odd looks. "What is a foreigner doing with a little Japanese girl?!" The lesson went good but it could have been better. I'm going to look around and try to find some puppets to buy so we can make-up stories and whatnot. Every week we are going to talk about a different country. Tomorrow's topic is America!

Today is a busy day for me. I need to go head to the university and eat, go to the library for at least an hour and review some kanji, I am meeting my new tutor at noon, I have class from 1-4 today, then I am meeting another friend for a Japanese lesson at 4, then I have to run to the grocery store to get something for dinner, re-peg my violin and practice for tomorrow's rehearsal, and think of a lesson plan for tomorrow's tutoring.

Tomorrow I have orchestra for a few hours then tutoring. This weekend is too busy to really go out. Sunday I'm planning on grabbing some ramen somewhere and isolating myself in the library to study Japanese. The library closes at 5 on weekends here so usually everyone tries to be there until closing time or near to.

On a brighter note, I bought my ferry ticket yesterday for Kyoto for Golden Week!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I haven't really been up to much this past week. My sleeping habits were really messed up there for a while. I would be going to bed at 4 am and waking up around 2 pm - so not me! Then one day I took a sleeping pill and went to bed at 11 but woke up at 4 am ready to go - then I crashed at 3 in the afternoon and slept until 7. The vicious cycle continued for a while. Actually, I probably won't even get to bed at a decent time tonight because I finally got internet in my room so I'm excited to think about everything I can do now! Movies, TV, youtube, skype, blogging, online shopping - life is awesome.

A Pikachu school bus? Only in Tokyo..

School starts on Wednesday (finally).
Here is my class schedule:

Monday: 12:50 - 2:20 Japanese Economy
2:30 - 4:00 Japanese Companies in Global Business

Tuesday: Nothing

Wednesday: 8:50 - 10:20 Financial Economics
10:40 - 12:00 Japanese Lesson @ The City Hall

Thursday: 12:50 - 2:20 Topics in Microeconomics

Friday: 12:50 - 4:00 Intermediate Macroeconomics

Tomorrow I'm going to go grab coffee with my Chinese friend, Sydney. I really need to learn more Japanese fast. I learned about 150 words last week but I should probably be learning at least 50 a day with the amount of free time I have.

I bought my first Japanese comic book on Wednesday! My tutor took me shopping (having a friend with a car RULES) and we had coffee and desserts at a cute cafe and worked on my Japanese.

Here are some of the books I have been studying Japanese with:

A total lifesaver - it was only $7 in Sioux Falls and it has more grammar information than I'll ever need to know. They have books for nearly every foreign language so keep your eyes open! I should probably write an Amazon review or something but I'm too lazy.

My Japanese friend bought me this book at a Japanese bookstore in her hometown so we had some structure in our Japanese lessons. She wants to work on her English so she also bought herself a copy. It works out really well. Another fun book. It's helped me be able to ask grocery clerks where stuff is at in the supermarket.

I use this book for only about 30 minutes a day but it's really good. It shows me stroke by stroke out to draw each character and gives me 50 blank squares to practice each one. I try to learn 5 characters a day - super easy if I don't procrastinate. I am going to have to try to find the 1st Japanese 100 characters (Note: Mom - please buy :) )

This book is super hard but it forces me to plow through grammar and conversation exercises. The Japanese professor here said if I can get through the 31 lessons in this book, I will have learned the material for 3 semesters of Japanese classes. Woofta. Each lesson takes me at least 5 hours. There have been no easy questions in here so far! Random tidbit: Yes, that is an Eiffel Tower on my Japanese textbook. There is a fake Eiffel Tower in Tokyo and its a famous landmark in Tokyo (copy cats).

Well - I'll think of more to write later. I've adapted to Japan, now I'm getting used to all the other cultures that are floating around in the international dorm hall.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cultural Musings Part I (of many)

I’ve been doing more reading in the culture book (see an older post) I checked out from the library here. The book analyzes culture biologically and psychologically as a whole but I surprisingly came across a chapter that specifically compares certain aspects of American and Japanese culture. It resonates with the feedback I’ve gotten from two Japanese males about their society. I want to quote it all because it’s such a good story and there is no way I can possibly remember every detail when telling it to everyone back home.

“I can think of few countries Americans are likely to visit and work in in significant numbers where it is more difficult to control one’s inputs and where life is more filled with surprises than Japan. Clearly, the above observation does not apply to short visits and the like, because all over the world suitable environments have been created for tourists that shield them from the reality of the life of the people. Tourists seldom stick around for long, and they are happier insulated from the full impact of the foreign culture. Businessmen, educators, government officials, and Foreign Service personnel are something else again. It is to this group that my thoughts are directed, because they stand to gain the most from understanding cultural processes in living contexts. Understanding the reality of covert culture and accepting it on a gut level comes neither easily nor quickly, and it must be lived rather than read or reasoned…For no matter how well prepared one is for immersion in another culture, there is the inevitability of surprises.

A few years ago, I became involved in a sequence of events in Japan that completely mystified me, and only later did I learn how an overt act seen from the vantage point of one’s own culture can have an entirely different meaning when looked at in the context of the foreign culture. I had been staying at a hotel in downtown Tokyo for 10 days and returned to my room in the middle of an afternoon. Entering the room, I immediately sensed that something was wrong. Out of place. Different. I was in the wrong room! Someone else’s things were distributed around the room. I checked the key again. Yes, it was really mine. Where were my belongings? Baffled and mystified, I took the elevator to the lobby. At the desk I was told that indeed they had moved me. I was given the key to my new room and discovered that all my personal effects were distributed around the room as almost I had done it myself. This produced a strange feeling that maybe I wasn’t myself. How could somebody else do all those hundred and one little things just the way I did? Three days later, I was moved again, but this time I was prepared.

I then traveled to Kyoto and stayed in a wonderful little country inn on the side of a hill overlooking the town. After we had been there for about a week and had thoroughly settled into our new Japanese surroundings, we returned one night to be met at the door by an apologetic manager who was stammering something. Our interpreter explained as we started to go through the door that we weren’t in that hotel any longer but had been moved to another hotel. What a blow! Again, without warning. The taxi took off into a part of the city we hadn’t seen before. No Europeans here! The streets got narrower and narrower until we turned into a side street that could barely accommodate the tiny Japanese taxi into which we squeezed. Clearly this was a hotel of another class. I found that by then, I was getting a little paranoid, which is easy to do living in a foreign land. As it turned out, the neighborhood, in fact the whole district, showed us an entirely different side of life from what we had seen before, much more interesting and authentic.

It was my preoccupation with my own cultural mold that explained why I was puzzled for years about the significance of being moved around in Japanese hotels. The answer finally came after further experiences in Japan and many discussions with Japanese friends. In Japan, one has to “belong” or he has no identity. When a man joins a company, he does just that - joins himself to the corporate body - and there is even a ceremony marking the occasion. Normally, he is hired for life, and the company plays a much more paternalistic role than in the United States. There are company songs and the whole company meets frequently (usually once a week) for purposes of maintaining corporate identity and morale.

It was my lack of understanding of the full impact of what it means to belong to a high-context culture that caused me to misread hotel behavior. The answer to my puzzle was revealed when a Japanese friend explained what it means to be a guest in a hotel. As soon as you register at the desk, you are no longer an outsider; instead, for the duration of your stay you are a member of a large, mobile family. You belong. The fact that I was moved was tangible evidence that I was being treated as a family member - a relationship in which one can afford to be “relaxed and informal and not stand on ceremony.” This is a very highly prized state in Japan, which offsets the official properness that is so common in public. Americans don’t like to be moved around; it makes them anxious. Therefore, the Japanese in these establishments have learned not to treat them as family members.

In the United States, the concern of the large middle class is to move ahead with the system, whichever part of it we happen to be in. With perhaps the exception of the younger generation just now entering the job market, we are very tied to our jobs. We are only peripherally tied to the lives of others. It takes a long, long time for us to become deeply involved with others, and for some this never happens.

In Japan, life is a very different story, one that is puzzling in the extreme to Americans who interact regularly with the Japanese. Their culture seems to be full of paradoxes. When they communicate, particularly about important things, it is often in a roundabout way. All of this points to a very high-context approach to life; yet, on the other hand, there are times when they swing in the opposite direction and move to the lower end of the context scale, where nothing can be taken for granted - “Be sure to put brown polish on the shoes.” This was discovered by American GI’s during the occupation.

The Japanese are pulled in two directions. The first is a very high-context, deeply involved, enveloping intimacy that begins at home in childhood but is extended far beyond the home. There is a deep need to be close, and it is only when they are close that they are comfortable. The other pole is as far away as one can get. In public and during ceremonies, there is great emphasis on self-control, distance, and hiding inner feelings. Like most of Japanese behavior, attitudes toward showing emotion are deeply rooted in a long past. At the time of the samurai knights and nobles, there was a survival value in being able to control one’s demeanor, because a samurai could legally execute anyone who displeased him or who wasn’t properly respectful. This standing on ceremony extended to all levels; not only was the servant expected to be respectful, but the samurai’s wife was to show no emotion when she received the news that her husband or son had been killed in battle.

Through all these experiences, I was eventually able to discern the common thread that connected everything, which began to put Japanese behavior in context. In Japan there are the two sides to everyone- his warm, close, friendly, involved, high-context side that does not stand on ceremony, and the public, official, status-conscious, ceremonial side, which is what most foreigners see. From what I understand of Japanese culture, most Japanese feel quite uncomfortable (deep down inside) about the ceremonial, low-context, institutionalized side of life.”

My Japanese friend, Hirofima, feels exactly as the author describes. “Hiro” attended school in Otaru and studied abroad in Vancouver for a year to work on his English. He had an amazing experience and looks at his native culture much differently. He’s now graduated and works in Japanese sports marketing (I think I heard him say) but hangs out with the international kids all the time. He says there are some days where he doesn’t feel Japanese at all. He really dislikes how holding your significant other’s hand in public is frowned upon. Indeed, he is a really friendly guy. I first met him at midnight, the time I finally made it to my dorm my first night here. He brought me cookies and juice so I wouldn’t be both hungry and jetlagged in the morning and even let me use his phone and international calling card to call home and tell my stepdad that I made it okay. He’s driven me to the grocery store and around town so I wouldn’t have to walk 5 kilometers in the snow with groceries and even bought me a donut once because I said they looked amazing. Hiro is truly a nice guy that has done so much to help the international students here.

(Picture of my city!)

This is so long I’m almost embarrassed to post this. I wanted to share this story with as many people as possible so the time it took to type this is actually probably much less than me orally telling 20 people.

I’ve got lots more to write about but I’ll save it for another day. I will give you a little blurb about a future post by saying that I have a job interview for a part-time tutor position. I’ll explain what it is later. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s surprise post!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Poem for Cassi!

My friend Cassi sent me an e-mail the other day complimenting my blog and saying that it reminded her of this poem we found off of a random blog one time when we were doing some late-night cramming in Old Main. I literally just woke up 20 minutes ago and have to go meet my French friend for coffee in 10 minutes so everyone will just have to wait for tomorrow's mega-post. I've also got something extremely special planned for Friday (your time, not mine)! A couple A-Phi's know what's up but only a select few that are helping me with this. TOP SECRET

So Cassi - here is the poem you love so much! Miss you tons! Thanks for always answering your phone when I needed to vent about the whole Japan trip.

Sometimes, when life confuses, overwhelms and daunts us, we need to step back and look at the way we are living, the way we exist, in this world. The age-old adage ‘you only live once’ must be present in our mind always if we are to start savouring every last scrap of satisfaction that just being alive entails.

Wherever you are academically, on the career or property ladder, in your relationship etc. life is still full of wonders right now. This second there is something about your life that you could be enjoying.

Daily stresses and long-term pressures blind us from what life should and can be – a sensational, inspiring, tactile, colourful adventure, where we are to grow, experience, build, try and try again. We are creatures of the land; our souls desire to cultivate and create, plant seeds as well as ideas, and cherish their development. Our minds and eyes call for variety, for stimulation, whilst our bodies ask for fulfilment, sensation, and nurture – and yet so often people deny themselves these simple pleasures.

We spend our days in rooms, cars and offices – barely knowing fresh air. We feed ourselves instant, sugar-loaded snacks and rarely experience the crisp, raw experience of preparing and eating authentic, natural food. We entertain ourselves with inactivity and advertisements in the form of television. We strain ourselves to fit the mould, to fight to the top, to look good on paper, to be things we’re not. We keep things to ourselves, we keep ourselves to ourselves. We struggle to love and to share, and for all of this, we suffer.

It is amazing the weight that would lift from our shoulders if we allowed ourselves just to be.

Know the joy of simply existing. Fill your life with early morning sunshine, sand in your shoes, the air in your lungs, kisses, love-making, nights sharing stories you never told anyone, music, chances, adventures, swimming, a go on the swings, dog-eared books you’ve read twice already, thank you’s, honesty, sprints, arm-swinging, stupid grins, dancing to your mum’s favourite song with her, crying when you need to, sleep, affirmations, beautiful strangers, new friends, pen on paper, sweet smells, fresh smells, rich smells, the dusk, the dawn, the sky, the ground, knowing what it is to be you and agreeing with it, nodding, winking, holding hands, saying ‘yes’, strolling, wandering, moseying, loitering, laughing.

Don't just enjoy life, revel in it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Japanese Fashion

The thing I love the most about Japan is the clothes they wear! I probably wouldn't wear 80% of it back home but it's uber-interesting to people watch here. I'm not sure why there is so much emphasis on style here but maybe it has to do with the fact that there are so many Asians that they really try to differentiate themselves a bit with what they wear. I'm not sure if that really sounds logical considering how collectivist Japanese society is but I will pass on further overanalysis for now.

The fashion that you would find in Tokyo is a little more dramatic than what you would find in other areas but for the most part they all follow the same sense of style, or so I have observed. This is something that one would commonly see in Otaru - where I am at:

One thing I find really amusing is that cell phone charms are really popular here. Standing on a train and seeing everyone on their phones with different cute charms makes me smile!

This is sweet.

I'm planning on spending 12 days in Tokyo after the semester ends in August and I really want to explore the Harajuku area for a good two or three days. Harajuku girls tend to dress like this:

Japanese hairstyles are also really creative. It's common to see a bun placed as high up on the head as possible - something that seems bizarre to Americans but probably makes Asian girls feel taller or something.

Alright sorry for the lackluster post. I was supposed to have my first Flower Arrangement club meeting today but it got cancelled. I think some international students are going out for all you can eat/drink again. Haven't decided if I will go - probably will though. It's supposed to be nice tomorrow so I'll probably head to a coffee house and study Japanese for a few hours there.


I'm alive.

It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived in Japan and I’ve already got quite a large mental list of raves and rants. Once I can get them sorted out in my head, I’ll be sure to let you all know..

There are six of us international students that just arrived a couple of weeks ago. Jamie and I (both from USD), a German girl, a French girl, a Chinese girl, and a Korean guy. I see all of them throughout the week but both the Chinese girl and the Korean guy do not speak very good English (they are really good at Japanese though) so it is difficult and semi-awkward with them a majority of the time. They have a hard time having a basic English conversation saying something like “We are meeting downstairs in an hour” so I am not sure how they are going to survive the English classes here.

I’m pretty surprised by how much the school seems to be focused on having us learn Japanese. They aren’t offering an Elementary Japanese class for us (never offered in the spring, FYI) but all the international students pretty much study Japanese as much as they can in their spare time. When I told the German guy I live next to that I hadn’t studied Japanese back home, he replied with a simple “You’re brave.” The language barrier has been a bigger hurdle than I expected. No one outside of the university speaks English and really only professors that obtained degrees abroad seem to be conversational. We went to the campus IT office and thankfully they had English instructions on how to set up the internet proxy because no one working knew English. We had a “crash-course” in Japanese our first week here - what a joke. The first day of this tutoring they handed out worksheets that had no English on them and assumed that we knew how to pronounce and read all 100 characters of their combined alphabet system (which we didn’t). I had memorized 50 of the characters on the flight over and was scrambling to keep up with what they were saying while the other girl from USD hadn’t learned anything and was just sitting there laughing to herself about how over her head this all was.

The international office here has a fairly good library of books to learn Japanese and I’ve been going there every few days just to take a look. I would say 95% of all the international students have been studying Japanese formally in their home country for at least a year prior to coming here. Many have taken various levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) so being from an institution that doesn’t offer Japanese puts me at a severe disadvantage. I’ve been studying Japanese at least 3 hours every day and am planning on registering to take the JLPT Level 5 Proficiency Test in Chicago this December. Level 5 is super easy and basically shows that I could have a conversation with a Japanese 4th grader but nonetheless is pretty kickass in the nerdy way of things. I am required to know 100 (out of 2,000) Kanji (Chinese) characters, about 800 vocabulary words, and a small, but confusing, amount of grammar. I need to use up the frequent flier miles I accrued to get here somehow and the test itself is only around $40 I believe.

The European girls I hang out with quite frequently and I have come to the conclusion that one really needs to be interested in learning the Japanese language to come here. The amount of free time we have here is pretty large and because of it the program almost seems like a language school of some sort. (Go to one class a day and study Japanese in your room for at least 3 hours before going out with friends) In other words, if you are a Spanish minor - don’t waste your time. Five months is a long time to spend in Asia if you have dreamed of partying in the Netherlands all your life. To be honest, my friend from France here is disappointed about how quiet the campus and city life are right now. She studied abroad in Scotland for two years before coming here (and had the time of her life) and is thrown off by how low-key things are here. After another girl and I sat down and talked to her, we came to the conclusion that studying abroad in Europe involves “immersing” yourself in their culture while coming to Asia places more emphasis on “analyzing” their culture. You will never completely fit into Asia - foreigners are always foreigners - and this has been a depressing reality for all of us I think. A girl from Germany said a girl from her home institution left Otaru a semester early because she had a bad experience and didn’t like the school, the culture, or the city. Japan really isn’t for everyone. I’m 100% positive that I could not be here for an entire year, but that’s just me. I don’t know enough Japanese to be able to survive here for any longer than a semester.

I got interested in learning Chinese in high school but am grateful that I am in Japan because Japanese is 1000x easier to learn! Japanese uses Chinese characters but pronounces them in a much simpler way. One character in Chinese may have several different pronunciations that you wouldn’t be able to know by immediately looking at it and everything is a “trial and error” in terms of reading and pronunciation. Japanese is really straightforward once you get past, what I refer to it as, the Chicken Scratch Phase. Once you learn the sounds associated with different characters it is just like learning Spanish or something - different word, same meaning, different sentence structure, same idea.

Well, it is 4 p.m. here and all I’ve managed to do all day is sit on Facebook and Skype. Saturday is a big day for me (considering we have 3 whole weeks here of nothing to do). I am auditioning for the orchestra here and am meeting a Japanese friend for a conversation lesson! I’m planning on walking to the grocery store around 6 p.m. tonight for cheap sushi! All the prepared sushi for the day gets marked down 50% after 6 so you can get a really good deal!

I will write more tomorrow - there are so many things to jabber on about.


P.S. A book I just started reading - really interesting!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


I am finally in Japan! Getting internet access has been a little inconsistent but I have finally found time to sit down and do a proper blog post.

Today four of us girls went wandering around by the canal checking out some shops. We ended up only buying dessert, groceries, and little things from a 100 yen store.

We went to this pretty cool bakery/art gallery/coffee house. I bought a tin of heart-shaped chocolates for 250 yen and got a free little cup of house coffee with it. Another cafe down the street wanted 300 yen for the same size of coffee so it seems to have been a fairly good deal. The picture below isn't the greatest but as you can see the 2nd floor cafe is cute and trendy.

Tomorrow we are going to try for the third time to get a cellphone. I will explain more about it later! The computer lab I am writing from is freezing - it's still spring break here and the heat isn't on.