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Archive for 2012

Do's and Don'ts of Learning to Read Japanese

Posted by Shaun

Reading is probably the hardest part of learning Japanese, so I thought as my last post on this blog, I'd share some strategies that helped me improve my reading while I was in Japan. This is directed at people who are taking Japanese classes. I don't have any experience with self-study from scratch so I can't offer much advice there. If I had to describe my basic study strategy, it would be the "let it all flow naturally" method. I'm not big on flashcards, and I'm not actively preparing for the JLPT. I've found that I learn kanji best in context and at my own pace, so that's the sort of approach I'll be taking.

Don't wait for your reading ability to just happen. It's frustrating to take Japanese for a year or two or three and then finally get your hands on some Japanese reading material, only to find that you can't make out much at all. This was really frustrating for me because I took Spanish before I started Japanese classes, and after two years of Spanish I could read short stories. Unfortunately kanji adds that extra layer of complexity so Japanese isn't as easy to dive into. I was constantly looking at things I wanted to read, getting frustrated, saying "not now," and waiting until "later" when I would "get better." Of course, I wasn't studying kanji in any sort of disciplined way, so my ability to flip books open and just understand them didn't really improve while I was playing the waiting game. What I had to do was pick a book, grab a dictionary, and just dive into it.

Do be reasonable about the difficulty level of your reading material. If you don't know a lot of vocab or kanji, trying to read the newest best seller might be too much at first. You don't want to dive into something so difficult that you just get frustrated and give up. You're going to be looking up a lot of words in the dictionary, but you still want to be able to enjoy yourself. Good things to check for are the density of kanji on the page compared to hirgana and katakana (lots of kanji compound words indicate something formal and complicated, and some writers just like to use more kanji outside of the general use ones)  and the presence of furigana (the little hiragana that tell you the reading of the kanji).

Do understand that children's books have their limits. If you're like me, you learned most of the grammar structures necessary to make sense of Japanese in your first few years of classes, but what you lack is vocabulary, kanji, different ways of filling out those grammar structures. While I was in Japan, I really wanted to read books, partly because I was trying to break away from the anime-nerd stereotype, and partly because if I got into a manga series I would have to buy each volume separately. I remember being really excited when I found a collection of short stories targeted at late elementary or middle school students, because most of the words had furigana. It was really easy to look up words in the dictionary I had at the time, but I soon got bored with the content. I wasn't looking forward to finding out what happened next in the story. I could imagine 5th-grade me being fascinated by the plot progressions, but 20-year-old me wanted to do anything but read about what happens to a group of 6th graders who accidentally eat magical curry that sends them back in time to meet their parents. When I started reading a book I actually cared about a few months later, I was much more successful, even though the reading level was much more difficult.
I think manga might be a good alternative for this. Lots of manga (although not all by any means) have furigana for their kanji, and they tend to appeal to a wide age range. So manga is a great way to get familiar with kanji and vocab and casual spoken Japanese.

Do invest in an electronic dictionary if it is within your means. I love mine to pieces and it has made it easier not only to read kanji I don't know, but the example sentences help me properly use words I look up and understand nuances I wouldn't have been able to figure out on my own. That being said, there are plenty of other ways of looking up words.

Do learn the kanji radicals. This is on my to-do list. It will help you in so many ways. You can look up kanji by radical in a paper dictionary or a lower end model dictionary without a writing pad. You can describe kanji to your friends and teachers. You can break kanji down in your head. It just seems like a good idea.

Don't just memorize all the general use kanji out of context. Unless that sorta thing makes you happy and just works for you. Every time I've tried to go through a book or an iPod app or something that's just kanji, not only do I get bored out of my mind, I get lost because it really doesn't help me use or remember them that well, so I usually give up. What I try to do is memorize kanji within the context of words, and then little by little I get a feel for what the readings are and which is used when. It won't get me prepared quickly for any sort of kanji test, but it's a lot less painful than drilling and memorizing.

Don't be afraid to write in your books. When I'm reading a novel I write in my own furigana as I look up kanji. It helps cement the reading in my memory, saves me from having to luck up a word again when I know I saw it 3 pages ago, and it can also serve as a nice little progress chart when you flip through the book and see a decrease in the number of words with furigana.

Do remember that everything you can read counts. If improving reading is your goal, read everything and anything. Bring your dictionary and look up the words in the ads on the train. Read manga, books, your textbooks, video games, anything. Even TV is surprisingly good for learning kanji. Variety programs have a lot of text that shows up on the screen, so if you listen closely you can learn the readings of those characters.

Do find a set time to read, where you won't be doing anything else. For me, this was the train. I took local trains instead of expresses so I could sit down and read, and train time became my designated reading Japanese time. It was really good to have this time set aside so I kept making progress. When I start school again, I'll be setting aside a reading time again.

Do fight burn-out. Give yourself an English break if you need one. Don't push yourself to read too much at one time. Try not to let your set aside reading time turn into a chore you need to get out of the way. Take things at a pace you can handle so you keep coming back for more.

Do focus on rewards, not punishments. Japanese, like anything, is easiest to learn when it's fun. Think about what got you interested in Japanese in the first place. If it's something like anime, video games, a particular author, or a particular band, then pursue that. Those things count as studying too. Gather up a collection of reading (and listening) material that you're interested in and excited about. It's good to have a variety so you can keep Japanese in your life while you stave off burn-out. Read a book when you're feeling focused, watch a TV drama when you're tired but you still want to hear some Japanese. Find ways to make the learning process something to look forward to and acknowledge your progress every step of the way, instead of getting caught up on whether or not you meet some outside standard.

Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!

Thoughts from the airplane.

Posted by Shaun


My stomach is full of sushi and matcha. This is the feeling I wanted to leave Japan with. 満足。Manzoku. Satisfaction.

I was worried I would be full of guilt or worry about things I hadn't done or hadn't done well, but I feel okay. I cried when I said good-bye to Arisa and when I said good-bye to my friends, but I know this isn't the end. This is いってきます or まったね, not good-bye forever.

Nothing is over. Everything is beginning.

It sounds really cheesy, but that's how I feel right now. Everything is beginning. I accomplished a huge chapter in my life. I wanted to go to Japan. I wanted to learn how to speak Japanese. I wanted to learn how to read. And here I am.

I woke up at 10am and finished packing, and I guess I forgot to tell Arisa that I told her the wrong date and I'm leaving the 30th, not the 31st. So she asked me if I was going out today, and I said I'd be home until I had to leave at 2pm. Then my host mom came home from work and took me straight to lunch and the train station. I had known we had lunch plans but I wasn't sure on the time or who was coming. In the end, lunch was just my host mom and I, and Ryu and Erina were busy so I didn't get to say a proper farewell, but my host mom promised to pass the message on.

For lunch, we had kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi). It was really good but I was so emotional and nervous that I couldn't eat too much. Afterwards we still had time, so we went to a cafe in the train station and had frozen matcha drinks. It was really good, and filling my stomach with match and sushi right before heading to the airport was great.

It was really good to talk to my host mom too. I really appreciate everything she's done for me this year, and I'm glad I can finally talk properly with her. She kept telling me 日本語を忘れちゃだめ Nihongo o wasurecha dame ("You can't forget Japanese"). Yesterday I was so afraid that I would forget Japanese, but I'm not afraid today. As I told my host mom, ここまで来てから、あきらめるわけない。Koko made kite kara, akirameru wake nai ("After coming this far, there's no way I can give up"). I've studied Japanese for 5 years, through many times that I've wanted to give up. There's no way I can quit now. Now the fun is just beginning.

I can read with furigana or a kanji dictionary. I can speak my mind and I have friends to talk to and Facebook to write on. My journey with Japanese is just getting started. While that's frustrating in a way, I've achieved really temendous goals in the past year and I'm excited to see what doors that opens for me.

I definitely came to Japan with some idea of where I'd go in the future, but now I have no idea. While that's a little scary, it's not because I'm hopeless. It's because my future's wide open. I'm not going to follow some path someone else has set out for me. I'm going to follow my own path, and march forward. And I'll make something of my life. And I won't forget Japanese, or the people I've met here. I'll keep in touch. That's a promise.

Cafe Newtype

Posted by Shaun

I wrote two blog entries on the plane home, so now that I've been home for almost a month, I figure I'll write them up. I've been waiting for a moment when I'm not so tired from my summer part time job but that moment hasn't really come, so I'll just attempt to power through my exhaustion and type up what I have.

We'll start with my trip to Cafe Newtype, which I mentioned in my last post.

 My very last night in Japan, I met the Japanese friend I had planned to go to in Akihabara. I got bored of being in the house though, so I got there absurdly early. So I enjoyed walking directly down the middle of the street, which was closed to traffic since it was Sunday, and taking pictures of people playing video games in the middle of the road. It's really fun to walk down a four-lane street knowing you won't be run over, but it makes the sidewalk feel really narrow.

Neither my friend nor I could find the prices for food at Cafe Newtype, so we went to Tendon Tenya and had tendon (tempura in a bowl over rice) beforehand. Then we went searching for the cafe. It was pretty hard to find. We walked past the street we were supposed to go down at least twice, but we eventually found it. The cafe was pretty unimpressive on the inside. The tables reminded me of a cafeteria and it was smaller and dingier than I'd imagined. But the staff was really friendly.

At first we were really nervous and didn't know how to interact with people, but when we did, it was interesting.

My friend had never met anyone like an "otoko no ko" before so she kept talking about how beautiful everyone was and how they didn't look like men at all.
The place was having a beer festival, so if we ordered beer we got a random picture of one of the staff. I forgot the name of the person whose picture I have, but they weren't working the night we were there. But they had a wide selection of international beers for their festival, so I ordered a really delicious Newton green apple beer from Belgium. I hate regular beer, but fruit beer is acceptable.

I got to meet Pochi, the staff member I saw on TV when I found out about the cafe. I don't know what I was expecting from meeting him, but I didn't get to talk to him much.
My friend asked him why he chose the name Pochi (Pochi is a typical dog name in Japanese, like Fido). Pochi's answer was that he didn't want to give himself a particularly masculine or feminine name, but "Nan darou ne." ("Yeah, who knows why?"). 

Then I made an awkward error in trying to ask another staff member their preferred pronoun. The problem is, the words for he and she (kare and kanojo) also mean boyfriend and girlfriend in Japanese, so I think I actually asked their sexual preference instead and got the predictable answer of "My secret." It's totally possible to speak and write Japanese without pronouns but it's difficult in English, so, as you've probably already noticed, I'm using gender-neutral "they" (If you want to pick a fight about the validity of gender-neutral singular "they," do so on a different blog, please).

I've been using "he" for Pochi because of an interesting incident. The table behind us called for "Onee-san!" ("Excuse me, ma'am!"), and Pochi replied with "Onii-san da kedo, nani ga?" (It's sir but what is it?"). Since words like "onee-san" and "onii-san" are used way more often in Japanese than "kare" and "kanojo," I thought that might be a better window into the world of preferred pronouns.

The other staff member we talked to told us they wanted to become a model, not for just men's or just women's clothes, but for both or something in between. "Something only I can do," they said. Maybe sort of like Andrej Pejic, I guess. They said they already had some modeling work, and their photos in the photobook we got to look at were gorgeous. Of course, they were gorgeous in person too.

There was one staff member who was wearing a yukata and a sign that said "we have kaki-koori" (shaved ice), and was really trying to push people to order it. We we ordered water, they pointed out that adding one more line to the kanji for water would make it ice, and when another party ordered karaage (fried chicken), they said "Oh, you mean kaki-koori?" The determination was funny.

There was also a guy sitting by us who had come by himself and was showing the staff card tricks. It was kinda impressive.

Everyone who worked at Cafe Newtype was really nice to me too, the only foreigner in the entire place. I was asked how many years I'd been in Japan, and everyone was surprised when I said 11 months and disappointed when I said I was leaving tomorrow. They told me to come back if I was ever in Japan. I'm definitely going to miss my special foreigner status when I come back to America, if only a little bit.

After we left the cafe, we went to take purikura pictures at a nearby arcade, and we wanted to eat 100 yen donuts at Mister Donuts, but it was closed. We actually walked past it the first time because the storefront was totally dark and I was going on an empassioned speech about gay rights (I love that I can do that in Japanese now!). So we didn't get donuts, but we did have a good conversation.

It was a great night over all. I got to hang out with my friend, speak lots of Japanese, discover delicious beer, and meet a bunch of people performing gender in whatever way they saw fit. Smash the gender binary! :B

Yeah, um, ahem. My gender and women's studies minor is showing a little.

Last day in Japan

Posted by Shaun

Well, this is it.
I'm leaving for Narita Airport around 2pm tomorrow.
I had my two big suitcases shipped to the airport this morning, and I vacuumed and dusted my room. My carry-on bags are almost packed...
It's a weird feeling.

I've said good bye to all of my friends here... It's sad to separate from everybody, but the good thing is, I have friends all over the world now, and especially all over the United States. No matter where I travel I can say to someone, "Hey, I'll be in your neck of the woods soon, can we meet up?"
That's a really cool feeling.

And I'm excited because I get to take one of my friends "home" with me. I'm really glad to have the opportunity to meet and become friends with the Waseda student who's studying at my college next year. Hopefully we'll have lots of cross-cultural adventures starting in September (and tonight we're going to that maid cafe I mentioned in my previous post, so I'll update about that later)!

The world is really a lot smaller than any of us realize. I met someone at a nomikai on Thursday who studied abroad in Missouri, my home state, while he was in high school. I was so excited about it that all we did was talk about Missouri the whole evening. But most people in Japan have never heard of places outside of New York and California, so my excitement is understandable, right?

One of the things I've really learned in Japan is that I don't know anything about so many parts of the US. And that's sorta embarrassing. I've never been to New York, or Boston, or DC, or LA, or Niagra Falls... It would take too long to list the states I've never been to. So from here on out, I want to get to know my own country better.

I'm not sure yet if I want to live in Japan in the future, but I don't want to forget Japanese. I feel like I've finally gotten to a point during this year where I can actually enjoy Japanese. I can't turn back now. And I can't lose the language that connects me to so many of the people I know this year. So I have to keep studying. Time to forge on ahead. 進め、日本語の道へ!

Emails I sent myself on the way back from Fuji-Q

Posted by Shaun

Last Sunday at Fuji-Q Highland was interesting. It was a holiday on Monday, which I didn't realize, so the roads were incredibly crowded. Both my bus there and back took two hours longer than they were supposed to because of traffic. Then the park itself was crowded too. We only road two roller coasters, but they were the best ones. Eejanaika, the Guinness World Record for most twists, and Takabisha, the Guinness World Record for steepest drop. Eejanaika in particular was really amazing. I actually cried. I had such an adrenaline rush after that one.

So here's some emails I sent myself during the bus ride back.

"8 hours of buses and 4 hours and 50 minutes of lines for less than 5 minutes of roller coaster glory. It's hard to believe, but it was worth it."

"Today's menu:
Eggs and toast(thanks Missus!)
2 onigiri (sake and mentaiko)
Green tea (thanks Madi!)
1 taiyaki
1 peach flavored softserve
1 age pork man"

The great thing was that you could eat and drink in the 2-hour lines. And people let each other get out of line to buy vending machine drinks and food. Which allowed us all to survive the waits. Actually it was really beautiful weather that day, not too hot at all but hydration is important regardless of the weather.

While looking at the monitor in the bus:
"That's not how acronyms work:
Chuo Highwaybus AlliaNCE"

Upon seeing that the word for street, doori, is almost always translated as "avenue" on highway signs:
"Who decided every street was an avenue?"
The strangest part is that they tend to actually leave the Japanese word for street on there, so you get  Chuo-doori Avenue and Waseda-doori Avenue and Meiji-doori Avenue and stuff. Why "avenue"? Why not throw in some "boulevards" and some "places" and some plain ol' "streets" for good measure?

Cool things I've done recently

Posted by Shaun

This post is going to take the form of a list because I've been terribly neglectful of this blog.
And I'm not actually that sorry because I'm in oh-my-goodness-20-days-left-in-Japan mode and I've been that way since day 50 or so, so don't blame me for not wanting to stay in my house and blog.

This post is actually only happening because 1) I'm in the library and supposed to be working on a presentation and 2) I want to brag about the cool stuff I'm planning for this and next week.

Stuff I've done (thanks to the dates in my planner...):

1) Watched a traditional dance performance I totally didn't understand
2) Went to see my friends' band perform in a SILS music club live in Roppongi. They called their band the Guy Jeans because they're... the only all-gaijin band in the SILS music club. Yeah.

3) Went to go see Thermae Romae テルマエ・ロマエ which is a movie based on a manga about a guy from ancient Rome who gets sucked into modern Japan through a roman bath and brings Japanese bathing and toilet innovations back to Rome. It was entertaining. And since my mom couldn't figure this out when I described it to her, yes, it's a comedy.
4) Went to a cafe that had all-you-can-drink fresh juice and tried avocado milk, which is actually really refreshing and delicious.
5) Helped lead a discussion group in a 3-week class where Japanese students on Waseda's engineering campus watch The Apprentice and use it to compare American and Japanese business practices.
6) Met one of my friends from Knox while she was in Tokyo and went to go see the Sky Tree.
7) Ate all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu
8) Went to a cafe in Shin-Okubo called Coffee Prince known for its cute Korean baristas. Also for the adorable drawings they do on the coffee drinks.
9) Went to go see the movie of a book series I'm working on reading, 図書館戦争, Toshokan Sensou, (Library War), which was cool because it had animated versions of places I'd been! (Shinjuku's Kinokuniya bookstore, and some places in Osaka)
10) Got my hair cut.
11) Visited a class at Rikkyo University, near where I live, because the professor in charge of our study abroad program was teaching it and the students wanted to meet exchange students.
12) Went to eat unagi, found the unagi place was actually closed, and ended up overeating Indian curry and cheese naan instead.
13) Had udon and then later cake as well as lovely conversation with friends from my J-pop class

 14) Went to a flea market in Shinagawa with a friend of a friend from the US and her friends because they were in Tokyo
15) May or may not have caught bronchitis between 9) and 14), cough still not totally gone
16) Took an essay-writing test in Japanese on the 4th of July
17) Arranged for the pick up of and mailed home a box of clothes and a box of books, all by myself!
18) Finally tried one of the parfaits at a cafe by my station, strawberry + anko flavor.
19) Presented my final film project for my documentary filmmaking class
20) Immediately afterwards, went to a 飲み会 nomikai (drinking party) followed by karaoke. Took the second to last train home for the first time since going to Disney Sea (I don't get out much?)
21) Joined my friend's circle for "orienteering" around the Yamanote train line. We found 6 of the 7 locations and tied for second and third place out of 4 teams. So we didn't win anything, and I was super exhausted from 20) so I sorta fell asleep on the train towards the end.

Still to come
 1) A trip to Cafe NEWTYPE, which is a maid cafe in Akhihabara, with the twist that the maids are gorgeous 男の娘 otoko no ko. 男の子 otoko no ko written with the kanji for child means "boy" but in this case the kanji is for "girl." It's a new kind of gender identity (okay so I saw the cafe on TV and then I realized I could meet someone I saw on TV so I decided to go okay), according to the TV program I watched. According to Japanese Wikipedia, the term originated from a manga trope about beautiful crossdressing boys... I believe that as opposed to ニューハーフ new half or トランスゲンダー transgender people, who are born men and decide to live as women and consider themselves completely 100% women, 男の娘 still consider themselves male to some degree, although they dress and live as women. Translating Japanese gender identities into Western gender identities doesn't always seem to work too well, but perhaps 男の娘 would be a form of a genderqueer identity, from the Western social justice perspective. I'm really curious to learn more about "LGBTQ+" culture in Japan, because the environment just seems so different in Japan (which is why I put LGBTQ+ in quotes). At the same time, as a straight, white woman, it's definitely not a space I belong in so I would understand if there wasn't a lot of information available to me. But if anyone knows any research or books or manga on the subject (from a realistic, serious perspective), please let me know.

2) Finally, a chance to go to Fuji-Q Highland, with the same friend from Knox. It's a theme part in Japan with a habit of building a new roller coaster every few years so it can keep breaking records.

3) An all-night karaoke party

4) a festival in my homestay town with my host sister. She's going to lend me one of her yukata for it.

5) Farewell parties and finals.

6) Going to the police station to claim the 7000 yen I found on the ground in Harajuku and turned in to the police because the 3 month waiting period will be over soon and then it officially becomes my money. Ahaha.

If this ends up being my last blog entry before the airport, please forgive me! I'm a busy bee! Ahaha, look at that final project I said I was gonna work on today, sitting there abandoned.

Posted by Shaun

Those Pandas I Promised

Posted by Shaun

This post's theme is: cafes!

The huge variety of cafes is one of the few things I like about Tokyo. But let me tell you, going out to them too often can kill your wallet. My finances are in dire straits right now, not just thanks to cafes, so hopefully some sort of income source will materialize when I get back to the US... Food is expensive, and coffee is expensive, and guess what my favorite things are? Going to eat food and going to drink coffee.

Now that I've vented my financial stresses, cafes.

First of all, I went to Daikanyama, near Shibuya, with one of my friends, as part of my mission to explore Tokyo for cute cafes. The first place we found when we got there was The Queen's Collection Chocolate Cafe. So, naturally, we had to go in.

Their big thing is hot chocolate. You pick the bitterness of your chocolate, and then you get a candle/fondue pot thing and milk and you heat it up and mix it yourself. I really wanted to try it, but the day my friend and I went it was too hot so... I got hot coffee... because that makes sense. I kinda really want to go back on a cold rainy day and try that hot chocolate.
But look how happy my orange mocha was!
I ordered an orange mocha, and it took me a while before I realized that all of the orange was at the bottom. But after I stirred it it was delicious!

And the cafe was pretty adorable.
Occasionally Tokyo rewards me with places like Daikanyama, where the streets are wider and not that crowded and there are cute cafes everywhere, including places that look like old-fashioned sweet shops on the inside and are devoted to chocolate. Yeah. And then the rest of Tokyo continues to be Tokyo and it figures that the part I end up being charmed by is like... not at all thrifty.

So yeah, I've gotta go back to Daikanyama at least one more time before I leave. Maybe back to the chocolate cafe, maybe someplace new.

Next stop (I promise, the pandas are coming at the end), the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba.
For those of you who don't know, Gundam is an anime series about giant fighting robots, and this one is life-size. So it's really huge. It's also cool because if you get close it has all this stuff like "only assemble by a trained professional" and "caution: not a step" and stuff like that on. I don't think it really says that specifically, but like, those sorts of things...

Detail shot of the Gundam's foot.
After seeing the Gundam, we attempted to explore some of the malls in Odaiba, but we didn't get very far because we couldn't stop eating (lunch turned into Auntie Anne's Pretzels) and then the boys we were with were like... so ridiculously chill that we never got anywhere. And we couldn't get them to stop talking about trading card games. So it was a lot later than we meant it to be when we finally got home. And it was Sunday. Whoops.

But we got to see a nice sunset behind rainbow bridge and check out the lights of Tokyo Tower from the Yurikamome line on the way home. And then we managed to find, from the Yurikamome line platform, what we're pretty sure is the cliche view of the Tokyo streetlights that you see all the time online but we couldn't find in real life. If you're ever going to Odaiba for some reason, you should take the Yurikamome line at least one way. I was turned off by how expensive it was compared to the subway, but it does a loop in the middle for some reason, so it's good for sightseeing. You can get a good look at Tokyo Tower and some cool skyscrapers and stuff.
Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow lights
Okay, now, finally, pandas.

I bought a book of cafes in Tokyo, and one of the featured cafes was panda-themed! I didn't take a picture of the inside of the cafe because I already had it in my book but it was quite adorable and quite delicious.

Sign out front
Small sign out front
Sign at the top of the stairs (the cafe was on the 2nd floor of the building)
Panda table decoration
Panda keema curry
Panda mocha
Cookies and cream ice cream!
Laura and her Panda Set
So that was last Thursday. Then on Saturday my class was cancelled so I went to the Ueno Park Zoo with another friend, and we saw the real panda! And really cute elephants. And lots of other stuff. It was a really good zoo day somehow. We got to see the zookeepers feed a lot of different animals, and they all seemed really active.

The female panda! There's a male one too but he wasn't outside.
The zoo keepers encouraged the elephants to walk around the enclosure in a line like this and then gave them bananas.
Me and the elephants.
Oh, and today I drank this at a cafe in my train station that I keep wanting to try:
Azuki shirotama float
It was kinda expensive considering how much of it was ice but you live and learn, I guess. Now I don't have to be curious about that cafe anymore.

Oh, and of course, it's not related to pandas or cafes, but on Monday there was a solar eclipse over Japan, and I bought the special reflective sunglasses and got to see it. I didn't take a picture or anything, but I woke up at 7 to go check it out and it was well worth it, standing in the driveway looking at the sun through the special glasses and taking a break every two minutes. The moon covered the sun so that it was a perfect ring. I think you could see the eclipse in California too, but I'm not sure. It was really cool to see.

 70 days left in Japan, counting today (and it's already 9pm so I suppose I should be done counting today). See you sooner than I can believe, America!

"How do you know that you're right? / If you're not nervous anymore..."

Posted by Shaun

"How do you know that you're right?
If you're not nervous anymore..."
"Bling (Confessions of a King)" by The Killers
You learn a lot of things about your personality when you study abroad. One of the things I've learned is that I have the sort of personality that, for whatever reason, wants me to be continually denying myself something. If something is too comfortable, then maybe it can't be trusted. I've learned to overcome this in a lot of parts of my life - my schoolwork and my eating habits, for example - but it always manages to seep into some other area of my existence. Like English. Not in an "I'm going to challenge myself by only speaking Japanese today" way, but in a "You spoke too much English today. You should feel bad about that" way. There's a fine line between immersion and self-denial that results in the coding of English-language experiences and friendships as inherently less valuable than the same things in a foreign language. I'm not sure that I agree with that value system, but I'm definitely trapped in it.

I've also realized that at the beginning of my study abroad experience, I chose to be a good study abroad student, specifically a good white American encroaching on a foreign country, by deciding to avoid bothering people as much as possible. I don't really recommend this approach. There are other, probably better, ways to be a "good" study abroad student. Ask intelligent questions and engage empathetically with the people around you as much as possible, for example.

Now, as my friends in the US start to prepare for summer vacation, I'm starting to think about my senior year, and my future after graduation. And I haven't the slightest clue what that will be.

But I don't think I want to go right back to Japan. It's not that I'm having a bad experience here, but my family and friends are all an ocean away. There's not much that ties me to Japan except for my desire to master Japanese, though if you asked me why I want to be able to speak and read it, I'm not really sure anymore. I feel very temporary in Japan, and very precarious. There are a lot of political things going on in the US right now that make me want to punch something, but at least there I know where I stand and I feel at home. 

But I only feel so comfortable in the US because I am a white, straight, cisgender, middle-class American. I know better than to think that my comfort extends to every American. I know that there are people who are hurt or killed every day in America because of the institutions that make me feel like I have a place there. So that self-denial comes out again. I imagine someone with all the privileges I lack telling me "Oh, poor baby, you don't feel comfortable in Japan? I don't feel comfortable anywhere." There are jobs in Japan that I know I could do, if the only concern I had for my future was financial. English teaching, for example. Knowing Japanese, being a woman, speaking American English, and having a college degree would be great advantages to me in the "teach-English-in-Japan" field. And I wouldn't lose my hard-earned Japanese. So how can I turn that down for an uncertain job future in the US, just because I feel a little uncomfortable with being a gaijin forever and I want to be close to my family?

There's the additional problem that no one can recommend me any career fields anywhere but in Japan. Obviously, being physically located in Japan, people in charge my study abroad program are bound to be most familiar with the opportunities there. But no one knows anything about Japan Study alumni who didn't come back to Japan*. There's this accepted mythology that good study abroad students want nothing more than to live in their host country forever, and the ones who aren't dying to come back are failures. I don't want to be a failure.

I don't want to give up the progress I've made in Japanese. I've finally gotten to the point where I can actually talk with people and begin to read things, and I want to keep improving. But I want to work in America. I don't want the limits I feel placed on myself in Japan, both as a woman and as a gaijin (although I realize that gaijin women are privileged above Japanese women in some fields). In any case, I'm not ready to commit to any sort of two-year teaching contract in Japan right away.

This makes me feel like a bad white American study abroad student for not being "international enough" and sufficiently "culturally flexible," for not loving my host country more than my family, my friends, and my personal comfort, for wanting to take a path I imagine to be both "easier" and less restrictive in the long-run. For not having the sort of study abroad experience programs want to brag about, and for having the gall to write about it on a blog linked from that program's website.

So I'm sorry about all of that.

To my family, I promise I'm not depressed right now. I've been having a lot of enjoyable experiences that you can look forward to in future posts once I find a convenient way to host the photos (Gundams, chocolate, and pandas, oh my!). I'm just trying to work my way through a lot of thoughts, and some of them are stupid and for some reason I want to work through them on the internet in public. Probably in the hopes of advice from people older and wiser than me. Comments and emails are welcome.

*This year's program assistant is in the process of a new reconnect-with-alumni for the sake of her graduate research and the 50th anniversary of the program, so I could have answers soon.

My classes

Posted by Shaun

I realized I never posted about the classes I'm taking this semester.

-Modern Japanese Fiction in Translation
With the same professor I liked for literature last semester. We're reading Meiji and Taisho and early Showa fiction and looking at what it means to be modern and different writers' images of Tokyo.
-Tokyo: Ethnographic Fieldwork and Documentary Filmmaking
I'm not sure this class is actually about Tokyo but our final assignment is to make a 15-minute documentary. I think mine is going to be about two of my friends and their book-buying habits, but I haven't heard anything from my professor after I sent her the topic email. So far I know more than I did about cultural appropriation but I have no idea how to make a film. I feel like I should be starting soon but I don't know what I'm doing with my little digital camera. The only thing I've done so far is asked my friends for permission to interview them and bought a bigger memory card.

-Writing Essays with Volunteers
This is a cool class. We write essays and then we get help correcting them from native speakers.
-something about speaking and writing your opinion
We discuss stuff in class and then we write short essays about them. No homework because all the work is done in class.
-Intensive Japanese 5
I like my professors for this one so it should be good.
-Discourse Grammar in Japanese 5-6
This class is a lecture about grammar and it's hard but it's stuff I need to know, like the difference between は and が

And I'm volunteering in a freshman English class. Which is awkward but fun.
And I'm a member of an English conversation/cultural exchange circle, where everyone is a sweetheart and it's great and I wish I'd started going sooner.

Photo Dump: Minakami etc

Posted by Shaun

Photos from when my study abroad program stayed at Ryokan Tanigawa in Minakami

Room at Ryokan Tanigawa

On the table: a leaf that says "Waseda School of International Liberal Studies: Thank you for your stay!"

Outside the ryokan window

Dinner (sideways)

Me in my yukata

Terrifying-looking yet delicious grilled fish


Going strawberry picking

Strawberry picking in Japan actually means all-you-can-eat strawberries for 30min

Eating Minakami gelato

In Harajuku waiting outside Ben and Jerry's

Cherry Garcia and some kind of ginger flavor

Photo Dump: O-Hanami etc

Posted by Shaun

My host mom's friend, my host mom, and me in Yokohama before my host sister's marching band concert

Chocolate-banana pancakes at Pancake Days in Harajuku

There was a smiley face inside too!

A blimp flies over Waseda

Sakura near Waseda

O-hanami at Naka-Meguro

Takao-san and Shibuya

Posted by Shaun

Yesterday I climbed a mountain, went to an izakaya (Japanese pub), and did karaoke. And somehow managed to come home with a massive headache without drinking any alcohol.

How I managed to do all that is a bit of a complicated story.

I posted on Facebook on my birthday, "Hey, is anyone doing anything interesting tomorrow?" and the only person who responded was Kaori-san, one of the adult members of the English conversation circle I'm in. She said some people she knew from UCLA were going to climb Mt. Takao (referred to as Takao-san from now on) so I should see if I wanted to go with them.

The more the conversation developed, the more it seemed like she was trying to set me up with this friend of hers, but that was pretty much impossible from the moment I met him, since he's like 7 or 8 years older than me and I'm sorry, Kaori-san, but that still matters when you're barely 21.

So, I spent my morning and afternoon chatting with the group, mostly men, from America, Canada, and Scotland, and the Scottish guy's Japanese girlfriend. And, oh yeah, we climbed a mountain. They were all really nice and welcoming and funny, but they're not really the sort of social group I'd want to get stuck in if I were to somehow end up working in Tokyo. I'm not too into bars and joking with high school girls and goofing off in public places...

After we got back to Shibuya from Takao-san, me and the two American guys went to an izakaya and were joined by Kaori-san later. I got interrogated by Kaori-san about what I wanted in a boyfriend and then the guy I'd originally been introduced to decided to turn the tables on her and ask her about her love life, but she kept dodging the question and turning it back on me. I also found out that I prefer non-alcohol cocktails and I like kimchi cucumbers. I also got teased by Kaori-san for acting like I was the exasperated older sister of the two guys.

After we ate our fill of yakitori and kimchi and stuff, the boys couldn't stop singing but one of them had to go home to his fiance, so Kaori-san and the remaining guy and I went to do karaoke. So I got to spend the last of the money in my wallet (going out with people with jobs is expensive!) on a higher-tier karaoke joint than I usually go to.

It was a fun night, but I was so ready to just crash into the pavement when I got home at 11:30 after waking up at 8:30 am, and my muscles still hurt like crazy. Which is why I didn't do anything except update my blog today.


Inside the karaoke place

Club Kitty, where Hello Kitty is the DJ?
 Random out of order pictures from Takao-san

Tengu, a crow spirit that I know next to nothing about

There will be more on my Facebook. I figure this is enough for here. The photo uploader isn't cooperating today.