Friday, June 25, 2010

Week 2 Update

(Bland title, I know, but I can't seem to think of anything else that ties together my disorganized thoughts. And I promised a post on religion before, but it is still to come!)

 The view from Hakodate-yama after a climb! And the aforementioned "砂時計/hourglass shape".

I think I’m hitting somewhat of a low in class right now because I’m struggling with the things that I had always thought were my strengths. I’ve already forgotten the new grammar patterns by the next class whereas at Yale, I was able to internalize them through the countless translations we did each night (tedious, but now I admit, effective). Instead, we practice them through workbook exercises, which of course, limit the patterns you do. And since Asaoka-sensei takes off points for mistakes, I always hesitate to experiment with the more complicated grammar patterns. Also, the format of Asaoka-sensei’s tests is a little too open for what I’m used to; there’s always a fill-in-blank section as well as a short answer section where you’re supposed to use some new grammar point, but the problem is, you don’t know WHICH one he wants. (Try figuring out what to put in ________________________________________か?I know I can’t expect the same teaching style, but it’s still frustrating nevertheless. Not to mention the kanji that kills me every time …

 Okaa-san's friends ask me, "Have you learned pottery yet?" Sadly, the most progress I've made is taking this photo.

But, as I’ve said before, I’m learning a lot outside of class. Not just extra speaking practice, but the more subtle things. Yesterday night, Okaa-saan invited some of her friends visiting from America for dinner, and I met one of their husbands who was the study abroad director at Wheaton College. Fluent in Japanese, Spanish, and a little bit of Swahili, he was quick to point out some mistakes I made in Japanese. “You should work at a coffeeshop,” he insisted. “The Japanese in the textbook is not what actual Japanese people speak.” Knowing vocabulary was more important than knowing complicated grammar because “normal people don’t talk that way.” Also, he assured me that learning how to write kanji was overhyped; just being able to recognize the most common ones would be enough to get by, since computers convert hiragana into kanji anyway (extremely pleasant news to hear). I also think my host family (especially Okaa-san) speaks a LOT slower than the average Japanese person – ah, my listening skills have a long way to go.

Kyudo Club at Iai Girls HS. Pretty intimidating, yeah?

Yesterday was also when realized I don’t really blend in as well as I thought. On my way home, I always get bombarded with soft serve ice cream coupons, to which I always nod my head and say, “Hai” before stuffing the ten-millionth coupon in my backpack. But today, after the usual “Hai”, one of the coupon ladies asked me, "日本語が分かりますか?" (Do you understand Japanese?). It was probably my shorts and flip-flops or the way I walked, but I realize that even if I have Asian looks and eventually get really good at the language, many other things still separate me from being marked as a Japanese person. This brings me back to the conformity question though – when learning a foreign language, is the ultimate goal to conform to another culture? Speaking in “indirect” Japanese when you avoid accepting something the first time, practicing the standard lines when giving gifts, even learning the meticulous way of exchanging 名刺 (name cards) – isn’t it all for the greater purpose of adapting to Japanese society?  And when does adaptation turn into conformity?

 Starting the kimono class

The obis were a little tight...

Finally, after a million knots, the yukata is complete! And this is the easiest kimono to put on... 

I’ll end with a link to the song that our class is supposed to sing on the Onuma trip today. I really like it, but it’s in that awkward key that no one’s good at singing, so I’m not sure how things will turn out tonight…

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sparks said...

aww i'm sorry about your frustration with the class. i'm sure that you'll get used to the format of the test eventually!

the picture of the hourglass shaped land is SO COOL!

and as for your question of adaptation v. conformity, i've been wondering a lot about that too. we've been discussing immigration here in france - issues of integration, what exactly constitutes the french identity - and there are so many different ideas that keep turning themselves over in our minds. ahh confusing!

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