Monday, June 3, 2013

Why, hello there.

Well, here I am again. In Japan. If you’re one to believe in fate like me, there must be a good reason why I keep coming back to this place. Still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life (or at the very least, what to do in the next year after leaving the safe haven of college). So much has happened in the last few days that my head’s exploding with what-ifs.

In less abstract personal ponderings, I’m back in Japan this summer to do research for my senior thesis on Kakure Kirishitan aka hidden Christians of Japan. (I am lazy so I'm just linking to Wikipedia for more info.)

Currently in Tokyo prepping for my fieldwork in Nagasaki. What has happened in the last four days:

-       Friday: Caught up with old IUC friends at an izakaya. Got the bill, scratched our heads in confusion until we realized they charged us over $4 each for the mandatory edamame. Same ol’. NOTHING in life is free. Nothing. But it felt good to be back in Japan. Don't know if it's just me but whenever I come back, I always sense this ... smell. A nice homey smell. 
-       Saturday: Went to International Christianity University for some serious quality time with the library. I had gone to the ICU library once before when I was studying in Yokohama, but I got lost again in that overgrown forest of a college. (Beautiful campus though – I would love it if Yale had actual forested areas.) Resisted the urge to photocopy everything (since I tend to not read what I photocopy…) to parse through some research about recent Kakure Kirishitan conversion to Shinto in the Goto islands. Realized I was reading Japanese at a pace of about 2 pages an hour (granted, they were larger than letter size) and started frantically photocopying. I now solemnly swear I will at least take a look at them later.
-       Sunday: Took a break from research because heck, it’s the Sabbath. 
-       Monday: Interviewed the researcher whose work I read (or attempted to read) at ICU. Went better than expected, what with my rusty Japanese and broken keigo, but she was nice and treated me at a classy café. But as I pressed the stop button to finish the audiotape, I noticed it started recording. Which meant I hadn’t recorded anything in that hour-long interview FML (this is why you should NOT rely on the tape recorder!) But I cheered myself up by saying that experience gave me just a wee bit more confidence with interviews in Japanese and the technical knowhow to press the ‘record’ button next time.
Afterwards, I checked out the Kirishitan Bunko at Sophia University, probably one of the best collections, if not the best, of Christian research material in Japan. My letter of introduction from Yale, which I had gotten as an afterthought only days before, suddenly became the magic pass to getting into libraries everywhere. Found some interesting articles on contemporary Kakure Kirishitan survival and conversion by a researcher from the Congo.
Took the train back at afternoon rush hour and made a vow I would never live along on the Odakyu line as long as they run it the way they do now. 

Haven’t been able to fall asleep tonight – my head has decided to brainstorm about my thesis as well as contemplate the future instead. So the researcher I interviewed today suggested I also look into interviewing people who had left the Kakure Kirishitan faith in the 1980s-90s. Which is kind of the opposite angle from where I was coming from. But at the same time, completely relevant. Ah, can I cram survivorship and conversion/abandonment into one paper? That would require a lot more travel, and it’s already inconvenient enough as it is with the sort of remote communities I’m trying to get to. I could try to tackle both themes and see what comes up. But I do remember - my project advisor from Yale warned me not to get too carried away with getting data – you always end up with more than what you need…

On other matters, someone asked me a couple weeks ago what I would have majored in if I hadn’t gotten into Yale. When I was looking up majors at state schools, I was thinking communications or advertising, mostly from working with my high school newspaper. It might seem that I did a complete 180 by choosing Religious Studies, but I’m starting to realize research is a lot like journalism. You stumble across an interesting topic and curiosity gets the better of you. You do your background research. You gather contacts (mostly testing if email addresses are still valid on that ten-year-old website). Whatever you’ve come up, you piece together an angle you want to write from.

Do I like this stuff enough to consider grad school? As I said before, I believe in fate. And needless to say, everything in my resume is geared toward grad school (or rather, *cough cough* I just don’t have any work experience). And when I look back at what’s happened to me in the last four years, I can see all the random steps I took to get to me in Japan doing senior thesis research right now. Still trying to figure out if long but flexible hours of research/writing > long, straight hours at the workplace but not taking my work back home with me. And if I can be crazy enough about a topic to devote my entire life to it. Despite the library masochism, I like research for what little I’ve done so far. But I fear burnout if I keep doing the same thing…

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