日本語道

南山大学CJSの600が始まる前3ヶ月ぐらい韓国にいたから韓国語のせいで日本語が悪くなったと思いました。大学の授業で一所懸命勉強した漢字の読み方を忘れてしまうこともありました。話し相手が言うことが分かっても自分が考えていることを日本語でちゃんと伝えられなくて困りました。コミュニケーション力について心配していました。日本語の勉強の最初からずっとその問題がありました。

600が始まってから、同級生のみんなの素晴らしい日本語を聞いて、やっぱり私が日本語が苦手でコミュニケーション力がないと実感しました。読み物の内容が難しいというより、授業で細かいところをはっきり説明することや言い換えることは難しかったです。でも先生が質問に答えてくださって、生徒たちに深く考えさせてよかったです。このような勉強で日本能力が急激に上がるはずだろうと思いました。

伸ばしたい得意な部分は聞き取りと読解です。どうやって伸ばすかというと、自然な日本語を聞いたり読んだりことをする方法が良いです。時間があったら興味がある小説を読むつもりでしたが時間がありませんでした。テレビを見たら、漢字が書いてありますし、速い日本語を聞けますし、聞き取りと漢字練習の両方に役に立ちます。毎日ホストファミリーと一緒にテレビを見て私がわからないところを教えてもらいました。直したかった弱い所は二つあります。一つは漢字を書くことで、もう一つは会話です。毎日読み物についての質問に答えたりするから、自然に自分の意見を書けるようになりました。後は宿題のおかげで記憶にする漢字の数が増えてきました。日本語のコミュニケーション力を上げるにはできるだけ日本人と話す必要があります。日本人の友達を作ろうと思うが、なかなか日本人の友達ができないのが現状です。コミュニケーション問題はまだ解決できません。

勉強すればするほどうまくなるとよく言われますが、必ずしもそういうわけではありません。確かに初級か中級だったらそうです。授業で学ぶ単語や文法が日常生活に出てきますのでよく使えてコミュニケーション力が急激に上がります。しかし上級の授業で学ぶ時難しいアカデミックな単語や文法は日常生活に出てこないから、勉強する時間は勉強の結果へと直接結びを付かないことが気がします。大学の授業を取りたくないと思います。授業の勉強が役に立たないと言うわけではない。ただ、興味にあるものを使わなくて、やる気がどんどんなくなります。この上級レベルで大切なのは自分から日本語をぺらぺらになるまで勉強したい気持ちを持つことです。自分からもう一度一人で勉強したらまた日本語を学ぶ理由を探して、夢を叶えるための対策を考えてからやる気を回復します。

Advertisements

Infiltrating the Japanese Family Unit (Part 1)

I know it’s strange to introduce you to my host family ten weeks into the program, but it’s taken this long for me to go from ‘honored house guest’ to ‘(host) family member.’ It wasn’t that the family excluded me. They’ve been nothing but friendly, polite and sensitive to my needs. As I’ve mentioned before, it can take a longer time for me to sense closeness with people, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly assertive about spending time with them. I was just existing in their home, trying to be as less of a disturbance as possible until my inevitable return to the States.

At first I was extremely uncomfortable living under the eagle eye of parental figures again. Not that I was doing anything unsavory, but one would naturally feel uneasy if people were watching and assessing your every action, down to the way you fidget with the hem of your sweater. During the first month I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without some sort of instruction. Apparently, the students they’d hosted before had never been to Japan, so they were just used to teaching them about how things are done. Even though I told them I’d studied abroad in Japan last summer, they still took it upon themselves to lecture me on every little detail about living in Japan, including how to use the buttons on the toilet, use the subway, which side of the sidewalk to walk on, how to eat sushi, so on and so forth. Somehow I’d gone from a somewhat capable young adult college student to someone’s overly protected child. My host mother knew my schedule at school better than I did, down to the minute and gave me a rundown on what I was supposed to do everyday. I thought it was simply because I was a foreigner and she didn’t think I was competent, but I noticed she does the same thing to her daughter, always knowing where she is, who she’s with and what she’s doing. My host mother takes running her household very seriously, and to do that as efficiently as possible, she has to know everyone’s schedules so she can best meet their needs.

My host parent’s marriage runs like a well-oiled machine. She handles the home, and he handles outside business matters and brings home the bacon. Maybe it’s the result of being married for so many years, but they are never affectionate with each other. (To be honest, Japanese couples in general aren’t as affectionate with each other as say Western couples…but that’s a topic for another day.) My host dad makes out more with his dog than with his wife, responds faster to the dog’s whining than what his wife says. (That dog is disgusting anyway, why would you want to kiss it, of all things? The face-licking that happens in this house is vomit-inducing.) Strangely enough, my host father reminds me of my real father– a stern penny-pincher, practical even at the cost of others comfort or feelings. Incredibly stubborn, with a knack for doing things the old fashioned way. Short tempered. Stir it all together and you’ve got a carbon copy of my real dad. And if my host sister has been living with a Japanese version of my dad all her life, I can understand her irritation.

With two very controlling and parents (one with a dangerously short-temper), I can understand why my fourteen year old host sister lashes out so much. These are the parents who go through her flip phone when she’s not home because the cellphone bill was high and they want to see how many emojis she uses; they won’t let her use LINE and other social media apps because it’s dangerous and could possibly be used as a medium for bullying; they made her stop eating ham completely because of a special on TV that reported processed meat could increase the risk of cancer. I can completely understand why she would feel irritated, but at the way she speaks to her parents is appalling. I wouldn’t be here today if I’d said half the things to my parents that she says. My mom would’ve slapped the caps off my knees and I’d be bed-ridden for life, if I was lucky. Slapped into next week? I would be perpetually flying through the months if I’d even fixed my mouth to say the things my host sister says. She also cries at the drop of a hat. She cried because her parents said she couldn’t have a smartphone, cried when she wanted spaghetti for dinner instead of ramen, and even cries to get out of studying. Sometimes I understand her feelings but most of the time I think she’s just bratty. And her parents let her continue her bratty behavior.

I’ve only seen them get stern with her two times. The first happened when we were at a kaitenzushi restaurant and had placed an order for a particular dish. When you place a specific order instead of taking something random directly from the conveyor belt, the plate comes out on a red platform. Thinking our table had ordered two of the same kind of sushi, my host sister took both of them instead of just the one that belonged to us. For which her parents immediately and profusely berated her, saying she was an “idiot” and “inconsiderate of other people’s things” “Where is your head? Maybe you should pay attention every once in a while.” It went on and on. When they called the waitress over to tell her what had happened the waitress simply said, “put it back on the conveyor belt” and everything was solved. Did something that can be solved so simply really call for such a harsh tongue-lashing in public? The poor girl looked like she was going to cry.

The other time made me inexplicably happy. One morning my host sister left for school while I was eating breakfast. By the time I was done, the intercom was ringing because she had come back, telling her mom that for some reason she couldn’t go to school. I couldn’t hear most of it because the intercom is very static-y, but my host mother didn’t seem too bothered by whatever situation. While I was waiting for the elevator to the bottom floor of the apartment building, I saw my host sister walking towards our unit. My host mom met her at the door; as soon as the door closed my host mom let my host sister have it. I don’t know exactly what she said because she was shrieking, but I definitely caught the words for “idiot” and “no excuses” and “next time, you’d better do (something something something.)” To hear this tiny yoga-practicing woman absolutely go IN on her bratty daughter was beautiful and terrifying. I was mashing the button for the elevator before she opened the door and still saw me standing there in the hallway. (I didn’t want to be next!) But the sound of a mother yelling at her daughter, being slightly scared for your own life, somehow all conspired to create a beautiful sense of nostalgia. Ah yes, the sounds of home sweet home. I never felt like such a part of the family as I did right then.

 

On (not) Making Friends in Japan

The study abroad program representative with the big grin and flashy powerpoint will tell you to befriend the locals to make the most of your study abroad. I’ve seen many an extroverted classmate get buddy-buddy with the natives (sometimes snagging a romantic partner!) and reap the benefits of more natural Japanese, knowledge of the latest trends and the hip young lingo. I feel like this is solid, common sense advice, but is easier said than done depending on one’s personality and social life preferences.

Let’s discuss my personality and social life, since I happen to know mine the best. I’m an introvert. I don’t hate people, but being around of a lot of people is draining; I periodically need space and me-time to recharge my emotional batteries. I feel the most disconnected and overwhelmed with a group people, regardless of my relationship with each individual person. This isn’t necessarily related to being an introvert, but it takes me an incredibly long time to make friends. Freshman year of college was absolutely miserable because it seemed like everyone else was forming meaningful relationships so quickly while I struggled with loneliness. I was also, during this time, thought to be a recluse because I wasn’t surrounded by a caravan of people during all hours of the day. Yes, I know: boo-hoo poor me. Freshman sob story. Okay, the point is, I don’t force friendships. I believe they develop naturally from common outlook or interests, compatible personalities, etc., and forming these kinds of bonds can take quite a bit of time.

It was naive of me to think that simply because I changed my location in the world, my entire personality and tendencies in human relationships would also change. Still, because I did not want to “waste my time abroad” I did my darndest. During my first study abroad in summer 2014 to Osaka, I completely embraced this advice and tried everything I could to make Japanese friends: agreeing to go out with large groups, initiate conversation with Japanese roommates in the program, I smiled so hard and so large my teeth started to hurt; I laughed at things that were no where near funny. Everyone else who did it was popular, so maybe it would work for me too. And for a while, it did. I was continually invited to events and made plans with groups of Japanese students. The lack of me-time made me agitated, tense, and emotionally drained. I should be happy, but honestly half the time, I was on the verge of tears. This is what study abroad is all about though, right? Getting out of your comfort zone? Growing up? I was finally making friends like the pamphlets said I would and it looked like I was the life of the party on social media. I learned slang terms so I could finally talk like a cool kid, and isn’t that what I wanted all along? To be a cool kid? (If sarcasm isn’t your thing, the answer to this is: No, it’s not what I wanted at all.)

The conversations among group members about celebrities, food, music, shopping, romantic interests, sports, etc were nice and pleasant but they run out of steam relatively quickly and I don’t feel any closer to the people I’m talking to by the end of it. Any trek into deeper topics such as the differences in Japanese and American culture, for instance, usually ended after a few minutes with the Japanese student(s) saying “Oh, America is so different.” or “I want to go to New York!” Nice. Great. But this doesn’t tell me anything, really. Why don’t we really get to know each other instead of saying what the other person wants to hear?

Which brings me to another roadblock in making friends with Japanese people: the idea of wa (和), meaning ‘peace’. Conversations are kept on light, pleasant topics or things everyone in the group can agree on for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’. Having a respectful difference of opinion, though considered constructive in American culture, can make the air rather tense in Japan. Heavier topics seem to be avoided most of the time, but I suspect that these heavier conversations might happen between close Japanese friends. It’s difficult to say whether Japanese people that I’ve met don’t want to get close (what I call close) with me because I’m a foreigner or more because they’re trying to keep the atmosphere peaceful. It could be both–not excluding a myriad of other reasons–but for me to get close to someone we have to be mutually vulnerable, willing to share and empathize with each other’s problems and concerns. Mostly, we need to discuss our honne (本音), true feelings. Not only does this entire process seem to generally take a long time in Japan (among Japanese people) it can be even harder for a foreigner (the outsiders of the outsiders) to achieve the same level of closeness.

Simply put, a summer abroad was not enough for me to make real, sustainable Japanese friends. Even this semester, I haven’t made a Japanese friend (as in, born and raised in Japan, who didn’t attend an international school). While this is a little disappointing, it’s not the end-all for my study abroad experience.

I found other people in my language programs who I connected with because of either shared interests or similar dispositions. The intense study abroad experience brought us closer together in a short amount of time, and it is these friendships that I rely on for emotional and moral support in Japan. I made one or two friends like this last summer in Osaka and we kept in contact occasionally after we returned to our respective institutions in the States. Turns out, they’re both studying abroad in Japan this semester again and I had the opportunity to meet up with them. (FRIENDSHIP!) This time around, I’ve also made two close friends whom I cherish dearly and I sincerely hope we keep in contact after the program is over. For me, having fulfilling friendships is more important than the number–whether those friends are American or Japanese (or from any other country) also doesn’t matter.

To those who can’t seem to become close with the locals no matter how hard you try, my advice would be to not stress about it. You’re not alone. You’re not weird or socially inept (well, you may be but that’s not my business). Just do you. If you want a Japanese friend/acquaintance for the sake of improving your Japanese language ability, or someone to show you around, then my suggestion would be to find a language partner. If you actually become friends with your language partner, good for you! If not, well, at least you’re getting exposure to native Japanese and also helping the other person with their language skills. Win-win, I would say.

 

Here Today, Gone to Nara

Seems like only yesterday one of my Japanese teachers told us to “Hang in there! Only 8 more weeks until the break!” and I looked at him like he’d grown several heads. Eight weeks is along time. You can’t just POOF and be eight weeks into the future, right? But I feel like that’s exactly what’s happened. The week-long break at the beginning of November marks the halfway point in the semester. Fighting every cell in my body that wanted to go back to Korea to enjoy hot spicy soups, decent coffee and smiles on the faces of strangers, I decided to stay in Japan during the break and experience the majesty of Nara. I regretted not visiting last summer while I was in Osaka and the burning desire to visit has only intensified since taking that fabulous Japanese religions class. It’s been great to get away from the annoying mutt my host family calls a pet and escape the all-seeing eye of my host mother. Traveling to Nara has provided the fix of independence that I so desperately need.

Confession: When I told my host family I was going to Nara with a friend, I might have lied. I had made plans to meet up with a friend who’s studying in Kyoto, but no plans to travel to and remain with that friend over the duration of my time in Nara. Mostly, this is so they wouldn’t worry about me, since they treat me like I’ve never been to Japan before.  Another reason is so they would think I have a social life and not bother me about being introverted. It’s not that I don’t have friends to go with; I do, but I’m around people constantly at school and then bombarded by my host family at home, so there’s really been no place for me to completely relax and recharge.

Cue Nara. While it is a major tourist hotspot and bristling with people, there are quieter parts of the city where huge numbers of tourists don’t venture– forests, hiking trails and religious sights near Nara Park where small numbers of people (and some locals) come to pray and enjoy nature. Places like this are easy to find if you stop from super touristy activities for a second to have a look around. Welcome to my (poorly photographed) visual tour of Nara.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Walking around Kasuga-Taisha took me back to the days of my childhood, when I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch InuYasha. With moss growing on stone lanterns, grand (sacred) forests, shimenawa everywhere, miko hurrying from one end on the shrine complex to the other in bright red hakama, and Shinto priests dressed in traditional garb, it was like I stepped back into Japan’s Warring States Period.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

InuYasha was the first anime I really got into. Captured by the magic that was warring states era japan, at the age of nine, I set out to learn more about the country of InuYasha’s origin. From there, my interest in Japan snowballed–It wasn’t long before I was trying to learn Japanese by myself as a middle schooler. I was so passionate about Japan and Japanese then; I miss the days when I could study Japanese for hours and not get tired, when the opportunity to talk to a Japanese person energized me rather than stress me out.

While it’s sad that I haven’t found another reason to study Japanese after coming to Japan, I’m glad I rediscovered my original reason: to enjoy Japanese anime, video games and literature. The sights of Nara sparked a sense of nostalgia and reminded me that despite the things I may not like about the culture, something about this country continues to capture and inspire me. I feel like re-watching the entirety of InuYasha now. (And analyze the Shinto elements of the story…thanks to that Japanese Religions class, I understand more about Inuyasha than I ever thought I would…)