Thursday, November 19, 2009

I don't care what language you speak, please don't ever tell me you don't need to study another one. Unless you want to start a fight. Then you've found one.

And if your teacher ever asks you whether you (as a Japanese student) should study English then you should answer yes. Always. Even if you disagree because if your teacher has decided to devote their life to teaching you that subject then they probably aren't going to like it if you tell them it's a waste of your time.

The foreigner and native English speaker who has to grade your papers also doesn't appreciate comments like "Japan better culture has than English." No one who wrote "I agree, I think we need not study English" got an A this week except the kid who thought that "English liking students should study English and Chinese liking students should study Chinese." He didn't like not having a choice, which I totally get.

Not valid reasons for not wanting to study a foreign language:

1. It's hard.
2. Other people should just learn English/Japanese/other (This is especially absurd when you think that Japan is the ONLY country that speaks Japanese and it's not an especially big country.)
3. I'm never going to leave the country anyway. (Way to think big!)
4. "If I speak with a foreigner I will use gesture." (Good luck with that! And I hope you don't have a yeast infection!)

This isn't to say that I don't think foreigners in Japan shouldn't learn Japanese, because it certainly does make your life easier. And foreigners in America should also learn English for the same reason. In fact learning English makes your life pretty easy no matter where you go because it is the international language thanks to British imperialism and American economic power after WWII, BUT just because touristy places will certainly have some English speakers doesn't mean your life won't be easier if you learn some basics.

Learn a language. Make a friend. Visit new and exciting places. The end.

/steps off soap box

Friday, November 13, 2009


Next month I am taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). There are four levels, level 1 is ridiculously hard and I admire anyone who can pass it. You have to be able to read around 2,000 kanji and know some really obscure grammar. It takes around 900 hours of study to pass it. Most people equate level 1 with fluency. Level 4 is the easiest with only about 80 kanji and only the most basic grammar.

I am going for level 3. I know 300-400 kanji and have finished a beginner's course (both Genki textbooks.) I'm not really that interested in staying in Japan past next year but I think a level 3 certificate would look really great on my application to the Peace Boat. The test is December 6th and I lucked out and am scheduled to take it at the university near me. I don't even have to change trains!

I took my first practice test last night and was really worried I was going to fail it since I've had a hard time so far working through my test prep workbook. But I got a 75%. With a passing grade at 60% I might just pass this thing. Obviously I still need to study in order to get that up and guarantee a passing grade but I'm a lot more confident than I was last week.

So here are some more random thoughts about the JLPT -

- They are changing the test next year so level 3 will actually be harder, so it's important I pass this year. I'm not sure I will ever go for level 2. Studying Japanese is interesting but my first love is still Spanish.

- I really thought I was going to be better in grammar since the vocab lists in the Genki books are so random, but it turns out I suck at grammar. Really this shouldn't be a huge surprise since this was (and still is) my weakness in Spanish and French as well. My head does a good job of grasping the overall concepts of grammar but to ask me the nitty gritty details like which particle to use "ga" versus "no" for example then I blank out.

- I know more kanji than you actually get on a test and this sometimes confuses the heck out of me. I'm so used to reading the kanji that I sometimes blank out when I see only the hirigana. I tried looking up jusho (address) in the dictionary yesterday and felt like an idiot when the kanji popped up and I realized what an easy word I had messed up on.

- I studied pretty sporadically before I decided to buckle down and take this test. It's amazing how much progress I've made with both listening comprehension and speaking skills in my daily life here in Japan since I've made a concerted effort to study more regularly. Without Nathan at school to distract me I am going to try to keep up this trend until I go home in the summer. It's a good motivator to have instant results. That's something you don't get when you are studying in your own country versus being in the country where the target language is spoken.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So last year I had Thanksgiving dinner in my apartment and although it was a lot of fun it was also stressful and really crowded, so this year I worked with the Tahara International Association (TIA) to host a Thanksgiving Party at the welfare center this past Sunday. What a difference it made! We had six ovens to cook in and they were big enough to fit a normal sized turkey. Like last year I ordered it over the internet from and had it shipped frozen to my apartment. It just barely fit in my refrigerator but it was definitely worth it.

We had about 12 people. They showed up starting around 10:00 on Sunday. Most of them were ladies from the TIA but we had one guy and two of my friends that I know from school and we had one mom and two kids (one of whom is in the second grade at one of my elementary schools.) I gave a quick run down of how and why we celebrate Thanksgiving in America and then we set about cooking. The original ideal was to have separate groups make different dishes but the timing of things didn't work out so that almost all of them were made separately, but that just meant that everyone could learn how each dish was made. It was a little disorganized but we had everything on the table in about three hours with no major mishaps. Although they did try to set the table with chopsticks instead of forks and knives but we fixed that. This was to be an American meal all the way around.

I think everyone had a good time. The ladies from TIA are especially sweet. I've worked with them before and several of them have come to my adult English classes. But most importantly, I ate until it hurt. And then I came home and took a nap in true Thanksgiving tradition. We sent everyone home with some leftovers, another tried and true tradition. Overall, it was a great party. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays so I was very glad to be able to celebrate it with some real American food this year (although I will say that tako-yaki and turkey last year was fun.)

Making the green bean casserole. They were fascinated by the idea of a casserole. I had to explain that we have many different kinds.

Carving the turkey - this was my first time so I made a mess of it. But it still tasted great.

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner with green bean casserole, stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes with gravy.

And pumpkin pie of course! I didn't supervise this one closely so it came out a little dry because they didn't add all the cream the recipe called for. They were worried it looked too soupy.


Happy Thanksgiving from Tahara!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Last month my friend Danielle and I headed over to Ise and Futami to visit the sites there. I had already been to Ise-jingu and the Mikimoto Pearl Island in Toba back in May (pictures here) but it had been rainy that trip and I had missed seeing Futami so I was excited to go again.

Futami is a small town with not much to see except the Meoto Iwa or 夫婦岩. It translates to the Husband and Wife Rocks. These two rocks tied together with a special rope that ways over a ton symbolizes the union of a man and a woman in marriage. The shrine next to it specializes in selling love fortunes, which tell you almost everything but your future mate's name (their blood type, sign, etc.) I didn't buy one because I don't believe in that sort of thing but Danielle did and she had a good time trying to translate it. We'll have to wait and see if it was correct or not! Either way, it was a beautiful shrine and the rocks are gorgeous too. Apparently the best time to go is in the summer at sunrise because the sun appears to rise between the rocks and if you are really lucky (not me!) you can see Mt. Fuji in the distance. I'll settle for this view since it's pretty awesome as it is.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Calligraphy and Happy Birthday Mom!

Here are some pictures of my latest attempts at calligraphy with Maeda-sensei. I couldn't post them earlier because I framed this one and gave it to my mom for her birthday. I painted 母 or haha. It means mother in Japanese.

My initial plan was to paint 友人 or "friend" but I talked to my parents that morning and my mom suggested "mother" since "you know my birthday is coming up soon." That means next time I have to try "father" so she can have a matching set to hang in the living room. It's too bad that "family" isn't easier or I could have just given her one. ;-)

This one is a fairly easy one to write and I was really happy with the results. The smaller characters down the side are my name. I joked that I should have written it across the top with a "no" so it would say Jennifer's mother. And I got to use my stamp! I'm really pleased with this one and needless to say my mother loved it. Although she couldn't remember asking for it and had to call and ask what it meant. (That might have something to do with the fact that I mailed it two weeks after her birthday so almost a full month after that conversation...oops.)

I bought the frame at the bookstore where they sell frames especially sized for calligraphy boards. Before I go home I need to go back and buy at least one more for myself for my other attempts.