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Japanese and me, so far [part 1] (IS 3)


I lived in a city called West Palm Beach, Florida near Lake Okeechobee, until I was 12 years old.  I was exposed to people from around the world that could speak a handful of different languages.  The most dominant language besides English at the time was Spanish and I had picked up a bit just by being surrounded by it. If I drove about 30 minutes South, Spanish speaking skills were a must. I also took martial arts lessons, specifically Taekwondo, at a nearby dojang where the owners were half Korean and often taught the Korean terms for any moves, counting, being sure to keep a continuous blend of Korean and American culture.   In middle school I moved to an area of NH where most people only spoke English and as such Spanish, French, and Latin were offered in the school systems starting in high school.  I decided to go with Spanish, but had no real interest and did not challenge myself to learn the language as there was not anyone to speak with that was a native speaker or at least fluent in Spanish besides the instructor.  There are many factors that play into how I have been learning the Japanese Language.  The more prevalent aspects that affect me in my daily life in correlation to Japanese as a second language are known in linguistic anthropology terms as gender, expert, competence, gesture, community, humor, identity and evolution, yet the most important in my mind is motivation.

I have found motivation an elusive and difficult thing to find again and again.  As far as a second language is concerned the process of learning often stems from some sort of driving force, to get you through the days where things are not working out, you feel like you are miles away from your goal and the only thing keeping you from quitting is some form of motivation.  That can be an internal force or external.  An excerpt from a journal article on motivational factors in consideration to Japanese specifically as a foreign or second language stated:

“…some motivational categories are quite exclusive to Second Language Acquisition; for example…‘communication’ as a driving force in learning a second language. MacNamara, and Lambert and Gardner’s integrative motivation refer to the fundamental nature of learning a foreign language as communicating with native speakers of the language, and as succeeding in becoming part of the community where the target language is spoken” (MATSUMOTO 60)

In this journal the focus is more on the continuation of learning and the motivation that keeps that interest in the subject for every step of the way, even after the academic, in-class level, of learning has passed.  This strikes a key with me as I have never been naturally skilled or talented in the acquisition of languages.  I often received poor scores on tests, quizzes and exams, yet I was always giving it my all.  I could study for 5 hours straight, and get the same result or worse than someone else that studied for just one hour.  An interesting thing about this article is that it is going against achievement theories; such as “you are successful so you gain the want to continue”, by saying:

“the learning of a foreign/second language involves far more than simply learning skills, or a system of rules, or a grammar; it involves an alteration in self-image, the adoption of new social and cultural behaviours and ways of being, and therefore has a significant impact on the social nature of the learner.” (MATSUMOTO 61)

This reasons that success in a second language goes beyond immediate grammatical, testable success, and melds the understanding of these rules with the changing of oneself at the same time.  This is where my journey takes a turn for the hardest thing I have ever tried to do, and am still doing, learning Japanese.

When I was a freshman in high school I met an exchange student from Japan.  He was in the same calculus course as me and he could speak basic English.  He seemed like a nice person and I tried talk to him every day, yet he could not understand much of what I said and I had no knowledge of Japanese outside of “Konnichiha” and “Arigatou” which mean “good afternoon” and “thanks”.  After about three weeks of failed attempts to communicate I decided that I would learn Japanese in order to help bridge the gap between us.  I wandered haphazardly in my studies, picking up random words and a rough memorization of two of the Japanese writing scripts.  Yet this did not help in my ability to speak in Japanese, yet he was improving rapidly with his English ability every day. This was my first motivation for learning Japanese.

Throughout high school I tried to get a Japanese language course integrated into the public school in order to study it in a formal setting with hopes of getting at least a few years worth of study.  This went on for 3 years and then finally I had the chance from a grant offer by the state for new classes in public schools in New Hampshire.  I was in charge of finding a Japanese instructor, students that shared a similar desire to learn Japanese, a time that worked for everyone to meet, and then to help decide how the class was to be graded.  The class was hard and not structured very well, as the kind hearted instructor was used to teaching young children that had already spoken some Japanese and I was the only student to follow through with the class to the end.  I had ended up learning mainly about the culture and a collection of interesting facts and the proper pronunciation of the Japanese syllabaries, but that was enough to get me started.

 

MATSUMOTO, MASANORI, and YASUKO OBANA. “MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS AND PERSISTENCE IN LEARNING JAPANESE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies (2001): n. pag. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. June 2001. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-June01/LearningJapanese.pdf&gt;.

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Mission statement (IS 1)


kansai gaidai, from main gate

kansai gaidai, from main gate

This is my final semester as an Undergraduate student and I have decided to take a look back at my previous semester.  I was studying abroad at 関西外大( 関西外国語大学 )Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, located perfectly in the middle of the Osaka, Kyoto, Nara  triangle, for four and a half mind blowing months.  It is amazing just how fast time can go by; it feels like just last week I was camping on Makino Mountain with a few of my best friends and their family, eating yakitori and sukiyaki.

I will be making a series of blogs focusing on my experiences while in Japan, as well as my reactions after returning to the United States.  There will be many comparisons between the USA and Japan in everything that caught my attention, ranging from nature and wildlife, the transportation systems, and view of foreigners.  I will be incorporating a few stories of my more interesting encounters that left me in a state of bliss and at times confused beyond means.  What more could anyone ask for out of achieving a life time goal?

If you happen to read this and think of any questions, comments, or topics that you would like me to go more in-depth with, please comment or message me.

Japanese Visa status: arrived !!!!


After the long wait I have officially received my Japanese Visa!  I was told that it would just be a small stamp in my passport, but it is actually a second photo page, similar to the main photo and info page of my passport.

This is one of the last steps to my preparing for study abroad at Kansai Gaidai University, Japan.  It’s hard to believe but in less than 3 weeks I will start my journey to Japan.

All I have left to do before I leave is to finish paying my university bill, pack (oh boy), clean/ organize my room, run…a lot!, work, and not purchase anything.

countdown 20 days 😉

“Why do we go to Japan?” [Study Abroad]


 

As I continue to plan my study abroad in Japan I am frequently asked a series of questions by both close friends and family, as well as by complete strangers.  The main questions tend to be  ” why do you study Japanese?”, “what interests you in Japan?” and of course the  “why did you/ why will you be going to Japan?”  One of my close friends that are also planning to go abroad to Japan found an article in The Japan Timesonline called “Why we came to Japan — a different realm” that  really blew me away with a way to explain our decisions.  If you know me and were wondering this, you are thinking about why you yourself would consider going to Japan, or if this is just something you would like to know, I recommend you read this.

In case the link does not work, I will paste a copy of this article by  AMY CHAVEZ

 

“Why did you come to Japan?” We’ve all been asked this question. I still can’t give a good answer.

 
I certainly know why I came here, but such a point-blank question, usually from someone you hardy know, calls for an equal and reticent answer. Thus, we tend to say what we think our questioner wants to hear: “I came to work,” or “I came to teach English,” etc. But our reasons for coming to Japan are likely more profound. After all, most of us could have stayed in our own countries to work. Some of our predecessors came to fight wars, occupy and help rebuild. Others came seeking a better life. But my generation came to study, to teach, to experience or sometimes just to understand their own ancestors.

Some of us are running away from something at home: love, family, or responsibility. Some of us are the first in our family to ever go abroad. Others are living the life their parents only dreamed of. And some of us are doing nothing of the sort. But one thing is for sure: We came to Japan because we wanted to step into a different realm.

We were bright, we were young, we were full of wonder. We wanted to know: What’s out there? We wanted to step off the airplane and feel the first moonstones beneath our feet. And even now, when we go home, people ask us: What’s it like over there?

We came to Japan because we wanted to know what it’s like to walk down her streets, to feel the history of the samurai, or the sexiness of a geisha sashaying in geta. We came to have our photos taken in front of torii gates and temples and to seek the meaning of dragons, giant Buddhas and ancient Shinto ways.

And this we share with others who have been doing for centuries, just like my great grandfather did when he came to Japan. He purchased Japanese kimono for his two young daughters and when he returned to the U.S., he dressed them and took their photos. This brief, unlikely moment — of my grandmother and her sister as young girls, wearing kimono and holding a parasol between them — is indelible in my mind now because of this photo that hung on the wall in the house I grew up in.

And when we arrive in Japan, depending on our expectations, we either reach for the life jacket or we jump into the rescue boat. We either choose assisted swimming, or a complete return to safety. Some of us will be wowed by the country while others will be disappointed. Some of us will be fascinated and intrigued to the point of wanting to prolong the adventure, while others will prefer to retrace their steps, returning to security of home and family.

Those of us who are frustrated because we can’t find the right shampoo, that we can’t do even the simplest transaction at the bank, or who don’t like sucking up to their bosses, will go home soon. Those of us who are fascinated by all the different kinds of shampoo, and will buy even the last odd bottle on the shelf of the old ladies’ decrepit corner shop, will stay.

Those of us who have a taste for seafood appendages will stay while those repulsed by the same will leave. Those who see the language as a challenge to embrace will stay while those who fear the language barrier, unless they find an assistant, may leave. Those who fall in love will stay while those who don’t may leave.

But we all enjoy our stint living in Japan, a cradle of politeness. Politeness, so often a case of mistaken identity, is not the Please-Thank you kind of politeness, but culturally defined by roles, manuals and rigorous training. Walk into any restaurant and the Way of Politeness orchestra begins. Yet some of us will condemn this politeness for its lack of sincerity. Some will insist that a smile should be genuine. So some of us will go back to where we came from, where the people may be more rude, but they are sincere in their rudeness.

Others of us will understand that the fake politeness is exactly the point. We aren’t always polite because we want to be polite, but because we should be polite. If someone says something we disagree with, is it our duty to disagree? Or can we just quietly, politely, accept their views even though they are not our own?

When we learn Japanese, one of the first things we are told is not to use the word hate. It is too strong. And so it is, in any language. Yet in English it so freely rolls off the tongue: I hate fish! I hate school! I hate that guy! Can we be proud of hating something? Isn’t hate, rather, a sign of weakness?

Japan teaches us that there are many ways to act and react. And that we are not limited to our own. We are presented with a plethora of discernments we never thought we had before, notions of ganbaru (doing our best), shoganai (leaving some things to fate) and kawaii (cuteness). We are challenged by concepts long forgotten such as shyness, stoicism, and modesty. Some peculiarities we may never understand such as shrill female voices, obsession with character goods and the next TV tarento. Yet these are the moonstones we’ve stepped onto as we stepped into this other realm. You don’t have to choose them. But then again, you can.

We all had that curiosity — what’s out there?

So when we do go home, if we do go home, we are changed. That’s why we came to Japan.

OK, on to the next question, “How long stay Japan?”

 

 

introish


I had hoped to receive a few major scholarships but I have actually lost one that I have had for the last 3 years.  Thankfully I have my 2 part-time jobs and I’m getting decent hours.

I have decided against a home-stay since I will only be in Japan for one semester and the time spent commuting back and forth to campus would be draining and I think I would miss out on a lot of opportunities.  I look forward to meeting and getting to know the people from around the world in the Seminar houses of KGU.  I still have so many unknown factors that will play into this but I am a cup half full kind of guy and I like to think that everything will work out in the end, especially if you have put everything you could into making it work.

As a Martial Artist I have been considering joining a martial arts club or circle at Kansai Gaidai.  A club is very different at KGU than it is at UMass.  I have heard that clubs in Japan are more like the USA university varsity teams as they have 3 hour practices, 6 days a week.  While “circles” in Japan are more like our clubs, meeting up several times a week but not as often or as intensely as the clubs do.

I am also concerned with my Japanese levels as I think that my listening and comprehension skills are the most lacking, I will likely need that the most.  Who know’s, one step at a time.

realization and desire; my plan


When I was 4 years old I started training in TaeKwonDo in Florida.  I continued for several years, entering in dozens of competitions along the way, traveling, meeting new people, and having amazing experiences.  Then I moved to NH and went a few years before I felt a longing to get back into the martial arts world.  I then moved to Kajukenpo and Pai lum kung fu, training in those styles for a few years and then injured myself, bringing my training to a sudden halt for about 2 years. Then switching back to Taekwondo after I had healed enough to train and getting my car so I could drive myself longer distances without relying on my parents. Once I entered college I continued practicing TaeKwonDo more and more and eventually entered my first collegiate competition.

Let’s just say it wasn’t my best set of results.  But at the same time I loved it, it didn’t matter if I had won or lost, it was about pushing myself and seeing what I was capable of, as well as what others were capable of.  From there I could see just how much work I needed to do to compete at their levels.  I was having an amazing time while balancing coursework, a part time job, friends, and TKD.  At the second competition I was leaner, faster, stronger, and smarter in the ways of competition fighting.  I still had a long way to go before I would be able to compete with the highest ranking competitors from universities and colleges like Harvard, MIT, NYU, UCLA and more, but I was starting to hold my own. Saddly that was my last competition at the collegiate level since, I just finished my Junior year in college and I have recently come into contact with the people I had trained under as well as the people I trained with in Florida as a small kid.

Since talking with everyone I have realized that I could do so much more, push myself so much farther, but only if I was the one who truly wanted to, if I was going to push, if I was going to dedicate my whole self into this.  There is no changing the past, and no use in wishing you had done something differently, there is only now, and the future that can be changed, but I will not let go of my past.

I have decided to dedicate myself to training every day in order to compete on the national level for TaeKwonDo.  I will not, cannot, slack off.  I will eat healthier,   go distance running, body-weight train, possibly weight-train, bike to and from work (6 or so miles each way), and most importantly I will practice TaeKwonDo every day.

My goals to reach are as follows;

-win a local TKD Tournament

-run a 5K

-be in great health/ shape

-compete in nationals

-maybe more to come later

This will not be easy and I will not pretend that it will be.  Yet that does not change the fact that I will give this everything I have.

College Apocalypse; 2012



It is 2012 and the end of the world as we knew it has commenced.  A Neurovirus has been released onto the majority of the students here at UMass.  The fire sprinkler systems were broken into, the Neuro-virus added and then, at the peak of the day, they were all set off simultaneously, effectively drenching the unexpecting and quickly irritated students.  The virus seeped into the body through cuts, scrapes, eyes and even the pores if left on the skin long enough.  All thanks to a junior writing professor and his whimsical mind and sporadic distaste for monotony, a few others and myself ended up outside, sitting on the steps of the Campus Center when this all occurred.  This spared us from the almost instantaneous Zombification process that occurred once the N-virus reached your blood system.

Now what?

 

Hide and Seek on the Moon


Pure silence.

Trying not to make a sound in this frozen world the boy opened his mouth wide to slowly let his breath out.  A faint puff of his misted breath hovered and then it too was gone, hiding from view.  KATOOOOOM! A sudden earth shattering explosion sent rocks and moon dust splintering through the air.  The creature had found him.  When you get tagged on the moon, there is no next time, there is only the end.

Underwater martial arts competition; wouldn’t that be fun?


   Hajime! It starts with the officials shout, as the two competitors flip off the edge of their floating start points.  The two fighters become one with the water, swirling, pushing, and pulling at the crystal clear fluid.  Strength is not the most important part of this battle, staying calm; using specific movements to manipulate oneself through the pressure of 50 feet of water is a particular skill.  When the pair finally meets, an elegant series of movements ensues.  A flick of the foot can save you from a kick and a swing of the arm can leave you open to penetrating strikes.  One mistake and you may be left out of breath, 50 feet underwater with nowhere to go.

If I knew anyone with access to a nice underwater camera and a pool, or even some form of a clear water source, I would be all for underwater action photo shoots.  Add in some random spontaneity, passion, and fun and my happiness would be absolute. Until I tried to top it the next day of course.

I would be excited and worried for the opportunity to compete in an underwater martial arts competition.  I’m not sure if this would be feasible in consideration of only forms or if sparring would be included.  Either way, it makes me energized just thinking about it.

Peace & Munch


It’s a perfect spring day, a crisp, yet relaxing breeze rolls in through the window.  Not cold enough for a coat, yet not hot enough to turn on a fan.  Pristine.  The time of the day doesn’t matter, although a nice early morning feel is always there. All of the day’s worry, anguish, and exhaustion just get swept away with every passing moment. Reaching the point of being lulled to sleep by the distant chirps of a bird.  Then…

“CRUNCH!”

“Munch…snap…muchity, crunchity, crunch!” echoes through the mind like poison.  Leaking through the cracks, hardening and binding everything it touches.  My eyes bulge open as if nails are clawing at a chalkboard’s face.  Body rigid, I turn to see my roommate, on the other side of the room.  Large carnivorous spiders latched to his ears, blocking out the world to all but the secluded pulsations of the metallic sheet centimeters from his ears.  He turns just enough for me to see his mouth full of apple, opening then shutting, again and again! The munching has now turned to mushing, agonizing chomping and tongue taping as if it were a special skill to be celebrated.

If only the spiders would do as the should.