English media lent

A little while before lent, one of the other ALTs in my area was talking about what she’d give up for lent. I’ve never done lent in my life. My family are christian, but not a sect that ever really dealt with lent, and I am not really a man of the faith any longer. Despite all that I thought that this year, a year I am in Japan, would be the time to do it.

So, I did. From February 10th to March 26th I attempted “English Media lent.” One of my goals this year was to do much more in Japanese, and so this suited such goal nicely. The rules were simple

No podcasts, videos, books, comics or games in English for the 40 days.

This enabled me to cheat a little with using social media and reading some internet articles. (because giving up social media is an entirely different situation).

Needless to say I failed miserably. But I learned a good bit from the experience. Let’s go through a few things:

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Overly Goal Focused Japanese

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. A lot of stuff has happened, but let’s key in on something I’ve been building up to, and now finished, the JLPT, which stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I took Level 3, right in the middle, and frankly I didn’t do too well…

But being in the test made me realize one thing, one critical mistake a lot of my Japanese study has had up till now.

I’ve treated it almost entirely as a problem solving skill. Not a pleasure skill. Even though my goal has been for so long to do translation work, most of my Japanese use amounts to things like understanding a meeting, working out where to go next in a game, or to answer a question in a test. Very little of my Japanese gets used for anything not so goal focused.

And in the JLPT, I realized that. Why? Because I noticed the way I was reading, from the start, was simply looking for the bits to answer the questions. Which is fine, it’s a test. It’s supposed to be about that. But then I realized that is how all my Japanese is. It’s finding solutions to problems, and not about just enjoying it the way I enjoy English.

Partially, that’s just a skill issue, I problem solve Japanese rather than pleasure Japanese because I reading and conversation can be a struggle, making it harder to enjoy. And when I first learned Japanese while on exchange, I had to just get things done in the language, no time to actually enjoy it.

Recently though 2 things happened, before the JLPT I saw a film, Bakuman. The film itself isn’t important, but what was important is that it was the first film I watched without subtitles I was able to follow, laugh at, and generally enjoy without assistance. It was kind of a rush to be frank. I was unused to being competent.

Post JLPT though, I was given a really charming little manga, Yotsuba&!. It is a manga about a little girl, and sure, it uses very simple Japanese as expected by children and people talking to children, but it’s the first time I’ve something both interesting to read, but also readable in Japanese. I do enjoy reading, and reading manga specifically  and one of the reasons Japanese was so appealing to me was enjoying the stories without the layer of someone else translating.

It’s a tough thing, finding text to read at your level, that is also just actually interesting. But, I am really glad I’ve reached a point where I can transition from “problem solving Japanese” to “enjoying Japanese.” Although truth be told, I’ve probably been at this point a lot longer, and it was just a case of finding something with the right balance. Here is hopefully to reading a lot more manga in Japanese over the coming months.

 

Year in Review (2014-15), language

I think for every JET, not matter their ability, language is a great and consistent battle.

Even if you can speak well, kanji are a minefield. While I don’t use a dictionary everyday in Japan now, most days I do. And I either consider a victory or day of not enough Japanese conversation if I don’t use it. There is always something that crops up where I need a little boost to work out what it is that is going on. Language, particularly early on was a stress for me. I didn’t really study much in the lead up, and so the first 2 months or so were mostly me just getting used to speaking and using the language regularly again.

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リーンリーンドキドキ, Niihama Speech Contest

So for the last little while I have been preparing for a speech contest! Not in English but in Japanese. As per usual, I usually start with too high a goal. Which makes things interesting, but… also frustrating.

Back in Australia I worked with The Human Library and Working it Out, two great organizations, to tell my story about realizing I was gay and coming out as part of various programs designed to increase acceptance/sensitivity to various minority groups. It is a really good, refined polished talk that I enjoy a lot, although wouldn’t mind adding a few extra pieces. It might appear more in a written form on this blog one day.

But this talk I had been doing for several years, I had decided would be great to do in Japanese! Since Japan has such a large part to do with my coming out story, and is in part one of the reasons this country is so special to me, because it played a large part in me finally accepting this part of myself.

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In order to write this post I needed to be born.

So I study Japanese. Recently, in reviewing various bits and pieces with my teacher, we did ために (tame ni) which translates as “in order to.” You can look at the title for an example.

But, what is so special about ために?Nothing specific, it just reminded me of my favourite language activity I did during Japanese classes at university. I’m going to do the activity in English here because I feel most of my readers won’t know Japanese…

In order to become super fit I need to exercise more.
In order to exercise more, I need to have more free time.
In order to have more free time I need to read all of game of thrones. (because it it taking up free time)
In order to read all of game of thrones, I need to quit my job.

So,
In order to get super fit, I need to quit my job.

It’s silly, it’s memorable. It practices using the structure and makes a joke you want to share with someone. And the time I ran into this I ended up with “In order to go to Japan i need to go to the library” This is one of the few bits of language learning where I very specifically remember the class. Sadly, not all grammar can be used to make such sharable lines. But when you can do it, it makes an impact.

Feel free to do the activity in the comments!

Attempting a new study method.

Recently (yesterday), I have started reading a site called “All Japanese all the time” which generally shouts the same advice to you in many different ways and altering which group it’ll jokingly offend…

But the advice is worth reading, ultimately it comes down to this though… “Have fun and it’s never too early to do what you think you should wait to do. Oh and textbooks mostly suck.”

So basically, if you really want to read One Piece just DO IT, and slave away with that dictionary as you have to. I mentioned something a little similar in an article about learning from games.

So what is my method? Well, I enjoy a lot of obscure anime and/or games that are a pain to explain. Revolutionary Girl Utena isn’t easy to explain to people full stop, but my limited vocab does. So where can I find good, not overly complex descriptions of shows and various topics I might want to discuss…

Wikipedia.

So, I am going to start and see how learning Japanese with the intention to help me talk about specific topics rather than ambling about in the practical Japanese of JLPT that has been tiring me so much over the past two months to the point I have actually not picked up my ipod for revision in 2 weeks.

Make your language learning fun, by making it relevant. Let’s see how this pans out.

General Life update 2 – End of first JET Calendar thoughts

Ok, maybe it is a little early. But given the frequency of updating on the blog it is probably going to be the last major post anyway. Like a lot of blogs, I haven’t updated this as much as I would have liked, but these things happen. I think a lot of people get caught in a trap of not wanting to write bad or dull content, and so put off creating, and then rush to make something eventually, getting the worst of both worlds.

So last night I had a bonenkai (end of year party) with my base school, and have one more day of teaching for the year, which is what is making me think about how far I’ve come. So I arrived on July the 28th and it’s December 23 as I write this. So 148 days, or 4 months and 25 days. That is a long time when you say it as days, months doesn’t make it sound as impressive. So, like the general life update previously, I’ll divide this up a little

Local stuff!

I talked about Saijo Matsuri earlier so go back and read up on it. But it was still a pretty outstanding event I am already looking forward to again next year. Aside from that I haven’t really been too involved in local events which is a little unfortunate really. But I did get to help out with a Halloween party for kids. It was a lot of fun, I went as the pope, and won a lightsaber duel vs a Sith Lord, saw a legion of adorable young Elsa’s and a variety of adorable Yokai.

A Yokai from the impossible to avoid Yokai Watch

 

 

To some extent, I was a little worried that perhaps I am not involved enough, which is true… However, this being still the first few months and me not being the most out there person, I am willing to let this slide for now. But hopefully come the spring I will find myself a little more involved. Even if it is just with the arcade scene in Niihama.

However, local stuff isn’t just going to big things! It is the little things as well. I feel a lot better about the little than I do the bigger events. The local fruit shop in the shopping arcade now know I love their bananas, and that I usually buy 4 at a time. So when they see me they ask me if I want 4 bananas, not the Japanese equivalent of ‘can I help you.’ I have discovered the local pharmacist(s) are actually usually cheaper for confectionery of various kinds than the supermarkets, which is ironically very poor for my health. But at the main one I shop at, me and shop keeper occasionally talk about confectionery.

I have ran into the mothers for many of the students at the primary schools and kindergarten I work with, which pleasingly tell me their kids were very excited by me. (Also they are great for double checking I am buying what I think I am buying) My Japanese doesn’t let me get too far in these conversations, but it’s nice to hear. I haven’t done much travelling, but I have done a lot of non exciting walks around the town, so I feel I have a pretty good idea of where a lot of things in Saijo are and could get between most points without a map. Which, given my dependency on google maps when I first got here is pretty pleasing. I have have a lot to explore, and go to, but I am getting a pretty solid idea of where things are.

Overall on the getting used to and involved with Saijo, I am doing much better on the getting used to, less so with involved.

Language

There are some tough things about language learning in the country. For starters your basis of comparison changes suddenly when you are dealing with native speakers every day, and genuinely operating in the country. What was great in University is barely enough to get through a day at work. The biggest thing though is just trying. While I really struggled when I first got here (thanks to a lack of consistent study through and after honours in the language) I really have improved quite a bit. I can’t quite say everything I want to say, but I can say everything I pretty much need to say, and usually with a few explanations, teachers and staff can explain things to me. I can’t imagine how a JET would cope with anything less than my language skill. (well, I can, it would be a lot like my Toyama exchange)

It is hard incorporating new grammar often though. Recently I learned ~aれば~aほど~b   which makes a phrase meaning the more you do A, B. For example, the more you practice, the better you get. I have learned a lot of basic grammar points that get me through a lot of conversations I need to have… It is important to learn these expressions still, but it isn’t easy.

joshiraku

Social Life

Yeah, I knew this wasn’t going to be a strong point for me on JET before coming here. I spent most of my first year at University with very few friends, many of whom were people who also moved to the same city to study from my old school(s). As much, most of my socialization is really coming from other JETs. Which is fantastic! But I need to make more effort to really develop my friendships with local people and converse more. I have the language to get through work, but not really the language for friendship.It doesn’t help that foreign language conversing is tiring, and so can meeting new people, so often I end up gravitating to other JETs despite ultimately wanting to develop those Japanese friendships more. This is really a key point I want to improve next year for sure.

However, we have had some great potlucks, a wonderful thanksgiving plenty of wonderful Karaoke nights, and sadly some farewell events. All of whom are sorely missed.

Work

Ultimately… I am actually enjoying work. I have had a fairly long run of consistently good classes, teachers feel confident enough in me to manage more and more aspects of the class, and have been really helpful in weaning me in from the earliest classes. Which I appreciate. Two weeks ago I was given the honour of explaining a grammar point… Which I suspect was aided by the fact the teacher in question was losing her voice and trying to delegate as much of the vocal load onto me as possible without making me speak Japanese. To start with each class was kind of filled with dread, because after the self intro classes, I was quite unsure of what I was going to do really. But, by this point I have gotten into a bit of a groove with each class, and have a vague idea of which things each class needs over others. Sadly, I already had to deal with the fact some classes are not as well behaved and certainly you can try and make the lesson better for those students, but that only goes far. Of course I’ll keep trying to improve with those classes, but I feel I fall into a niche that for many students just isn’t appealing. However, for other classes, I feel that what might make me unappealing to some students, makes them want to talk with me. I don’t like to share specific stories, but I can tell you I have one student who is in love with all sorts of obscure horror games and wants to talk to me about them.

bakuman

Bakuman

Bakuman gets it’s own section?

Yes.

My god this is not only a good anime, but this appears to have cemented about 4 positive friendships between me and 2 staff members and two students. All of which took the same action when I said I like Bakuman, they shook my hand. I am slightly concerned this is secretly a cult, but currently I am reaping the benefits. Mind you, as far as manga about manga go, its anime adaption at least is pretty excellent. If you want to befriend Japanese Manga/Anime fans, this seems to be THE media to consume. I can recommend the anime, haven’t read the manga. But yeah, it’s my number 1 recommendation if you want to keep to your cool niche, and have something people actually know.

Travel

Yeah… about that….

I am not much of a traveler despite going to Japan 4 times in total. I am really all about just being peaceful, relaxed and quiet socialization. Which travel doesn’t lend itself well too. I think I do need to make more of an effort to do some travel though, having only been outside of Ehime once since arriving, to Osaka, which was pretty cool. (although going to Hiroshima soon). Still need to plot out my Yakitate Japan tour though…

 

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Gaming

Given the amount of money spent on games since arriving I have done remarkably little to be honest. And when I do I am playing various braindead games as opposed to all the classics I still have yet to play! And despite writing up about study and gaming, I have been slack in even using games to study with. However, I have recently started delving more into the depths of the braindead Hyrule Warriors. The Warriors games straddling this amazing line of being really complex and completely braindead.

I did however manage to finish off this year’s major gaming project, Umineko. Although, as a Kinetic novel, it is not so much an game as a novel. I have managed to get through a few other bits and pieces, but yeah, this has not been a good few months for games of any type. Although import games are getting the worst of it as it is tiring playing an import game, well, only if you are bothering to get the most out of the text.

I will say though that this year’s Bayonetta 2 and Persona Q are two of the biggest stand out games of the year, and if you have a vague interest in either both easily justify the purchase of their respective consoles. I have dabbled in a huge amount of fantastic stuff since coming to Japan; Danganronpa, Persona 4 Ultimax, Diablo 3, Suikoden, Rogue Legacy, Project Diva f2nd, and even some Super Robot Wars. Alongside a lot more, because I have gaming ADD which I really need to resolve a little at some point.

Overall

As the year draws to a close, I am certainly overall pretty happy with my life here in Japan, know what I want to change, and have a little bit of an idea how to do it. JET has been the plan for such a long time, 8 years, that I am glad to actually be enjoying it. A big concern when it drew closer was that I was woefully the wrong kind of person for the job. But as time goes by, I am increasingly confident I am in the right place.