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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just what the sensei ordered: A Mini-Crisis

Of course it's good that the current mini-crisis comes now, not in about ten week's time at the end of the semester, or in October when my final year begins and I realise how far behind I've slipped.

The past week has been a real shocker. Lectures going way over my head. Grammar classes in which I've just burst out laughing when asked for the correct answer to the multiple-choice question - I could barely move my eyes across the page at the speed that the explanation was read to us, let alone process the new knowledge. We averaged one new grammar point every four and half minutes in that class.

The translation class was an utter farce, and I, along with another 'serious' student have quit - imagine spending 3 hours a week trying to get a group of 6 of the most indecisive, nervous people on the planet to decide how to translate "Main Street". You might think that would be quite easy, but you'd be wrong. This is Japan, where no group of people can make any decision without resorting to after-work trips to the local drinking den for fear of upsetting the harmony. It's a painfully frustrating process to be a part of, and one which in our case was ultimately decided with a round of paper scissors stone - have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous? As Glenn commented afterwards, they must have huge paper scissor stone games in the Diet (parliament). The decision to quite that frees up about 8 hours - 3 of which were class time, 5 of which were homework, which incidentally is not actually checked by the teacher as they 'didn't quite get around to it'.

I usually have nothing but praise for Rikkyo University, but academically speaking, this class is a bit of a joke.

My kanji knowledge has slipped to an appalling level. I won't tell you which character I had to look up in the dictionary the other day. I am grateful to one of my Sheffield classmates for advising me on how many we should be comfortable with by the time we get back in September (1500 - they having been advised by the chap who runs our course). The thing is, I just never have to write kanji. Well, rarely. My reading is improving, and my recognition's not all that bad, although I remain the worst in the class (which is admittedly quite a high-level class), but when it comes to writing, I lack the confidence to try out the strokes I think they may be made up of.

I'd like to point out that I do not believe that this is any reflection upon Heisig's Remembering the Kanji - I use that knowledge every day, but no number of imaginative stories can compete with the destructive power of a lack of use.

I will use Japanese at home too. I have slipped.

The biggest problem is that I tend to feel that "there's always time", when ultimately, the only time is NOW. Take my Year Abroad Project as an example. Oh yes, there has been plenty of time, a whole year in fact. And now the deadline is just around the corner.

We recently spent the evening with a very successful business woman, who also happens to be a very good friend of ours. She really knows a thing or two, and has the wonderful gift of being able to inspire people, giving them the strength to reach deep down inside someselves to those energy reserves that they do not usually like to draw upon for fear of failure. Every single one of us has huge potential, but only a few of us choose to draw upon that potential. I have been struggling with this one a good deal this year. The last few weeks I've been on the rocks, after the incredible high I experienced late last year and early this year. I know that I can reach a stable plateau again, one that offers a clear view of the world, a firm footing, and the inspiration to proceed to ever higher levels. In a bid to regain the lost height, I've once again been listening to some inspirational audio books, and looking at the examples of others.

And you know, once you decide to do something, even if you don't know how you are going to do it, things will start falling into place. Bridges will appear from nowhere, a path will materialise. And so it is in this case. This morning, I received a wonderfully inspirational email from my sensei. My God, if that teacher can do all that they are doing and not collapse under the weight, then I can certainly learn the kanji!

I am still occasionally surprised by the way things work out. It's something I've been trying to work on, I believe it is far far more beneficial to always assume that things will work out. I know I've come a long way since my reactionary early 20s. I recall deliberately muffling my anger, refusing to show any emotional reaction to the harshest of news, where previously I would have exploded into a thousand pieces of anger and frustration. As a result of this conscious decision, which I seem to recall was actually a deliberate attempt to wind my ex-girlfriend up, (this was the 2.5 year relationship which towards the end of we had written on the bedroom wall, in marker pen, "If we are not happy living with each other in two months we will split up" - now there's positive thinking for you!!!), I no longer have these great emotional reactions. I don't need to suppress anything. I just try and accept what has happened, and figure out what actions I will take to make the most of the new situation.

Naturally, there's still a long way to go, and of course ultimately there is no end to the path. Kind of ironic that. So many of us (myself included of course) spend our whole lives trying to get to a place that doesn't exist. I find that one a really tough one to work on, as so many things in our lives are designed with a goal in mind, reaffirming the (false) notion that such a thing exists on a larger scale: think my degree, think cooking a meal, think walking a 100km route - they all have their ends. Not so in the journey of life.

Anyway, action is necessary if I am to avoid disappointment re. my degree.

Steps taken in the last couple of days:
  • Have written to the people who provided us with the money to start our translation business and requested details of how we may return it to them as we are not in a position to devote the necessary time to starting another business at present. They replied and told us we can keep as long as we spend it by July 2008. Thus, huge weight off my shoulders there.
  • Have bought a proper electronic dictionary, reduced from £240 to £120 (due to release of new model I think, which has a colour screen etc). The Sharp Papyrus - I've seen it in action - it's mightily impressive, and has the vital handwriting recognition function I so desperately need for looking up kanji. Ultimately, good though the Nintendo DS is, it's not designed to be a dictionary. Whilst the hand-writing recognition function is handy, the lack of a keyboard has proved to be frustrating, and I fall behind in class. I'm selling it on Amazon (dictionary sold separately). ...OMG! I was going to link to it on Amazon, but it's already been sold! I only advertised it 20 minutes ago! Well, that's most of the Papyrus paid for!
  • Have bought a notebook to start writing blog entries and stuff in, in Japanese, by hand. I will then photograph the pages and upload to my Japanese blog. There's no point in me typing, it's my written Japanese I need to work on.
  • Have stopped buying comfort crap from the Konbini, and instead am buying comfort fruit whenever I feel the desire to snack.
  • Have stopped carrying money around with me when I know I don't actually need any. This has already saved me 210 yen (which would have been spent on a scone). This is in a bid to prevent retail therapy, which is intricately linked to the learning process.
Anyway, all talk and no action won't get anything done.

This learning a language business is bloody difficult, but we shall prevail!

love, joseph

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know exactly which kanji it is we're supposed to know???

I'm getting very frustrated with kanji at the moment, because I now have a kanji class once a week which covers kanji which I already know the meaning of, but I either only know the onyomi, or only know the kunyomi, and BLAH. Very frustrating! I want to move on to study kanji I really don't know very well/at all but I feel like I really shouldn't until I have the more basic ones down. Urghurghurgh.

I love Japanese really..

26/4/07 04:17  
Blogger Joseph said...

No, I don't actually...!

We don;t study kanji at uni at all, so I'm just going to try and learn all those in the 2 basic and 2 intermediate kanji books that we started using in the UK.

If you want kanji you really don't know, I'm sure Warbadger has a list of some great animal-related ones!

26/4/07 08:37  
Blogger Shari said...

I'm sorry to hear the road has been growing bumpy for you, Joseph, but I'm sure you'll make it. Learning often goes in bursts. I've not read about it but I'd guess it has to do with how the brain handles huge amounts of new information. I think it probably takes some time to shuttle things into the part of your brain with good recall and retention. By now, you've probably got a pretty long waiting line to the long-term storage area. Be patient with yourself and it'll all work itself through.

If it makes you feel any better, all of my students tell me they really dislike having to read kanji and most are forgetting how to write it. Even the Japanese struggle with it at times and they've grown up with it.

P.S. Thanks for all your kind words about my sites. :-)

26/4/07 18:30  
Anonymous Amelia said...

This is Japan, where no group of people can make any decision without resorting to after-work trips to the local drinking den for fear of upsetting the harmony.

Generalisation much? I understand your frustration with these situations and with that class in particular, but frankly, your writing about Japan of late has become not only negative but disparaging and patronising, and it's more frustrating to read that than it is to sit in a group of four in one of my classes and work out in which order to number ourselves Student 1 to Student 4 - not, in my opinion, because there's a fear of upsetting the harmony, but because appointing a chairperson is common practice in Japanese groupwork, so it seems that university students straight from school lack the practise to function in a group in which no-one is giving out directions.

I was surprised when you started expressing your view of an entire country in this way, and it's genuinely upsetting to see. Japan has flaws, plenty of them, but that's no reason to adopt the arguments of the very national character studies we were warned against in first year lectures. That said, I apologise for the harshness, and I won't mention it from now.

The thing is, I just never have to write kanji.

Do you have any kind of writing classes on your course that you could take part in, even this late from the start of term? I can't tell you how thankful I am that I bit the bullet and took that sakubun class last semester, not least because it forced me to write something every single week then rewrite it once a friend had covered it in red pen, the practise I now expect to get from my report writing class (which seems it will come in handy given the content of Angela's most recent email!). Doesn't mean I don't still have to look up stupid kanji in the dictionary though...

Have stopped buying comfort crap from the Konbini, and instead am buying comfort fruit whenever I feel the desire to snack.

No wonder you have no money in your wallet left for scones! ;)

26/4/07 21:17  
Blogger Joseph said...

Shari - Thank you. Ganbarimasu! Since writing this entry and deciding to make one of those 'big changes' that we all make now and then, I have found studying to be a very positive and rewarding experience. I spent a good hour this morning scribbling away in my new little notebook, looking up all the basic kanji I'd forgotten, and feeling a great sense of achievement when I finished my entry.

I would love to know if English is this difficult for non-native English speakers to learn; I am also curious as to whether it's easier for Europeans to learn than it is for Japanese. I really do admire all my European classmates who speak several languages already.

Amelia: Thank you for your comment.

We don't have any writing classes / homework as such, although I'm very excited about my new notebook!

Yes, of course it is a gross generalisation, but of course is not meant to be taken seriously, to do so would be to take the Daily Mumble for something that it is not, that being something written with the intent of presenting a fair and accurate picture of the world in which we live (although at times I do state that I wish that I was willing to invest the time and effort to make it such a thing).

The Daily Mumble can be traced back to Friday 15th June 2001, when I launched TGW in what I said at the time was a bid to keep in touch with my family, and share my stories of encounters with moo cows in the Swiss Alps. It was actually just a way for me to survive that winter up the mountain without resorting to drug use. Since then, it has accompanied me through some mightily interesting, difficult and joyous times. Never has it pretended to give a true and accurate representation of any place or person. It is just a place where I breathe out.

If people wish to get an accurate picture of a place/situation/person/event, I would invite them to look elsewhere. For example, the second of the three websites I mentioned a few days back (My So-called Japanese Life) provides great insight into life in Japan. Your own site is also definitely worth subscribing to (although you've probably read it all already), as you actually put the time in to formulate a proper argument.

I do object to the idea that I have to censor what I want to say in order to avoid creating confusion, or in order to please any audience, who are ultimately only reading of their own free will, not because I told them to.

I appreciate that a couple of times I have gone over the top, and I remain sorry for those mistakes.

My attitude towards Japan of late could be viewed as an expression of my own frustration at not achieving all I have wanted to achieve this year.

Or, it could be viewed as some badly-phrased attempt to release some of the negative feelings that have arisen in the last few months, in connection with the prospect of spending a long time in Japan after my graduation. Many people have blogged about the different stages of gaijinhood, so I won't bother go into them here, but naturally, for me, as well as for you no doubt, this year has seen a lot of changes in my relationship with the environment around me labeled 'Japan'. I know it is not in my best interests to get worked up about all the daily annoyances I encounter, so I don't. Instead, I write about them here, in order that may continue my life here without feeling like I'm in a pressure cooker.

Or, my occasional patronising and disparaging remarks could be viewed as those of just another gaijin slagging off Japan, you know, in the style of that all-time classic, the Japan Today message board.

To place me into the last category would be a mistake.

We all have hard times, and overcoming the desire to whine about them is a difficult thing to do. I am sorry that you find my negativity towards Japan frustrating, as I do not like to cause negative feelings in others.

However, I won't be censoring what I write. I only do that when I write something REALLY REALLY stupid. At the end of the day, this is my journey, of which my feelings are an important part, no matter how illogical / patronising / disparaging they may be. I would suggest to those who do not like the flavour of the TDM to look elsewhere, there's some great stuff out there.

As you can probably tell, I feel quite strongly about 'freedom of speech' when it comes to TDM, and I do like to defend my rights when I feel that they are being infringed upon. This certainly isn't the first time I have had complaints about content - but at the end of the day, TDM was designed for selfish reasons, and in being the way it is it satisfies them.

Having said all this, I am grateful for you pointing out my negativity. As you know, that's something I wish to eliminate as much as possible from my life.

Ganbarimasu.

26/4/07 23:21  
Anonymous Amelia said...

Infringing upon your rights? I really wasn't suggesting you censor yourself, it was more a "Do you realise that you're sounding just like the books we laughed at and dismissed precisely because of that gross generalisations?" type comment, though it seems I didn't get that across very successfully! My apologies for that.

My assumption from your words was that your view of Japan has soured this year, an assumption based on a few things. Firstly, before you came to Japan you mentioned a worry that knowing the language would enable - or indeed cause - you to see much more of its less pleasant sides than you would like, and whether a fair expectation or a self-fulfilling prophecy, it doesn't seem unlikely to me that it could happen. Secondly, I - and you as well - know too many people, including ex-sempai and ex-classmates of ours, who became more and more put off Japan, the Japanese language and the Japanese people as they studied these things, and for some of whom actually living in Japan was the last straw to break down that wall.

Thirdly, while I understand that blogging often results in more complaints than praise or neutral observations, particularly when used as a space to express frustration (obviously the main reason I keep a blog these days!) if you talk about something for a longer period of time and the complaints come to outweigh the praise and neutrality, the immediate conclusion is that you find more annoyances than pleasure in whatever it is you've been talking about for six months or more. My comments here weren't based on this one post, it was an overall impression of the last few months, through which I've said nothing because I am NOT one of "those who do not like the flavour of the TDM".

In short: I didn't want you to change the things you say; I wanted you to change the negative way of thinking that I assumed you must have to cause the negative things you say. When I said your comments were genuinely upsetting, it's because I can remember chatting with you last year about how much fun Japan would be, and to see that change to your descriptions of Japan and the Japanese today is... I can't think of a good word. Upsetting is the only one that fits.

If your view had become that negative I was hoping that pointing it out would be the only thing necessary for you to notice it and then change it, as I know you would if that were the case because, like you said, you're trying to erase the negativity in your life. As it is, it would seem that I've misunderstood comments intended to be tongue-in-cheek, for which I also apologise.

I think another factor is that you have presented Tame Goes Wild as an educational resource for people wishing to travel, work and study abroad (I know you said there are so many other websites out there on these subjects now that you question TGW's significance in that area, but I've always considered you and your website a valuable resource with a wealth of experience-based information on the subject(s)). As a result, it didn't even occur to me that you might say something tongue-in-cheek that exactly echoes stereotypes that people without much knowledge of Japan (i.e. most of the Western world) take for granted, and against which there is still only a low level of opposition even on the internet and even (sadly, especially) amongst people who are living or have lived in the country.

However, it would seem that connecting the Mumble to this image was another mistake, and again I apologise. Accessing them from the same space, I honestly had no idea that your site and blog followed such different ideologies, especially since your voice, your writing style, doesn't change whether you're relating an anecdote or listing helpful advice, but I'll keep it in mind before I comment from now on.

It's also relevant that I've heard more of the stereotypes since coming here from foreign people, Japanese people and teachers of both types than I ever heard in England, and the idea that Japanese people are incapable of functioning as individuals/telling the truth/lack social skills with foreigners and with each other etc. etc. etc. is something of a hot button topic for me right now, which very likely renders me less able to separate tongue-in-cheek comments from the real thing, especially when tone of voice and facial expressions aren't a factor. Once again, I apologise.

I never put you in the Japan Today category, but for all the above reasons I got the impression that you were heading that way, and that seemed too horrible a fate to watch and say nothing. I hope this response enables you to understand why I wrote what I did, even if - assuming I've understood things correctly now - it turns out to be more of a communication mismatch than anything.

27/4/07 00:54  
Blogger Joseph said...

Thanks Amelia,

No need to apologise for anything.

How much of what I write on TDM is tongue-in-cheek is something that at the end of the day I think I'm the only one that can know, as it's all so mixed up and all over the place - a good reflection of my thinking!

I had never really consciously thought about the fact that my site and blog had such different ideologies, which as you correctly point out, they do. The rest of TGW is designed as a resource for travellers & people who want to steal photos etc, TDM is my private space. It's all come about this way organically and not as the result of planning.

It's interesting that I give the impression that I am / was heading in the Japan Today direction, an idea which does makes me smile. You won't find me going down that road. I'll leave before it reaches that stage!

I think the stereotypes are an important part of Japan's export culture, thus you hear a lot of them over here (he said, adjusting his bowler hat as he looked out upon the river Avon and asked his wife Victoria if his hair was alright).

Despite the impression you may get from TDM, I am having a lot of fun here in Japan this year. With firm foundations made up of reasons why I like the place, I feel comformtable in poking fun at the customs of its people.

Tarra for now, have a happy Golden Week!

27/4/07 08:58  
Anonymous Amelia said...

You won't find me going down that road. I'll leave before it reaches that stage!

That's good to know! :D

Despite the impression you may get from TDM, I am having a lot of fun here in Japan this year.

This is also good to know! I was really worried that you'd come to dislike it and would return home figuring out how to avoid going back for any great length of time! Clearly I've spent too much time with our various sempai...

With firm foundations made up of reasons why I like the place, I feel comformtable in poking fun at the customs of its people.

This is where I think perhaps not reading the Mumble right from the beginning affected my perspective on your posts. I haven't read your Japan entries from your sakura-tinted spectacle years as I think you referred to them once, so you may have already said a lot of things then that would have balanced out the more negative comments of recent months had you been a first time visitor. That's something I hadn't factored in but could well make a lot of sense now I come to think of it.

Also on the subject of things I'm thinking about seriously, I think we also come from different points on the view of stereotypes. Since coming here I've been reading a lot more about discriminated parties in the world, usually on the basis of race, sex and class, so for me making casual comment of Japanese group mentality without obvious satire or some other justification is something I would be as likely to do as make a casual comment about how all religious people are homophobic or all white men misogynistic.

I'll poke fun at the stereotypes with people here face to face, but never when there are people around who won't get the joke and might take me seriously. This is also why I would be unlikely to say something like that on the internet, where Japanese people are exoticised and fetishised by fans of the various aspects of its culture and have almost no voice of their own of which the exoticising, fetishising Westerners are aware.

For me it's not even a question of freedom of speech or censorship or anything like that, just that I feel obliged as one of the few internet-using Westerners with an education about and experience with Japan to present an accurate image to people who don't, even (or especially) on my private blog, where I would expect people to assume that what they see is what they get.

I believe some of the stereotypes are true and interesting, mostly the different customs or communication issues like Japanese people saying no where we would say yes and so on, but there are too many based on character that I consider harmful, such as the stereotype that all Japanese women are submissive gaijin-lovers for the taking (and indeed the stereotype that all gaijin men want a Japanese girlfriend, or that all gaijin men with a Japanese girlriend are with her because she is more submissive than gaijin women and devoted to his foreignness). To generalise the characters of Japanese people, or even any social group of which I am not an obvious member, is something I am highly unlikely to do if I can't guarantee that the people listening will understand the light-hearted side.

Different approaches to blogging, different views of stereotypes, different expectations of communication - interesting stuff I hadn't thought through until today! :D Thanks or the thought-provokement!

Golden Week will be golden with study and distinctly fun-lacking. Hope you can enjoy yours more than I can! [/self-pity]

27/4/07 12:40  

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