May 30, 2008

Soccer Tournament

I'm about to head out of town for a soccer tournament on Awajishima. It's a tournament put on by JETs for JETs to play in. It should be fun. We don't have enough players in our prefecture to make a team so we are combining with the prefecture next to us since they had more than enough players and we'll make two teams. I've been practicing in the mornings for about a week. I know, not much. But it's something. The only bad thing is that the first day, being uncoordinated from lack of practice, when I went to kick the ball, I kicked the ground... twice... harder the second time. And so I pulled the muscle on my shin. And it's been bothering me all week. And then today, I woke up with the worst backache ever. It's a weird pain. But it hurts. We'll see if I can manage to play through it.

As usual, sorry for not keeping up like I should. And sorry for not staying in touch via email and real mail and calls like I should. I'm trying to get that into my habits.

Also, I don't really need to do the kanji countdown anymore. I finished. I did all 2042. But the last few hundred are still quite shaky as usual. It would take about a week or two as I went along for the kanji to really stick. And unfortunately it's been the busiest week ever right after finishing the book of kanji and I haven't been reviewing like I should be. So I will have to relearn a bunch. But I have gone ahead and started my first novel. I'm trying to keep it mostly in Japanese. I'm trying to consult my children's Japanese/Japanese dictionary first before using my Japanese/English dictionary. I've gone about 2.5 pages in about 2-3 hours. A lot of that time is taken up by looking up definitions and then looking up definitions for the words in the definition and on and on. It's kind of fun. And it's really helpful because eventually you get a circle and you can use that to create connections in your mind for the various words. It's exciting to find entire sentences that I can read and understand without the help of a dictionary, too.

Anyway, I really gotta get going. Train leaves in 15 minutes.

By the way, I'm driving a rental car to the island. That should be interesting.

May 13, 2008

All Japanese, All the Time

Just got finished with our weekly Japanese lesson. It was actually our sensei's birthday, so we had a pretty big dinner before studying. We had tacos and coronas and wine and cake. It was a lot of fun. Anyway, I got back home at 11 and instead of going to bed like I should have, I decided to post a comment on the All Japanese, All the Time (AJATT) site. Here's what I posted:

Enjoyed this post. Am still enjoying exploring the vast reaches of this site.

I’ve been in Japan since last August. I came on the JET Program.. somewhat on a whim. (How much of a whim considering the 9 month long application->arrival period.) My real goal was to live abroad and learn a new language. (I studied French high school to university and taught it for 3 years.) But then I got here and some culture shock set in. I think a big part of it was the “what have I gotten myself into” factor since I never really fully considered the consequences of such a move.

Anyway, my studies thus far:
- 8 week community class for business Japanese (cost $300, got through 5/6 lessons of Japanese for Busy People, learned a few counters, basic greetings, and a very simple understanding of how the grammar works, ie particles, sentence-final verbs, etc. - oh in addition to the cost was having all my CDs stolen and paying for a broken window - the class was in downtown Atlanta.)
- Learning the kana on my own before arriving.
- Self-study since then - mainly through a semi-decent beginning text provided by JET

In October, I was recommended Heisig’s kanji method, and I jumped on it after reading the forward. I made it pretty strong through 500 in a couple of months. In December, around 600 or so, I started fading. Then I made the decision that I wanted to focus on input (what I based my teaching of French on). That didn’t really work. The problem was a lack of comprehensible input (and I think I was just stuck in some winter blues and lost motivation. This was also the time when I had to decide if I wanted to recontract, and it was a difficult decision.) In March, I got back on the ball. I got a library card, and I’ve been devouring the children’s books. (Written mostly in hiragana, occasional furigana-ed kanji) End of March or so, I was recommended your site. I was wary at the description at first. There are lot of programs out there that claim a lot but deliver little.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that you were basing your study habits off of the same research that I based my pedagogy on. Most prominently, Krashen’s input hypothesis. (The method I used was TPRS, or more commonly storytelling. You might check it out.) After finding your site, I was actually really upset at myself for simply complaining that I didn’t have access to a teacher who used the method I used so that I could acquire Japanese the “right” way. I knew I needed input, but I didn’t really know how to go about it. And the whole needing kanji to access most things written in Japanese was a huge obstacle of course. Duh, on my own, without a teacher, I’m going to have to put more effort forth, and I’m going to need to find already translated input or establish meaning of the input on my own.

Well, since the beginning of April, I’ve been back on the kanji train. My goal is to finish by June 1st so I can start mining sentences in earnest. I was at 670ish beginning of April. I’m at 1340ish as of today. できるかな?I’m still reading the children’s books. It’s helping my kana fluency at least. That’s something. And it’s helping me get a feel for the grammar and flow of sentences. In the meantime, I’m continuing with the JET text though I’m more just skimming the grammar points, using the dialogues for input, and attempting the exercises without really thinking too hard.

Also, I’ve got my first J-J dictionary, one for 小学生. When reading the kids books, I try to be sure to check there first and only if I’m stumped resort to a bilingual dictionary.

The only thing I’ve yet to do is be 100% AJATT. I’m growing my music list, I’m searching for audio, I’m watching more J-TV (which I’ve fallen in love with!), and I’m re-organizing my bookmarks with all Japanese websites right at top.

Basically, me saying “hey look at all the stuff I’m doing” is really my way of saying 本当にありがとう。While I knew about input and was trying my best to get it, your site has provided me with confidence. Your words have shown me what true dedication and self-discipline are. You have reminded me that acquiring a language is really difficult and requires many hours of work (that can be fun) and that if you want to acquire quickly, you must change the way you live. I’ve had access to all the Japanese I could ever want all around me, and I’ve been living in an English speaking bubble. It’s time to pop it.

By the way, I’m never concise. ごめんね。

May 11, 2008

日本のテレビ (Japanese TV)

Have I told you how much I LOVE Japanese TV. It’s so crazy. Right now I’m watching this show where they sent a famous Japanese TV personality to Europe to get people’s moms to cook for her. They had to cook the national favorite home meal. She’s been to Portugal, Spain, France, and the Czech Republic. She’s got an interpreter, but other than that, it’s up to her to stop people in the street to ask them to cook for her.

It’s for a mother’s day special. But the thing is, they have show’s like this alllll the time. They aren’t doing it here, but often, they’ll have a famous person go out and experience something and film it. Later, they’ll play it for a bunch of other famous people to watch and comment on. And that’s the show. Sometimes, they make it a game, like showing a sequence and then pausing it and asking them what will happen next.

I just love it. I still don’t understand all the Japanese but I usually can catch enough and with the actions get a good understanding of what’s happening. And I can justify sitting around watching TV as my study time. Except when I’m watching the movies. They show dubbed English language movies fairly often on TV. But all TVs now have buttons that allow for them to be heard in Japanese, Japanese over top of the English, or English (or whatever the original language is; I just watched Shaolin Soccer the other day which is a Chinese movie). And you can watch certain news shows with English translations. It makes life a little easier when I need it to be. Except, oh yeah, I’m going all Japanese all the time. By the way, kanji countdown: 800 to go.

Anyway, I’m really going to miss Japanese TV when I leave. Maybe I’ll import it somehow.

(((((Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!!!!)))))

May 5, 2008

Japanese Study 日本語の勉強

So I'm back into studying Japanese pretty hardcore. After winter vacation, I really dropped the ball. Since then, I had a few false starts, but since the spring break (end of March), I've been going steady and strong.

It's sometimes frustrating, because I'd like to learn from a teacher using the method that I used to use in class. But that's just not available. And that method isn't really adaptable to self-study. So I've just been going the traditional route with textbooks, etc. Also, lots of listening to the Japanese spoken around me (but most of it is still out of reach).

I was recently suggested this website, (which is actually based on this website ). The method described there is based on the research that the method I want to learn by is based on. It's not the same and isn't ideal, but it looks like through a lot of hard work, it can be effective and much more interesting than a textbook and grammar exercises (even though I secretly love that stuff).

The first step is learning all 2000 or so common-use kanji. Remember, kanji are the Japanese written characters. (They are actually from Chinese, but I hate it when people call them Chinese characters because they are really different at this point.) Anyway, you need to memorize how to write and recognize them and attach a single meaning to the character. In reality, each kanji represents a general idea that might have several different words in the actual language that it can be used for. But the first step is just knowing a single meaning and the writing. The next step is just getting out there and reading as much as you can and taking the time to figure out the various readings for the kanji as you go. You also will pick out various sentences from what you read and input them into a computerized flashcard program that you use daily to reread the sentences and slowly absorb the grammar and the readings of the kanji. Though you start with reading, once your vocabulary is advanced enough, you move to listening to music, news, TV, radio, etc. from which you can also pull sentences. The goal is about 10,000 sentences. Once achieved, your language skills should have developed "like magic"with no real need for studying explicit grammar rules. Of course, it's not magic and will take a LOT of work. But I think I'm up for the challenge.

I had started the process with the kanji back in October or so. I can't remember. But by December I had decided to put it on the back burner and just do a textbook lesson once a week and just pick up the language from hearing it. So when I decided to get going again, I just had to review the ones I had done and then move from there. It took about a week I think, to work back through the 600ish that I had done. Now I'm around 950. My goal is to finish by June. (Well that was my goal when I counted up the days on my calendar and found that I could reach that goal by doing 30 a day. Not very difficult and a pace that I kept up with for more than a week. And then, the other day, May 1st actually, I realized that I had counted that overlap week that shows up at the end of April and the beginning of may as two weeks instead of just one. So, while I'd like to finish by June 1st still, since that's what I told people my goal was, I'd be ok with June 15th. I know that's more than the week I miscounted by, but I don't want to feel totally stressed to finish. I want to keep a nice pace, but not feel like I have to rush. )

Anyway, in the meantime, while I'm working on learning all these kanji, I've been checking out children's books at the library. They usually contain no kanji or only a few kanji with the pronunciation printed just above (furigana). It's been a great confidence booster to go from real picture books with maybe 5-10 words on a page to books with smaller pictures and 5 to 10 sentences per page. I still need to have a dictionary at hand, but I'm often able to grasp the story without the dictionary. I just use it to make certain and to help add more vocabulary.

Oh and I also just got a children's Japanese dictionary. So Japanese-Japanese. All kanji have furigana and there are sample sentences for many words. This gives me lots of examples to put into my computer to study from and helps me stay all in Japanese even when I'm reading. Though I'll often have to resort to my Japanese-English dictionary.

I'm just excited about learning Japanese again. If you couldn't tell.

Hackey Sack with the priests

Well, it's amazing how much fun life can be when you stop worrying so much and just get out and do stuff.

Friday night went out for drinks and karaoke. We did a nomihodai (all you can drink) for 78 minutes. It was about 10 bucks if you ordered a certain amount of food. Good times all around.

Major headache Saturday morning. Not really sure why though. (facetious) Anyway, ended up going to a castle festival in Marugame with Dan. It was fun. Your average festival. Highlights: seeing the black and white Great Dane and saying "Ushi mitai" and making a Japanese woman laugh. ("Looks like a cow") Saying to Dan, should I get a beer? followed by oh if you see some of those fans, I wanna get one as a souvenir. 3 minutes later a man who was with a dancing group walked up to Dan and me to give us each a fan and a beer.

Afterward, we took a nice car ride up to the mountains for the sunset. There's some pretty amazing landscapes around here.

Sunday: up early and did some laundry and studying. I invited Sandra on a bike ride with me. It was supposed to be a nice jaunt out where I was for the Furosatomatsuri last Tuesday (sorry, didn't post about that... maybe later). We did this walking course that day and I wanted to do it again to take my time and enjoy the view more peacefully and to maybe dig up some plants for my ever-expanding apartment garden. Well, when you're walking at a slow pace and stopping every 10 or 15 minutes for pictures or activities, it's different than biking. I also remembered slighter inclines. Needless to say, we got a major workout. We were out for a few hours and picnicked and took pictures. It was nice. Then back to town. She went home to clean up while I got all my plants situated. Then, Dan picked me up and we met Sandra and Brent at Marufuku in Kanonji. Afterward we went back to Brent's for some Futurama episodes. A nice evening.

This morning: up early and studied kanji. Brent trained to Takase and Dan picked us up to go to Konpirasan for kemari. I wasn't sure what it was about. I just knew it was a soccer-like ball game played by priests that Dan just had to see. So we went. By the way, konpirasan is one of the most famous temples in Japan and is more of a series of temples and shrines all the way up the side of a mountain. So we hiked up about halfway to where the kemari games were held. We were early and got some seats up front.

We waited a bit and made friends with the people around us sort of. There was a couple from Kyoto and they helped us understand what we were there to see. One interesting aspect was the court. It was outlined with stone or concrete-a big square. In the corners were four trees. A cherry, a willow, a maple, and a pine. They represent the four seasons. Then, the priests appeared walking through the gate in their traditional clothes carrying a white ball, slightly smaller than a soccer ball with some stitching and a purple tab.

The game consisted of 6 priests entering the court with a ball. Then they stood in a circle to see how many times they could kick the ball while keeping it in the air. Hence, the hackey sack reference in the title. That's what it most closely resembles, even though the Japanese will call it "Japanese soccer".

The only rule was to kick with the right foot only. No left foot. But as with all Japanese culture, special attention must be paid to form and style. You should kick your leg up very high. The ideal trajectory is high and forward. Also, when serving, you step right, left and then kick with your right. You hold the ball between both hands with the purple tab held by your right hand. You must drop the ball and not toss it.

The reason I know these rules so well now is because after they played a few games, they had several people from the crowd play, including me and Dan. It was a great experience. We didn't think they would let people join in, but they were very friendly and insistent that people try it. They helped us figure it out and played with us for awhile. Then, the 6 of us were left to play together. We managed 9 kicks in a row. When the priests were playing, the highest they got was 30 or 31.

After we finished our game, the priest called Dan and I over and this younger female priest and had her explain that this game is played for world peace and happiness and to please come and play again and share our experience with others. It was very nice. There were many pictures taken and they may even send us a book that may have our pictures in it eventually.

Well, as usual, I don't have the pictures and videos uploaded yet. And I'd like to get a bit of studying done before bed. I hope this is the start of more posts. By the way, this week is called Golden Week. This year, it's not actually a week because two of the holidays fell on the weekend. But Saturday through Tuesday are 4 Japanese national holidays. It is a time when almost everyone in Japan who works in traditional companies get time off. These days, 2 or 3 in August for Obon, and 2 or 3 around the New Year are the only holidays they really ever get. So there are many, many events at all major tourists areas all over Japan. And thus my having Monday off for kemari.

May 2, 2008


Well, I know I said I would be updating more often now. Ha. I really need to make it a part of my daily routine. Post something even when there's nothing to post really. Just random stuff.

Like today. Just an average day. But I did get a chuckle just a bit ago. All the teachers and students wear aprons for lunchtime. When I was getting my lunch, I passed the assistant principal. He doesn't usually wear an apron because he doesn't eat with the students and doesn't help prepare the lunch. But today he had on a playboy apron. It didn't have the bunny. Just some black and white design and a very clear PLAYBOY written at the top.

It almost stopped me in my tracks. I thought it was an interesting choice for a school apron.