Friday, September 30, 2011

More Self-Discovery

It's been a long time since I've updated, but I feel like it took a whole week to come up with something interesting to write. I don't want this to serve as a diary of each individual, tedious event I experience during my stay in Japan. I'd much rather it be a topic of discussion, controversy, and overall, I want my words to spark deep contemplation of everyday matters or events that a monolingual speaker may take for granted.

After a four-day orientation for Ritsumeikan University, I was placed in the Intermediate Japanese classes. The Japanese Program Director from my home institution thought that I would have been a Lower-Intermediate student. I was really glad to hear that I made it to a harder class, but at the same time I know that means I desperately need to catch up on a lot of studying. It's interesting thinking that once all of the "difficult" parts of being an exchange student are over, it will be fine. In reality though, it's never going to be truly easy. Even if I spoke at the native level, there would still be some things that are difficult.

During my time here, I've grown. I know that much, and it has been almost three weeks since I arrived. The difficulty of every day life is something I've been fortunate enough not to experience in my home country, but I feel that every day in Japan throws a new challenge my way. Last Sunday, a man I didn't know went into grand mal on the Shinkansen. I wanted to help, but didn't know how. I found myself saying, "Train Person. Train Person." The man ended up being okay, but I can't even begin to describe how frustrated I was. I wanted to help him, but I couldn't find the words. The words for sickness, medicine, help, and man ran through my mind faster than I could say them, but none of them fit. The man eventually came out of his seisure, and he was escorted off the train at a local station to receive treatment from an ambulance. It was one of the scariest moments I've experienced in my life, but it made me understand how much I actually want to speak this language fluently.

Despite these feelings, however, I feel as though I'm losing sight of why I'm here. I am still passionate about the language I'm learning, and I'm enjoying my time here, but loneliness is the problem I'm facing. I am not homesick, and I don't feel as though I'm experiencing culture shock. I think this is more of growing up. I'm not around anyone I know very often, and while I have made some good friends speaking English, I don't want to speak my native language the majority of my time here. I want friends, and haven't (excuse me) got the balls I need to just step out and make Japanese friends. It's a really weird feeling, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I know in order to get over this feeling, I just have to do. I can't try. I just have to do. I never thought I would say that my boyfriend is right, but when I feel this annoying twang of self-pity, I can hear him say over and over, "Stop trying. Just DO it."

I need to remember the people I have supporting me rather than worry about the people I go to school with. That sounds a little insensitive (probably a lot), but I really want to make more Japanese friends. I don't want to be less than fluent by the time I leave. I want to spea like a native, and the only way to do that it is to go out and do my damnedest.

I think I will go out tomorrow morning and visit my most favorite place on earth. I'll sit down and just think for awhile and collect myself. I'll ask for guidance from an old friend and learn to control my emotions. I will e-mail a few of the circles on campus and ask to join or watch, or whether I could be a part of their group in any way. I'm going to find inventive ways to study and make a schedule and stick to it.

I've got to get better.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The First Day of Orientation

Today was difficult in a lot of ways, but easier in most than I could have imagined.

The day started off a little worse than I had expected. It was raining from the time I fell asleep until shortly before orientation ended at about 8:00 p.m. I woke up, got ready for the day, caught the bus, and made my way to school. It took about an hour to find the classroom where the placement exams would be held, but I ran into a group of English speaking students who were also lost. Together, we found our way to the classroom and took the placement exam.

First of all, I can't stress this enough: Kanji is so very important. I went in knowing that i was not prepared for the kanji portion of the exam, and I was right. Well, at least for the final part of the exam. The listening portion was way easier than I expected. Listening is the hardest part of Japanese for me because I cannot hear very well out of my left ear. Because the mouth is very relaxed when speaking Japanese, it is even harder to lip read, so I'm at a loss if I cannot hear. But when the orientation leaders gave out the second exam packet, the writing portion, they told us, "Oh, it gets progressively harder as you go along." My stomach sank. I put my mind to it that I would do my best and go as far as I could. I was fine for about seven and a half of the thirteen-page packet. We were permitted to leave after about thirty minutes, and once that time period had elapsed, about half of the room cleared. When I got to the eight page, I understood why. I could hardly read, not even understand, maybe 5% of the page, and that's saying a lot. I wrote a not at the top of the page saying, "PLEASE READ: I have no idea what I"m doing after this point in the packet, so I am just guessing." (I didn't know we were allowed to stop.) But I felt good about myself after turning in the entire packet. Even though I was guessing and trying to make grasp of unintelligible symbols, I turned in everything I had, and I was relieved. I had a headache afterward, but I felt pretty good about the test. (Knock on wood) I just hope that I can get into the class I want.

Tomorrow is the interview, and I'm a little nervous. While I made some English-speaking friends today, I also made a few Japanese speaking friends as well. At least, I think I did. I made friends with two of the SKP buddies, Eriko and Mari, as well as Natsumi, one of Mari's friends. I felt better realizing that communicating with them in Japanese was a little easier than I expected. There were a few times that I had to "cheat" and switch to English, but I tried my hardest in Japanese, and that's all that matters to me. That, and one of Mari's friends saw my Nyanpaiaa anime keychain of the Masamune Date Neko, and she started talking about Anime with me. When I said that i liked Masamune Date, she began freaking out. And when I said, "I like Basara (another anime), too," she showed me her cell phone keychain and talking to me in full on Japanese. I don't really remember her name, but she told me that it is a good thing to be interested in Japanese history. (In my head, thought: Finally! Someone that understands!)

Orientation was a little bittersweet. It means that I really will be here for a year, and that I'm not around my friends from home. I felt alone, but with other people at the same time. It made me realize that I am my own person, and ultimately, I am alone. I don't think of this as a negative thing. I feel that it means I am an individual. I realize that no one is exactly like me, and no one ever will be. I just havfe to be me. That's all that matters.

Tomorrow, I have to do my best, too. It's all I can do for myself. And it's what I owe to myself.

I'm more tired than I want to be when I have so much to write about. It's too hard to put into words, in English or Japanese. I'm not copping out. It's just, this feeling is too complex. Bittersweet. Happy. Excited. Anxious. Satisfying. Greedy. I like all of these. None of them are perfect, though.

Until next time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hamlet Situation

I've learned a lot of things today, but I think the most important lesson to remember is: Put practice ahead of everything. Don't eat. Don't sleep. Study. Oh, and practice kanji, too; it's going to be what you're doing for the rest of your life.

My orientation starts tomorrow. well, probably today looking at the clock, and I feel that I'm not for my placement exams whatsoever. I rewrote all of the kanji from Genki I that I failed to memorize/and/or/forgot how write, but did not have time to review the most recent. I should have taken my studies more seriously at UNT. However, at the same time, I want to tell my teachers: Don't simply encourage kanji! Make it mandatory or take off points when students fail to use what they've learned. Otherwise, they will be lazy and not write the kanji! I know, it's sad to believe that not all students are self-motivated, but not all students are that way! I think that I was pretty self-motivated, but I started to slack off when the class got too easy. It just made life easier at the time. I'm not saying that as an excuse; it's just what happened.


I know I just need to chill, but this is terrifying.

Oh, goodness. Please let me magically remember how to write all of the kanji we've learned thus far. Please. Somehow.

I'd better get to bed before everything I crammed into my head explodes all over the walls. My head feels like it's going to burst.

To study until I pass out, or to just give up? I feel that if I give up now, I'm going to wish I studied more, but if I study more, I'm going to wish I slept. Freaking crap.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Convenience Store Food

I swear I'm not complaining, I think I love Japanese convenience stores more than almost anyone I know, but I have to say:

I want to eat REAL food.

I have been sick for the past few days, so I have not felt hungry enough to eat at restaurants around my area. More than that, I also have not felt like paying for a full meal when I still have some things I need to furnish my apartment. I know that's a bit scrooge sounding, but I'm trying to focus on things I need this trip rather than things I want. (But that hasn't stopped me from making a few small pleasure purchases along the way, namely at the dollar stores.)

I bought some instant ramen for the occasion that I did get sick while in Japan. And while I was hoping this would not happen for awhile, it happened sooner rather than later and with more severity. Typically, I like to eat things that won't upset my stomach when I'm sick, and while I know ramen is not the healthiest thing to eat, it is easy on my stomach. But I caught a terrible cold, so even things that are easy to eat have no taste. There's no satisfaction in ramen because the taste is not strong enough. So now I'm left with eating

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Culture Shock and Homesickness

A lot of my friends have been asking me whether or not I am homesick or experiencing culture shock. I thought I would take some time to answer these question in more depth than my simple one or two sentence posts on facebook.

For the most part, no, I am not very homesick and I'm not experiencing any culture shock. If anything I feel that I am in the shock of living on my own in a foreign country. This is the first time I have really been independent, and even then, I can't say that because I am still receiving financial assistance from my parents and family. However, it is the first time I have truly done something without a solid support group around me, and that has been where most of the shock (or would you call it something like growing pains?) has presented itself.

In my first blog post, I had mentioned that I had been studying random parts of Japanese culture on and off for about eight years, and this is my second trip to Japan. While I researched samurai culture and Japanese music, I feel that it was for my benefit. My interest in things like Bushido and Japanese traditions has given me at least some sort of foundation before coming here, and I feel that it really gave me insight to Kyoto, where I'm staying. This city is so full of tradition in each breathing moment of the present. It's quite beautiful, and I feel that as soon as you arrive in the city, you can feel the difference. But I'm digressing.

I don't know whether my natural empathy allowed me to feel at ease here, but I feel as though I am adapting rather quickly to the Japanese lifestyle. I don't feel hindered, and I'm certainly not necessarily dumbfounded by anything I see. (That is to say,  I haven't been completely knocked off my feet just yet.) More than anything, I'm shocked by the absolute kindness in the people I see every day. I think Kyoto has affirmed my belief in humanity.

One thing that is a little difficult for me is to be around so many older people. At first, it was a bit nerve wracking, because I thought that the generation gap could cause potential problems. Yet, I was wrong. I feel that I am accepted as part of the change of time by the elderly around me. Each morning, I walk down my street and pass a woman that spins silk on this ancient looking machine. She looks out her door while tying the silk to its spool and bows politely. I can't help but smile and bow in return. At the post office, an elderly woman talked to me in Japanese as if I were a native. She laughed with me at my difficulty writing my long address in English and made me feel welcome. I think it is interesting that these people take me as one of their own, while the others fret that because of my skin color I may not be able to speak their language. I feel that a majority of younger women have panicked a bit when they see me step into their shop. This may be in my head, but I seem to be treated differently by the younger generation. This is new to me. It seems as though it's the other way around back in Texas.

As for homesickness, I do not necessarily miss home. For my family and friends reading this, please don't take this the wrong way. I miss the people at home, but I don't necessarily miss the everyday of my life there. I have to say it is lonely where I am now. I miss my support group and my family. I miss my friends. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my pets and being able to meet so many people so easily. I think skype and facebook have become an important part in my daily activities while I'm here. When it gets too quiet, I try to see if a friend wants to chat. Some might call this homesick, but I think I am just lonely. I have been by myself the majority of my time here, and I know that as the days go by, I will still be on my own. Perhaps I will have some new friends from school, but that will not change that I am essentially by myself during my time here.

I've had many people tell me that I'm brave for doing this, or they say that they're proud of me for putting everything aside and following my dream. While I thank them for their kindness, I can't say that I agree with them. It was a difficult choice for me to come here. However, I knew that this is where I needed to be. This is where I had to come to achieve my dream. I don't think I'm necessarily brave, but headstrong and stubborn. I think this is perhaps one of the most impulsive things I've ever done in my life. And I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I think I've put myself into a mindset of thinking, "This is what I have to do," all of the time. I'm not sure if I'm living in the moment or living in a dream. I don't feel settled down.

But I know I'm in Kyoto, and this is where I'll be.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Anthropology and Linguistics

I haven't been able to stop thinking today. I don't know if it's the fact that I feel better, or whether or not my being in Japan is actually starting to make sense. I'll take it as a combination of both and just accept it for what it is. I don't have time for questions.

My inner anthropologist and linguist are emerging rather suddenly, and I find myself at a loss for words when the two do decide to take hold of my thought process. For instance, the other day I realized, "In Japan, it's okay to wear socks with high heals while wearing a short dress. In fact, it's fine to wear socks with flip flops or sandals as well." While the inner diva in me was screaming, "Fashion no-no!" and trying not to vomit, the anthropologist in me took a moment to gaze (probably stare) in wonder. I asked myself: Is it the culture that lets this American/Fashion world taboo become socially acceptable? Or is it not even though as unacceptable, but natural or normal?" I took a moment to think even more and the debate kept circling in my head.

In Japan, it is customary to take off your shoes while entering a house. Unless you are entering a hotel room, public building/office, or other area where a "no shoes allowed" notice or sign is not hanging, you MUST take off your shoes. I've even been somewhat scolded for walking outside barefoot at home in Texas, even though it's quite common there, especially when you're at home, like I was. It's just something to get used to.

Taking the no-shoes policy further, I thought about how important socks or under-footwear is in Japanese society. In older homes, the tatami floor is too delicate for shoe soles, so it was very much customary to wear socks or go barefoot on the floor. I imagine that the socks were preferred because they held in the moisture of sweaty feet and the odor that accompanies them, but I can't say that for certain. If you put two and two together, it makes me believe that this everyday sight stems from that. And in that regard, I think it is quite smart and nice.

I am still getting accustomed to some of the Japanese commonalities of my apartment, but I have to say that they aren't bothersome. Sorting the trash and washing everything that can be recycled can be a bit annoying, but it makes sense. As an American, it makes me wonder why my country doesn't do the same thing. I'm not unpatriotic in the least bit, but when you think of us disposing of all sorts of garbage in the earth just because we have the room to do so, it makes us seem lazy and unappreciative of our land. I don't fully agree with the stigmas attached to the term American when used by foreigners.

The same goes with the language. While I am not fluent in the Japanese language at the slightest, I do feel that I am becoming quite accustomed to the language and how it is used as a whole. So much depth and tradition is attached to everyday words that it feels so rich to the tongue. I am understanding context and meaning, time and place, and formalities along with each term I hear and I'm happy to say it's sticking. I can't explain this very eloquently in my own language, and when I write, I feel that a lot of the meaning paired to words in English have been lost over time. It makes me want to read more Shakespeare.

I could write about this forever, but I need to finish doing my laundry. I am not sure how to make the washing machine finish its cycle . . .

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or musings on this topic. For now, that's all I have to say.

The beginning of a new week.

It's officially Monday here, and I'm starting the week off by fighting what I thought was allergies, and now I feel like it may be a really bad cold. Please forgive me for not updating sooner, but I can finally get out of bed and be a little more active.

I am at my new apartment, and I really like its location. The room itself is smaller than a lot of apartments in my hometown, but it's just the right size for me and my suitcases, so I can't complain. I have a place to sleep, bathe, and cook.

I can already tell that my Japanese is improving. Three days here and I'm already thinking more quickly in the language and finding it easier to communicate with other people. I'm still looked at like a stranger, but I am a foreigner here.

So far, I'm really liking it here, but I do miss my friends, family, and pets.

Now I'm nervous about the placement exam for Ritsumeikan. That happens next week. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 9, 2011


It was a long day of not sleeping, flying, and trying to navigate in broken Japanese, but I'm finally here. The longer I sit on this bed eating dinner, the more I just want to fall over with happiness and sleep until I can't sleep anymore. That sounds really cliche, but I don't think I've ever been this tired. It's been a really long day.

I booked a flight with Japan Airlines, or so I thought. It actually ended up being a flight on American Airlines which was pretty irritating by the get go. Checking in and everything at the airport went really smoothly, but that should have told me something would go wrong somewhere.

The flight attendants were less than polite in their customer service. All of them looked as if they didn't want to be near that airport. I understand that it's a hard job servicing people all day, but they could at least put a smile on their face and be polite. After getting on our first plane, settling in, and preparing for flight, we were told the plane was out of service. We offloaded and waited for our next flight. I went to ask what would happen with our baggage at the next airport, and a stewardess looked at me and said, "You might want to ask an attendant. I have no idea what you're talking about." She flipped her hair and walked away. She didn't even let me finish, or clarify what I was asking. My question was answered very blatantly by another attendant, and we got on the next plane.

To make matters worse, there was a little boy that screamed for about the first hour of the plane ride. I wouldn't be so upset about this if the child were an infant, but he looked as though he were about four or so years old. He was fully mobile, throwing tantrums when his parents tried to set him in his stroller. He hit me in the head with a balloon toy while I was sleeping (without being reprimanded by his parents upon my waking up), and seemed to scream for attention. I might get some nasty looks by some of you, but I'm starting to lean towards child-less flights. I feel bad for being so upset if there was actually something wrong with the child, but it seemed as though the parents were powerless; the kid was in more control than they were.

Not all of it was bad though. I made a friend named Marin while waiting at the airport. She was really nice and is another exchange student studying in the Kansai region. She made it a lot easier to get from point A to B, and it felt a bit relieving to have a friend.

But it was nice to sit down in a row by myself. I got to lie down and sleep the majority of the way to Japan. :D

That's just part one of my trip. I'll be posting more later after I wake up a bit.

Thanks for reading!