May 21, 2008

Word o' the day

The Japanese word for "solar eclipse" - 日食 (にっしょく) - consists of the characters for "sun" and "eat", thus evoking a sense of the sun being eaten rather than obscured. Well, I thought it was interesting anyway.

If any of my Chinese-speaking friends still read this thing, perhaps you could tell me if the word comes from Chinese? Is it rooted in mythology? Perhaps the ancient Chinese saw an eclipse as the sun being eaten by a huge dragon or something? Hello?

On a completely unrelated note:


May 19, 2008


You may be aware that I spent a year and half at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki; and since including my e-mail address in the little box over to the left there I have received literally several messages from prospective Yamasa students asking me questions about the school and the experience in general. So I thought it was time to look back and collect my thoughts on my time there.

I started at Yamasa in April 2006, with the vague intention of studying there for 6 months. It was a big life change for me - I had barely even traveled outside of the UK, let alone lived in a foreign country - so naturally I was a little apprehensive. I had saved my pennies for over a year and had decided to blow them on six months in a foreign country studying funny squiggly characters and talking to people badly in their native language, which seemed very silly. If you ask me why I came here (many people do) it's hard to give a clear-cut answer even 2 years down the line, so I often don't. But in reality it sprang from desires to get out of a rut, gain life experience, overcome shyness, meet new people, and learn a valuable skill to boot.

As a life experience, it strikes me that life in a foreign country is something that is so different, you will never know how you personally will react to it until you actually go ahead and do it. That was certainly the case with me. And that sucks. Some people wind up hating it, some people can't adjust, some people are overcome with do you know if you are one of these people? Well, you're asking the wrong person. However I will venture the opinion that, if you don't have a solely superficial interest* but you are genuinely interested in the culture and the language and in the chance of living abroad and learning a new language and progressing personally, that you are (IMHO) more likely to have a rewarding time here (please note: this statement is in no way legally binding).

*(I was originally tempted to insert a parenthetical rant about anime nerds, geeky white guys who like Asian women a little too much, internet forum-dwelling Hello Kitty masturbators with anime avatars who shop at J-list and whose online posts contain "OMG kawaii desudesu ^_____^ arigato gozaimasu", and other lamentable pieces of fallout of the explosion in popularity of Japanese culture in the west; but I am painfully aware that, as a westerner with an interest in Japanese culture, anything I write will be at least tinged with hypocrisy, and this is neither the time nor place. So I think I've dodged a bullet with that one, eh?)

Anyway, editorializing aside, you've decided to take the plunge and study Japanese at Yamasa. Go you. The school, in general, is fantastic. It's small(ish), the teachers and staff are generally wonderful and cuddly and know what they're doing. I think it's an excellent, enjoyable place to learn beginner- and intermediate-level Japanese (I personally think the advanced levels could use some work, but then I think that advanced level stuff can't really be taught from books but should rather be acquired). There's a real community feel to the place (in fact, once you move outside of the school and into "real" Japanese society you come to realize that Yamasa is almost a kind of porously-sealed gaijin-oriented commune, protecting its charges from the scarier aspects of real life in Japan). Of course, there's the possibility that you'll be incompatible with a certain teacher or staff member, but that's life. Most people, with a lot of personal effort, will be able to attain a good level of Japanese there in a relatively short time (relative to, say, studying by yourself or studying outside of Japan). And Okazaki is a nice place to live, though some may find it slightly dull (in which case go and "study" in Osaka or Tokyo or somewhere, you big party animal you).

Finance is a problem for many and will require lots of careful consideration (unless you're being bank-rolled by your uber-rich parents or something, natch). It is very possible for native English-speakers to land teaching positions (even with no experience), but many people who work enough to be able to subsist without external assistance often seem to do so at the detriment of their study time, free time, and sanity.

And yes, it's not an easy language to learn by any means (espeically for westerners, and the written language in particular)...I've been here for 2 years and I still feel like I know nothing...but if you don't do things because they're hard you'll never get anywhere. Frustration definitely set in for me (feel free to look back over some of my previous posts), and it seems to affect most people, albeit at different times and in different ways. For me it started after about 10-12 months and seemed to manifest itself as a reduced ability to learn new things and think clearly. Personally I wouldn't recommend spending more than a year at Yamasa unless you're the sort of person who can withstand that kind of prolonged intense study. And don't get down because you can't read Japanese fluently even after one or two years. The writing system is completely retarded and (if you are a westerner) your brain is not naturally programmed to accept it. God alone knows how long it would take, 5 years perhaps? Less with solid practice? And the writing...don't expect to be able to write Japanese fluently any time in the next decade unless you're some kind of shodo freak who practices every hour god sends. If you didn't learn to write kanji as a child, you probably ain't gonna, with any degree of comfort (that's OK though, because in this age of the personal computer, you probably won't ever need to able to write spectacularly well, even if you live in Japan...I only ever handwrite my address and occasional memos at work). But of course, everyone learns language at a different rate, so feel free to ignore me.

Also, if you don't have any hard reasons, try to ask yourself...why do you want to learn Japanese? Why do you want to devote precious time and hard-earned money to the study of this language? Are you mad? This language is insane. Sure, Japanese culture is popular now, and everyone wants to watch anime without subtitles or play Final Fantasy before it's released in the west or wants to understand J-Pop lyrics etc (oh god I'm ranting again) but these are superficial reasons that don't (IMHO) warrant you investing the sort of time, money and effort necessary to learning Japanese well. Maybe you'll be jaded and cynical toward Japanese culture by the time you achieve any kind of fluency. And if you're thinking from a business standpoint, surely Chinese is a better option? I don't want to sound negative, or make it sound like I made a mistake in choosing to spend so much time and money learning Japanese, because the personal progression I've made, the life experiences I've gained and the multitudinous people I've met over the last 2 years tell me quite definitely otherwise. I'm just saying it's something that should be carefully thought about.

Anyway, hopefully this long, pointless screed will be of benefit to someone. Feel free to get in touch with comments or questions (as long as they aren't the kind of questions that can be answered by reading the Yamasa website). Thanks!


May 5, 2008


It is Golden Week here in Japan (a consecutive series of bank holidays kinda thing)...though for me it's more of a Golden two days...back to work on Wednesday...either way I have free time on my hands so I thought I'd try and post something here.

It's strange...not to go off on a tangent or anything, but I was just ruminating on how my lovely but recently removed friend John-san uses his blog as an opportunity to practice his written Japanese...and I do pretty much the exact opposite. By which I mean, living and working in Japan, I relish the chance to write something in English, and this blog (when I can be bothered) serves as an outlet to that end. Well, I say that, but actually I'm just incredibly lazy about learning Japanese. So it goes.

Anyway, Golden Week! Whoop-ola!

Since getting some scratch together (a wonderous thing after a year and a half of studentitude) I've been somewhat indulging my irrational love of peculiar Japanese other words I am slowly becoming a vinyl that end I attended a record fair in Kanayama this weekend and spent far too much money on crusty slabs of wax. Though, even saying this, I must commend myself on my restraint, I could quite easily have spent 5 times the amount I did (there was a copy of a hideously rare Tolerance side! On Vanity Records! In practically mint condition! And Kan Mikami's first LP as well!!! And that JA Seazer LP...and and and good God but I need a girlfriend).

While we're on the subject, some time ago I tried starting a music blog, but then kinda lost interest...maybe I'll do something with it...I've got a ton of stuff that I have an irrational urge to post about...

By the way, some tool keeps posting spam comments on my blog with links to pr0n, if you see a comment posted by someone you don't, stay in school...etc)


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