School is what’s been happening. Surprisingly, it’s taking up way more time than I expected. Mostly it’s because of my Japanese classes, especially my Kanji class. It’s funny, during our orientation back in Oregon, students who’d just returned from Japan were telling us about how easy it was to be a student at Waseda. I was hearing things like “I took the maximum amount of credits, had a part-time job, and had free time to be able to go out and do things.” Well, I’m not finding that to be the case. Either that, or I’m just really burned-out on going to school. I am finding that you need to make choices on how life is gonna go for you here as a exchange student: either you can do homework during all of your free time or you can make sacrifices and make time to go out and do things. And yes, that’s what I’m doing: making sure that I go out and do things rather than just sitting in my room . I figure that I could’ve stayed in America if I wanted to just do my homework. So, I’ve still been at least going to a few new places, still eating lots of different things, checking things out,…and doing my homework. At the very least I’ve been going to find coffeeshops in different parts of the city just so that I can do my homework at a place that feels “new.”
I think my reason for frequently wanting new experiences is because I am here for a short time only. It would be different if I were here for a year. The spring break at Waseda University is two months long, so students take that opportunity to travel and travel outside of the country, whereas the winter break is not quite two weeks long. I guess I still have two weeks to go before I’ll have been here for two months. That leaves me three months. And school is gonna just get busier. But I want to at least feel like I didn’t squander my time sitting in my room only doing homework. This is Tokyo, goddammit!
The last couple of weeks have been interesting, at least in my head. I’ve been going through different moods. A few days here and there were difficult because I was tired and frustrated because of my lack of language abilities. People at restaurants were not understanding my attempts at basic communication, like ordering a cup of coffee or something, and what followed was usually an awkward silence. I was also feeling burdened by my homework load and other obligations. And some of those moments were making me feel a bit homesick. But then I’ve had these other days where I realize that my time here is so short and that it’s flying by, and that Tokyo is a really fucking crazy big, fun city to get to stay in. I still do wish that my language abilities were a lot better than they are.
Though I haven’t been writing them down, I have been thinking of what should be included in a foreign-language curriculum. Basically, there should be more of a focus on the things that students will actually experience in their first weeks. This applies not just to study-abroad students but to everyone visiting a country. Why the fuck do we learn about complimenting people on their expensive dictionaries or asking “Are you going to the conference the day after tomorrow?” Or “That’s an old typewriter, isn’t it?” Or “Do you play golf?No, I don’t like golf much. I prefer tennis. I really like tennis.” Or: “Who’s coming today? Mr. Tanaka is coming today? Oh really, how about tomorrow. Tomorrow? Tomorrow Mrs. Yamamoto is coming. Oh, that’s convenient, isn’t it?” How bout another: “Did you see Takada-san’s new car? What kind (of one) is it? It’s a German Sportscar. Wow! Really? That’s great, isn’t it?”
In just about every language class I’ve taken there’s an emphasis on first teaching the formal way of speaking. I know it’s hard to pick what to include in a first or second year language class, but anything that’s closer to what people say in everyday speech would be better. There’s been almost no relation to what I’ve learned in a classroom to what is actually spoken at home. And, the situational lessons in these language textbooks are really strange. Like, when am I going to find myself commenting on someone’s slovenly lifestyle, noting how their apartment’s a mess and that they haven’t showered or put away their dishes or that they need to take a shower. That was actually one of the weird handouts I got in my language class here at Waseda, which is an infinitely better program than the one at PSU. While the book is good it still has these situations that I never find myself in. Here’s on straight out of my current textbook:
Ogawa: I will be single from next month.
Ogawa: Actually I will be transferred to the Osaka head office.
Miller: The head office? Congratulations! But why are you going to be single?
Ogawa: My wife and son will stay in Tokyo?
Miller: Won’t they go with you?
Ogawa: My son says that he wants to stay in Tokyo because he will take a university entrance exam next year. And my wife doesn’t want to quit her job, either.
Miller: Well, are you going to live separately?
Ogawa: Yes, but I intend to come home at weekends a few times a month.
Miller: That’s tough.
Ogawa: But, I have free time on weekdays, so I think I will start using the Internet.
Miller: I see. That’s a good idea.
This last comment by Ogawa seems rather suggestive, doesn’t it? Are we supposed to assume that he’s really writing emails?… A good idea, indeed, Miller thinks. Hell, he’s probably got some good suggestions.
Anyways, see my point? There’s still that inescapable feeling of “Japanese-for-businessmen” going on in this book, along with every Japanese language book I’ve ever owned. Maybe I just need to write my own instructional Japanese language book: “Japanese for people who could care less about commenting on the fucking weather,” or “Japanese for businessmen who actually wander outside of the hotel that their respective company put them up in, and who find themselves in situations where they have to say more than ‘I like sushi, but I also like ramen. I like ramen more than I like sushi. But both are delicious. I like Japanese food.'”
As you can tell by what I’ve just written, I’m sort of contradicting myself: either I’m bitching about having too much to do or bitching about not doing enough. It’s strange, I know, but that’s how my brain’s been working as of late. Really, it’s working overtime because of the flood of information and stimuli. Unfortunately, this has not left me much time to be able to write on this blog. I’m usually dead-tired by the time I get onto this computer and start writing. There goes my goal of trying to maintain this thing on an every other day basis. It’s probably gonna need to be on a weekly basis.
My goal is for the next post to be a food one. There’ll be pictures.