Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lazy... Wednesday

I'm finally feeling like I'm on break.
I woke up 2 or 3 times without having to get out of bed, which is fantastic.
I had thought that I was supposed to come in for a research part-time job but apparently today is a national holiday of some form or another- there are many- so I didn't have to do anything at all. I actually had to force myself out of the work rhythm I've been cultivating the past few months just to relax a bit.

Tonight I'm set to meet my host family at their home. We had originally set this date for going to Nara, but I had thought I was going to have the aforementioned part-time job from 10:00 to 2:00. Instead, I'm going to their home. This isn't a bad thing because I love going to Japanese homes.

There is something very distinctly Western about modern Japanese homes but because the way the house is even built is different from a Western style there isn't much actual resemblance other than perhaps building materials. They're always smaller, they always have lots of little curious things that we wouldn't have in a Western home (such as heated floors or Japanese baths, which I'll definitely post about later tonight, as well as kotatsu, the heated tables which are my favorite thing in the world) that most Japanese households and apartments have. These all evolved out of a need for things that Japanese homebuilders never had and could now have but see no need to add to their process of homebuilding. And makes for a very foreign feel to us Westerners when we visit.

My host family has a distinct Tokyo accent but of course the dialect they use is the standard Japanese dialect we are all taught in school. Sometimes the Tokyo accent gets in the way of my understanding them clearly, but all in all they understand that as a foreigner I can't always clearly understand them anyway. At this point, however, my Japanese has reached a point where just about anything can be explained to me, which is a very important point to have reached. I can't always recognize words because I just have not been studying the language long enough in order to do so, but my hearing level is really taking off. My speaking level will probably increase more over break as I hang out with Japanese people outside of a classroom/ school setting as well as potentially getting a part time job teaching English.

I already have two or three language exchange partners, which are great because they are eager to practice Japanese since I'm giving out free English lessons. I do need to start coming to them with a plan of attack though, as I tend to be learning more slang than the Japanese I'll need next semester. Not that slang is a bad thing, either. Sometimes I'll say things that some Japanese don't even know because its very recent, trendy stuff that they are too busy studying whatever to have heard through media.

At any rate- a couple of updates about various things. I am going to have an apartment in the fall when I return home, I am going to take a trip to Fukuoka (next Wednesday! wow, that's soon...), I'm going to go back home also for a week from March 9th to March 20th- should be interesting to see what sort of reverse culture shock effects I experience.

Other than that, I plan on taking day trips around Kansai to check out the stuff I haven't seen yet. I really want to go to the Iga ninja castle, but it's nearly four hours away by train. Seems kitschy anyway:


Nevertheless cool.

Right, I'm off to see my Japanese family. Jaa ne!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Today was a sleepy Sunday, after a long night out with people leaving soon. It seems like I get to see my fellow exchange students less and less these days. We're all hanging out with our host families or friends outside of the dorm instead. The party was basically started by Tara, who is returning to Australia after a short Tokyo trip this week.

Not much else... blog more soon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ah, exams are finally over.

Now I can study what I want, go where I want, and to a certain extent do what I want until school starts... but then my "schedule" is becoming full very quickly and now looking at the next few months, I realize that I'm going to have my hands full with something just about every day.

Actually, its quite normal to have such a full schedule here; especially kids who have been in school for so long. I suspect it's the same for me when I am at home in school, but I never considered the dilemma of the exchange student in learning a language with people who actually live and work here until now. You have to fit with their rhythm of work and play, and thats not always easy. My best friends here are the ones who make time for me, actually.

I have gotten alot from this semester, but I still feel like I should have done something else... Everyone says that my language has improved, but now I face the fall of this year: where do I go from Japan? It began as a goal and not a stepping stone. If everything goes as I would like it and I move as well as begin to teach English, my language should improve drastically.

I suppose I'll just do my best to get through school, as well as try for Journalism interships (and hopefully write for a blog or two) in order to keep up with a degree.

Tonight is a farewell party for one of my fellow exchange students in Osaka. I'm going to try to look reasonably good for this, so I should leave now and get ready...

I'll blog again tomorrow. Bye everyone!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

It's been a very long January. It hasn't been long since the January trip, but looking back, so much has changed- my Japanese, my plans for Japan, and even what I'm going to be doing with myself when I get back to the States...

A good starting point would be one related to the purpose of my stay here. My Japanese has drastically improved in the past month I've been here- When I watch interviews on the news and children's shows the only thing that holds me back from completely understanding is vocabulary, really. I've completed and understand basic grammar with few exceptions. It's a pretty strange feeling, actually. Japanese just felt like an impassable wall for the first three months I was here- I could talk to people, but it was a struggle. Now I don't have to break into English in order to hold a conversation. It's also affecting my English conversational grammar little by little. All of my friends speak with a Kansai accent and I've started picking it up as the rate at which I learn the language starts to speed up. I've also been trying to take the time to review when I can, but I don't want to shun a social life either- they're both important to this sort of thing.

Next, I'm more than likely going to be moving next month to a dorm closer to school. If I walk, the commute will be about the same... but I won't be as restricted as if I live in my current dorm and take the special train I need to get into town- i.e., people can actually come up to my room without paying 600 yen or so. Don't get me wrong, I love the people in this dorm- but the place is a little inconvenient. I feel a bit cheated that I was sent here without my university doing a little more research and without really knowing what it was. I've had fun here but I feel like my experience of Japan was a little affected by the way this dorm was set up. The new dorm is a 20 minute walk up the side of a mountain, basically, from the nearest train station. It's also full of Japanese people- so I'll be forced to speak Japanese when I go home from school/ whatever part time work I can manage to find.

In order to facilitate this move, I've decided to buy a moped. I've got to go through license training and then actually test for the license, and then actually buy the thing. Fuel will probably be around 1000 yen a month (or so I've heard) which is nothing. Doing all of these things will make the summer much more convenient and much more enjoyable, and definitely help my Japanese.

I've made alot more close friends in the past month. I'm quite sure I've made some lifelong friends here and it took me quite a while to sort that out, but I guess that's part of a new situation and all. Unfortunately alot of them are leaving this semester, but moving out of the dorm I won't be around that much longer either. As one of my Japanese friends said, "Sometimes something is really fun but you can't just focus on it, you've got to leave it as is and remember it that way." That's pretty Japanese for a few reasons, but in the end I just think its very reflective of the Japanese mindset.

The last few things I want to find before too long are: a meditation or a temple I can practice at, and an internship in something dealing with media. I feel like even if I was teaching English I'd be making good contacts over here.

My first semester is almost over... but I have seven months left. It feels like its been forever since I got here, and yet like nothing has happened at all.

Over break I plan on traveling to Fukuoka in Kyushuu to visit my friend and more than likely future roommate Nate, who is studying international relations and japanese there. It should be awesome and I'm looking forward to Beppu and tons of onsen.

Mata ne!