Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Story about Awaji Island (Ruobing)

I went to the Awaji Island during the vocation. It is a offshore Island which located at the south of Kobe area and eastern part of Seto inland sea. It is also known as the biggest island of Seto enclosed sea. Awaji Shima covers an area of 593 square kilometres, and have a population of 170000.

Overall view of Awaji.
Fukura is the first stop where I arrived because I would take a ship to view spectacular Naruto Whirlpools from here. 

Nippon Maru
The ship I took is called Nippon Maru. The whirlpools are around Naruto Strait. Our ship went cross under the Naruto Bridge which is one of the connection bridge between Honshu and Shikoku and had a close look at those whirlpools. 

Naruto Whirlpools are really spectacular, yet the reason of forming them still remained unknown for me at that time. However, I found out the answer later at the Memorial Hall of Uzushio.

In the memorial hall, there was a 3D movie about Naruto Uzushio. The Naruto strait is one of the connection straits between the inland sea and the Pacific strait in Japan, fluxes are twice a day. Everyday, a large number of water flow from the Seto inland sea into the Pacific ocean, then the water flow from the Pacific Ocean into the Seto inland sea. The changing of water level produced ocean current, so the channel between the Seto inland sea with rapid water flow and the Pacific Ocean with smooth flow of water, formed Naruto Whirlpools. 

The memorial hall is so small and shallow yet there are still a few interesting things can be taken photos, such as the Naruto whirlpool’s poster on the ground or the view from the observatory on the top of the building.

Naruto bridge and whirlpools are worthy to see yet the memorial hall need more professional restoration.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A New Language (Sasha)

On campus the main people who seem to speak in Akita-ben are the men who work at the front desk in Komachi (usually referred to as Komachi-ojisan), the ladies who work at the cafeteria, and the man who runs the nearby convenient store, and the students from Akita, and usually the people in the first two groups do not use it when talking to students. Sometimes it is possible to eavesdrop on a conversation in Akita-ben, but for the most part, it seems locals only use it when talking to other people in their in-group.
I sat down with my friend, Yoh-san, who comes from Akita to talk about the dialect, and he was happy to answer my questions about Akita-ben and even taught me a few phrases.
The word ke evidently has three different meanings in Akita-ben. The first for meaning is a phrase telling someone else to eat. (The general word for to eat is ku). The second meaning is itchy, and the third is a phrase to tell some to come here. The meaning changes depending on intonation, context, and accompanying hand gestures. He also taught me nda nda, a phrase used to agree with another person, and seba, an informal word for goodbye. I found the dialect to be very casual, and Yoh-san said that Akita-ben tends to ignore the rules of politeness levels and puts people on equal ground. Adding su at the end of a sentence makes it more polite, but Akita-ben is usually used when talking to people who are about the same level politeness level or lower.
Akita-ben also has a lot of voiced consonance, which means the hiragana characters that can have their sounds changed (by adding little tentens on the right side), generally do. For example, iku (いく), the word for to go, is changed to igu (いぐ). When I tried speaking Akita-ben, it felt very odd. I was using a part of my mouth I don’t usually use and having one voiced consonant after another was very challenging.

When I asked Yoh-san how the local people feet about their dialect, he instantly referenced his parents. His mother does not like Akita-ben and considers it dirty, and as a result, his family does not use Akita-ben at his house. Instead of learning it from his family, Yoh-san picked up Akita-ben from his friends and mainly uses it with them. He said that learning Akita-ben felt like learning a whole different language, which comparing it to the hyoujyungo (normal dialect), which comes from Tokyo, the two dialects sound completely different.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to Show Regional Pride by Giving the Wee Ones a Lovely Fright (A Marvelous Adventure)

First, I would like to apologize in advance for the length of this blog post, because the title might be longer.

Giant Namahage Featuring Fabulous.
To show you all how Akita prefecture records and celebrates its regional stories, I’ve chosen to talk about the Namahage museum in Oga. While the origins of Namahage are unclear, one cannot deny the influence that it has in various parts of the prefecture.

These White Men Are Dangerous...(Well, were they wrong?)
To clarify, Namahage are young and unmarried men who masquerade as ‘demons’ and visit houses around the prefecture during New Year’s. As they visit houses, the men take on the role of their characters and attempt to steal children from their homes on the claim that they’ve misbehaved and dishonored their parents. The children, who are under the impression that they are really in danger of being snatched away, struggle and plead for their parents to rescue them from their fate. The parents are aware of the ordeal and attempt to hide their laughter as they save their children while assuaging the ‘spirits’ with prospects of food and sake while the children ensure both their parents and the Namahage that they’ll behave and honor their parents’ wishes.  Curiously enough, this event helps inspire faith in the parent and strengthens the bond that they have with their children, fostering a sense of filial piety within the children, a key concept in Confucianism.

As to be expected of a museum, the entrance leads directly to the gift shop where one can find all things Namahage, from hand towels with names embroidered on them, to sleeping masks. But once you’ve had your fix of gifts and souvenirs, you enter a hall filled with an assortment of Namahage costumes that are still used in the ritual to this day, however, to preserve the sanctity and unique essence of the Namahage, it is requested that pictures not be posted on the internet.  Once you’ve exited the hall of spirit shells, there is an actual hallway, depicting the various origin stories of the Namahage on one wall, and on the other, the interpretations of the ritual not only in Akita, but also similar experiences in other parts of the world, mainly Slovenia.

Namahage, Amahage, and Nagomehagi. We Are All Part of the Same Tradition.
From there, you come upon an open room with more costumes lining the wall to create a sense of authenticity as a film plays on a large screen in the front of the room, detailing a contemporary Namahage event in Oga.

The museum, while lacking any magnificent size or grandeur, does a splendid job of telling the tale of one of the region’s traditional tales. Truthfully, the size and appearance add to the importance of the substance of what the museum houses, rather than needing to have a glossy finish or special gimmicks to explain its story and importance in the prefecture.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kansai-ben (Eliza)

Title: Kansai-ben

Part of the reason that I chose to study in the Osaka area is the dialect.  I first came across Kansai-ben in a manga and anime series that I love.  A couple of the more major characters are from Osaka and speak using the dialect.  Living in with a host family, I get to hear a lot of the common phrases of Kansai-ben.  Words like ‘mecha’ meaning ‘very’ and using ‘hen’ instead of ‘nai’ for a negative.  Many of the students also speak Kansai-ben and I hear it all the time on the bus.  One of my friends taught me a phrase that confuses a lot of people from other parts of Japan because it doesn’t sound anything like its standard Japanese counterpart.  ‘ikeru’ is kansai-ben for ‘are you okay’.  Other phrases like ‘nandeyanen’ meaning ‘why’ sound at least a little like their standard Japanese equivalents so are easier for people from other areas to understand. Another one that my friend taught me was ‘seyanen’ for ‘yes’.
A list of phrases in Kansai-ben.
While I would love to become fluent in Kansai-ben, I haven’t gotten into the habit of using it yet.  This might be partly because one of my friends who speaks Kansai-ben always laughs when I try to use it.  When I asked why he kept laughing he said it is ‘cute’ when I attempt to use the dialect.  I plan on trying to use it more in the next two months and maybe I can get to the point where he won’t laugh anymore.  There are other Japanese people who are quite willing to help foreigners learn to speak Kansai-ben and I hope to learn a lot more phrases along the way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Many Faces of Akita (Ari)

When I first arrived in the Akita Prefecture, I ended up staying with my parents by Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in all of Japan. It was quite beautiful, as it was nestled amongst the green mountains dotted with hot springs, and neighbored a historical Samurai village, Kakunodate. Of course I was bewitched by this place’s renowned natural and historical beauty, but what caught my attention in particular was the mascots. Everywhere I looked, I could find chibi art of Namahage and Akita Inus, so I simply assumed that these were the prefectural mascots. 

The most adorable mountain god to ever terrify children.
I really believe that this should be the mascot--I mean, the dog breed even has "Akita" in its name.
However, prefectures generally only have one official mascot, so I decided to research which was the official one and discovered that it was a. . . Cedar tree? 

The actual mascot.
As one can imagine, I was sorely disappointed. I suppose it makes sense, though. Cedar trees are everywhere here.

This was my first step in understanding what Akita is all about. A few days ago, I passed by the Akita prefectural hall to find a large sign above the building that had “nda” scribbled across it like splatters of paint, and I could help but giggle at the sight. Akita is infamous for its thick, unintelligible dialect -- a dialect so impossible to understand that even native Japanese speakers cannot understand it. I first experienced this when an old woman was asking for my help (I think) at a bus station about a week ago. If you have ever seen Finding Nemo, when Squirt tries to instruct Marlin and Dory, and Marlin says, in a sort of anxious confusion, “He’s trying to speak to me -- I know it!”, then you probably understand what I experienced. Of course I wanted to assist this poor little old woman, but first I had to decipher through her peculiar Japanese code to understand what she wanted. I still feel guilty. But I suppose that is why Akita’s dialect is the butt of everyone’s jokes -- it is nice that even the prefectural hall can take the time to laugh at itself.

But even with all of its natural beauty, its scrumptious rice, and its amusingly enigmatic dialect, I have found that what I love the most about Akita is its people. While I was in Tokyo, I often was given demonizing stares and treated as a burden. But here in Akita, I am treated as a welcomed guest. Here, people will help you if you are lost, and you do not have to feel embarrassed asking a stranger a question like I have felt elsewhere. People here are kind and forgiving. They treat me like I am human, and I am extremely grateful for it.
Bonus picture: Namahage night mask, because prefectural pride is important.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Finding Pride in Cute Places (Reid Knight)

While it may sometimes be embarrassing to admit, one of my favorite things about Japanese pop culture is the cute characters it produces. This can be easily observed in my room at home, which is filled with stuffed toys, mostly of Japanese origin. In the past year or so, I have developed a new obsession with” Yuru Chara”, or mascot characters created to represent different cities in Japan. Although these characters are from individual regions, the most popular of these mascots have merchandise that is sold all over Japan! Currently, the most popular Yuru Chara is named Funnasyi; he is the unofficial mascot of Funabashi in Chiba prefecture, and is a sentient pear, since the area is apparently famous for its pears. Almost every store I have entered in Japan sells some sort of Funassyi product; I have seen collaborative memorabilia with Funassyi wearing Hello Kitty and Tamagotchi costumes, and when I went to a nearby festival, the stand selling chocolate-covered bananas had even made one to look like Funnasyi!
The banana in question, which I lovingly dubbed Funassyinana.
As the town I live in, Shiki, is small compared to many other places in Japan, I was not sure if they would have a mascot at all. I was happily proved wrong, however, on my first full day in Shiki, when I went to the district office to register as a resident. One of the first things I saw when I walked into the building was a large statue of a slightly alarmed-looking kappa, which I later found out was one of the THREE Shiki Yuru Chara!

Out of the three Shiki mascots, two are kappa, and one is a seal. The kappa I saw a statue of is named Kazasu-kun, while the other is named Kappi; I still have not learned the name of the seal, and am unsure if there is any significance to these creatures being chosen as the mascots. However, all three mascots are present in everyday life in Shiki; they can often be found on posters, as small keychains in the crane game machines at the department store, and every so often, the mascots will show up in the square of Shiki Station.

I was lucky enough to encounter Kappi during one of these times. Children and adults alike seemed entertained by his presence, and there was many a photo-op. Alongside the mascot was a table selling merchandise. Unlike the Funnasyi merchandise ever-present in stores, this merchandise seemed mostly handmade, which I assume is because of Shiki being such a small town. There were also a group of children that looked like they were in Boy Scout uniforms helping with the sales; I wasn’t able to ask, but maybe they were doing some sort of fundraiser with this merchandise.

Kappi posing for the camera.
Outside of just making money, I have seen the Yuru Chara being used as a public health initiative. One day, a machine showed up next to the ticket machines in Shiki Station; from what I can translate, this machine scans electronic pedometers and awards points for the amount of steps Shiki residents walk, which can then be redeemed for some sort of reward. Kazasu-kun is the face of this endeavor, and I was pleased to see the Yuru Chara being utilized in this way.
The Let's Walk! Kazasu-kun machine.
Whether it’s buying a kappa keychain or encouraging someone to walk a few extra steps, it’s clear that the Shiki mascots do hold an important place in the city. But do people truly identify and have regional pride for their respective Yuru Chara, or is it just another part of the nebulous “kawaii culture” often talked about in regards to Japan? I’m hoping to further research this question in the future, but for now I’ll enjoy my Kappi plushie that I could not resist buying at the merchandise stand.
Kappi sitting on top of a Funnasyi plush I purchased upon my arrival in Japan. It seems I have already amassed a small Yuru Chara collection.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Playing with Kansai-ben (Sarah)

The dialect that is used where I live is called Kansai-ben, and when I first arrived in Japan I thought it would be hard to pick up and learn because the Japanese students or other Japanese people wouldn’t feel comfortable with a foreigner trying to speak in their local dialect. I quickly found out that wasn’t the case. On the day I moved in with my host family, I learned that おるwas the Kansai-ben way of saying いる. And since then, being aware that I probably didn’t understand many of the Kansai-ben phrases, my family has explained other phrases or words that have come up in conversation.
Me and one of my host sisters in a picture we took during the super moon that she then decorated and sent me. My host family in general uses a lot of Kansai-ben, but my two host sisters speak almost exclusively in it, so they have been a big help in getting me used to it.
Beyond just my host family, the Kansai Gaidai students have been enthusiastic in spreading Kansai-ben among foreign students. At first (and still sometimes when I’m using a new phrase) I would feel embarrassed using it in my daily conversation because it felt a bit unnatural, but since then I have become more accustomed to both hearing it everyday and using it myself. That is largely due to the fact that when talking to students, they will more than happily teach me new words. If they use something they think I might not understand they will stop, repeat it, ask me if I know what it means, tell me what it means, and then let me try using it. They then will continue on with what they were saying and stop again later for something else. When I use it myself in conversation sometimes they won’t notice, which is good because that means it sounded natural and fit into the conversation, but often they will. They’ll smile and maybe point out that I used Kansai-ben, or often they will just repeat what I said seemingly amused by it. They’ll often be happy and excited when I, or other international students, use it in conversation.

Me and friends from my club, tabikenkyu-bu, on an overnight trip to Otokoyama. I often hear and learn Kansai-ben from them as well as phrases from the dialects of other areas like Hokkaido. On this particular trip, that night, the six of us spent the evening comparing dialects.
To me it seems like most people are rather proud of their dialect and like that it is very distinctive. And it seems like they not only have no problem with foreigners using their dialect, they encourage it and like it when they do. Whether they like it because it is amusing to hear foreigners using it or because they are genuinely happy to be spreading their dialect. I’m not sure. I think it is a little bit of both, but I’m okay with that because it is fun to use, and it makes me feel a little bit more a part of both the school and the general community when I do.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Daily Routine of My Life at KGU (Ruobing)

Enjoying a matcha parfait.

The second school cafeteria, ICC, plays an important role in my daily life. This is an exquisite and lovely Italian restaurant that provide lunch, dinner and variety of dessert. At the afternoon without any class, I would like to go to ICC for a afternoon tea and do some readings. After the tea time, my friends mostly finish their class, and we will gather here to have dinner together.

The way that ICC sells lunch is quite interesting, they use a vending machine. The lunch menu is simple, which include Pasta A&B:

Pizza A&B, Hamburger steak:

and lunch special:

The lunch special will change daily but rest of them will not change. After checked the menu, I will need to insert money then push the button which has been labelled by the name of food, and a lunch ticket comes out. I bring this ticket to the service table, and chef will serve me my meal and give me big smile at the same time.

I usually order hamburger steak with rice, because the steak is juicy and it is a perfect “mate” with steamed rice. If I still have time after lunch, I will order a macha and red bean parfait:

It only cost 500 yen but the satisfaction is doubled. If the weather is a little bit cold, the Darjeeling hot tea with a slice of strawberry cheese cake is also a good choice of providing a spoonful of happiness.

ICC is not only a place for eating, but also a place to observe the life of Japanese people. Japanese people in ICC are not as same as the people who you can see on the street. On the street, most of them are rushing forward with a serious face. But in ICC, I can see lots of young ladies laughing, or giggle or smiling. The time is getting slower in ICC and the air inside is even softer than outside. It is really interesting to see Japanese people to be so relax and sluggish. It obviously illustrates that Japanese people, who is known as being strict and hardworking all over the world, actually know how to enjoy the life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How it Feels to Finally Start Blooming While Simultaneously Challenging the Social Norms of a Foreign Country (Marvelous)

How does it feel to be a small part of something bigger, even when you’re on the other side of the world? I found myself asking this question more often than usual once I started attending the Diversity Club meetings on a regular basis.  For those who might be confused, the Diversity Club is really the LGBTQ Club at AIU, however because the school claimed that the latter is too political, the former name is used officially.

Size doesn't matter as long as you sell it.
Truthfully, I wasn’t ever active when it came to LGBT rights before coming to Japan, and perhaps that’s simply because there are so many battles being fought by the community that I felt very insignificant and useless. The primary struggle in Japan for non-heterosexual individuals is different from those in the United States. Whereas Americans are fighting for marriage equality, healthcare, and job security, the Japanese are fighting for visibility, a service I know that I can offer. Despite my glaring foreign qualities, the members of the club accepted me with open arms, as if I was one of their own, a feeling which I’ve rarely experienced. In fact, I’ve felt far more valued and appreciated in this club compared to the same club at Beloit, and recently I’ve been entertaining the thought that it’s because the people in Japan are aware of the similarities between the lack of visibility for LGBTQ peoples in Japan, and PoC-LGBTQ peoples in the United States, which I can’t say for many students attending Beloit.

The beautiful beginning of one of many gender boards.
Speaking of visibility, as more and more people participated in the gender board activity where they placed stickers where they identified on the board during the AIU festival, I noticed that there were many people who didn’t identify as heterosexual and their gender expression didn’t fit into the binary, yet very few people wanted to discuss the matter of visibility and equality. Yet, many people were willing to write encouraging and inspiring thoughts on the rainbow message board in our exhibition room.

The various messages of the rainbow.
So, while I wasn’t an active participant in the conversations during my time in the exhibition room, I did glean that perhaps most Japanese people prefer to ‘stay hidden’ and play the part that society wishes them to play, and in a country with a declining birthrate, they feel as though their desires are second to the nation’s needs as a whole?

Although I couldn’t play an active role in the exhibition room other than asking people to come inside so the Japanese members of the club could speak with them, I was able to be useful outside in the large festival crowds. Armed with height, a frohawk, a rainbow on my face, and a rainbow board promising discounts around my neck, I think I was able to bring visibility to the club and the message that we seek to spread, which is more than I think I could’ve done if I had remained in the United States.
These signs made me even more popular. Take my picture, Tokyo, I'm the next superstar.
How does it feel to be a small part of something bigger, even when you’re on the other side of the world? Marvelous.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Smile and be Genki! (Sasha)

For the welcome party at AIU, I was delighted to see a performance of the Soran Bushi, a Japanese folk dance that originated in Hokkaido. I had learned the dance before at the Center for Language Studies program, but that performance made me realize it was possible to learn more dances like the Soran Bushi while in Japan. When I asked about clubs that did folk dance, I was directed to Yatose, a club that has an interesting blend of Western and Eastern culture.
The first yatose group photo.
The Urajya Ondo is a fun dance/song that ends with a photo opportunity.”
Yatose is the Akita version of the Yosakoi, another type of Japanese folk dance. The songs used are different arrangements of traditional Japanese music that incorporate a mixture of traditional Japanese instruments like shamisen, flute, and drums and more modern instruments like electric guitars and synthesizer. People dance with wooden clappers called naruko and yell along with certain parts of the song. Two of the most reoccurring calls are “soran” and “dokkoisho,” which probably sounds familiar to people who know the Soran Bushi. Usually members wear a red jacket called a happi, but this year one of the international members designed a new uniform for us. We just got our new uniforms a couple of days ago, and they look amazing, although the sleeves can make dancing a bit tricky at times.
Design for the new yatose uniforms. Yes, we look like water benders!
At AIU, the members are a mix of Japanese and international students, but the practices are primarily conducted in English. Each practice starts off with a one-minute squat. The punishment for being late though is the dreaded two-minute squat, where everyone else just stands around and watches your additional minute of discomfort. All the members are serious about implementing it too. On Friday, when I have tennis club and yatose scheduled back-to-back, I make a point to leave tennis with plenty of time to spare so that I don’t have to do a two minute squat. Oh, I say two-minute squat, but it seems like the punishment time is longer for others. There is one member who is consistently late and has to do a four minute squat while another member videotapes him (ouch…). Even the captain of yatose has been threatened with a three-minute squat. Call it a playful way to tease other members.

I am happy to say that my interactions with members have extended beyond our practices. There are about thirteen members in total, so I have been able to get to know them all fairly well. At the beginning of the semester, knowing the Soran Bushi let me connect with the captain. When the song comes up on her Yatose playlist, we sometimes dance it together. Unfortunately, Yatose does not do Soran Bushi. There is another folk dance group that performs it instead (it’s a boys-only group though). Connecting with the Japanese members has let me learn more about Akita, like that special shuttle that I mentioned in my last post. During Silver Week we got a group of Yatose members together to go to Akita City, and I got to try out karaoke for the first time. The club also has a tradition of having an okonomiyaki party after performance.

At this point, we have already had our first performance, and as I am writing this blog post, we are getting ready our next one which will be for the AIU festival on October 11th and 12th. We will be performing the two dances we have learned so far, Yocchire and Iyasaka Akita. We also know a couple of fun dances/songs too, but we won’t perform them for AIU fest. The past week we have had practice almost every day. Before we start dancing, our captain always tells us to smile and be genki even if we mess up or forget the moves. Yatose is a very genki dance (energetic in a peppy sort of way), and people both inside and outside of the club have told me that my dancing is good and that I look like I am having fun while I dance, which I think are two of the best compliments I could receive. I really enjoy interacting with other people through dance, and am looking forward to our future performances.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Learning new Languages (in more ways than one) (Reid Knight)

When I decided to study abroad, I knew that I would want to join a club at my host institution. It can be difficult for me to branch out in social situations, so having a routine that allows me to get comfortable with a consistent group of people helps me feel more at home in new places. Unfortunately, I found out rather quickly that it can be difficult to access student-run clubs at Rikkyo as an exchange student. Much of the club information is out of date or entirely in Japanese, and although I am competent enough in Japanese to get by in everyday situations, certain clubs that I tried to correspond with over email about joining didn’t seem particularly welcoming to foreigners.
Eventually I decided to get over my anxieties and just show up at the club room of Tebukuro, the sign language club, during one of their meetings to see how I was received. As I consider Disability Studies to be my area of expertise and am always interested in learning more, I wanted to see how much Japanese Sign Language I could pick up while I was in Japan. The name Tebukuro is a play on words- the word by itself means glove in Japanese, but it can also be seen as being named for Te(), meaning hand, the first character in the Japanese word for sign language(手話 - shuwa), and the bukuro in Ikebukuro, where Rikkyo is located.

I arrived at the classroom where Tebukuro’s meetings are held feeling pretty anxious, and I think that reflected in how I was treated by the club members. As the only non-Japanese person in the room, I don’t think the members of Tebukuro knew exactly what to do with me, especially since I came in with no knowledge of sign language while the rest of the club had already spent considerable time learning. Everybody was cordial with me and tried to inform me about what they were doing (in this case, preparing a sign-language performance of a song for the upcoming St. Paul’s Festival), but I still very much felt like an outsider.

Over the next few meetings, I got a bit more comfortable with the routine of the club. As the meetings occur during lunch hour, the beginning of each meeting is spent eating lunch. Then, we either spend the rest of the time rehearsing for the Festival or studying a set of vocab words given to us, then using these words in sample sentences. A club representative always demonstrates how to perform the movements, then the rest of the club follows; sometimes, the club representative will randomly call on club members to demonstrate a sign.

An example of an everyday sign language demonstration at Tebukuro.
While at first it felt like I was treated as a guest, I am slowly beginning to feel like an actual “member” of the club. I’m now included in the conversations that occur while we eat lunch, even if I have to struggle a bit to keep up. The other day, I was called upon to demonstrate a sign; even though I had no idea how to do so, it still felt good that I was being included in this routine. I’ve had a couple of people ask me if I will be a part of the performance at the Festival, and although I doubt I will be able to master the song in time, I was grateful to feel that these club members cared that I was there. All in all, I see these developments as very good signs for my future with the club (and yes, that pun was intended).
A section of the lyrics for the Festival performance. The song is called "Sign" by Mr. Children. The spoken lyrics are above each line, while the equivalent words for each sign are below.
Even though I had to wade through some awkward moments to get to this point, I’m glad that I took the chance showing up for the club meeting that day. I now have a group of Japanese students who share an interest with me to eat lunch with almost every day, and all I had to do was step out of my comfort zone a little bit. Through this experience, I learned that being immersed in a different culture is guaranteed to be challenging sometimes, and those challenges may make you want to not engage with your surroundings. However, by not engaging, everything will become even more challenging. You have nothing to lose by putting yourself out there, so take advantage of the time you have abroad and try new things!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Media Connection (Sarah)

Over the past month, I have become a regular at a number of places near my university. Almost everyday or a number of times a week, I will go to the 7/11 that is across the street from the front gate of the school. When I have limited time to eat lunch I go and buy almost the same thing every time: an Indian curry meat bun, a fruit cup, and sometimes the occasional added bread (with any number of interesting fillings). However, I never got much of a reaction. Perhaps because it’s right in front of the university and nothing about the interaction is particularly interesting or memorable. I also became a regular at a ramen restaurant further away from the university that can only fit about eight people at once, but over time I’ve found that isn’t entirely unusual. The most reaction I got there was the first time I went. I was talking to the man who ran the restaurant, by himself, and his initial reaction was the usual ‘you speak Japanese so well’ reaction that I was used to getting when starting a conversation in Japanese. But after that, when I returned multiple times with other friends there was never much more of a reaction except perhaps that he assumed using Japanese was okay and didn’t try to use English. So maybe the lack of a reaction was a suggestion of familiarity?

However, overwhelmingly the most interesting thing I participate in as a regular is watching the same news channel at breakfast every morning and comedy shows at night. Every morning. My host mom will watch the news, so everyone (the two kids, me and sometimes my host dad) will watch it as well. As the days went by and I got more used to the routine and flow of the program, I found myself being included by my family in conversations about the news and being able to make comments on it myself. They would include me in comments and conversations. For example after the short cooking segment, Moco’s kitchen, where the cook tries his own food and says that it was delicious and everyone at home should try making it themselves, they would say “he always says that doesn’t he?” and then laugh as they imitated the cook’s favorite closing line. Or my host mom would talk with me more about a news story that just came out, sometimes explaining things I didn’t understand.

At night they would watch TV while eating dinner, but unfortunately for me my family members aren’t the biggest fans of dramas, so what we often watched were comedy/variety shows. And like the news, I found that over time I came to be included in more and more of the talk that went on while watching. And through watching variety shows, where famous singers and groups were often featured, my host family has come to learn my taste more and more. Since I’m often excited to see certain singers come out on shows my host mom or host dad (who likes music) will make an effort to put on the music station. And when there was a special program that was showing one of my favorite band’s (ONE OK ROCK) two most recent concerts, they recorded it on the TV for me so I could watch it when I had time. My host dad also offered to copy it onto a CD for me, so I could watch it on my computer too.

So, though I’ve become a regular at many places (conbini, restaurants, TSUTAYA…), I think regularly watching the same shows with my host family has been the most rewarding. It lets them learn more about me and it is a way that I can connect more with them.