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Alive and well.

March 11, 2011

I’ve been off the radar for a while trying to study Japanese more intensely. However with today’s 8.9 earthquake, I thought that I’d just pop online to let everyone know that I’m still alive and well.

I’m on the west coast of the southern island of Kyushu (pronounced “Q-shoe”), which is about as far as you can get away from the epicenter. On the emergency maps on the news, I am in a no risk area. I felt nothing as I was walking home from school.

According to the Japanese news, there have actually been a sequence of earthquakes along the northern coast of Honshu (“hawn-shoe”) measuring around 8.8, 7.8, and 5.6 (there were around 7 epicenters on the graphic I saw, but didn’t get to count them all before the video changed), these will probably be classified as aftershocks, but they were really strong. Japan gets a lot of earthquakes, so their news department is really on top of developments. Currently they’re showing the relatively light damage from the quakes and the total devastation caused by the subsequent tsunamis which have swept across the coastline. Compounding this is the the fact that night has fallen, so all emergency work must be done in the dark.

It’s hard to get a full picture of the situation as my poor Japanese ability can’t keep up with the rapid fire news hosts. From the way it looks on the news, it’s going to be pretty devastating.

School Update

November 1, 2010

Sorry for the long delay. Here is some news to report about my life here in Japan.

The new semester has started, and I’ve gone from the worst student in class to one of the best. That’s because I’ve been held back a term, not because I’ve suddenly started to excel in Japanese. Actually, in a way, I have started to excel.

Just after my last post, I realized that I was hopelessly slipping behind the class. I decided to spend even more time studying, which meant that I had less time for blogs, but could keep up with the class in vocabulary and grammar lessons. However, I was unable to internalize the grammar. Listening was also a problem for me, I couldn’t understand the lectures (which are all spoken in Japanese) at all, I learned everything about the grammar from reading the textbook. I suppose it’s like learning to ride a bike, you can be told how to do it, but proficiency only comes after you’ve developed a “feel” for it. As I slipped farther and farther behind, I concentrated on just trying to learn the lessons so that I’d be familiar with the material for next time.

Strangely, there was a day, which I remember clearly, when I had my first useful conversation with someone. I had managed to get on the wrong bus (actually, the right bus number, but for some reason some of the buses from the same stop turn right towards my apartment, and some turn left and stop a the Fukuoka Tower; I still don’t understand it) and had a short conversation with the driver about how to get where I was going. I was so shocked that I was able to communicate by easily forming simple sentences in my head. From this day on, I’ve felt like I’ve been rapidly improving my speaking skills. Looking back on it, it is easy to think that there was a moment where a switch was flipped, and I was able to start understanding things. However, thinking more carefully, I’m able to see that it was more of a gradual process; like water being boiled on a stove, I was always learning, but it wasn’t apparent until little bubbles started to form.

This occurred just two weeks before the end of the semester, so it was impossible for me to recover the lost ground. I realize now that this moment hit most of the rest of the class about two to three months into the course, and that they were fully comprehending the lesson lectures while I was relying more and more upon reading the book.

Anyway, as this is my second semester, I am now starting to understand the way the school works. Every semester, they look at each student’s ability and try to place them into class groups. This is easy for continuing students, but new students usually have a set of knowledge which is not in line with the course material. For this reason, we now have two beginning classes, E1 and E2. E1 is for people who have never studied Japanese before, and they are moving quite slowly (slower than last semester’s E class), which is to say, they are going at a normal learning pace. E2 is for students, like me, who have learned quite a bit of Japanese, but still aren’t at the level of the D class (Classes are ranked from A – E, with A being the most advanced; currently, there is no A class). We are flying through the material, much faster than we did last semester. We are scheduled to finish the first book before the end of the second month. At this rate we’ll finish the second book two months later. Will we get a third set of books, or will the pace slow down?

Failing has been the best thing that has ever happened to me while studying Japanese. I’m really enjoying the class this time around. Whereas I was in a complete panic trying to keep up last time, I am in the unique position of having covered all of this material before, and I completely understand my lectures, which is a first for me. I find, oddly, that I’m much more motivated now, with some success, than I was before when I had to work hard just to keep up. I’m spending extra time studying after class and helping out the students from the E1 class.

I hope that I’ll be able to maintain this lead on the subject matter, as it has such a positive effect on my learning attitude.

Whale Wars

July 4, 2010

My friend Kyle wrote an email asking about the Japanese opinion on the Whale Wars. I was going to just reply to him, but as my letter became lengthier, I decided that perhaps it would be better to share with a larger audience.

First some disclaimers: I have only talked to a few people about whaling, all of them have been totally unaware that Japan is hunting whales. I’ve followed it in the news, but since the Japanese used in newspapers is far above my level, I’ve only been able to read translations or articles written by native English speakers. The latter being heavily biased against whaling. With that in mind, you could probably spend a few hours surfing the Internet and learn everything I’m about to tell you. Think of this as sort of an overview of a topic you may be unaware of.

In the same way that people in the US have a mental disconnect between the meat in the supermarket and the fact that it comes from living animals on a farm somewhere, so too do the Japanese have a disconnect between whale meat and the whale. Although aware that you can find the meat in some markets, the source of the meat is somewhat of an unknown. The people I’ve talked to about it are totally unaware that Japan is hunting whales in the Antarctic. They are, however, aware that there is controversy around the topic of Japan and whales.

For those of you who don’t know, despite a global ban on whaling, Japan is one of three countries still engaged in the practice. They hunt in Antarctica killing about 900 whales which are then sold as meat. The Japanese are exploiting a loophole in the ban which allows a limitless killing of whales for scientific research purposes. This works because the ban was designed to stop commercial whaling, yet not impede scientific research.

It’s obvious to everyone that the “research” is farce (even Japan makes no secret of the fact that the whales are sold for meat), and that there is no scientific value to killing 900 whales which you couldn’t get from killing just 9. However legal loopholes are in vogue (a la Guantanamo), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Japan is hiding behind this claim.

Another tactic which has been employed is vote buying of poor nations who are members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan recently had a scandal break over this, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the anti-whaling camp has been doing a bit of this themselves. The hope for Japan is to lift the ban and set reasonable quotas.

The “war” part of the whale wars refers primarily to the efforts of the Sea Shepard environmental group which has been using their ships to harass the Japanese whaling fleet. The activists have been doing all kinds of things like ramming ships, throwing chemicals at people, and in the latest round, boarding ships with knives (this last bit was only done once, see the next paragraph). Meanwhile the Japanese have resorted to water cannons, as self defense, to fend them off. I don’t see it as much of a stretch to say that the Sea Shepard group has been engaging in tactics which could get them branded as terrorists. On the other hand, they seem to be the only people who care about Japan’s activities, and they have been wholly successful in bringing it to light. The latest news is that Australia and New Zealand are contemplating legal action against Japan over the whaling activities.

The whale war hit a new high recently when a whaling ship struck a smaller protest vessel, crippling it, which eventually lead to its sinking (this was bound to happen sooner or later). Both sides blame each other. The video of the event is inconclusive, the protest vessel is clearly lying in the path of the whaling vessel. When it became apparent that the whaling vessel was not going to maneuver to avoid collision, the protest vessel attempted to do so, much too late, and it appears that the first burst form the engines was to propel it farther into the path of the oncoming ship before switching to reverse. Not that it matters much since the vessel would have been hit anyway, but perhaps the damage might have been less. My understanding of maritime law suggests that the protesters were more in the wrong for intentionally placing their vessel in the path of another less maneuverable vessel, possibly engaged in fishing activities, at the time, which would farther restrict their maneuverability.

Enraged about this, the captain of one of the Sea Shepard vessels decided to throw rationality (and sanity) to the wind and boarded one of the whaling ships in the dead of night armed with a knife. He was arrested and held on the whaling ship until they returned to Japan. He is currently being tried for various crimes (along the lines of obstruction and trespassing) to which he has plead guilty, with the sole exception of an attempted murder charge. Japan also placed the founder and CEO of the Sea Shepard organization on the Interpol watch list.

I have not seen a lot on the whale wars in the Japanese press. Other than reporting the facts of the case, the news has remained pretty silent about the issue. Instead they focus more on the policy angle. I think that this is one of the reasons why the Japanese I’ve talked to don’t know much about their country’s whaling. I did however read a Japanese article where the Japanese whalers were quite upset that this year’s catch was only 450 whales.

The only articles I’ve seen which appear to be written by Japanese writers are basically of the sentiment that whales are like any other food source. They claim that their hunt is sustainable, and no one has claimed that Japan is hunting endangered species. There is, however, a bit of debate over what the correct numbers are for sustainability since neither side has any way of accurately counting whale populations, let alone agreeing on a number of permissible kills. The articles further state that the anti-whaling camp has turned whales into sacred cows (quite literally), among their claims, that whales are so intelligent that killing them should be considered murder. The Japanese feel that the whale is no more special than a pig, which is also quite intelligent, yet not surrounded by controversy. Their feeling is that western cultures are trying to impose their social values on Japan.

Perhaps the most ironic twist to this whole affair is that Japanese don’t even like whale meat that much. The people I’ve talked to have all tried whale, but don’t eat it on a regular basis. It’s like eating ostrich burgers, you might try it once or twice if it is offered, but you probably won’t seek it out. Historically speaking, whale has been a part of the diet of the Japanese for a long time, but it was hardly a common meal. Catches seem to have been mostly based on the luck of finding a distressed whale. The large scale hunting didn’t start until after World War II, well after the western nations had already fished the whale populations into the danger zone. The reason for the sudden interest in whale was simple; war devastated Japan was unable to feed it’s literally starving post war population. Whale became a standard school lunch item. In fact, this, over anything else, seems to be the major reason for whale consumption, the large, and now quite elderly population waxing nostalgic of their youthful school days.

Most accounts of the meat describe it as a little tough and oily. The whale sashimi is said to be quite good though. The problem, however, is that the whales are caught and frozen in Antarctica before being shipped back home, so the meat really doesn’t make for good sashimi. A locally caught whale makes for a much better experience. I have yet to try it.

The strange thing about the whale industry is the way it’s caught up in itself. By many accounts, the operation isn’t profitable, and is subsidized by the government for unknown reasons. The only political group really interested in keeping it around are the hard line nationalists, but it seems that the demand for the meat isn’t there. One article suggested that it might be a “you can’t tell us what to do” mentality which was keeping it going, while another suggests that it is political pork spending.

Some have suggested that opening up commercial whaling, without subsidies, in Japan would actually kill the industry as demand isn’t high enough to overcome the costs. But there is also the possibility that a new use will be found, like cosmetics, which will raise the demand for whale again.

One thing is for sure, the current situation is leading to a black market trade in whale meat. Recently a sushi shop in Korea and another in California were shut down when it was discovered that they were selling whale meat. Through DNA testing authorities were able to trace the meat back to a whale caught in Japan. The international sale of whale products is also banned.

There was some talk in the IWC of very limited (400 or so) whale catch quotas phasing out (or at least down) over a few years. The hope was to bring Japan and the other whaling nations back into compliance and have better regulation. Two interesting problems came out of this, South Korea felt that if whaling were permitted it should get some of the action, and the hard line anti-whaling countries refused to compromise on lifting the ban. In the end, the debate was pushed off another year, frustrating everyone. It seems to me, however, that Japan would have traded a tight quota for hunting in their local waters with the promise of fresher meat.

And so the war rages on.

Apartment Size

June 16, 2010

Many people have asked what my apartment is like. Locally, it is advertised as a “4.5 1K”. It’s small, really small by American standards, a little bigger than a 1 car garage. The system that is used in Japan for classifying apartments is kind of interesting, so I’ll detail it a bit.

The classification system lists the size (4.5), and the amenities (1K).

The size of a room is measured in tatami mats. This is a little strange since tatami mats do not have a standard size. Depending on the region of the country, the mats will be of slightly larger or smaller size. The good news is that, as far as I can tell, within a region, the mats are all the same size.

I measured my mats at 175 x 85 cm. It’s interesting to note that the mats are not twice as long as they are wide. Compare this to the typical red brick which is created so that the length of the long end is exactly two short ends long. This allows the bricks to be arranged in several geometric patterns. Tatami mats on the other hand are not regular, they are longer than twice their width. This means that the mats have to be trimmed to fit into the proper floor pattern (there are aesthetic rules about how the mats are arranged in a room).

The reason I bring this all up is that since the mats have to be trimmed, there is even less information about the size of the room. Assuming an honest broker, you could have at most full mats, and at least, trimmed mats. In a 4.5 mat room, this is a difference of 2 square feet.

Yukari shows off a tatami mat at the local hardware store.

Typically only bedroom floor space is measured, the other rooms, including the kitchen, bathrooms, and closets, are not specified. Because of this, all apartment listings have accompanying floor plans.

In addition to size, apartments are classified using a number and letter code. The number represents the quantity of bedrooms, while the letter describes the amenities. I’ve only really seen three letter codes: D, L, and K. These stand for Dining area, Living area, and Kitchen area, respectively. Thus, a 1K is a single bedroom with a kitchen, and a 2DLK has two bedrooms a dining area, a living area, and a kitchen. Note that the dining and living areas are not different rooms, but merely indicate that the space could plausibly be used for both a dining table and a living space (small couch and TV, etc.) To get an actual idea of the size of these spaces, one must consult the floor plan.

So, my apartment has a bedroom of about 70 square feet, and I’d guess another 70 square feet devoted to closet, bathrooms, and kitchen. The room is very roughly 7 x 10 feet, and that makes it a bit tight for two people. It’s kind of like living on a boat.

For this reason we decided to move to a bigger place. More news on that next time!


June 14, 2010

Here is a story for all you story lovers. I was taking a mid-day nap after staying up far too late the night before when I was woken up by the frantic ringing of my doorbell.

Now usually, the only person who rings my doorbell is my neighbor and good friend Yukari, so I got up and answered the door. This sounds a lot easier than it was because the summer weather is rather hot, and I had taken my pants off before my nap. Actually, to tell the truth, I had taken my pants off the moment I had come inside, and switched on the air conditioner for good measure. Anyway, it was a good minute of solid doorbell ringing before I had found my clothes and put them back on. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Yukari standing there, but I did notice a bit of a wild, panicked, look in her eyes when she said: “Batman! Batman! Apart-o de Batman das-yo!” (I may have misremembered the Japanese bits, but basically she was saying that Batman was in her apartment.)

“I had no idea you were such a fan!” I thought it my head (lacking the ability to say so in Japanese). I really couldn’t understand why she was so excited, but she beckoned me inside, so I went in.

When she handed me a broom, I started to realize that this was not mere excitement over the release of a Japanese translation of the latest Batman movie, but rather an assassination I was to preform.

Looking around the apartment with apprehension, I felt the last bit of excitement drain from me about seeing the new Batman series. I never did see it, but a lot of people had relatively positive things to say about it. I hadn’t bothered watching the one with Mr. Freeze, and looking as cheesy as it did, I didn’t feel compelled to see any more. Besides, the latest retelling of Batman merely underscores the fact that the story is dead, and all we can hope for now is a new version with different actors playing the characters. As if I haven’t had my fill of overly rehearsed kong-fu-esq action scenes. …but I digress.

The room seemed devoid of bats, so I relaxed, and put down the broom. A terrified Yukari peered around from the door, unable to re-enter the apartment. She explained that she thought it was behind the TV, but as I approached that location, she began to get overwhelmed with fear. I stopped, put her in my apartment, and then returned to the task at hand.

As I peered around the back of the TV I was not greeted by a bat in the face, as you might be guessing, since I had left my weapon on the floor. Instead, there was the tiniest little bat, clearly at wit’s end, clinging to a laptop bag. I couldn’t decide who was more terrified, the bat or Yukari. I gently picked up the laptop bag, carried it outside, and placed it somewhere where the bat could fly away if it wanted to. Then I put Yukari back in her apartment, after snaping a photo with her iPhone to commemorate the experience.

The bat wasn’t on the laptop bag when I returned later that evening, so I assume that it flew off and is happily terrorizing the neighborhood bugs to this day.

I can only assume that the bat thought it had found a nice cool cave to live in when it entered Yukari’s open window.

I’ll leave you with this photo:


June 7, 2010

This post has been a long time in coming, I finally found the time to sit down and type it all up. Sorry to have taken so long with it.

When I started preparing to move to Japan, I thought that it would be sad that I would not be able to go sailing for an entire year. However, I happened across a website of Japanese sailing clubs one day while trying to discover if Japan requires a boating license (they do) as countries in Europe do. This page led me to the websites of two clubs in Fukuoka, and, with the help of Google’s translation feature, I was able to find a club similar to the one I’m a member of back home.

The club members where a bit surprised when I arrived. The club isn’t easy to find on the web if you don’t read Japanese, and the marina is difficult to get to without a car, or an incredible knowledge of the bus system. After sorting out membership, and paying my dues (which was an adventure in itself), I was finally a member of the club.

Above is a photo of the marina dingy tarmac. This is where all the boats live, lashed to the ground, while not in the water. In the background, near the launching ramp, you can see the boats from the local university getting ready to sail.

These are the private boats of some of the club members. I was told that at least one of them is over 100 years old, and her owner is over 80 years old and a great sailor.

The median age of the club is pretty high, in my 30s, I’m one of the youngsters. Some of the members of the club have been on a high school or university sailing team, but just as many started sailing when they joined the club.

Back home, the sailing club is pretty disorganized, you can show up at any time, leave at any time, and checkout any boat you want. The club here (which I’ve been told is pretty laid back) is very organized.

The day starts at 9am, there is a meeting about the day’s activities, followed by assignments to boats. Then we rig the boats, change into our sailing gear, and then, before we put anything in the water, we have a group stretching session followed by a final briefing. The stretching part cracks me up, the Japanese love group stretching, if this was a track team, then I’d totally understand, but this is sailing. I play along because a little extra stretching doesn’t hurt. Of course, I should be thankful, in addition to stretching, both the high school and the university teams have group “whooping” sessions where the object seems to be to appear to be as excited as possible. The day concludes with yet another meeting before we all go home. It’s not bad, it’s just different.

Here, one of the members rigs a “Hopper”, which, as far as I can tell, is identical to a Laser.

Another type of boat here is rigged with one of two different cleats for the main halyard. This will probably only be of interest to sailors. The most common type (above) is just a small metal nugget which perches on its cleat. The slightest nudge will dislodge it, so it must be held in place with a short length of line.

Another similar halyard cleat, which is less common, is the slightly adjustable model shown here.

In both cases the halyard is steal cable cut to the length of the mast, ensuring a perfect fit when cleated in place.

The reason for this design is to facilitate quickly dropping the main sail. This is necessary when docking as it’s a down wind run to the launching ramp, and approaching with too much speed could mean running aground on concrete.

There is a lot more to tell about this club, but I’ll save that for another post.

What I’ve been up to.

May 31, 2010

Sorry for dropping off the radar for the past few weeks. I was hit with an impending test covering the first 13 chapters of my book, on the 12th, followed by the instigation of quizzes at the end of each chapter, and another test on the 28th. This has left me with very little free time once weekends are subtracted out for sailing (I know, I’ve been promising a post about that).

The first test didn’t go very well, I ran out of time on the vocabulary section, which kind of sucks because I consider vocabulary to be one of my stronger points. The grammar section was pretty bad for me as well, mostly because I don’t know it as well. I was pretty unhappy with my performance on the test, but at least I didn’t fail it.

The constant barrage of quizzes is killing me. The quizzes are supposedly on vocabulary, but really they cover a lot of grammar. The quizzes are scheduled at the end of class Tuesday, halfway through class Wednesday, and one halfway through class on Friday. This means that in five days we are covering three chapters and that I have to learn an entire chapter on Tuesday night. This has resulted in a lot of cramming to keep up the pace, which in turn means that even more time is spent on retaining the information. The average chapter has about 40 new words, so I’m learning 120 words a week. The flip side to this statistic is that I’m forgetting about 50 of those words.

In an effort to combat the loss of knowledge, I’ve installed a flash card program on my iPhone. I’m using AnkiMini, based on the Anki software, which does spaced repetition. I found the word list from each chapter of the book online, and loaded it into the software. I set this up just before Golden Week, and have been using it daily ever since. The problem is that I have to catch up with my class (currently on chapter 20), so I’ve been studying 80 cards a day (that’s 40 new words front and back). This isn’t as bad as you might think because I already know most of the words (thanks to the quizzes), and I typically end up with about 10 new (unknown) words per day. There is a side effect to this, however, the software will repeat words you don’t know more frequently than words you know, so after a few weeks of this, I was greeted today with a message stating that I will get 80 new words plus 245 reviews. That’s a lot of words, and it takes a lot of time to cover them (about 4 hours). The good news is that soon (in the next two days) I will run out of new cards as I finally catch up to chapter 20. Thus, I’ll only have to learn the new words from each chapter as they come along.

Finally, there was the test this last Friday. It was a similar experience to the last one, I ran out of time halfway through the vocabulary test, I would have made it father along, but I didn’t notice that one of the sections was “select words from a list of possibilities” instead of fill in the blank. That meant that I was wracking my brain trying to think of the correct word instead of just choosing from one of 10 choices. Here’s a tip to test makers: Put your selection box at the top of the question section, not at the bottom on the next page.

I was mostly able to finish the grammar section, though I had to guess the last few answers.

Lucky for me, having a history of running out of time on tests, I have a system. I do all of the high value questions first, and then choose fill in the blanks before multiple guess questions. This way, when I run out of time, I can frantically circle random answers and hope for a few bonus points.

This test had some new parts to it as well, there was a reading section and two listening sections. I figured that I would fail all of these because I’m a slow reader and my listening skills are also really bad. As it turned out, I did really well on the reading (because I read the questions and skimmed for the answers). The listening sections I had decent success at as well.

Going into this test, I was convinced that I was going to fail. During the review the day before my brain locked up and I couldn’t make sense of any of the questions. Consider this exchange between person A and person B:

A:  ____________
B: That sounds good.

Technically you could put anything into the blank, it could be a question or a statement, the options are unlimited. These questions drive me insane because the teacher will not accpet anything in the blank, the question assumes that person A is going to say something out of chapter 15 where the response to B makes sense. This is fine and all, but it drives me crazy because I’m supposed to forget all of the knowledge I have of the language except for what was covered in chapters 14-19. I mean, a native speaker of the language would fail this question unless they happened to guess correctly.

Coming out of the test I actually felt alright, I mean, sure I’m going to get a D on the test but I did better on the listening and reading than I thought, and I would have done better if I had more time.

At least one other student seemed to do as poorly as me. She seemed pretty down after the test. I’m sorry to say that it’s reassuring to me that someone else is also struggling. This reassurance is necessary because the two girls sitting on either side of me get perfect scores on everything. I have no idea how well the rest of the class is doing, I can only assume that they are doing better than me based on their performance when called on for class participation.


May 9, 2010

As requested, today I bring you more photos of the outdoors. These where taken during Golden Week, on two separate hikes.

The first hike was around the local reservoir/lake. This lake was created in 1968 to prevent flooding and to serve as a source of water for the town. The valley floor, now submerged, was used for town meetings, since the town was founded, as well as the home of the town’s sports arena.

According to legend, one of these meetings was to discuss the problem with the local dragon which was terrorizing the village. The black dragon, with reflective eyes, was reportedly causing crops to fail, preventing babies from being born, preventing marriages, and preventing the people from harvesting the crops. It was living on top of the near by mountain, Kurokamiyama (黒髪山), creating dark clouds around it by day and sneaking down into the village at night. The villagers agreed to send a letter to the local lord asking him to send soldiers to come and kill the monster.

Of course I had to go to the mountain to investigate myself, so we mounted a second expedition the next day.

Emi, at the top of the mountain, points to where a dragon may have flown. The lake in the previous photo can be seen in the distance.

The leader of the soldiers came up with a plan, they found an attractive maiden in the village and paid her to bait the dragon out of hiding. Then, when the monster appeared, the leader shot it in the eye with an arrow, killing it.

The name 黒髪山 translates to “black(kuro) hair(kami) mountain(yama)”. The word for god is also pronounced “kami” (though the kanji is different), which leads me to speculate that the origin of the legend comes from the name of the mountain.

The hike to the top of the mountain was fairly easy, although steep, with many stone steps along the trail. The last section of trail becomes quite technical, requiring scaling a rock face. There are ropes and chains installed to aid the climber; though one could pass without them, they give peace of mind to the no-so-surefooted. I wouldn’t recommend this last bit to the inexperienced (there is plenty to see, other than the top, so the hike isn’t a waste if you’re not feeling up for scaling a rocky cliff face), but then again, on our way down we passed a family with an 8 year old who was happily scrambling up the rocks. Maybe I’m just becoming less reckless in my old age. 😉

The hike around the lake was fairly easy, though we took the option of making a loop through another town, making a pretty good hike.

The weather on both days was warm and pleasant.

Golden Week

May 6, 2010

Golden Week has come to a close. This year, Golden Week fell between April 29th and May 5th, however, since the week is made up of individual holidays, not everyone got April 30th off. My school took this day off, but Emi’s company did not. This is probably the biggest holiday in Japan, most businesses close, and the expressways, trains, and airports are jammed up with people leaving town.

I spent the first day with Emi, the second day by myself doing geek stuff (because Emi had to work) two days sailing (more on this in a coming post) and the last three at Emi’s parent’s house. During this time, my iPhone’s blog software managed to lock up in a way that prevented me from posting, and I haven’t been able to get it working. The down side to this is that my photos are all locked up inside the device. So Photos will be forthcoming.

While at Emi’s parent’s house, we went on some fun hikes and explored her home town which was having it’s annual pottery sale. The town was founded long ago, back when the area was ruled by the Saga Clan, as a ceramics production area. Since then, they have produced beautiful plates, dishes, cups, bowels, and tiles with intricate artwork on them. Every year they hold a sale and people flock to the town get a good deal on well made pottery.

The last day of Golden Week was very warm, in fact, the news reported that it was the first tropical day of the year, one day earlier than last year, and that was 12 days earlier than they year before. The temperature and humidity climbed drastically, and being outside has become slightly uncomfortable. The tropical season is marked by lots of rain and really hot and humid weather rolling into the sumer. I’m not looking forward to it.
Anyway, I just wanted everyone to know that I’m alright and doing fine.

Week 4

April 30, 2010

I’ve been super busy with school, and haven’t had time to write about it. Golden Week, a series of consecutive national holidays, has arrived, so I have Thursday and Friday of this week off, as well as Monday through Wednesday of next week.

I got my Hiragana test back on Monday, a week after I took it. The reason for the delay is the school’s policy on makeup tests. Students who have an acceptable excuse for their absence are allowed a short grace period to retake the test. Additionally, students who did poorly on the test, getting a D or below must retake the test with a retake penalty of 10% off the earned score. Anyway, while none of this applies to me, I figured I’d let you know why there was such a long delay.

I got an 88 on the test. Although this is a good score, I kind of felt cheated out of 2 points because I labeled a picture as vegetables (やさい) when the picture was supposed to be fruit (くだもの). All I have to say is that picture doesn’t look like any fruit I’ve ever seen. Another 2 points were lost due to not knowing the word for scissors (はさみ), which I knew I got wrong from the start. The remaining 8 points were deducted, one point at a time, for the equivalent of not dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s. Although it’s frustrating to lose so many points when I knew the answer, it’s not nearly as frustrating as having known the words for both fruit and vegetable and getting the answer wrong because the picture was ambiguous. I’m only slightly mollified by the fact that 85 and up is an A, which I hadn’t realized until today when I reviewed the student handbook.

As for the Katakana test, it was the last thing we did on Wednesday before leaving for Golden Week. I think I did pretty well on the test. I found that my advantage of knowing the meaning of the words to not be that big of an advantage. The way English words are mashed into the Japanese sounds is anything but consistent or sensible. In fact, it appears that at some point the Japanese decided that they needed to add new sounds for the full vowel range of “f”, “v”, and “w”, but not every word which should use them does. It basically comes down to wrote memorization in the end. Another issue I had while studying was that I studied the incorrect spelling of at least one word; so I know I got that one wrong. Also, while I studied about 50 words for the test, there were some words which I didn’t study, including 2 for which I had to simply guess. Although I felt like I had plenty of time on this test, and was able to go over everything making sure I dotted my “i”s and crossed my “t”s, I don’t feel confident that I caught everything, and I’m kind of cringing to see how many points I’ll lose on this round.

Next is the test over chapters 1 through 13, which is coming up on May 12th. That’s going to be a brutal test because it covers a lot of material which I can’t say I fully understand, and unlike the last two tests, there will be more to it than memorization, although there will still be a fair amount of that.