Sweet, at last my appointment letter has arrived from Yahoo Broadband! At last I won’t have to sit out on my cold rooftop and secretly use the neighbor’s wireless connection!
…Looks up a few Kanji…
…Falls backwards, smashing his head on the corner of his desk in disbelief.
It says…it says that they can’t activate the Internet at my apartment! Ever!
The next four months truly will be a test of will. Apologies to everyone back home, for as much as I’ve wanted to hear all of your voices again it looks like my internet phone will remain out of commission for quite some time.
I spent this past weekend hanging out with Alana, a friend from California who is now working as a JET in a small town three hours north of Kyoto. Alana and I haven’t seen each other in over six years, although we’ve been keeping in touch since high school via the internet. Other than Nick she is probably the person most responsible for my ending up here in Kyoto. My trip to Japan two years ago with Nick is what started my interest in this country, but if not for Alana’s insistence I would now be living in Tokyo rather than Kyoto. Thank you so much Alana.
As part of her Japanese Studies major in college, Alana also spent a year studying in Kyoto much like myself. And much like myself, she immediately fell in love with it. It was interesting to discuss with her the many other people she’s encountered who’ve spent time living in Japan. Apparently every single person who stayed in Kyoto went on to make Japan a permanent part of their lives in some way, while the rest just returned to America and moved on. What is it about this place that makes it so captivating? Whatever it is, I wish her luck in figuring out a way to move back after her JET program finishes.
It was also pretty interesting to hear about what her life has been like since she’s moved to her small, out-of-the-way town on the coast of the Sea of Japan. When I said that she’s “working as a JET,” what I’m referring to is a government-operated program that brings people from around the world into Japan to perform jobs such as English-teaching and international relations. The organizers determine everything from the type of position they give you to the location they send you, guaranteeing nothing more than your salary before you arrive. Because Alana’s Japanese is at such a high level, she was placed at City Hall doing things such as organizing events, writing newspaper articles, and even conducting a weekly spot on a local television channel.
I’m sure you can imagine what a local celebrity she’s become, being one of the mere handful of foreigners residing in such a small community. Every time she travels to a nearby area for a festival the news crews rush to interview her, and anytime a friend’s friend catches sight of her in the supermarket she hears about it the next day. And I thought I was getting the celebrity treatment here in Kyoto. If you’re interested, here are some pictures she’s posted of her neighborhood and the surrounding areas.
Spending the weekend with her also led me to two realizations/decisions. First, it’s time for me to go out and buy a “real” digital camera. This is a decision I’ve been trying to avoid pretty much since I moved to Japan; it just didn’t seem worthwhile to spend so much on a camera when I already had one that worked just fine. But after playing with her Canon Powershot S2 IS for a few hours I realized how much really does lie beyond the simple world of point-and-shoot. Before coming to Japan I rarely used my camera for anything beyond drunken photos with my friends at parties, but since I came here I’ve really started to take a liking to photography. Yet without the ability to manually focus or even zoom in from a reasonable distance my creativity has been dwindling. I think it’s time for a step up, even if I am only going to be here for another four months.
My second realization has to do with language. Before coming to Japan I had only taken one year of formal instruction, scarcely enough to bring me up to a competent level (mainly because I was studying it as a hobby alongside my real focus, computer engineering). So even though I was dying to go out and make friends in Japanese when I arrived, I was disappointed to learn that I could barely understand a word that the people around me were saying. And my pride prevented me from going out and just sounding stupid. So I went to Starbuck’s and studied. A lot.
On the other hand Alana majored in Japanese at her college, arriving already at a level pretty similar to where I am now (somewhere between 2級 and 3級 for those of you who know what that means). Rather than studying day and night she spent nearly all of her time out with friends who couldn’t speak a word of English. As a result, her conversation is fantastic. My “realization” is that it’s time for me to go out and start embarassing myself. I don’t have much time left here, and it’s time to bring my speaking up to par with my listening and reading. I just hope that I can manage to decrease my study time enough to make this possible; last semester I studied all the time because I wanted to, but this semester is a different story altogether. A-Class is freaking HARD!
If you’re reading this Kusunoki Sensei, I’m begging you to come and take over A-Class. Save us from the mind-numbingly boring Murakami Sensei. Make learning fun again! We miss you!