Feb 122005

So, I’ve been here for about a month and a half now, and while I have been having a lot of fun, I have to say that I’m not at all satisfied with how my Japanese language has been progressing. Almost every day I’ve been putting long hours into memorizing as many vocab words as possible just so that I can understand daily speech, but I feel like I’m no better off than when I got here. I can still hardly speak or read an issue of Doraemon without looking up every third word.

Either I’m doing something wrong, or the path to learning a language is just a lot slower than I’d initially thought.

In either case, at this rate I highly doubt that I’ll be as conversational as I wanted to be within the short period that I’ll be here. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, though, that this will all change once school starts. I’ve also just decided to splurge $100 (eep!) for a FULL set of kanji flashcards, covering all 2,000 of the Joyo Kanji. Hopefully this’ll save me a lot of time in preparing the cards and help me get a’movin a little more quickly.

If any of you other language students out there have any recommendations on what I might be doing wrong, I’m all ears. But before you all go and say “just get out and speak!” you have to realize how bad my vocabulary problem is. Japanese has like 5 words for everything, and at my early stages I have no way of knowing which word people will pick. So to be able to understand them, I have to learn…all of them. And there are a lot. And trying to have a conversation with someone while looking up every couple of words in your dictionary is no good.

But I guess I should fill you all in on what I’ve been doing for the last few days instead of just complaining about the difficulties of learning a language 🙂 I just recently met up with a friend named Dylan (his blog can be found here). Dylan’s another Ritsumeikan student who was here for the previous semester, and if I’m lucky enough to get accepted into their student housing (keep your fingers crossed for me!) I’ll be living in the same building with him and his friends come this March.

This would certainly solve the OTHER problem I’ve been having since I got to Japan: a social group. I have plenty of friends to hang out with here on a 1-on-1 basis, but no real “social group,” a big group of friends to go out with at night, to take day trips with, and so on. This seems EXACTLY like the type of group that Dylan and his friends have at YHM (their nickname for Ritsumeikan’s International House II).

Not to mention that the facilities are about 50,000 times better there than here. Each room even has its own private toilet. And the kitchen is CLEAN. Yeah. Let’s hope they have space for me 🙂

But anyways, going back a bit further, last Saturday night I decided that I wanted to try out the night scene here in Kyoto. Because I usually go to Osaka on the weekends I hadn’t been to any of the bars here yet, and of course staying in on a weekend is no good. But since all of my “individual” friends were busy I just decided that I’d try out one of the bars on my own. I grabbed my study gear and headed to Starbucks where I’d do some last minute kanji review before dark.

By the way, the Starbuck’s on Sanjo has been my favorite study spot; pretty much every other day I sit there for a few hours to memorize words; I far prefer being in a spot with people than being in my room, even if I am just memorizing, and every once in awhile I get some good listening practice by eaves-dropping on the Japanese conversation next to me.

imageSo after I’d been there for a few hours, Josh (the abroad student living in Naomi and Okaasan’s house) came in to study too! What a coincidence. We got to talking, and after not too long we decided to go out and hit “A-Bar” (thanks for the recommendation, Alanna). To the left is a shot of Josh with one of the people we met there. Why Josh looks so unhappy to be in this picture I really couldn’t tell you 😛

imageUnfortunately, around 11:30 Josh had to take off to catch the last train back home to Uji…but since I’d ridden my bike there I decided to hang out longer on my own. So we drank and drank, eventually moving on to another bar. I’m not even sure what time I ended up coming home, but I am astonished that I managed to ride my bike half way across Kyoto in my…not-so-sober state. Well, I guess I did run into one signpost on the way home (no damage to me, shopping basket in front of the bike slightly squashed).

Next day: hangover.

Jumping forward to yesterday (what is this, a Terantino post??) my friend Miho invited me to go visit her in Nara. Yay! First day trip in a loooong time.

imageThe first thing I should say about Nara is that although it’s pretty well-known (in fact, the most popular tourist destination in Kansai after Kyoto) it’s actually a REALLY small town. And I do mean small. Somehow this really surprised me as I just assumed that any city whose name I’d heard prior to coming to Japan would be of more noteworthy size.

Here we have a local man sitting and pondering life. Or having himself a cigarette. Or both.

imageThe main area we explored was Nara Koen, as my guidebook describes it:

“The park is home to about 1200 deer, which in pre-Buddhist times were considered messengers of the gods and today enjoy the status of national Treasures. They roam the park and surrounding areas in search of hand-outs from tourists, often descending on petrified children who have the misfortune to be carrying food.”

Just look at him, lurking behind that stone lantern…ready to strike at any moment…

imageAnd believe me when I say that there were PLENTY of deer. Did anyone ever see that episode of the Simpsons where all of the dolphins emerged from the ocean to take over Springfield? Look out, Nara…the deer are coming.

imageWhat? You don’t have any food? Psshh…fine, I’m just gonna face THIS way then.

imageOn our walk back, we got the REAL treat of seeing how they used to make Mochi in the old days: pounding it out with giant wooden mallets. Definitely check out this video clip.

Incidentally, my camcorder has arrived in the US and will soon be sent out for repair…I’m probably looking at another 3 weeks until I have it in my hands and working (let’s hope!) Until then, it’s just more low-res digicam videos.

But now for the day’s bad news. It finally happened. I got sick. Personally, I’m amazed that it didn’t happen sooner – aside from the unusually (for me) cold weather, virtually everyone I hang out with has been sick for the last couple of weeks. Slowly but surely, as we were walking around Nara, my throat started getting sorer and sorer. And while I usually have the energy to run around and explore all day, after only a few hours I started getting really, REALLY tired. After our exploration we found a little coffee shop with a couch and sat down for a short nap before I headed back to Kyoto to SLEEP.

Too bad I’ll be staying in this Friday and Saturday night. Hopefully I’ll get over this one quickly though and be back in the game next weekend…

  4 Responses to “Rethinking (VIDEO)”

  1. what is mochi? the process is impressive. x

  2. If you hang at a-bar you will eventually meet my friend John Hartman. He is a wealth of information about Kyoto and speaks Japanese quite well. Just look for a big american who speaks loudly. Oh wait…. that is just about every American. If you want to go on a tour in Gion with a Canadian who is about the only foreigner allowed into th Gaiko and Maiko scene, look up Peter MacIntosh. If you have not been to Shim-pu-kan, especially Tawawa for their lunch buffet with Kyoto vegitables, you have not lived. And lets not forget NeoMart! I wish I were there again. Fot a Book shop, you can not beat Mauruzan.

  3. You know what you need? LJ-cuts. Save on bandwidth + loading time, plus you can still put your pictures on the front page. 😛

  4. Aunt V: Mochi is a really popular…food…here. The best definition I could find was “A sweet, short-grained, Glutinous rice with a very high starch content that is used to make rice cakes”, but that doesn’t really give you a very good idea of what it is. Keep your eye out for it next time you’re having sushi, though…i’m sure you’ll recognize it 🙂

    Dave: Thanks for the recommendations as always! I actually happened to ride by Berry Berry Cafe the other day on my way to shijo and did a quick double-take…”wait, is that the place he was talking about??” Once i’m 100% healthy i’m going to do some more exploring and hopefully relocate my study spot from starbuck’s 🙂
    As far as Peter MacIntosh, I actually had heard of him, but as I’m on a ridiculously tight budget and his tours are a bit pricy (for me) I don’t think I’m going to be able to do them…ah well, perhaps when (& if) my parents come 🙂

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