Dec 052005

Humorous Event #1: Justin is walking along Kawaramachi Doori in Downtown Kyoto on his way to get a quick bite to eat. After a short time, he hears a strange slapping noise coming from his left foot and assumes that his three-year-old pair of shoes (that have carried him through China, Japan, and a large portion of Europe) have at long last kicked the bucket.

He attempts to adjust his step to lessen the clearly audible noise, and finds that his foot does not respond to his brain’s command. He seems to have little control below the left knee! He stops walking and attempts to lift the front of his foot off of the ground while leaving the heel where it is. He fails.

After a few moment of thought, it hits him: 正座!

“Seiza” is the traditional way of kneeling on a tatami-matted floor in Japan. Few are aware of how painful it becomes after only a very short period of time. In my tea ceremony class, the teacher regularly gives us pitiful foreigners breaks to allow the blood to re-enter our legs as he continues to relax casually with his ankles folded beneath him. But this Thursday was no regular class.

Instead of sitting in a row and performing the actions as a group, each student one-by-one came up and performed the ceremony alone. This meant no cheating, no relaxing, Seiza all the way. Ignoring all of my body’s pleas I pushed through to the end, limping off after class…but promptly forgetting about the experience when the pain receded. Until a few days later when I realized that I could no longer fully control my left foot.

It’s quite an odd sensation to be able to walk without any feeling of pain, but without being able to lift my foot relative to my leg. It just sort of drags along. Let’s just hope this odd slapping noise doesn’t stay with me forever!

Humorous Event #2: I have reached my lunchtime destination: Nakau, one of my favorite fast food restaurants in Japan. I notice on the sign that they have a new 期間限定 (“Limited Time Only”) udon that looks pretty good, but I don’t know how to read the kanji and my electronic dictionary is too buried in my backpack to bother with. So instead I just order my usual Tan Tan Udon.

But apparently I was so tired from studying that I accidentally said “Tama Tama Udon” instead! The girl at the counter yelled out the order to the chef and my fate was sealed within moments of the mistake. All I could do was wait and see what might come.

And guess what. It was the dish that I wanted in the first place! Apparently the mystery-reading was “kama,” and the waitress simply misheard me thinking I said “Kama Tama Udon.”

Now that I look back on it it really wasn’t that interesting, but I was pretty amused at the time.

New kanji learned: one.

New delicious types of Udon tasted: one.

Alright, now on to the real story. This weekend I went to Gifu to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, Level 2. This test, offered at the same time all over the world only once a year, is the one and only nationally recognized measure of Japanese language ability. To be eligible to work in a convenience store in Japan you must pass level two. To be eligible to apply to a regular Japanese University you must pass level one. I’ve heard (which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true) that level one is so difficult that even Japanese college students may not be able to pass without studying.

To be honest, even from the start I never really thought I’d be able to pass. I know that if I’d been able to study – take practice tests, memorize the grammar points that appear year after year, and do listening comprehension exercises – it wouldn’t have been a problem. But studying for the 2Q is one of many luxuries that I had to give up if I wanted to avoid dropping down to B-Class.

Yes, I know, I know – regular Japanese homework is still a form of studying…but this test really does use a lot of WEIRD grammar that I’d never seen until doing my first practice test…only 24 hours before the real thing. It would’ve been cool to have some time to memorize a few of those constructions beforehand.

Anyways, on Saturday afternoon I rode my bike down to Kyoto Station and hopped onto a train up to Gifu where I’d be staying with Reiko, a friend who I met through Alana when she came to visit about a month ago. We met up and after a brief Italian dinner I withdrew to a nearby Mc Donald’s to embark on my first and last 2Q cram session. I went to bed at 1:30am, woke up at 7:00, and headed to Gifu University.

The results: exactly what I would expect based on how I’ve been studying this semester. I kicked the kanji section’s butt, did fair on the listening comprehension, and bombed the grammar (which is worth as much as the other two sections combined, unfortunately). My fate has been sealed. Now all I can do is wait for the notification in mid February.

Originally I had planned on hanging out in Gifu after the test to see Harry Potter with Reiko and some of her friends, but that plan had to be nixed: I had to head back to Kyoto to finish writing a presentation for the next day (Monday), studying for a 200-word vocab test on Wednesday, and writing a 4,000 character essay for next week. So instead we just grabbed a quick bit to eat and I hopped on the train back home. The vicious cycle continues! 😛

  6 Responses to “The Test in Gifu and other short stories”

  1. Sorry you didn’t ace the test. I am sure you didn’t do as bad as you think though. You are a smart guy….smarter than you think.

    The meal sounds fun. I love getting stuff I didn’t order and eating something new that is actually quite good


  2. You are indeed the brightest cherry blossom in the pile, but I don’t think anyone could succeed in the position you found yourself in. Ahem, the position that you PUT yourself in.



  3. I do wonder what you’re going to do when you leave school and no longer have to study all day. WILL YOU SHRIVEL UP INTO A BALL OF DUST? Or will you start taking quantam mechanics classes, just so you can cram 20 hours of studying a day? 😉

  4. Justin,

    School? What is this EH-School? I bet you forgot how Persians put EH in front of any S-word due to the lack of Middle Easternness there. That’s gotta be b.s. about the level 1 for school and 2 for a store. I mean, come on, what kind of crack-out society would setup their language to be SO complicated than it would deny most people the ability to communicate “Hey, how much for the seaweed milk and udon candy bar?” Cause if that’s true then you gotta get dems Jap peoples to stop working on robotic toasters and start figuring out “Thank you for coming to the Kwiki-Mart, I’ll see you in hell!”


    P.S. That last post where you mentioned Kutya made me sad. I miss the ‘ole blind tripod.

  5. The nice thing about the JLPT is that it seemed as though the test-makers said “Oh, you lived in Japan for any length of time? We rike you.” And then handed you the first two sections on a silver platter. The not-so-nice thing was that they also said “Oh, you haven’t spent the last year studying obscure and never-used-in-daily-life grammar points? SCREW YOU, BUDDY!”


  6. To Andy and Noz: Thanks so much for your kind words. Precisely why even as a college graduate my best friends are still the ones I’ve known since junior high school 🙂

    Nick: Pssshh, like I really need to be taking a quantum physics class to cram 20 hours of studying into a day!

    Shahin: That’s what I’m thinking. Like. WHY is it so complicated? They even have a word meaning “To sneak into a girl’s room under the cover of night for the sake of a love affair.” Apparently the need for such a word arose at one point or another, hard as that may be to believe.

    Gameday: GOOD! I’m glad I’m not the only one whose rear didn’t feel so great after walking out of that test room.

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