Tonight was day five of the Japanese class I am attending at Austin Community College, and I have decidedly mixed feelings about it.
On the positive side, I am learning stuff, and I get to practice speaking a little. And I am learning things I didn’t know.
On the negative side, it’s going very slow, and the process of learning is not in the way I learn the best. Honest truth is, I do best when I’m exploring, and this is very structured and rigid. I understand that that’s to be expected in a classroom setting, but I honestly wonder if it’s helping me move forward or if it’s holding me back. And, honest truth is, I really don’t know! I think it’s probably doing both at the same time – holding me back, at the same time it’s filling in the gaps brought on by teaching myself. Maybe I need to resume my external studies just so I don’t feel held back, like I do at the moment. Best of both worlds, with the cost being that of spare time.
I have other mixed feelings relating to having to spend time in a room with other people, but that’s just my misanthrope showing. Sensei made that a lot harder today by having us draw lots to determine who our partner is going to be for the day. I know that is going to bite me in the rear eventually. But it is what it is.
But I’m in this class until it ends, I guess. So I may as well see how it turns out.
One of the phrases that I am required to know for Japanese class is “nani mo kakanaide kudasai”. It means “Please don’t write anything”.
I could have just memorized it, but I find that really difficult. So instead I broke it apart into its components.
First I saw “nai”, which I know is a negative. I looked up “naide” and found that is a command word meaning “don’t do whatever it is”. First thing I learned, stashed away for future use. I saw that it also has a similar word, “nasai”, which is a positive command word, “do this”. Stashed that away for further use. I already knew “nanimo” means “anything”, especially with a negative, and that “kudasai” means “please” in this context. So, I broke the sentence down into its components, and now I remember it. So far, so good.
In Japanese class last night, we went over “oyasumi nasai”, which means “good night”. But one of the classroom phrases we also had to remember was “yasumi masho”, which means “let’s take a break”. One of the other students asked what “yasumi” means, and sensei said “break”.
Soooo… I then asked, given what I’d discovered, whether “oyasumi nasai” means, literally, “take a break”.
Sensei looked a little taken aback, and then said “I’d never analyzed it, but I guess it does!”
If you can find a pattern, you should find the pattern. Then you don’t have to memorize words. Thankfully, Japanese has a few patterns that are really useful. This was one.
Today was the second day of the Japanese class, and we hit the ground running.
Most of the practice I’m going to need to do over the next few days is writing. I need to practice writing some of the hiragana, even though I can recognize almost all of them by sight. I can’t really write them. So it’s good practice and I don’t mind doing it. The rest of the stuff is really easy – or more accurately, stuff I already learned – so it’s really not going to be too much of a big deal to learn it. It took me months to get this head start, but I’m rather glad I did. I wonder if I should try to keep it.
I did embarrass myself a little in the class though. The embarrassment was mostly centered around the fact that I heard a few variants in how sensei was pronouncing the words, and I wanted to make sure that I was hearing it right, or if we had to emulate her. On balance, I probably shouldn’t have said it, but whatever, what’s done is done. I kept quiet on quite a few other things, though, and I was right to keep quiet. I decided from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to parade what little I know around, and I’ve been keeping to that – although I’ve also decided to say whatever I can in Japanese, and that is a bit more than most people in the class can say. But that’s kinda the point of Japanese class, so I’m okay with that. Several times today I heard “I have no idea what that means”, but they will. I’m still caught off guard when sensei switches to Japanese without warning, so it’s not like I’m that far ahead.
But today was better than Friday. I don’t think I’ve dealt with the underlying issues I was dealing with, but at least it’s tolerable now. So there’s that. Off to vacation!
When I first created this blog, I had a nearly infinite choice of things to call it. I could have called it, oh, I dunno… “Musings on Japanese”, or “My Japanese Journey”, or a whole bunch of stuff. But I settled on this one. In fact, it really wasn’t even all that much of a decision. This was the right name.
But why, when the word “gaijin” had less than savory origins, and some may still find it offensive?
The literal meaning of gaijin (外人) is “outsider”, or, literally, “outside person”. (the two kanji separately would be pronounced “soto hito”, or “outside person”). It is a word that was coined for people who are not Japanese. It was originally a derogatory word, and even now, many Japanese don’t use it, but it’s mostly lost its connotations over the years and now many foreigners, such as me, use it to self-identify. But for me, it has more meanings than just “someone who’s not Japanese”.
See, I was raised in an environment where I never felt like I belonged. Ever since I was a small child, I was an outsider. I never fit in school, I never really fit in church, I didn’t really even fit in my own family. And, to be honest, none of that’s changed all that much. I can think of no situation at all in this life where I really feel as if I belong.
I’m not just a gaijin in the sense of being an outsider from Japan, I’m a gaijin in the sense of being an outsider to everything.
So the name of this site has deeper meaning than just a once-offensive-and-some-think-still-offensive word that means an outsider from Japan. It’s much more involved than that. And you’d never know if I didn’t tell you.
If a Japanese person called me a gaijin, I might laugh it off – and depending on the tone of voice, I might not. I do respond negatively to people who deliberately cause offense, and considering how agreeable many Japanese are, that would probably be someone who was deliberately trying to cause offense. But, truth be told, I’d be just as likely to agree as to take offense.
And that is why I’m a “gaijin learning Japanese”. For, in all honestly, I even consider myself a gaijin in the Japanese class I’m attending.
The very first thing I watched in Japanese – and the thing that made me feel like I wanted to learn it, was this video:
It is a rather cute video of a bunch of Morning Musume girls (this was 13 years ago!) taking a faux English lesson.
When I first watched this video, I was highly dependent on the subtitles. By “highly dependent”, I mean that everything they were saying was, to me, utter gibberish. You might as well have tossed me in front of a charismatic speaking in tongues for all the good it would have done me. But it was the combination of this being gibberish, the fact that I discovered that the Morning Musume girls were actually funny, and all of the interesting symbols flashing over the screen like a secret code, that set me on this endeavor that has so far cost me over a thousand dollars and quite a few hours off my life.
But every now and then I revisit this video. The reason is that each time I watch it, I understand a little more, and a little more, and a little more. At first, I just picked up “chiisai”, “sensei, chiisai”, and was proud of myself for that! And then I picked up “eigo”, “daijoubu” (and I think I finally understand why Ogawa-san said “boo”, she was making a pun on “daijoubu”, which is very much not obvious). And then I picked up a few more things, and a few more things, each time I watched it.
I listened to it again today and I could understand even more. I may get to the point where I don’t need the subtitles – though whether that’s because I understand the words or have memorized the subtitles is a matter of some conjecture.
Subtitles really are not a good way of enjoying these videos, though. I mean, if it’s all you have, they are satisfactory, but you miss a lot of nuance. I don’t understand exactly how, yet, but Ogawa-san seems to have a slightly different way of speaking then Fujimoto-san, for example. And there are even occasions where what is being said is not really what’s appearing on the screen (the Japanese language is so context dependent that the translators are almost required to take some editorial liberties with the translation).
If you like Japanese media, seriously, learn the language. You’re kinda missing out.
Today was the first day of Japanese class at Austin Community College. For many reasons, I will avoid any mention of the other people in the class, other than to say there were other people in the class of varying ages, backgrounds and knowledge of Japanese. As expected.
As for me, it is clear that there are gaping holes in my knowledge. In my “introduction” (which I absolutely, positively, did not want to do) I said that I “know enough to be dangerous” – and I feel that more strongly now than when I began the class. In some ways, I feel handicapped by the fact that we’re using romaji instead of hiragana and kanji, but in other ways, there are things I’m learning even now, and the holes are obvious. I learned the mechanics of Japanese, but not how to think in it, or more accurately, not how to think on my feet. I will have significant challenges in this class – but they’re not the challenges that most of the other students will have. I will have little problem with grammar. I will have little problem with kana. I will have some problem with vocabulary. I will have a huge problem with the fact that speaking to other people is a requirement.
Which leads to the obvious question: Why, then, oh glorious blogger, did you decide to study a foreign language when the last thing in the world you want to do is actually use it?
That, dear readers, will have to be a mystery, I suppose. Even to me.
I’ve posted previously about what I like about J-Pop, but I don’t like everything about it! As with everything, it has its good sides and bad sides. Here, in my opinion, are the bad sides.
The Music Can Be Uninteresting
I’ve posted previously about how I think that J-Pop is far more interesting than western pop – but that doesn’t really mean it’s interesting. At the end of the day, it’s still pop, with all of the insipidity and appealing to the lowest common denominator that that entails. I love how poetic J-Pop can be, but how many songs can one group write about sakura?
There is Little Focus on Talent
J-Pop performers are selected, basically, for cuteness and relatability first, and they seem to take the attitude that growing as a performer will come in time. And, that being their criteria, they choose well. But all told, they aren’t really all that talented. Those who have the acumen or opportunity to parlay their cuteness into success are very successful. Those that don’t fade into obscurity. And that seems to have little to do with their actual potential as a performer.
Honestly, though, this is not a reason J-Pop sucks. The reason is that it almost seems as if the lack of talent is seen as a positive, rather than a negative. What, then, of the girls who actually want to make something of themselves as an actual performer? There is room for that, but, frankly, many don’t. And as seen on Produce48, many don’t even know it until reality smacks them in the face. Is this doing them a service? Maybe. I’m not so sure.
What You See is Not What You Get
When I was younger, I remember a strong thunderstorm that rolled through. As the storm left, the sky turned a lurid pink. It turned out that the anvil was still over us and the setting sun was shining underneath it. But since the clouds were somewhat transparent, you couldn’t see the clouds – it just looked as if the sky turned pink.
J-Pop feels a little like that. You are given the opportunity to “get to know” the girls – but it’s all scripted and carefully controlled. So what you see is what you think you get, but you don’t. It’s a character. Perhaps it’s a form of the Japanese tatemae, but the people you think you’re getting to know, well, you’re not.
If they were up front about that it wouldn’t really bother me so much, but I think many people think that the performers are the same as their stage personality, and this leads to much misunderstanding. And that leads me to
This is, frankly, the part of the J-Pop scene I detest the most. I mean, you could kind of class me as a fan in some ways – I know a lot of their music, a lot of the performers, I even have my favorites if you want to get picky. But at the end of the day, I know they’re just a bunch of girls doing a job, and I keep it in perspective.
But many fans don’t seem to. I’ve heard of fans buying thousands of CDs just to get the little tickets to vote in the senbatsu and then throwing them all away, I’ve seen people go absolutely nuts when they meet their favorite idol, and frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing all around. Yes, it’s kind of interesting in its own way, but in the same way you only mostly cover your eyes when you see an inevitable train wreck. I really hate being a fan because of who it is I end up lumped in with by association.
Oh holy mother of dog, the costumes. Some are okay, but some of them look like the designer took ate crayons and threw up on fabric. They’re so loud it’s amazing to see. It’s like they took a Japanese school uniform and turned it to 11, blowing out the amp. I’m no fashion critic, and I suppose maybe their target audience thinks differently, but this just helps to cement my opinions about the Japanese taking existing things and taking them in directions no reasonable person would ever even consider. Sometimes it’s strange and wonderful. Sometimes it’s J-Pop costumes.
These are the reasons I think J-Pop sucks. Of course, there are also plenty of reasons it doesn’t. What do you think?
(I am trying a new format for blog posts. Like it? Hate it? Let me know!)