Life the Universe and Everything

It was pretty amazing when I got here.

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I mean it. I’m not sure whether it’s all that media that I’d read and seen that featured sakura trees and their beauty, but I was simply enthralled. I think I spent all my days walking and just feeling that mono no ahare take over. It was pretty much a dream.s,

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Trees are pretty anywhere when they’re in full bloom. I had been a pixie for weeks due to blooming trees season. I had spent my last weeks in Romania walking through parks, frolicking, reciting poetry and reading in the park. I was such a pixie that I had planned a Pathfinder adventure in Andora just to have our characters walk through the forest. It featured zombies stuffed with flowers of red, orange and yellow. When the PCs would cut a zombie, it would bleed flowers.

Poisonous flowers, but flowers nonetheless.2014-04-05 11.02.30

At first I hung out with people who were mostly beginners, and had some sort of seniority. It was good to know that even after such a long break I could communicate with people. I had forgotten many things, and I can’t speak that well, but I can manage. It is good enough, I guess? I’ve been having mixed feelings about my language skills lately.

2014-04-04 07.43.33I mean, I stopped practicing my English at one point, you know? I want to do that with japanese. I figured that moving here would make studying weirder, and it has. I confront the language every day, must I really SRS it? (for the record, I am. I’ve started this limited reviews a day plan to get up to date with my anki reviews, and after a few weeks of it I’m still not even half-way there. Thousands and thousands of reviews. Retention rate fairly decent, but it could’ve been better. whatever)2014-04-03 13.16.22

Plus, there’s the language course at school. Unsurprisingly, I got placed in the 上級 group. Mostly Asians. I also picked up some introductory lessons in Japanese.

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Having all-Japanese classes is weird. It’s a really weird experience. I’m doing alright for the most part, but it is very problematic if I run into something I genuinely don’t understand and can’t find on my own. Very problematic. Some teachers just aren’t that good at explaining things, and i get it, i really do, but at this level they expect me to know this stuff. It can be stressful. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be one of the weakest students.

I’ve also started eating a considerable amount.

2014-04-10 22.28.31 Since the whole “let’s take picture of the food before we eat it, instagram style” is pretty hard, I usually only take pictures of stuff at home, though. I don’t know how hipsters manage to do this on a daily basis. 2014-04-12 22.14.38

Anyway, yeah. Eating a lot. Japanese food is so delicios. So sweet. Much umami. Many flavors. Such cheap. So variety. Wow. Somehow I’ve not gained the freshman 15, which can only be explained by the gargantuan amounts of walking that my sakura-dazed self has been doing. Either way, dear god. The people who said that Japanese people don’t eat that many caloies and their food is healthy and low fat and not filled with junk? Where the hell were those people coming from? Japan is a place where I could easily eat 2-3 days worth of calories at a single course and not realize it. I’ve actually started counting them ever since I accidentally looked at an anpan package and realized that I’d just had 1000 calories for second breakfast.

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I’m pretty normal when it comes to food these days, though. My first few weeks were a crazed oh-my-god-the-food-from-anime!let’s-try-everything! kind of a thing. As I was having 70 yen yakisoba pan under a blooming sakura tree with light gusts of wind messing up my hair and making leaves flutter gently to the ground, I realized that the animes might actually be inspired by reality.2014-04-05 14.27.53

The people are also remarkably nice. While I know that often times it is sheer politeness, I just get the feeling that everyone is so goddamn positive about everything. Even their complaints seem positive. It’s amazing. Hidamari Sketch suddenly makes sense to me.

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That being said, i still mostly hang out with expats. And that’s ok. Befriending people because of their nationality is racist :P.2014-04-17 20.59.05

But yeah, back to the Japanese. To my great surprise, I’ve forgotten most of my keigo. I can’t believe that i used to be the keigo girl. I can’t even make proper requests when necessary (did you know that when you’re sick, you can forget even a basic set phrase like 休ませていただきませんか… and they make you feel really bad for it, too?)

Basically, my entire experience with the language here has been a yoyo between “this is going better than expected” and “shit, I’m lost”. There seems to be no middle ground between the two. One day I’m having a perfect conversation entirely in japanese with my senpais and my confidence goes up, the next day I can’t understand a thing that the conbini guy is trying to explain regarding my Amazon package and my confidence shatters into a million pieces. I’m trying to not care as much since the confidence-breaking moments really take their toll on my self esteem, which makes me less eager to use the language, which make me speak worse…and so on. Working on it. I’ve taken to calling all my moments of confusion 外人モード. It’s become an inside joke. I’m trying to not let it get to me.2014-04-19 21.15.19

I have no idea how people can move to a country without speaking the language. I hate even visiting a country if I can’t understand people. Yet somehow people who don’t know the language seem to get by pretty well. Sometimes even better than I am. As I painstakingly read every label in the supermarket, they just look at the pictures, maybe asking me what something is. They finish quicker, and get what they wanted. I leave with a million mental notes about how to cook something that I had found interesting. For the record, I can read and understand most labels. Even the ingredients part. The SRSing so many words really pays off when you’re this much of a control freak.  2014-04-26 13.31.13

In fact, vocabulary wise I’m pretty good. Comprehension wise it depends on who I’m talking to (there is this one guy at the Lawson and this one girl at the Family Mart who tend to talk impossibly fast and mumbled, thus making me dread any moment at the cash register). Kanjis are ok. Writing kanjis are not so ok. My teachers keep correcting my hiragana, since apparently I’m a sloppy writer. I am definitely missing that magic that makes all my skills combine together to get a good level, and am not a natural talker yet, but I am getting there. I really am.

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And yet, every time I make a mistake or have a lapsus, my confidence just goes down the drain. I got 98% on a test and was down because of the red marks telling me to improve my hiragana. I got 60% on a test which I was expected to fail (I had missed the introductory lesson so I had to basically imagine what the table I was filling in was about), and I was bummed out. Every time I have a linguistic barrier I start panicking. My anxiety level has definitely gone up ever since I’ve moved here, since I’m awlays afraid of making some major mistake. Which is weird, because as I previously mentioned, everyone here has been ridiculously supportive.

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And then, at one point due a misunderstanding during a Facebook discussion, it hit me. I had been prepared for failure. The talks about how Japanese is impossible. The constant reminders from the internet that you’ll always be a gaijin. The reassuring pats on the back “it’s ok, you’re a gaijin, you’ll be forgiven” when I don’t know the social protocol for something. The guides to how to be a good gaijin. I always remind myself to be a good gaijin. It’s all coming back and pressuring me. I feel as if complaining about being poor at Japanese when having the N1 makes me feel like I’m being modest, when I complain about English despite getting being C2 level for years (and a European certificate means so much more than the JLPT as far as skills are concerned). I make a mistake in Japanese, it’s because Japanese is impossible; I mispronounce something in English? Frustrating, but it’s English, what can you do?

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It’s weird, because especially after having spent so much time with sociology and institutionalized marginalisation and what not, you’d think I’d know how to fight this. But I don’t. It’s really confusing, as I’ve just switched to a completely different kind of pressure, and honestly, it’s not the Japanese people’s fault this time. So weird. IMG_0056

But maybe I should talk culture clash. One thing that I’ve been complaining about, and thought I’ve gotten accustomed to it I refuse to accept it, is the lack of physical contact. See, where I’m from, people hug. All. The. Time. Seriously. A night out drinking was basically 90% made of hugs and hanging on to people and was really damned affectionate in a platonic matter. I really miss that. These days I get weirded out if someone accidentally brushes against me. I’ve started using the change trays. Sometimes I’ll instinctively shake hands with someone and instantly feel the awkwardness. It’s taking me a while to get used to this.

IMG_0070One of the more interesting habits I’ve noticed was when i was late for class. I normally make a point out of the fact that I don’t run when I’m late since I think it’s really awkward. But this time I was really late, so running to class it is. As I raced through the crowded campus I noticed that other people also quickened their pace, if not outright began to run next to me. As soon as I’d pass them, they’d stop, and the people who were in front of me would run after noticing me. It was amazing. And it made me feel bad for inconveniencing them, so I’m definitely not running again when on my own, but that’s a story for another time.

Seriously, just think about how amazingly thoughtful this is. You see someone awkwardly running, you run next to them to be awkward together. It encourages them to not run out of breath and keep going. It’s so nice. I used to jog with my friend, so I know how having a running buddy can definitely improve your stats. I started doing this when I have other colleagues running from the dorm, and it’s such a random moment of togetherness <3.

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I also went for karaoke. Karaoke was always the kind of thing that a tone deaf person such as myself would avoid, but again, as long as I’m singing with someone I can do it. I’ve started really appreciating the unison feel around here. IMG_0109

Also, the innocence of it all. Most people I’ve met so far don’t drink, and when they do they do it in ridiculously moderate amounts. And there’s always food nearby. Seriously, an outing that consists of only 3 beers? o.O. And usually not even that. I’ve met maybe 2 smokers; quitting smoking here has been a breeze since there just isn’t anything to tempt me. I’m fairly positive that this is highly subjective and it’s quite likely that I’ve just landed with a strange crowd, but it’s definitely a welcome detox from the Romanian lifestyle. IMG_0132

But yeah, back to Japanese. I’ve been wondering what to do with this blog, as aside from my lessons and occasional supplements I plan on letting my life take its course and stopping the study of the language, per se. Turn this into a “random thoughts about Japan” blog, maybe? Abandon it forever? さぁ~IMG_0134

And that’s about it. This was a random moment of procrastination since I really ought to start writing my essay for tomorrow’s classes.

By the way, I took up a modern Japanese poetry lesson, and decided that modern poetry has its charm. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with most poems we’ve studied so far. I always thought that 短歌 was the pinnacle of poetry for me; it’s good to see that I was wrong =). Here, this is the first modern poem we studied, which changed my opinion of Japanese poetry as soon as I’d finished reading it. It’s pretty amazing.

秋の夜は、はるかの彼方に、
小石ばかりの、河原があって、
それに陽は、さらさらと
さらさらと射しているのでありました。
陽といっても、まるで珪石か何かのようで、
非常な個体の粉末のようで、
さればこそ、さらさらと
かすかな音を立ててもいるのでした。
さて小石の上に、今しも一つの蝶がとまり、
淡い、それでいてくっきりとした
影を落としているのでした。
やがてその蝶が見えなくなると、いつのまにか、
今迄流れてもいなかった川床に、水は
さらさらと、さらさらと流れているのでありました
(中原中也/ひとつのメルヘン)
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