David Chart's Japan Diary

March 20th 2004

As my second quarter at Yamasa draws to a close, it's a good time to look back on the last three months. The first thing is that they seem to have vanished incredibly quickly. If I think back to the beginning of term, it does seem to have been a long time ago, but it also seems that it shouldn't be nearly the end of March already.

Still, I seem to have made substantial progress in Japanese. Quite apart from the astounding result of coming top in a listening comprehension test (I still don't know how that happened, maybe everyone else was asleep), we had the big Yamasa test on Thursday, and I got my results back from Sakai-sensei yesterday. I got 78% on the grammar section, and 93% on the reading comprehension. A bit of an improvement over the 40% I got on a test at the same level this time last quarter. I'm also understanding a lot more of the television I'm watching than I did at the beginning of the term.

I had a talk with Sakai-sensei on Thursday, before the test results were known. There were two subjects. One was the short roleplaying scenario I've agreed to run for the class on Friday morning. I have to write this in Japanese, of course. At the moment, I'm still working the plot out in English, but I'm hoping to finish that today and maybe even start writing in Japanese.

The other topic was the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I wanted to know whether I could pass level one this year. Sakai-sensei thinks probably not, although it's not impossible. On the other hand, she thinks that it would be a mistake to study specifically for the test. I have no particular need to pass it for my job or anything similar, and specific study would actually retard my Japanese progress.

Why? Well, the JLPT is a badly-designed test. It's entirely multiple choice, and focuses very heavily on grammar and kanji recognition. Since I actually want to use Japanese, and ultimately to be able to write in it, it would be a bad idea to study for it. When you learn new grammar in a language there is a notable time lag between becoming able to recognise it, and becoming able to use it. I've known this for ages (reading the pages about teaching English in the Guardian Weekly isn't completely useless), and it's a relief to see that it's common knowledge among teachers of Japanese as well. However, studying for the test would involve getting lots of new grammar and kanji to the point of recognition, which would cut down on the number of repeated encounters with easier/more common grammatical structures which would consolidate them and make them available for natural use. It would also mean spending three months with little conversation practice, which wouldn't be a good thing.

I am, however, seriously considering staying another six months, since that is the longest the Japanese government will give me on this visa, and I won't be able to get this kind of visa again. Another year of study should leave me really good at Japanese...

Getting Miscellaneous

Apart from that, what else has happened this week? I opened a Japanese bank account on Monday, and now have a cash card. I'm planning to use the account more for funds transfers, though. A lot of places in Japan take payment by direct transfer from your bank account; far more than take credit cards.

Sunbathing turtles One of the turtles sunning themselves at the local pond.

I saw turtles sunning themselves at the local pond. Moments after I took the photo, they all dived back into the water. Maybe they were posing for me.

In one of my weirder class experiences, I found myself singing 'I vow to thee my country' solo and a capella in class on Thursday. After the big test, we had a lesson on Japanese songs, which combined listening comprehension and trying to sing them after listening a time or two. One of these songs was one that's very popular at the moment, called 'Jupiter'. The reason it's called that is that the tune is the slow bit from Holst's 'Jupiter', or the tune to 'I vow to thee my country'. Needless to say, the first time I heard it I was a bit surprised. "Hey, that's Jupiter" I thought, little realising that I was exactly right. (The title is in Latin characters.) So I explained this to the class, which also explained the title (it has little to do with the contents of the song). When I said that there was an English hymn with the same tune, I got asked to sing it. So I did. The beginning, anyway.

I got my annual payment from the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society a couple of days ago, so I decided to spend it on something fun. (It's completely unpredictable, so I don't budget around it.) I bought a couple of Japanese CDs, including one by Ayumi Hamasaki (roughly the Japanese equivalent to Madonna) which had a DVD of the videos for most of the songs included. These included one which is perhaps the most radical disconnect between song and video I've ever seen.

The song is a love song, about walking hand in hand and thinking that the guy in question has angel wings. The video is about an attempted bank robbery, which is foiled when Ayu turns into a werewolf and does Matrix-style martial arts on the the robbers. I like the song and the video, but...

I have online chat working, and had a nice chat with Dad that way today. Soon, I should have videoconferencing working, and be able to see him while I'm talking to him. I'm on AIM; anyone who wants to make use of this facility should drop me an email to get my screen name. I don't know how much I'll be online, but I can organise to be there at certain times.

It should be apparent that my life does not have a great coherent master narrative at the moment. Well, not this week, anyway. That's OK. I'm real, not a fictional character.