David Chart's Japan Diary

January 30th 2005

Only a partial week to report this time, what with the last diary not getting written until Tuesday. Oddly enough, I've not been off anywhere this weekend, but instead I've been having a bit of a rest and catching up with email and reading.

Last week was all school. I'm co-presenting on two chapters of the novel we're reading on Monday, so that made Thursday night quite busy as I did all the preparation. Reading the chapters and answering the questions took two and a half hours in total -- my Japanese reading speed, at two minutes per page for a dialogue-heavy novel, is still significantly below my English speed (which would be about two pages per minute in the same circumstances). Still, I suppose that's only to be expected. It's about four and a half years since I started learning Japanese (if we ignore the false starts), so I can't really expect to attain the same fluency I have in a language I've been learning for thirty mumble years.

Incidentally, I do wonder about the claim that children learn languages so much better than adults. I'm pretty sure that my Japanese competence, and particularly my reading level, is rather above that of a four and a half year old child. I make mistakes that no child would make, true, but I can do things that no four and a half year old can, as well. If I continue living in Japan for another ten years, how will my Japanese compare to that of a native fifteen year old?

On the other hand, last week I took a step towards becoming a published author in Japanese. Last term we all wrote 'letters to the editor' about some topical issue, and Hara-sensei sent them all off to Chuunichi Shinbun ('Central Japan Newspaper'). It's a pretty big newspaper. A couple of weeks ago, they said that they would be printing the letters from three of my classmates (Martine, Hang, and Thao), but not mine, because I was too sarcastic about politicians. Last week, they changed their minds, doubtless under immense pressure from my legions of fans, and decided to print it. It will be in next Monday's issue (the 7th), unless something drastic intervenes. I intend to buy one or two copies.

I confess to somewhat mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, yay, go me! On the other, the letter was very heavily rewritten. The basic structure, examples, and message were all mine, and the opening did need redoing, as when I wrote it there had been a typhoon the previous day, but now it was two months ago. On the other hand, most of the words were changed. Part of this happens to native speakers too, of course. I've edited a couple of people who needed a complete rewrite. Another part is probably a desire on the part of the paper to publish it, but soften it a little to avoid upsetting politicians. (The message that initially came via Hara-sensei was roughly 'We'd like to publish it, but we're not sure we'd get away with it'.) But still, I know I can do structure, examples, and message. A little more validation of my technical writing ability in Japanese would have been nice.

Ah well, maybe next time.

Today's been a fairly good drying day, which is good, because yesterday was appalling. I ended up having to hang my sheets up in my flat with the heater on in order to be able to go to bed. Not the most environmentally-friendly way of drying my washing...