Saturday, November 13, 2004


Again with the strange moods.

Today was the Culture Festival at Yokota JHS. Earlier this week, I'd showed interest in attending, because I had yet to attend any event at Yokota. So Ikeda talked to the BoE, and told me that I had three choices: I could come to school for the whole day and receive a day's daikyu (compensatory time off, to be used at my leisure), I could come for half a day and receive half a day's daikyu, or I could come for one hour and receive no daikyu. I had no plans for today, so I told her to sign me up for the full day. It meant coming in at 8:10 like any other school day, but that wasn't so bad.

It was nice. In the morning, each of the classes sang a song, with one class member accompanying on the piano, and another conducting. Most of the conductors just stood in front of the choir and waved their hands, sometimes without regard for tempo or anything. One kid, though, did actually seem to be conducting; like, even the student playing the piano was following him. After that, the teachers sang a song, myself included because Ikeda had kindly transcribed the lyrics into romaji. After lunch, and after the bazaar where I bought a white stuffed gorilla for 30 yen, we returned to the gym. This time some students did a couple of skits, after which there were some girls on the stage with electric guitars and drums. I inwardly groaned, because I feared it would be a repeat of the Nita JHS Culture Festival.

At Nita, a few boys did a mini-concert with rock band instruments, but none of them actually played. I think the kid on the drums did, but the rest of them just pretended to play while they ran a CD. So, yeah, that's kind of cute, and it can be funny if they really try to make it look realistic. But they looked so unenthused. And instead of limiting their performance to one song, like they should have, they played three songs. Lame! I'd rather hear them play badly than hear them not play at all, and not even really pretend to play either. It wasn't anything.

These girls, though, did actually play their instruments, and even did a decent job of it. They played two or three songs, and then the kids had a fashion show, and then an all-boys band played, also for real. So this was better than Nita, but it went on for two hours. I was sitting next to Ikeda, and said, "The teachers are eternally bored." She nodded. They really were. I couldn't understand a thing the students were saying, but I seemed to be enjoying the performances more than the rest of them. They thought the fashion show was dumb—one mentioned something about vomiting—but, um, you didn't hear that from me.

The boys' band was a bit more coherent than the girls' band, and they played some upbeat songs, so I set to 'chair dancing.' If the phrase hasn't yet been coined, I've got first dibs: chair dancing is, well, dancing while seated. I just kind of bopped around a little bit, then said to Ikeda, "You know, it's not so boring if you dance to it." She said, "Mmm. Japanese people don't usually dance."

I stopped for a moment, then said, "Your loss," and continued chair dancing, because it really did help break the monotony. But I couldn't shake her words from my head, and the more I thought about them, the more depressed I became.

I can't ever remember hearing an American play the National Heritage card to justify one's personal decision. "No thanks," "I'd rather not," "Are you feeling okay?" yes, I've heard all those. But never, "Americans don't usually do that."

I was especially disappointed because it was Ikeda who said it. I'm not super chummy with any of my JTEs, but she more than the other four is one with whom I could really see myself becoming friends. She spent six months in England attending an English language school a few years back, and (probably as a result) her English is better than that of the other JTEs. I can speak almost normally, and she understands me. And this is a great thing, it really is. After fourteen weeks of saying to someone something like, "Will I be eating lunch at [insert elementary school] on Monday, or should I bring my own lunch?" and receiving, as a response, "Okay," and a smile and a nod, and then me saying, "No, I'm asking..." it's so nice to be able to say to her, "My high school band sucked," and receive, as a response, "Really? What was your school good at, then?" I also don't have to slow my speech, which puts me at ease.

In September, the ichi-nenseis at Yokota JHS took a field trip to Matsue. I went with them, and took the opportunity to go to the appropriate building to get my re-entry permit taken care of. (The office that handles such things is only open on non-holiday weekdays, so getting up there would ordinarily involve using a few hours' nenkyu (personal time off).) Since I was palling around with Ikeda, we both went to said building, which turned out to be the wrong one. (It didn't used to be, but they moved the office a few months ago.) So they placed a phone call to the appropriate office, and Ikeda spoke with a fellow there briefly, then handed the phone to me. "He needs to talk to you." Unfortunately, he spoke precious little English, and there seemed to be some, I guess, legal reason why he couldn't speak to me through an intermediary. I'm not sure why, because we didn't discuss anything important, only that I didn't need the re-entry permit for a few months, and that maybe it was okay if I stopped by some other day. As Ikeda and I left the building, she said to me, "When you were talking with the man on the phone, your English was very strange."
I laughed. "He speaks broken English, so I think he can only understand broken English."

So what I mean to say is that she's the coolest Japanese person I know, but now it seems she's less cool than I thought. (J-Bot mode = uncool) And in so becoming, I feel more lonely than ever.
"It was just one sentence."
"Yeah, I know."
"So, why does it bother you so much?"
"I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I expected too much."

I'm also bummed because, one, I didn't pace myself in this NaNoWriMo thing, and two, I haven't been keeping up on my Japanese studies. I could have pulled them both off, finishing my short novel by November 30th, and being prepared for the JLPT on December 5th. At this rate, however, they've created a conflict of interest, and I have to let one go. Since I'd be a complete fool to stop studying Japanese at a time when my ability to learn it is at its highest, it's gonna have to be NaNo.

I suck.

And at the same time, I'm relieved.

Learning Japanese by absorption is next to impossible, since almost everyone I meet is so interested in (learning English from) me. Even just last night, I went to a Japanese conversation class in Yokota; I only recently found out about it, and it's held on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, so this was the first class I could attend. The price is right, too: 500 yen per month, which ends up being 4 hours of lesson. There were several people there, all of them Japanese except for Pannee, the CIR in Yokota, who speaks nearly fluent Japanese. One woman I'd met before, Chieko, speaks English fairly well, so I guess she was designated my teacher for the evening. (Everyone else sat around chatting away the rest of the evening.) She asked if I'd brought a textbook with me. I hadn't; I didn't know I was supposed to. So we found a children's book (the class is held in a sort of daycare room in the Community Building), and I started to read. It was mostly hiragana, so I could sound it out, but I didn't know what most of the words meant. Except mukashi, which means long ago. Just like English stories often start with, "Once upon a time," Japanese stories often begin with, "Mukashi, mukashi."

But even a hiragana children's book plus a dictionary doesn't make for a good learning experience. The Japanese have this terribly medieval practice of squishing their words together so that it appears to be one long word. And very different words may be spelled with the same hiragana (though they usually have different kanji), so looking one word up in my dictionary produces as many as eight distinct and very different definitions. And the two issues combined? If the "word" is ABCDEF, I don't know if it's ABC DEF, AB CDE F, A BCD EF, or whatever, and then most of those smaller bits have at least two different definitions.... Frustration.

At the end of the lesson, I told Chieko that I would be coming to the next one, in two weeks, and that I'd bring a textbook. She seemed pleased to hear that. "I hope you will teach me some English, too, next time."

Now... crap... how do I tell her, without insulting her or making her feel foolish, that if I'm paying money to learn Japanese, I really want to spend all of that time learning Japanese? It's easy enough to give her the English translation for a few words here and there, but that has a tendency to quickly degrade into a full-blown English lesson.

I'm beginning to feel deeply frustrated with my inability to understand what people around me are saying, with having to rely on someone else to translate the smallest things for me. Let this be the motivation I need to study my butt off.

Woo! I'm complaining about Japan and all things Japanese! It must be culture shock!

On the bright side, this new fabric softener I bought smells nice.

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