Well, the Japanese ability screening test I’d been studying for is now over, so I no longer have to spend every minute of my free time studying (or feeling obligated to study). I can get back to my full gym routine (and just in time too–muscles are weakening! Anxiety levels are increasing!) and I can get back to work on song translations and updating my website. I spent the past weekend doing that almost exclusively, and I’m not done yet (I was already behind though) but I hope to catch up soon.
How did the test go? Hmm… I was told it would be post-N2 level, hence the frantic studying, and I’m not sure if it was quite that bad. The test’s difficulty ranged from “super ridiculously is-this-a-joke easy” to “ooh, that’s kinda hard.” I feel pretty confident about the majority of my answers, but I’ve also completely lost faith in my ability to predict if my answer will be the correct one. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m “whaaaat! How is that not it?!” wrong. It’s also difficult to know how you did on a test you’ve never taken before. With JLPT you know what to expect, but this was a test created by teachers I’d never encountered before. It was also strange in that for the listening and reading sections, the texts/dialogues were in Japanese, but you answered in English. It was that way for some parts of the kanji/vocab section too. This made it easier in some ways but it was also a little confusing/unexpected. I don’t feel like I bombed it or anything, but I feel like there might be a lot of answers I thought I got right where in reality they were looking for something totally different. Hard to say! Frustrating.
It will be a little while before I know if I did well enough for my goals… right now I am in a waiting period. And I hate it. I want to know so I can plan and announce, and I won’t know for a bit longer, and I’m worried, worried, worried the outcome won’t be what I’m hoping… it’s not fun. It will be this way for about the next month. In many ways this next month will be huge.
I’m not sure how much of my energy to dedicate to Japanese study from here on out… before this, I would try to dedicate at least a few hours of one weekend day to self-study at home with my textbooks, and usually I’d succeed. Last spring I tried taking the Saturday morning Japanese classes offered in my city–and then there’s a study group that meets at a nearby cafe afterwards, I went to that a few times–but it was too far away and I had a hard time motivating myself to go and to spend the gas. I promised myself I’d get serious about self-study if I wasn’t going to attend the classes, and I’ve definitely kept up with it the past two frantic months (I think my level has progressed quite rapidly and sort of launched me into the next stage of Japanese ability from where I was before, which is good–for the first time I feel like I’m solidly in the thick of N2 and just need to master it) and now I’m not sure of the best way to keep going now. I guess just keep reviewing and making progress in my N2 textbooks, but I also feel like I need more practical reading and listening practice. I’m considering downloading some raw drama episodes and just watching those. I have a lot of things I can read, although with that comes the urge to translate instead of just simply read. I’m also trying to find good reading sources online; my sister turned me on to a blog that’s been pretty interesting. I’m trying to read as much as I can without consulting Rikaichan but sometimes there are just words I haven’t learned yet. The frustrating part about reading is having to consult the dictionary so often, and feeling discouraged because of that–and also not knowing if it’s better to consult it for every unknown word or just press on. As for listening, I think I’ll go with dramas… maaaybe some variety shows I can find online. Dramas based on manga I read/like would be a good place to start, as well as those with theme songs sung by my favorite artists (that I’ve probably already translated). For a while there will be things that go over my head, but I’m hoping over time I’ll understand more and more. I’m not a huge drama fan, I’ve seen a couple series but that’s it, but this will also be good cultural education.
Because in the meantime, I’m trying to get my Japanese cultural knowledge up to speed by reading Japanese news and Japan-centric blogs. I was only there in 2006 so in a lot of ways I’m behind the times. I always scoff at people who focus on Japanese culture over language (because it’s obvious they’re doing it because they find the language too hard) so in some ways this makes me feel like I’m taking the ‘easy way’ out (especially because I’m mostly reading up in English–I plan to move to Japanese after I feel more knowledgeable overall, because news in Japanese is pretty hard) but I have to remember it’s just as important. One thing that’s particularly interesting for me is each year’s top slang/buzzwords. I’ve found 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 (one and two), 2005, and 2004. What struck me when reading those–aside from recognizing which have become such a permanent part of current vocabulary that it surprises me to learn their origins here, and which would be considered so passé by this point–was remembering the ones we’d covered in the conversation classes I took spring 2006 and spring 2008, as well as the ones I picked up living in Japan in 2006. Of course, that very fact reinforces that since those are the ones I know, it means I definitely need to get myself caught up to present times. So from 2007’s I recall KY [空気が読めない] for sure, as well as どんだけ — which doesn’t surprise me that it originally came from Shinjuku Nichoume. I was also struck by this one:
Oubei ka! [欧米か！]: Oubei ka! (“You’re not a Westerner!”) is the catchphrase of comedy duo Taka and Toshi. In a typical skit, Taka acts as if he were an American or European, and Toshi tells him to stop acting silly (like a Westerner) by saying “Oubei ka!” The humor apparently lies in the fact that they are both obviously Japanese, and not from America or Europe.
Wow. That just sounds super racist. Could you imagine if two white comedians went onstage and one pretended to be a different race, speaking with an exaggerated accent and mimicking other stereotypical behaviors of that race, and that was the “joke”? Good lord. As if it isn’t hard enough as an obvious foreigner in Japan, you have to make fun of us too? Unbelievable.
I mean, a definite side effect of reading all these blogs, personal accounts, etc written by westerners in or about Japan is remembering all the bad parts, like how difficult it is to fit in, and how socially you don’t really associate with Japanese people all that often–how most of the time, westerners stick to others in their own foreign bubble, because that’s honestly what’s easiest to do. When I studied abroad I had a lot of Japanese acquaintances who hung out with us because they studied at the colleges we took courses at, and also a lot of them were studying English [and were very good] and wanted to practice with us, but almost no true, close friends. Yuuho is my only close Japanese friend I can think of and it’s only because we’re making an effort to communicate now–we didn’t then. It’s hard not to look down on westerners in Japan who say “I don’t have any Japanese friends/I don’t have any good Japanese friends” (or at least any they hang out with and talk to on a regular basis) and think that they must be lazy, but it’s really not the case–it’s just that it’s inherently so much more difficult to try and really be a part of Japanese society. There is a wall there, for sure, and you get fed up and don’t even want to try anymore. I see why it so often happens that foreigners stick together, especially when you’ve come over with a bunch of other people from your country so your urge is to stay near them instead of venturing out. Despite all that, I really don’t want it to happen again. I still want to try my hardest to make and keep real, close Japanese friends instead of hanging out with only other westerners. Not just because it will give me increased Japanese practice but because I think it’s pointless to come to another country for a limited period of time, with the goal of language mastery, and not do your utmost to become a part of it, even if you’re handicapped from the start because you look different and you’re not fluent and you’re viewed as temporary and a lot of adult Japanese people don’t venture out socially much anyway. I know it will be so much harder and in some ways almost impossible, but I still want to try.
But just in case anyone was worried that I’d end up tempted to live there forever, I don’t think so. Long enough to become as fluent as I can, yes; forever, no. While, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about the culture that I do like, it really is true that for me it’s the language that’s the draw.