Oni Koroshi (Ogre Killer), My New Favorite in Terms of Cost-Palatability Balance
|June 24, 2011: Oni Koroshi Night|
Tonight is special because it's my last drinking night for the next ten calendar days. Why? Because today is T-minus 10 days till the JLPT! I can't really drink after this. So tonight, I'm downing two Oni Koroshi (Ogre Killer) drinkboxes bought from the local convenience store for 100 yen a piece.
Now, let me talk about my study plan for the next ten days. Because I'm going to have to moderate something and schedule my time properly if I want to be ready for the exam.
First of all, here is what I should do, in order of priority:
Now, what are my time resources that I have to work with? Let's see. I can manage five hours per weeknight, eight hours per weekend day, and 12 hours on the day before the exam. On the day of the exam, I will only be able to muster two hours since I will need to get to the test center. This works out as follows:
Total: 60 hours
Now here is how I plan to spend those 60 hours:
Okay, and it's settled. That's how I'll do it. That's how I'll manage my time. Now, I will commence Oni Koroshi drinking and watching the Big Bang Theory, and tomorrow, I will get hardcore and do what I can.
June 19, 2011: Today Is My Five-Year Anniversary of Moving Back to Asia
Five years ago today, I arrived in Seoul, South Korea. This started an adventure that has lasted for more than five years!
June 6, 2011: I Just Returned from a Day Trip to Nagoya
See this picture and others like it in my "Mastering Nagoya" photo-essay-in-progress. I have made it my mission to visit Nagoya frequently and learn everything I can about Nagoya while I'm living near it. I call this project "Mastering Nagoya" because I am essentially mastering the city of Nagoya in doing this.
June 4, 2011: Summary of Weeks 20 and 21 and My Plans for the Next 30 Days, as Well as Tomorrow's Nagoya Trip
The past two weeks have involved lots of Japanese study, but not enough. I have now covered everything up to Unit 10. However, I need to get to Unit 50 to be ready for the JLPT on July 3. I have calculated that if I can manage nine units per week, I can meet my goal of covering Units 1 - 50 in Minna no Nihongo before the test. My vocabulary is already sufficient to pass the test, but I need to work on listening comprehension from the four-CD Minna no Nihongo set. I also need to pack on some grammar.
As for other news for the last couple of weeks, I have shown up to my job and had a new game this week: Go Moku Narabu (see the "English Teaching" tab above for details). Financially, things are going pretty well. However, in order to stay on my food budget, I'll have to make it through next week on 400 yen per day. However, this is not a tall order since I have a massive sack (10 kilograms) of rice with most of the rice still in it. Basically all I have done is study Japanese, and work, though. Health and hygiene were okay except that I drank way too much. I was doing really well for about six months or so, but the last couple of weeks have involved way too much sake. I discovered a type of sake called Oni Koroshi (Ogre Killer) that is very cheap and tastes decent.
In terms of fun, see the section on the Tokyo trip and the Bonsai Tenjikai below. I am also fighting the final boss in the Nintendo 3DS game Surechigai Densetsu. So I've been having plenty of fun.
Now I want to discuss my plans for the next 30 days. I'm going to stop studying anything that isn't Japanese since the JLPT N4 is on the 3rd of July. I will cover a unit everyday except Saturdays, on which I will cover two units. Furthermore, I will do a bit extra beyond one unit everyday in the hopes that I can come up with an extra unit per week. If I do that, I should just barely finish Unit 50 prior to the test.
And now, I want to talk about tomorrow's Nagoya trip. I will go to Nagoya Station tomorrow. I have three missions:
1. Post some flyers at local universities and see if anyone wants to do a Japanese/English language exchange with me.
2. Walk around Nagoya Station for at least a couple of hours and farm StreetPass hits. Currently, I'm on the final boss of Surechigai Densetsu (first playthrough) and I think I can get enough StreetPass hits in Nagoya Station to defeat him. He has 150 HP and most Miis are only Level 1, but Nagoya Station is a virtually unlimited source of Miis, so I'm pretty sure I can beat him tomorrow anyway. Then I'll get the crown for my Mii. Though to be honest, I like the Samus hat better.
By the way, the second playthrough hats are awesome. Especially the Ultimate Hat and the Bowser Hat. I have one Mii with the Ultimate Hat. It's horned and is actually animated!
3. See some cool stuff in Nagoya and take photos and blog about it.
June 3, 2011: Bonsai no Tenjikai to DoraKue IX
Today, there was a bonsai exhibition (an exhibition of small trees at Kayo Mall, the Bonsai Tenjikai). And after work, I bought Dragon Quest IX, as well, so it was an eventful day.
First I will discuss bonsai. Bonsai are small trees that are usually kept artificially small by their growers. They are often very beautiful. The majority of the bonsai at the Bonsai Tenjikai were Satsuki azaleas.
This is an 80-year-old bonsai. Yep, that's right, this bonsai survived World War II, the 1998 Asian financial crisis, the Kansai earthquake in the 90s that killed thousands of people, etc. This bonsai has seen it all. It's a Satsuki azalea that likely passed through several owners. Japanese people buy and sell bonsai trees, growing them for a while, then selling them to someone else. In the case of this tree that is currently sitting humbly in Kayo Mall, it has probably gone through multiple owners.
This is a "momiji," or maple tree, another popular type of bonsai. It is likely not as big or old as many of the others at the Bonsai Tenjikai. One of the old men who grew bonsai told my boss that the smaller ones require a great deal of maintenance. In summer, they must be watered twice a day. Larger trees and the smaller ones in winter do not require nearly so much maintenance, however.
Many bonsai have moss at the base, known in Japanese as "koke." However, this is an exceptional example, with a ball of dirt and moss called a "kokedama."
Some growers choose to grow smaller bonsai. There is a separate judging division for smaller bonsai. Larger bonsai are extremely heavy and difficult to transport, as well. A key difference between small bonsai and large bonsai is how they are grown. Small bonsai can be grown exclusively in a pot since their trunk size can be small. Small bonsai require much more maintenance (two waterings per day in the summer) and their trunks need to be shaped with plastic-covered wires that look like electrical cords. Larger bonsai are hardier, but also must be planted in regular ground for a while so their trunks can increase in size to the size seen on the 80-year-old Satsuki azalea above.
This is Dragon Quest IX, or DoraKue IX in Japanese slang. I bought it at the game shop for 980 yen, a bargain. So far, I am controlling an angel called Chaaruzu who I configured to look like me. I go between the Ningenkai (the human world) and the Tenshikai (the angel world). I collect hoshi no aura (aura of the stars) from humans that I help; I am a shugotenshi (guardian angel) for the village of Woruro. When I collect hoshi no aura, I can bring them up to the sekaiju (the tree of the world) and offer them to the tree, yielding fruits for the megami (goddess). This is an interesting game. I look forward to playing more, and it is convenient that furigana are marked above the kanji in the text to assist with easy dictionary lookup. My students love Dragon Quest games, by the way.
May 29, 2011: I Just Came Back from Tokyo
That's right. I just walked in the door. More news will follow shortly.
...and here it is!
I went up to Tokyo for the weekend to see Bona. We went to Xenlon, an elite Chinese restaurant with a great view on the 19th floor. It was so elite, in fact, that it was coincidentally featured as the source of one of the recipes in the cookbook I gave Bona. Wow! Then we went to Don Quixote, a department store. On Saturday night, I stayed with her, and the next morning, we got bentou and we walked to City Hall and through parts of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Then I came back to Yokkaichi in the reverse of the way I had left it: by way of Nagoya. And that was the trip to Tokyo, my first time in Tokyo, ever.
May 18, 2011: My First StreetPass Hit/Surechigai
After four days of really trying, I finally got a Surechigai, or StreetPass hit, on my Nintendo 3DS. What is a StreetPass hit? Well, it's what happens when one Nintendo 3DS owner passes by another Nintendo 3DS owner with the WiFi turned on, and the machines communicate with each other automatically, exchanging Miis (little avatars on the Nintendo 3DS). I had taken over 20,000 steps through downtown Yokkaichi on Sunday with no luck, and the same thing had happened on Monday and Tuesday as I worked at Kayo Mall. However, today was different. I will copy and paste the post I made to 3dsforums.com about my first StreetPass hit (changing the bulletin board code to HTML):
I got my first StreetPass hit today at Yokkaichi's Kayo Mall! I think it happened sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 PM, which is really strange since I was teaching in the classroom then and was not in a highly-populated location. I will translate the screens below to the best of my ability (cool, I packed on a few Japanese vocabulary words while doing the translation)...
[You] met with Rutei of Mie Prefecture!
(no dialogue, but "asobu" means "play")
6 hours ago (once)
The last game he played:
Dog Faction or Cat Faction: Cat Faction
Dream: Being an Expert
Mii's Birthday: 5/28
Total StreetPass hits: 39 times
Plaza's Miis: 37 people
What will Rutei, the Level 1 hero, do? (literally "How will the Level 1 hero, Rutei, do it?")
May 16, 2011: Summary of Weeks Weeks 18 and 19 with Emphasis on the Banko Matsuri
Over the weekend, I went to the Banko Matsuri with my boss, Kaori. Megume, one of the mothers, also came along with us. The Banko Matsuri is a Japanese festival (matsuri) held to celebrate the regional ceramics of Yokkaichi. This matsuri is famous all over Mie Prefecture, but probably not so famous outside of Mie Prefecture.
This is the Banko Jinja (Banko Shinto Shrine) in Yokkaichi. Banko is also a type of ceramics, and the jinja sees considerable foot traffic on the Saturday and Sunday of the matsuri.
Here are some stalls at the matsuri. The left sells takoyaki, or grilled octopus. The stall on the right sells the high-quality ceramics for which the Banko Matsuri is famous.
Here are some miscellaneous banko items. Not cheap. The vase in the middle is 12,000 yen, or $148.43 in US Dollars at today's exchange rate.
And this one takes the cake for overpricedness! 100,000 yen — $1,236.90 for a blue bowl! Holy shit! Why? Does this bowl have special historical significance? Was it crafted by a world-renowned artist? Or did they just stick a 100K yen price tag on it with the hopes that some poor sap would break it accidentally? I'll probably never know, but regardless, I stayed several feet away from it except when photographing it, lest an unfortunate bicycle collision or other accident cause me to lose my balance and fall the wrong way.
I had to buy something. So I bought this. A 300 yen chopstick rest that looks like a fish, crafted by a mustachioed fellow. At least it's compact, won't weigh me down, and will keep my chopsticks from hitting the unsanitary table (and yes, my table is very unsanitary).
Me, Standing in Front of Some Recycling Bins Placed Unaesthetically Right in Front of the Banko Jinja
This is a shishi, or lion, that guards the Banko Jinja.
On the Banko Matsuri days, people beat taiko drums. This is known as the Bankodaiko (note that the 't' changes to a 'd').
The Heisei Emperor planted this tree with his own two hands. No joke. Yes, the emperor came to Yokkaichi and planted this tree at this shrine. And they don't even put a protective fence around it!
On the left is the Yama no Kami-sama, or God of the Mountain. On the right is the Umi no Kami-sama, or God of the Sea (note the scales and fin). Three offering dishes have been placed in front of the statue, holding (from left to right) water, uncooked rice, and salt. I asked the priest why (he could speak English) and he said it's because they are important substances to humans. Okay. I knew that. But why water, rice, and salt, and not something else? I declined to ask him that, however. I'm sure this is just how Shinto practitioners do things.
As for other notable things for the two-week period leading up to this post, there wasn't very much. Overall, I stayed caught up on JLPT quizzing. I started my JLPT study regimen on Sunday and finished Sunday's portion on schedule. However, other forms of study (IT and religious studies) once again fell by the wayside. I really need to start doing something about those. I was all right health and hygiene-wise, except for overeating a bit. I overspent by a little less than 150 yen per day on food, and was probably too sedentary, overall. In terms of money, I kept on budget otherwise, and plan to make up the deficit this week or next. Finally, in terms of fun, I went to the Banko Matsuri for fun and bought a Nintendo 3DS. That's ample fun, all right!
May 15, 2011: Revised Educational Plan for T-Minus 50 Days
50 days remain until the JLPT. These 50 days include tonight and the day of the test. Here is my plan to shoehorn enough prep into each day that the listening section won't completely devastate me. Basically, I will follow a daily schedule with two "hard" hours and one "soft" hour of study, to include the following components:
May 14, 2011: Today I Bought a Nintendo 3DS, Got my First Regular Paycheck, and Went to the Citizen Center for an Alien Registration Card and Health Insurance Registration
My New Black Nintendo 3DS and my Kokumin Kenkou Hoken (Citizens' Health Insurance) Card
That's right. Today was a busy day.
I woke up at 11:40 AM (pretty early for me) and quickly heated up a breakfast of mabo tofu, then dashed to Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station, and met my boss right on the dot at 12:30 PM. We went to City Hall (or Shimin Sentaa, or whatever it's called) and applied for my Alien Registration Card. I also went upstairs, to the seventh floor, and got my Japanese health insurance card. Yep, that's right, I'm now a card-carrying member of Kokumin Kenkou Hoken, or "Citizens' Health Insurance." It's the health insurance that people get when they're either self-employed or work at a very small company/school (like mine, which consists of only two people: my boss and I). I'm not really quite clear yet on the differences between Kokumin Kenkou Hoken (hereafter "KKH"), but at least I'm now enrolled in something, and according to the leaflet they gave me, treatment at hospitals is 70% covered. Apparently my fees will be very low (less than 10,000 yen a month) for the first year, but will ramp up in the second year (I'm coasting free and easy this year because I didn't make a Japanese income last year, and that's what they use to calculate the premiums).
Personally, I can't wait to get my Alien Registration Card. Once I have it, I can get a regular cell phone (with all kinds of awesome Japan-only cell phone games like Final Fantasy VII: Before Crisis and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years).
I also received my first regular paycheck (I had gotten 30,000 yen in training pay for March, but now my boss is current on giving me all of April's pay). As stated, the paycheck was a whopping 250,000 yen (over $3,000 at the current exchange rate), BUT that was reduced to about $2,000 by the time rent was subtracted and by the time various taxes (national- and city-level) and other things were factored in.
To be honest, I'm still very puzzled by the Japanese social programs and how much they cost to pay into each month. There is the health insurance system, the pension system (similar to US Social Security, except that it takes 25 years of work in Japan before a retiree can draw from it), national taxes (shotokuzei or "income tax"), and consumption tax (sales tax). I pay city taxes to Yokkaichi City, as well.
Another notable thing today was that I used my first paycheck (well, 19,980 yen of it) to buy a Nintendo 3DS. This system is quite cool. It has a stereoscopic screen which can display images in true 3D (as in, a holographic image appears in front of the player, appearing to extend behind the system, which is an illusion created by two sets of pixels, each angled towards one eye). I don't have any games for it yet, but at least I can walk around and obtain Player Coins (the system has a built-in pedometer and 100 steps yields one Player Coin) and play Mabeop Cheonjamun DS. I bought it used, but fortunately it came with the warranty which still has about ten months left on it. I can't wait to explore this system more and be part of the "Nintendo 3DS Generation." I really got in on the ground floor on the Nintendo DS; I owned one within three months of its release (not to mention playing it on March 8, which was before the system was even released in the United States), so I should have a healthy five or six years with it before the next Nintendo handheld system comes out.
Furthermore, McDonald's has a special service for Nintendo DS handhelds. They allow patrons to download games like Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2. In fact, I think I will bring this to a close now, because I fully intend to go to McDonald's right now (earning Player Coins on the walk there) and order some items, then sit down and download some demos/games from the McDonald's Nintendo DS WiFi service. :-)
My Specialist in Humanities/International Services Work Visa (I used the mosaic effect to obscure personal information)
|May 7, 2011: I Got My Work Visa Yesterday and Did Some Other Stuff|
First of all, the most important thing to mention on this site is that I got my Specialist in Humanities/International Services work visa yesterday. It was extremely simple — we just took the Certificate of Eligibility (see previous post) and the immigration officer stuck the visa (literally just a sticker) right into my passport. A procedure I had expected to take one or two weeks was completed in the blink of an eye.
This visa is the beginning of a stable life in Japan; indeed, it is more stability than I have had in my life in Asia, ever. Let me explain why:
So basically, my "foundation" here in Japan has been poured. This is very good news. More of the latest news follows below.
Mini Pajeon that I Made This Week
Mabo Tofu that I Made This Week
It was ridiculously easy to make this. Basically, I just bought a pouch of mabo sauce (168 yen), then took 400 grams of tofu (68 yen), sliced the tofu into 1.5-centimeter cubes, boiled the sauce in a pot, and added the tofu. Then I put it on rice for what you see in the picture. Doing this makes about three servings, so basically it's 100 yen per mabo tofu meal, and it's delicious.
The Front of Our New Big Apple Newsletter, with Photos of Me with the Students/Parents (click to enlarge)
The Back of Said Newsletter with My Introduction (click to enlarge)
The CDs I Bought Yesterday
|May 5, 2011: Minna no Nihongo CDs Acquired, Children's Day|
First of all, today, I have finished reading all of the Unit 1 text for Minna no Nihongo, as well as finishing the CD tracks and doing the exercises. I completed the first unit today because today is the T-minus 60 days mark. Admittedly, Unit 1 was complicated (the Japanese was easy, but there are so many Minna no Nihongo study materials, it gets complicated to shuffle between them). It felt a little bit like shuffling through all of Yonsei University Korean Language Institute's textbooks (they had a reading book, a textbook, a workbook, etc.). Here are the things that I have for Minna no Nihongo:
Now, one might ask why I chose such an expensive textbook set to prep myself for the JLPT and learn Japanese in general. After all, the three books and the CDs together cost 12,000 yen (over $150) combined, and I'm a tightwad. Well, the answer is that I only had to pay for the CDs, because the previous tenant left the books sitting here. Furthermore, I think the Minna no Nihongo series is good because it A) doesn't spend a bunch of time on kana, which I already know, B) it has several books in the series, going up to at least intermediate, so I could develop a routine and follow this series for as much as a year or two, and C) it appears to be very widespread and a common college Japanese textbook — the kind that the JLPT folks assume the learner is learning from.
The reason that I decided to go with Minna no Nihongo and not a more JLPT-focused Japanese book was that none seem to exist. Unicom apparently no longer publishes its JLPT prep books with English explanations. There are tons of books at the bookstore for the JLPT, but they're pretty much all just practice tests.
Anyways, this is the procedure I've decided to use between now and the test day (keep in mind that I have 60 days):
As for other interesting news, today was Kodomo no Hi, or Children's Day. People fly carp windsocks; the black one (usually on top) is the father, the red one is the mother, and at the bottom of the "totem pole" of flying carp is the son, who is blue. Apparently, depending on how many sons there are, there may be additional blue carp. When reading about Kodomo no Hi and the carp windsocks, I found it interesting that Chinese legend states that carp that swim upstream become dragons. That's interesting because in the game Pok?on, Magikarp (a pathetic fish Pok?on) evolves into a dragon Pok?on (Gyarados) once it levels up. Could that part of Pok?on be based on the Chinese legend? Probably.
May 3, 2011: Certificate of Eligibility Acquired, Educational Plans
This is my Certificate of Eligibility from the Japanese government, stating I am fit to work in Japan. Sorry for the bad quality (I took the picture at work with my camera phone, then photographed the phone at home). With this certificate, my boss and I will go to Immigration on Friday and get me my visa, which should only take about a week (it's just a formality now that I have this certificate).
Today is also important for two others reasons. First of all, it is the first holiday of Golden Week. I don't have to work for the next three days. This is like a three-day weekend smack dab in the middle of a week (I do have to work Monday and Friday, though).
Second of all, it is T-minus two months to the JLPT N4 exam (July 3). This calls for some reformed educational policy!
This is sort of the "Part II" to my reformed budget. I've already figured out a way to save 90K yen per month (over $1,000 a month). Now it's time to figure out how to accomplish my knowledge goals without spending too much time or having too many all-nighters.
First of all, I have decided on 20 hours per week as the maximum amount of study time. Any more than that with a full-time job to boot, and I'll burn myself out. 20 hours per week means two hours per day on weekdays and five hours per day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Then, to break down that 20 hours, this is my idea (for the next two months, though I may adjust the proportions after that):
May 1, 2011: UPDATE 2: Week 17 in Review
This is a snapshot of the journal entry I made on lang-8.com. The purpose of the journal entry was to put myself out there (meet Japanese friends) and also practice Japanese gerunds (seven of those sentences use either -koto or -no gerunds). Four Japanese native speakers proceeded to give me corrections, but this is the original uncorrected version (no typos, but lots of grammar problems). Here is a translation (which I will embellish with extra pictures that I could not necessarily include on the original lang-8.com version):
Today is April 30, 2011. Since last month, I have been working and living in Yokkaichi City, Mie-ken. However, until today, I had not done very much sightseeing in Yokkaichi. Therefore, today, I went out and took a small trip by bicycle.
First I saw a Shinto shrine. The shrine is a shrine which is called "Shirahige Shrine." It is a very beautiful place. There, I saw a high school student praying. There was also a koi pond. I saw koi swimming in the pond. After that, I descended, and while descending, I saw a pretty, pink flower. The flower had fallen from a tree. I wanted to attach a photograph to this composition, but on lang-8, only three pictures are possible.
After descending, I went by bike to Tomariyama Pocket Park (Tomariyama Poketto Paaku). If you look at the attached picture, you will be able to see me standing in Tomariyama Pocket Park. It is a little bit of a not-good picture! After that, I went to Mandolin Forest (Mandorin no Mori).
After that, I started returning home. When I was returning home, I ate at a restaurant with Chinese cooking. I had seen that restaurant, but I had not eaten there. I ate Mabo Tofu. It was delicious, but a little expensive. It was 966 yen.
Today, it was enjoyable to do a lot of sightseeing. In order to explain about the enjoyable sightseeing in Yokkaichi, I wrote this composition and attached pictures.
As for other news (to recap the week), I went a little less than 3,300 yen over budget not counting the money I spent on JLPT registration and associated fees. I studied very little in the way of Japanese or anything else, at least formally, and worked the whole week. I was basically healthy and hygienic except that I had some o-sake, chobap, and sushi at the end of the week to celebrate the beginning of Golden Week. I consider this justified. In terms of fun, well, I went sightseeing around Yokkaichi and have now mastered seven classes on one of my characters in Final Fantasy V, in addition to reaching Level 39 on all my characters (this is absolutely phenomenal for having just finished the Ancient Library section of the game on the first world). From Week 18 onward, I hope to focus more and lead a more balanced life now that I am more or less settled in in Yokkaichi.
May 1, 2011: New Budget Starting This Month
If I'm reasonably careful with my money, I can bank over $1,000 at the current exchange rate. My paycheck is 250K yen. Subtract from that taxes and other things like health insurance and shakai hoken (50K yen) and rent and utilities (70K yen) and that comes out to 130K yen left over. If I live on 40K of that, that leaves 90K yen per month that I can put into the bank (slightly over $1,000 per month at the current exchange rate, and as long as the exchange rate holds strong at 90 yen [or less] to the dollar [it's currently 81]).
So basically, I have 40K yen per month free to work with. How will I use it? Here's my plan:
And how will I subdivide that 800 yen per day spending budget? Well, it will mostly be for food. We can assume that I will buy about 700 yen worth of bulk groceries at the beginning of the week (flour, cabbage, etc.). One day a week will be a "high-budget day" in which spending up to 1500 yen is permissible, which will come out of the budget for the other days, which leaves about 550 yen per day. This new budget is effective as soon as I wake up.
I will do the best to ration the utilities around here, as well. I will make sure to turn off the water heater when not in use, the lights, the gas, etc. I will do a thorough check before going to bed every night. And I won't use the lights until 5:00 PM.
Stay tuned for another grand plan that will map out how I will spend my free time from now on. It's May, my second full month at Big Apple, and therefore I figure it's a good idea to start monitoring money usage and time management.
April 29, 2011: The Lolita, the Pok?on Keyboard Game, and the Chocolate Thief
Three funny things happened at work this week. First of all, yesterday, my boss pointed out someone standing at the other end of the mall where I teach. I saw a woman dressed in a big, colorful, lacy dress with a bonnet. I said "that's Lolita fashion." My boss said that yes, indeed, it was Lolita fashion. I had seen girls dress up in Lolita fashion before in Korea. However, today (we had special classes today, which is sort of an open event where parents pay 500 yen and their kids can have fun lessons), the Lolita showed up again while my boss was talking to a mother and her kids who were interested in our conversation school. I asked the Lolita "Can you speak English?" and the Lolita extended a hand for handshake. I thought "sure, why not," but was suddenly shocked — the Lolita was not a woman dressed in Lolita fashion, as I had seen in Korea, but a man in Lolita drag! Creepy! I managed a handshake, but was definitely spooked by the encounter. As soon as the Lolita walked away, I noticed the little girls with their mother were making disgusted "that person is creepy" faces. I looked in the Lolita's direction and scrunched up my face in the same fashion, and the little girls started giggling. For once, I think we were all on the same wavelength! That Lolita was creepy!
Later, my boss and I talked about the Lolita. My boss mentioned that the Loli tends to show up when she's talking to parents. I speculated that perhaps the rival English school in the mall is hiring the creepy drag queen to scare away potential parents/students, and that perhaps we should pay the Loli to make more frequent visits to the other school. ;-) I wasn't serious, of course, and my boss laughed at the jest.
Step back an hour or so — we were doing a Talking class with two adults and some kids. I asked the mother "What did you do this week?" and she replied something along the lines of "I played Nintendo DS with my children." I asked which game, and it turned out they had some sort of Pok?on touch typing game on the Nintendo DS with a WiFi keyboard. After class, they pulled out a Nintendo DSi XL with its wireless keyboard and wanted me to try it. Fortunately, although the game involved typing in Japanese, the input method was romaji (same as a western keyboard). I whipped through all the levels the girls (Aya and Saki) loaded for me. So they put me on the hardest level (with a boss) and I not only finished it with ease, but got the high score. Those girls were ecstatic! They were worshipful! They saw my typing speed and were absolutely amazed. I'm glad all these years of IMing count for something. ;-)
Finally, the other day, I was teaching, and the kids (Yumika, Komi, and Shinichiro) kept pointing to a picture of a raccoon burglar being apprehended by a mouse policeman and saying "chocolate!" I couldn't figure out what they were trying to tell me, though. Later, my boss told me that there had been a mysterious man at the mall eating all the chocolate in a chocolate display, and she had called the mall personnel to apprehend him! However, the nefarious chocolate thief had not yet been found! So that's what the kids were trying to tell me about... Never a dull moment...
The JLPT Registration Materials
|April 28, 2011: JLPT Registration and Classroom Anecdotes|
Today was the last day to register for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), so naturally, at 9:16 last night, I got on the Kintetsu train and hightailed it over to the bookstore to buy the JLPT registration form so I could register for the JLPT N4 (~1,500 words, ~300 kanji certification exam). This is the next step up from the JLPT Level 4 that I passed in '08. This test costs a whopping 500 yen JUST TO ACQUIRE THE REGISTRATION FORM. That doesn't include the 5,500 yen a person spends on the actual testing fee, or the 240 yen to send it by tokutei kiroku yuubin (delivery-certified mail). Nor does it cover the 220 yen fee to transfer the 5,500 yen at the post office, or the transportation fees a person will spend when rushing around to get the registration form, or on the actual test day to get to the test site. All in all, we're talking about a US$100 proposition, taking this darn test, which actually isn't as bad as some of the ECE tests I took back in Taipei and Seoul, which could cost up to several hundred dollars a pop. However, the JLPT was far more mentally exhausting to register for — the application form comes with a 52-page booklet outlining the testing and application procedures. The application procedures take up a sizable chunk of those 52 pages. Eventually I gave up on reading the whole thing and just read the part that seemed to pertain the most to getting the damn form in the mail (about 11 pages or so).
Here's the rough process, as I understand it:
This week at Big Apple International School of English was entertaining. Information follows.
I learned a great deal about Golden Week from free talking with my students. Golden Week is a chain of national holidays that fall on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this year (the holidays are in early May). Most people get the whole week off, hence why it is called Golden "Week." However, for me, it'll just be Golden Three Days because I only get the national holidays off, not the Monday or the Friday. This would bother me, except that it's still an upgrade from Taiwan where I would lose money on national holidays because I was paid hourly.
The holidays are:
|April 24, 2011: Happy Easter, and I Had an Awesome Game of SNES Civilization, and a Summary of Week 16|
Happy Easter! Today, I obviously don't have to work because it's Sunday. I used the day to play Civilization, an old favorite, but on a new platform: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The port was very interesting. The first time I played through it (conquering the world early this morning), I was not really used to the interface, so I had a relatively poor game (even though I won). However, today, with the interface basically mastered, I had a phenomenal game. By 1975, the Greeks, under my leadership, had reached Alpha Centauri, cured cancer, 2/3 of Greek citizens were happy and 1/3 were content, and all this had been accomplished from a single city, with only 29 of the world map squares discovered! Holy cow!
It's 1500 AD and the neighboring Japanese civilization is threatening your capital and its massive railroad/irrigation network with a legion unit. What do you do? Simple, deploy enough tanks to stretch all the way from the north coast to the south coast. Problem solved.
1867: The Apollo Program and the First Man in Space
Note how I have reduced my tank quota on the front, because my citizens were rioting (prior to building the Women's Suffrage Wonder). Note that I can also finally see the Japanese civilization's city to the southeast — because it showed up on pictures from space when I launched my first spaceship.
The Greeks' Spaceship, the S.S. Alexander
It is ready to launch, with an 87% probability of success, and it is only the mid-20th century. Why part of the spaceship (a structural portion) is not attached to the rest is a mystery to me.
CHWCity, the Greek Civilization's ONLY City, 1974
Note the 2/3 happy citizens, the Cure for Cancer Wonder, the Apollo Program, the Hoover Dam, and numerous other Wonders.
In 1975, the Greeks, with a mere population of 1,900,000 people, put 10,000 people on Alpha Centauri! The end!
Unfortunately, the rest of my week was not nearly so productive. All I did was work and play games, basically (although at least I stayed healthy, hygienic, and only went about 2,000 yen over budget [a little less]). Stay tuned for a big, grand plan for May onward.
Poster for Familink, an Amateur Movie with Shiori, My Student, as an Actress
|April 17, 2011: Summary of the 15th Week|
Well, it was quite a week! Earlier today, I went with Kaori, my boss, to see Shiori's movie. Shiori is a 13-year-old who I tutor one-on-one on Fridays, who is attending some sort of acting academy. Kaori and I went there and met Shiori, her mother, Yurie, and Mayumi (sisters who are friends of Shiori) and we saw the movie. It was about an hour long. I have absolutely no clue what was going on. My Japanese clearly needs improvement! All I can say is that the title of the movie was "Familink" which is a portmanteau of "Family" and "Link," that it starred several middle school/high school students, there was a talking flamingo in the movie, and most of it was set in and around people's homes (in fact, I recognized many of the locations from around Yokkaichi City). It ended with a birthday party and there was a part in the movie in which they found what appeared to be a treasure map. In other words, my comprehension of the speaking in the movie was absolutely abysmal. However, I showed up and sat through all of it, so I did my part.
As for other interesting information about this week, well, we have this calendar in our classroom with English and Japanese. It's a word-a-day thing for our students. I noticed that there were two words on there that I found pretty funny: "hanautau" (to hum) and "kuchibue" (whistling). The reason these words are funny is that they have such obvious etymologies. "Hanautau" is composed of "hana" ("nose") and "utau" ("sing") — "to nose sing." What a perfect description of humming. The word for whistling ("kuchibue") is literally composed of "kuchi" ("mouth") and "bue" (a form of "fue," or "flute"). Yep, it means "mouth flute."
As for other interesting anecdotes about this week, my boss and I were advertising for the school downstairs at Kayo Mall on Wednesday. This mother (middle-aged) and her 19- or 20-year-old daughter came up and inquired about our classes. Fascinatingly enough, the mother had a four-year-old daughter, and the daughter had her own approximately one-year-old baby, which I found entertaining — I can't imagine raising a small child at the same time my parents are raising one. The 19- or 20-year-old looked rather questionable (tattoos on her hands and hair dyed light brown).
At any rate, since the mothers were inquiring about classes for the four-year-old, I played with/taught the four-year-old a bit as a demonstration. I actually seriously doubt she was four years old (my guess would be six or so), but that's what she said. The entertaining part was when I said "My name is Charles. What's your name?" and tried to elicit her name. She just froze. No answer. I figured "Well, perhaps she doesn't have an English name, or perhaps she doesn't know how to say 'My name is ____.'" So I wrote my name on a sheet of paper, gestured to myself, and said "I'm Charles. What's your name?" The little girl wrote a word on the piece of paper under my name. "Great!" I thought. Surely she had written her name, so I could instruct her on how to say "My name is ____." Nope, she hadn't — she had written "isu" in hiragana. "Isu" means "chair." She heard my name (Charles) and thought I was saying "chair." Oh well...
This week, I guess I didn't accomplish as much as I set out to accomplish. I watched about four hours of Japanese TV/movies in eight days. It's actually pretty hard to force myself to do that. I zone out when I watch them, and I'm not even sure if watching TV is particularly helpful for my listening comprehension (I never found it was a magic bullet for Korean, either). I only covered 60 new vocabulary words this week, and my backlog was a little less than 200 words on Anki when I checked less than an hour ago. One productive thing that I did do was go to Yokkaichi City Library and get a library card. Easiest library card application process ever — not only didn't I need my alien registration card, they didn't even ask for my passport! What the hell?! They don't need ID to issue a library card? Incredible! But it gets better! I told them I had forgotten my exact address, and they said it was okay, I could go ahead and check out up to ten books and give them the address next time! Incredible! How trusting! So I checked out eight books. Although I am a trustworthy fellow and intend to return the books, it seems like a system ripe for abuse, not requiring ID or a valid address to register for a library card! I found one particularly helpful book series called Nihongo Shokyuu Bunpou Setsumei I & II which goes over Japanese grammar. I look forward to reading those books. Additionally, this week, I kept up with my Pimsleur review sessions (although I'm going to need to step it up on listening).
As for other things besides education, well, I worked at Big Apple Eikaiwa School and although I didn't spend a huge amount of money this week, I unfortunately exceeded my budget by an amount that will probably come out to around 3,500 yen when I go to bed tonight. Starting next month, I'll really need to reign in my spending and come up with a good budget. Japan can be affordable if you're disciplined, but grabbing a bentou box when you don't have time or that sort of thing can really add up.
I managed to eat fairly healthily this week and basically kept in good shape as far as fitness/hygiene were concerned, so I guess that was a small victory. Unfortunately, I did zero in the way of religious studies or IT studies. I need to make sure to keep these things up, too — it's important to have something besides just languages. Even if I spoke fluent Japanese tomorrow, it would not solve all my problems — plenty of 10-year-old kids can speak fluent Japanese too, after all.
In fact, during the week, I suddenly came up with a nugget of wisdom:
What this "nugget of wisdom" is trying to illustrate is that in terms of payoff for your studies, languages are very close to the bottom. I should pursue other interests, as well, because it may be many, many years before I become fluent in Japanese (if it ever happens at all).
Don't get me wrong — Japanese is important to my future in this country. However, I need to avoid postponing development in other areas (particularly IT studies), because I do not know when or even if I'll ever become fluent in Japanese. I think I should rework my weekly schedules to be slightly more well-rounded than just "Japanese, Japanese, Japanese." Because if all I have in life is my Asian languages, well, there are 10-year-olds who can blow me out of the water at that... I need to develop a "real" skill that isn't common, or the kind of thing that only a "native speaker" can do properly.
April Cherry Blossoms (taken on Saturday)
|April 10, 2011: Summary of Weeks 13 and 14|
Before I launch into my weekly summary, allow me to talk about the last 24 hours. I got up and decided to try to find Yokkaichi's Korean restaurant. I figured that I would follow the railroad tracks to Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station, near where the place is located. However, I got lost. That resulted in me having a few "side quests." I viewed the cherry blossoms incidentally with getting lost (cherry blossom viewing is known as "hanami" here) and also happened upon a stream where I did some wildlife observation. After that, I found myself in downtown Yokkaichi, and asked two young ladies (who turned out to be nurses-in-training) how to get to the Kintetsu Station, and they walked me all the way there. I had a great Korean meal at the restaurant and met the owner, Ms. Heo Ong-nyeo, a very confident 57-year-old Zainichi Korean who was born and raised in Japan but whose parents were from Jeolla Province. She suggested we do a language exchange, and that sounds great to me. I probably would have asked if she hadn't asked first. So now we have each other's contact info. It'll be nice to study some Japanese with an actual human being and not just books and PDF files. After eating there, I tried to locate the Yokkaichi public library, and although I found it, it was closed. Finally, I hit the bookstore and found that they have a wide variety of JLPT prep books, but the catch is that they're all in Japanese, which is kind of a problem, because I'm learning Japanese. Oh well. I will check out the library's selection; maybe they'll have something.
I've decided to get back to writing weekly summaries. They are a good way to keep track of what I have accomplished, they keep me motivated to achieve, and they allow me to realize that even if I haven't met my goals, I still did pretty well.
Over the past two weeks, I have accomplished a great deal in terms of study. In Week 13, I completely eliminated my vocabulary backlog (over 1,200 words). The backlog had grown when I was too busy to use Anki while moving to/training in Yokkaichi. However, I am now caught up. In Week 14, I consistently added 15 new words everyday (in fact, I went ahead and added today's words early just to bump myself over 1,600 words in the deck of flash cards. Yep, that's right, ladies and gentlemen, I may have no clue how to use half of them, but in theory, I now know 1,600 words of Japanese. I also finished the entire Pimsleur Japanese series in Week 13 and then proceeded to review the old lessons up to Lesson 8. I also previewed two Japanese textbooks. I also watched a total of at least seven hours of Japanese TV over the course of two weeks (not quite my goal, but better than nothing). In other words, I have been working hard on my Japanese.
I stayed healthy and hygienic overall during the two weeks. I learned how to operate my washing machine and things like that. Work was all right. No major complaints from the boss (yet, at least). I overspent last week by about 500 yen (no big deal). This week, I overspent by a much larger margin. I was trying to keep my spending down to 1,000 yen per day, but I exceeded that on Thursday (I overspent by about 750 yen) and on Friday (500 yen over) and on the last day, I overspent by about 2,500 yen (yikes). However, overall, this overspending was not too bad considering I have just moved into a new town. In terms of religion/religious studies, I did nothing, unfortunately. I'll need to work on that.
Finally, in terms of fun, I did two notable things. I finished Year's Best SF 5, a sci-fi compilation by David G. Hartwell. Second, I finished Makaitoushi Sa·Ga (WonderSwan Color). In terms of other fun things, I found the Korean restaurant and had a delicious meal there, and did the stuff mentioned in the first paragraph. I hope the coming weeks can be equally, if not more productive.
April 7, 2011: Makaitoushi Sa·Ga Complete, Japanese for Dummies Chapter 10 Complete
I finished the WonderSwan Color Makaitoushi Sa·Ga game (in Japanese, released in the US as Final Fantasy Legend). I thought it was a very good remake given the handheld console technology of 2002, when the remake was released (the original game was 1989). Definitely a much brighter color palette than if it had come out on the Game Boy Advance (I was never a fan of how washed-out and difficult-to-see the GBA's screen was). I had completed the fourth world (the cityscape destroyed by Su-zaku, the phoenix), but this time, I not only defeated Ashura, but also the Creator (simply called "Kami," or "God" in the Japanese version).
I also read all of Chapter 10 in Japanese for Dummies, to evaluate whether it is a good book for learning Japanese. And the answer is "not really." It is all in romaji (romanization) and it wastes space with these stupid pronunciation guides (e.g. "doa no kagi o kakeru [doh-ah noh kah-gee oh kah-keh-roo]") that quite frankly just make me feel condescended to. However, at least I learned a few words and one piece of grammar: joushi (the Sino-Japanese word for "boss," kyuuryou ("salary"), and zangyou ("overtime"), as well as ~mitai desu ("~ is like ~"). Oh, and seishain means "regular employee." Okay, I guess I learned some vocabulary, but the book does not provide grammar, which is really what I need at this point.
The Three Useful Japanese Books Left Behind at My Apartment
|April 6, 2011: Deciding Which Free Textbook to Use to Study for the JLPT N4 on 7/3|
I need to prepare for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) that I will take on July 3, and textbooks for the JLPT cost money. Currently, I am planning to take the N4 in July, which tests/certifies ~1,500 words and ~300 kanji. Although theoretically I could take the N3 (a lower number, but actually a harder and more prestigious test), I feel that that would be too much of a risk and a time commitment at this point in time, which is why I have decided to take the N4 instead.
I have already learned all the vocabulary words for N4, complete with their kanji. I know them fairly well, and as long as I keep running Anki (a PC-based spaced repetition quiz program), I should remember them just fine with minimal effort even in July. Although I have not explicitly studied the kanji as a separate subject, I have learned all the kanji for the words on the list (far more than ~300, that's for sure) and therefore also have no worries about the kanji.
However, I am still very weak on grammatical forms. I estimate that my knowledge of Japanese grammar is only around JLPT N5 (lower level than N4). Therefore, I have decided to pick out a textbook (one of the three left behind by some previous teacher who lived at this apartment). The books are Japanese for Dummies, by Eriko Sato, PhD, Minna no Nihongo I, by the 3A Corporation, or Situational Functional Japanese: Volume 2: Notes: Second Edition by the Tsukuba Language Group.
My plan is to finish at least one of these textbooks both to refresh the grammar that I learned on the old JLPT Level 4 (equivalent to N5 on the modern test) and add some new grammar, words, etc. Then, in a month or two, when I have started to get full paychecks (not just training pay), start purchasing some quality JLPT study guides and work from them.
In order to evaluate which textbook I will use, I think I will go to the halfway point in the book, start at the beginning of that chapter, and read the whole chapter from start to finish for each book, and rank each book. Then I will make my decision on which to read/study cover-to-cover. Yes, that seems like the best idea.
Perhaps in May, when my working visa is finished and my visa/financial situation is more stable, I can buy a regular JLPT study guide and polish off my Japanese knowledge with that.
I guess the way this is going to work out time-wise is this:
I have already learned the 1,409 words on the JLPT N4/N5 using Anki (with kanji); I finished this process on February 28 of this year, but continue to do reviews. However, I need to upgrade both my listening and grammar, and I hope these textbooks will help with the latter.
Me at Big Apple
|April 2, 2011: The Site Is Born|
It's Saturday, the first day of the weekend. This week was quite eventful. On Monday, my manager (Ms. Kaori of Big Apple Eikaiwa School) and I went to the immigration office and filed for a Specialist in Humanities visa so I can work in Japan legally. On Thursday, we had an open house, which included various activities such as an Easter Egg hunt, a relay race, and singing "Humpty Dumpty" (one of the mothers joined in with a very dramatic opera singing voice). Now, the busy part of the week is done, and I can sit on my floor chair and write this update (indeed, the seed for my site).
Let me first outline how I plan to run this site. This site may not always be an English site. There, I typed it in bold so that people will be sure to notice it. At first, when my Japanese is beginner-level (I am currently only certified at the JLPT Level 4 level), it would be unrealistic to have my entire site be in Japanese. Therefore, for now, this site will be mostly in English. However, as my Japanese improves (especially once I hit JLPT Level N2), more and more of this site will be in Japanese. Why is this? Because, quite frankly, as I am now living in Japan, the Japanese language and its speakers will begin to have a more and more important role in my life.
The second guideline for my Japan site is how categories are made. Here is an unordered list:
Now that I have discussed the site's language and organization, I will explain its coding techniques. The coding technique I will use is "quick and dirty" and "minimal size." This means all-on-one-line HTML code and not using quotation marks, capital letters, or that sort of thing in my HTML code unless required to do so.
In conclusion, today, this site was born, and I hope it becomes a worthy site. I hope it will be full of quality.