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Archive for the ‘ Learning ’ Category

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27
Sep

Yasukuni

On Sunday I trekked on that bicycle of mine six miles to the Tokyo American Club – think a fancy country club without the golf, but with a pool, restaurants and ballrooms – for an academic symposium on the foreign diplomatic issue in northeast Asia: Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.

I mentioned it in a previous blog, but, in short, Yasukuni is a Shinto war memorial with a right-wing taste to it, from the pamphleteers that walk the grounds to the adjacent revisionist history museum. A great deal of foreign nations, particularly the Asian states who suffered from 20th century Japanese imperialism and fear Japan is trying to ignore its past, are deeply opposed to the shrine’s existence and the recurring trend of Japanese prime ministers visiting the grounds. If you want to hear more, check out any legitimate news source and you’ll be able to find plenty.

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17
Sep

Out for Battle

It was1:38pm on the Sunday of a holiday weekend and I was writing a paper for a class on modern Japanese politics. The beat of a drum and the sound of voices broke what little concentration I had managed.

It was a cool afternoon, another cloudy day in the late Japanese summer, and beyond a bordering building, the source of the commotion was revealed: a local festival. Like the Kichijoji omatsuri I had seen a week ago or so, there was a crowd, albeit much smaller, encircling a traditional drum and an omikoshi, portable shrine.

It should be noted that near my parents’ home in New Jersey it is odd to see roving festivals. Even my apartment in North Philadelphia has yet to yield a spotting of Americans dressed in Revolutionary War clothing swaggering passed.

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17
Sep

Languages

Learning a second language is clearly one of the hardest, most admirable, and most rewarding learning experiences I have found. This, I say, knowing no more than a few scattered phrases in a few scattered languages. I say this as I say not learning a musical instrument has been one of my great regrets: without knowing, without really trying.

I can gurgle some Japanese, stumble over even less Twi, trickle clichés in Spanish, and barb with buzz phrases in German, leaving French the only language that I can even fake conversational ability. The phrase, “I dabble,” comes to mind. I haven’t done well, but I have done.

The world around the United States has so many amazing opportunities for people to learn language. Americans clamor about it: how the U.S. is monolingual, leading a multilingual world. The stars and stripes are leading a parade with snickers in languages we can’t understand following us the entire way.

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12
Sep

Pledges

Before you travel, study abroad or not, you have to have goals. No one is questioning that. But, it doesn’t hurt to readjust, reaffirm, and re-list those goals once you’ve settled in. You’ll learn more and doubt less. So, here are a few new pledges for my time here in Tokyo.

1.I will grow my hair. This may be less a pledge and more a premonition. While I do like the idea of walking into a Tokyo barber shop and getting a trim, in my favorite game of trying something new, I am going to abandon my military-shave for the long hair that is fashionable in Japan. (I may only have half a year, but we’ll see what I can do when I will grow my hair.)

2. I will sing karaoke with Japanese girls. Karaoke and sushi are pretty much the meat of American perspectives of Japanese culture. So who could disagree that I should get pretty Japanese girls to sing the American country music that I love. I am thinking there could be some fantastic footage if I will sing karaoke with Japanese girls.

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2
Sep

Learning Tokyo

Let me preface by saying I have been on this island for less than ten days.

That being said, I think I am beginning to get a feel for Tokyo. The best way I know how to evaluate that is to go right ahead and make wild, uneducated generalizations about this huge city, having only seen perhaps as much as one hundredth of it.

It is clean. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard this. No, but really, Japan is clean. Upon entry in my apartment I was handed a friendly, non-threatening ten pages on garbage disposal here in the city. They tell me you have your bottles, plastic and otherwise, cardboard and larger, non-biodegradable items, and then you have food waste and burnables, paper and the like that can be safely burned for energy. There are two pick-ups weekly for each of the three categories.

I find myself taking pictures when I see graffiti and taking notice when I see trash on the street or gum in a urinal.

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2
Sep

Classes

Classes have begun. It’s a funny thing about studying abroad; classes are often a condition. A tough aspect of studying abroad is overcoming that vacation feeling you might have towards your travel and find balance enough to get a grade or too.

I am actually studying at Temple University-Japan, a satellite campus of my Philadelphia home university. Here in Tokyo, it is the largest and oldest American university in the city. In classes English is required. I suppose that’s good for me. (Nihongo sukoshi wakarimasu – I speak very little Japanese.)

Though most of the students are Japanese (with populations from nearby South Korea and China and other East Asian countries) and have been schooled in English for years, I am still left in awe at those around me who voice opinions in a second language, the type of political and philosophical thought that many native speakers struggle to reign in under their language control.

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