Journals from Kanto Gakuin University
I blinked and two weeks went by! I am, as usual, doing things the hard way, which has kept me busy. There is a Japanese Language Proficiency Test at the end of the semester, which doesn't count for school grades but is a handy measure of language ability. The test has four levels, from beginning Japanese (4) to fluent Japanese (1). Level 4, for example, involves basic language and about 100 kanji. The problem is that there is a huge jump between what you need to know for level 3 (1,500 vocabulary words and 300 kanji) and what you need to know for level 2 (6,000 vocabulary words and 1,000 kanji), and I (of course) am right in between. I took level 3 practice tests in class a couple of weeks ago and passed by a good margin, which made me want to try for the next level up, considering that I hope to learn a bit over the next two months. "A bit," however, doesn't quite match up to the 10 kanji and 50 vocabulary words I would need to memorize per day to do well on the level 2 exam
They were apparently supposed to add a level for this year's test, halfway between 2 and 3, but it got postponed until next year. So my choices were basically either learning at a natural pace and passing level 3 by a lot, or working really hard and probably failing level 2. And, me being me, I went and chose the second option! I figured that since passing or failing the JLPT exam doesn't actually affect my classes, I might as well push myself and try for 2. If I had only taken 3, I would have done all of my homework for class and learned what I could learn just by being here, but I probably wouldn't have done as much extra studying on the side. By taking level 2, I may not pass, but I will learn far more because I will be motivated to go the extra mile. At least, that was my justification " a week of getting up early to make new kanji flashcards before school every morning has tired me out a bit, but hopefully it will help.
The other reason that this week was tiring was that I came down with a cold. Normally, that would be annoying but not worrisome; this year, the situation is a little different. Swine flu is all over the news, and it is apparently supposed to get a lot worse here by mid-October. If you cough, the whole train full of people glares at you. The International Programs Office here has told us that if any of us get a fever, we need to let them know immediately so that we can get it checked out by a doctor. So when three of us came down with sore throats on Monday, coughs on Tuesday morning, and low fevers on Tuesday night (99.1, really not much of a fever at all), we sheepishly went downstairs and told the residence staff that we were just a little tiny bit sick. They immediately put on masks covering their mouths and noses, and called IPO, who told us to keep checking our temperatures and if nothing changed they would take us to the clinic in the morning. If our temperatures spiked, they would take us to the hospital right away.
Luckily, our temperatures did not spike, so the three of us went to a nearby clinic in the morning, with the help of someone from IPO. We were glad she came, considering that we wouldn't have been able to read the necessary paperwork on our own! When the nurse called my name, I went into the little room and explained to the doctor (in Japanese!) what my symptoms were and when each symptom had started. He checked my temperature again, and explained in nice slow Japanese that because my temperature was low and hadn't changed since the night before, it wasn't swine flu, it was just a regular cold. Whew! What a relief! I'm still a little congested and I get tired easily, but overall Im feeling much better; I'm ready to take a walk to the store and buy some hand sanitizer!
It seems that Im working backwards today. Two weeks ago, I told you that I had stories about Peruvians, and I finally have some time to write them out. I'm in the process of applying for a Fulbright to study language usage by the descendents of Japanese immigrants in Peru, so I'm also interested in finding Peruvian immigrants in Japan. One Saturday in September I went to Tokyo with a big group of exchange students and Japanese buddies, each with a different destination in mind. I had found "Latino Impact Foundation" online, where its website said that it served as a center for Latino culture in Tokyo, so (armed with the address I had emailed to my phone and guided by Japanese buddies) I set off in search of it. We finally found it, a tiny office on the third floor of a narrow building on a narrow street, and I went in to introduce myself while everyone else left to find lunch.
I've never had a stranger feeling than leaving a Japanese street and entering an office to chat in Spanish with a Mexican, a Colombian, and a Peruvian. When I poked my head in, I said in Japanese, "Excuse me, um" and then in Spanish, "Do you speak Spanish?" They looked at each other, surprised. "Si" And I switched into Spanish, a flood of relief showing both in my face and in my voice: "Oh I'm so glad it's been so long since I spoke Spanish and I do speak some Japanese but I really miss speaking Spanish and it's so hard to find people who speak it here hi I'm Lily I saw your foundation online and thought I'd come visit to see what it was like" It all came out in a breathless rush, without any punctuation whatsoever.
They were taken aback, to say the least, but also amused. They asked where I was from, and they were confused to hear that I was an American exchange student in Japan who honestly missed Latin America much more than the U.S. They asked what part of the U.S. I was from, and I said Seattle. "Seattle, really? I didn't know there were many Spanish speakers there. Where are your parents from?" New York. "But your grandparents were Spanish speakers, right? You sound Central American, they must be Central American." No, they were Irish and French Canadian. "What?"
I know... Even my parents aren't quite sure where I came from. Nobody else in my family is a left-handed Spanish speaker. Anyway, the founder of the organization very kindly took me out to lunch at an Italian restaurant, where a Japanese waiter brought us spaghetti and we chatted in Spanish about Brazilians and the United States. I loved it! Communication can't get any more Intercultural than that! We exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, and promised to get back in contact when the Foundation finished its move from that office to a larger one in another part of Tokyo.
Two days later I found a Peruvian restaurant online and headed off to Kawasaki with three Japanese friends as navigators. Right there in Kawasaki, there was a little restaurant called Inti Raymi. It was an hour and a half from Hayama, but it was worth it: sitting there, eating Peruvian food, listening to salsa, chatting in Japanese with my friends and in Spanish with the Peruvian waitress and the Peruvian customers at the next table, I couldn't wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face. Shunsuke and Kazuhiko were both entertained by the fact that for the rest of the day I would randomly smile or skip or sing something in Spanish. At the restaurant, I taught them both how to pronounce the food they wanted to order (arroz con pollo, nice and simple but with a lovely bit of rrrr in the middle!) and how to say "delicioso." When we went up to pay, the cashier was Japanese, but she had lived in Peru for twenty years, so she chatted with me in Spanish and with Shunsuke and Kazuhiko in Japanese. They told her that the food was "oishikatta" and I grinned. "Do you remember how to say it in Spanish?" They looked at each other, and very slowly puzzled it out: "De-ri de-ri de-ri-shi de-ri-shi nani? de-ri-shi-o-so!" The cashier smiled, nodded at me, and responded with the most entertaining sentence I have ever heard: "Buena teacher desu!" Three words, three languages: the most concise example of Spanglanese I have heard so far. Though I did enjoy Naoki's comment the other day, too: "Hace calor today da ne!" Purists would say I'm a terrible influence, but I'm certainly enjoying this trilingual mixture!
Oh dear, Im still behind I wanted to tell you about meeting my host family (we move in tomorrow), but that may have to wait for another day. I'll probably be a bit slower about writing you now that Im doing so much extra studying outside of class, but I'll do my best to keep you up to date!