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Journals from Doshisha University, Japan

2011-07-06 Baseball, JLPT, and a little place called Yoshida

I’m writing this sitting on the floor of my balmy 30-degree-celsius room, listening to the steady rain outside my window, which is open in an effort to tempt in any stray cool breezes. Yes, it’s taken a bit getting used to the idea that it can be hot and raining at the same time! It’s been hard adjusting to the heat and humidity of a Kyoto summer and find energy to study and play as much I like, but on those two points there is something I want to share!

Last week I was invited by some friends from church to a baseball game in Osaka, Orix versus the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam) was the next day, but it would be my first baseball game in Japan and what is the use of cramming the day before a test anyway? So I went! The big fan of the day was Yurika-chan, who hails from Fukuoka; she even brought me a Softbank uniform shirt to wear, noise-makers, and a print-out of all the songs. In Japanese baseball each player has a “theme song” the crowd sings when they step up to the plate, and Yurika-chan knew them all and chanted them religiously the whole game, keeping time with her noise-makers. I will have to apologize to my sempai Lily who loves baseball and say that more than following the game I noticed the way the Japanese fans cheer. No one whistles piercingly or shouts invectives at umpires. Each team had songs, dances, and at one point everyone produced, blew up, and released squealing balloons all at the same time. The coordination was impressive. I couldn’t imagine trying to get a whole baseball stadium to blow up their balloons, hold on to them, and release them all together in America! Even in play, the Japanese like working together, and doing something contrary to everyone else is still embarrassing. Even if balloons are out of the question, I did think the smiley girls running up and down with the dewy beer dispensers on their backs would be a hit back home. Boyfriend Yuya was in such a good mood he had two glasses. I don’t pretend to understand it, but for some men live sports and a cold beer seem to do something for the soul—it amused me to find that Japanese men are no exception!

After that exciting day I got up bright and early to take the JLPT at the N2 level, which should be easy for me at this point but presented a challenge in remembering kanji and reading the Reading Comprehension sections quickly enough. It always seems to be my fate when studying for such tests to study the wrong things: I’d bought study-help books with practice exams and downloaded kanji flashcards online for the appropriate level, but hardly any of what I’d studied appeared on the test. That’s what annoys me about the JLPT; it’s rather like taking the SAT all over again, only in a foreign language. Oh well, it was a good practice of study techniques for N1, which might be useful to put on a resume at some point in the future.

The test took place at nearby Kyoto University, which has a lot of personality: notable is the dilapidated, graffiti-covered dormitory Yoshida-ryo, in which the inhabitants pay only 500yen a month for rent and have established their own “government” that is quite different from Japanese law, something that irks the local police, apparently!  A community like that is quite rare in Japan, and while that run-down, anti-society sort of atmosphere would put me on my guard in America, tucked away here in genteel Kyoto it warmed my heart. I explained to Yuya that in America, such a community would most likely revolve around drugs and be kimochi warui, have a dangerous feel. Oh no, he said, the Yoshida-ryo students just plan theatrical demonstrations to “revolutionize” the Japanese government. “Iin jaa nai,” (that’s just fine, isn’t it?”) I said approvingly. Yuya laughed. “Actually I like it too,” he said, “I wish there would be a kakumei (revolution) in Japan! But I can’t talk about it to Japanese people, or they’ll think I’m really strange!”

After the earthquake especially, the mood in Japan is ochikondeiru, depressed, and everyone seems to be mayotteiru, at a loss, about the future. I was glad to see a place like Yoshida-ryo, where some young people are conscious of the part they have in being able to change the status quo, and Yuya’s admission of wanting change for the better, though in both cases, just like at the baseball game, rocking the boat and going against what everyone else is doing, saying, and thinking still seems difficult and shameful.  

Goodness, I didn’t start out wanting to write such a political journal, but it has been on everyone’s mind—what course will Japan take now? It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this country I will leave so reluctantly next month. Well, I should wrap up this ramble--the room has cooled down enough I think I can sleep now! Oyasumi (goodnight),

~Leah Sedy

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