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Transformed in Japan

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I found a Super Famicom (Super Nintendo in the west) for a measly $3 at a fairly popular used goods shop called Hard-Off (Hard for hardware, there's also a Book-off, among others). $3.00 to own a piece of gaming history, I thought to myself. Of course, the unit comes with none of the accessories needed to play games: controller, AC adaptor or AV cables, or games, of course. Well, after a couple of weeks of hunting around, I've assembled the pieces, a working Super Famicom with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, ringing in at under $40. So much for the $3 investment huh? It's great though, the best way to study (reading) a foreign language is to do it doing something you enjoy, and playing through a dialog-heavy 60-hr+ RPG is exactly that.

Actually, I have a confession to make. I've bought two other retro gaming systems here, in addition to the "contemporary" DS Lite - an original PlayStation and a Dreamcast and a few games for each. I got good deals on them - the PS for around $15 and the Dreamcast for an insane $8. So the money's not a problem - I've barely made a dent in my wallet, building up the collection. But the whole I'm digging myself in is finding a way to ship this stuff back and the fact that I'm trying to play like 10 games simultaneously. And I'm not even done. At the very least, I must get a slim silver PS2 and Final Fantasy XII before I leave!

On the subject of confessions, I have another one to make. About a month ago, I was wrapping up a project, so my boss told me to do some "jishuu", or self-study, on whatever interested me until they could find me new work. It's now a month later. Time fucking flies. I'm hoping posting this up and making it public will give me the motivation I need to take some initiative and make some work for myself. It's just too easy for me to fall into a "comfort mode" and to waste my days at work "jishuu-ing". Honestly, strictly work-wise, I think I've done less work in these 8 months than I have in any of my five previous 4-month work terms.

I find the drivers in Matsumoto to be fairly good. The roads are so treacherous though, that they really need to be. Almost all the intersections on the minor roads have these blind turns - like a big tree blocking the way so you have to inch forward until you're almost half way into the lane to see if the way is clear. Some intersections actually have these huge mirrors like at the corners of supermarkets for just this purpose, but not all.

Ultimately though, like Jeff, I was struck by a car on a morning commute. This wasn't a blind corner though and it was in broad daylight. The guy just wasn't paying attention enough or didn't belong on the road - he looked kinda old and senile. He tried to make a left turn (right turn back home) to merge into traffic but didn't notice I was passing right in front of him. Anyway, たいした事はなかったよ。Nothing came of it. I fell off my bike and scratched up my knee. I let the guy go and I bought a louder bell.

[ posted by asynchro @ 12:31 a.m. | Permanent link | ]

Friday, March 10, 2006


I'm a streaky person. I tend to latch onto things with great ferocity and intensity, but only for short spurts. I notice this phenomenon with games, anime, books, endeavours into learning certain computer stuff, and of course, this blog. Why did I start this blog? Keep in touch with friends, family. Probably lost sight of the goal at some point. Thanks to all those kept in touch through e-mail. Hopefully this spurt will last me into the home stretch.

Speaking of streaks, another unrelated sort of streak i've noticed is the way in my Japanese skill fluctuates. it's very streaky. I'll have a stretch of days where I'll feel like I don't understand anyone and no one understands me and then another string of days of the exact opposite. On the whole though, when I look at the big picture, it's sort of like a one step back, two steps forward sort of deal.

Another way I've found to gauge your profiency in Japanese is to see how frequently people compliment you on your Japanese skill. When I first got here it seemed like everyone, when they first met you, would praise you for saying the simplest things - "watashi wa lorenzo desu."! It's almost as inevitable as being complimented on your chopstick-wielding skills. I haven't heard anyone compliment my Japanese in months.

I finally got a bike and my life feels so much more complete with it. One of my co-workers lent it to me. I'll buy him a drink before I leave. It's one of those foldable ones. These babies are actually a lot easier to ride than they look. I've been riding for over a month now, to and from work (10 km. one way). Switching to riding on the left-hand side of the road took all of about 2 minutes to get used to. It's just like riding one of those mirror courses in a racing game. After realizing how much of Matsumoto remained undiscovered before biking (essentially, everywhere besides a 1 km radius around each of the four stations), I've made it my new policy to say I don't really know a city until I've biked down its streets. speedo

I was one of the crazy people to get up early on March 2 to line up for a DS Lite. And even take a day off work. For once I felt lucky to be stuck out in the countryside - only around 20 people lined up outside Toys R Us here - and they had plenty more units. People in Tokyo didn't fare so well. Anyway I figured, hey, if I'm in Japan I met as well experience lining up for a console launch. Except, this wasn't even technically new hardware, just a redesign...

[ posted by asynchro @ 3:02 a.m. | Permanent link | ]

Monday, November 28, 2005

33% complete

Four month anniversary here in Japan just past a couple of days ago. I'll get the compulsory cliche out of the way - it feels like I've been here forever and yet it's flown by so fast. With that, a restropective and some random thoughts.

In four months, out of the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking), I'm still the most skilled in reading. Each of the four basic skills has improved substantially, but proportionally, nothing's really changed. I'm still waiting for the day when my conversation skills catch up - for example, reading a newspaper article and then being able to discuss it thoroughly in Japanese. Being able to understand a Japanese television show without the assistance of all those crazy captions popping up all over the screen. I gave myself such a huge head-start in reading it makes me wonder if conversation will ever be able to catch up.

When I first got here I was complaining that everyone was talking with me in English. Now, for sure I understand why. It had less to do with them using me as English sounding-board as it did with the simple fact that their English was better than my Japanese, at the time. When you have two people of different native tongues speaking with each other, the language of choice will invariably and naturally switch to whosever second language stronger than the other's. Yeah, I know it sounds obvious, but I only came to notice this as people began to switch to speaking with me in Japanese as my Japanese surpassed their English.

The big JLPT test is this weekend and this one case where my superior reading skills will come in handy. I did some rough calculations - you need to know about 6000 words for 2級. A rough estimate based on the mock tests I've been writing is I know at least 5000 of those. Assuming I came to Japan with a vocabulary of about 2500 words, that means I learned 2500 words in 4 months, or about 20 per day. It really boggles the mind, because I never put effort into specifically learning vocab - I just learn everything on the fly, as I encouter them in conversation and reading.

Four months, and I think I've stayed here long enough to determine if I want to come back. Short answer: it's a very tough question. I'm living a very satisfying life. A day barely goes by when, during my walk home in the twilight, I don't marvel at the enormous mountains surrounding Matsumoto, take a deep breath in and simply acknowledge how lucky I am to be here. But that begs the question, am I only thankful to be here because it's just so damn hard to get into Japan, in the first place? Do I feel I've invested way too much into learning Japanese that it would be a waste to throw it all away and never come back?

[ posted by asynchro @ 9:25 a.m. | Permanent link | ]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Firsts & Introductions

A few firsts experienced in the past month.

Went to my first dance club in Japan. The clubs are as proportionally small as everything else in this country.

Got in "trouble" for the first time. I kind of let the 海外実習者専用厨房 (Kitchen for foreign exchange student use) of my dormitory get a little dirty. As a result, I got my first real taste of the Japanese tendency to mix personal and work issues. Upon noticing the disaster in the kitchen, the dormitory superintendent contacted my office's 課長 (=head honcho) who took 10 minutes out of his schedule to scold Andrew and I.

First date. It was a blind date although no one here seems to know what that is.

First shinkansen ride. Almost feels like an airplane. And nearly as expensive too.

First tea ceremony. The ritual was filled with all sorts of rules like making sure you have the picture on the cup facing you when drinking from it and away when putting it down. I could deal with those. What I couldn't deal with was sitting in the 正座 position for longer than 5 minutes at a time. I'm inflexible enough as it is, but sitting on my ankles introduced me to a whole new level of pain.

I want to introduce a few of the other current Epson co-ops from Waterloo who are also keeping blogs.

[ posted by asynchro @ 10:24 p.m. | Permanent link | ]

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Finally, pictures!

Ok, ok I know this is really late, but I finally got on my lazy ass to upload some pictures to Flickr. First batch is my favorite trip in Japan so far, climbing Mount Fuji on August 20 with the old Konja crew, (from left to right) Yosuke, Anthony, Tettoku, Keiko, Mamoru, Amika and Takki. Check out my Flickr for the rest of the photos. Unfortunately, on my second favorite trip, visiting Tokyo last week, I lost my camera. (Tanya, upload your pictures!)

Recently, I've been up to the usual stuff. We found even more volunteer Japanese classes, so that's now up to something like 9 hours a week. For the first time in a long while, I had an entire evening to myself, and it made me realize I miss free time and I'm stretching myself too far with all these extra-curricular activities, so I decided I'm probably going to have to drop karate. Now I can claim to have the dubious distinction of having quit karate twice ;)

[ posted by asynchro @ 10:53 a.m. | Permanent link | ]

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Keeping true

I've been extremely busy the last two or so weeks, getting home at around 10 PM on average. Keeping true to my mantra of only using the dorm to sleep and eat. I finally joined a gym. It's on the pricey side, compared with gyms in Canada, (and I've got to stop comparing things with Canada because it just doesn't make sense sometimes) but like all things Japanese, the service is excellent and you're treated like royalty. I hang out a lot with the other two co-ops, Alex and Andrew. We've also made lots of friends. The ones with children tend to want us to teach their children English. I found a group of guys that play basketball twice a week; I'm trying to find a way to fit in karate classes twice a week; there's the Japanese lessons, both on-the-job and outside; various excursions like climbing Mt. Fuji, seeing fireworks, and most recently, a welcome party for Andrew and I. This 歓迎会 (kangeikai) was one of the more interesting experiences in Japan so far. First, was 居酒屋 (izakaya) to drink and eat. Aside from the fact that I'm starting to get used to beer, this went as expected - including my screwing up my welcome speech. After this, our closer group of friends decided to take us to this club called Club Japan. You may have heard of these "clubs" in Japan, called キャバレー (cabaret). This is basically a red-light district disguised as a club. You can pay ridiculously high hourly rates to be given the opportunity to have drinks and flirt with exceptionally gorgeous women and have them pretend-flirt back, but it doesn't stop there - you can ask for their 名刺 (business card) so you can contact them for some real action later. I'm keeping the cards as mementos. Only.

Two days ago was pay day, so I went pretty nuts with shopping. Andrew and I ordered one Canon Wordtank V80 electronic dictionary each off the Japanese Amazon site, with, get this, cash on delivery! (They're about $300 Canadian each) Yet more proof of how trusting the Japanese are: only in Japan would such a concept exist. Needless to say, the Japanese Amazon is just as quick and reliable as the Canadian and American versions. The dictionary is currently Canon's top-of-the-line model. It's the only dictionary with a stylus and touch sensitive screen. Allows you to input kanji by directly drawing on the screen those characters you don't know or forgot the readings of. An unbelievable stress-saver. I didn't spend as extravagantly on my keitai (cell phone) though. I choose a certain free phone only because it has an integrated FM tuner.

[ posted by asynchro @ 5:40 p.m. | Permanent link | ]

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Give and take

Ok so I realized I was totally approaching things from the wrong angle. It was pretty selfish and naive actually. I always thought my coming here was about me, me, me, me and me learning Japanese. But of course, it's more than that. I'm here as an ambassador to Canada and, in a way, the rest of the English-speaking world.

So to right my wrongs I've lightened up a bit and with those that speak English with me, I speak English back and teach them as much as possible. It's a rare opportunity for them to converse with a native English speaker, but I have the opportunity to speak with a native Japanese almost every moment of the day. And even though I'm not speaking Japanese with everyone, and those I do speak in Japanese with is only for a few minutes a day, I'm finally starting to notice an improvement. It was really crazy when I started to watch Beautiful Life again for the first time since on the plane ride and I swear to god, it felt like they were speaking slower. I was like "why the hell are they speaking so slowly this episode?? They never speak this slowly!" But then I was like, "idiot, it just means my hearing is getting better."

There was nothing to worry about - believe it or not we have SEVEN hours of Japanese instruction per week lined up. That is, once, the obon holiday season is over next week. 3 hours per week with company-provided lessons; and 2 hours each at two different volunteer-staffed Japanese classes throughout the city.

The company-provided lessons started today. I took a placement test so they could gauge my level of Japanese proficiency, but I don't think the test did a good job of it. The entire test was at the Japan 101 level. Barely skimming the surface of what I know. Hopefully she got a good idea of my ability from my speech.

[ posted by asynchro @ 12:34 a.m. | Permanent link | ]