Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Formal class time wrapped up yesterday, and for us that meant our final exam in Reading Comprehension. As I've mentioned, reading and writing is my greatness weakness by far, so I think it's safe to say that I maybe didn't do so well. Or at least, I definitely didn't do so well on the recognition. The actual comprehension component, in which we were made to read a simplified news story and then report back on its content, might have been ok, because I know how to dress up my answers while still being honest. My kanji knowledge may be lacking, but my test-taking skills are tops.

Everybody else in the house then immediately celebrated their impending two months of freedom, but I had one more day before I was done. The examination period is stretched out over almost three weeks, so naturally I had two exams on the same fucking day. Fortunately we were given our Nihon Shisoushi questions in advance, so I was adequately prepared. The first essay required us to pick one among ten or so topics, of which I meandered through several. I started with Hounen, and then quite reasonably contrasted him with his disciple Shinran. These two are kind of the Plato and Aristotle of Japanese philosophy, in that they were master and student, the student is somewhat better-regarded in modern times, and they're about as fundamental as you can get. I then added a brief discussion of their differing views on nenbutsu, which was yet another topic entirely, and finished with a discussion of egoism as a basis for ethics, which existed up to Hounen but was mostly abolished with the rise of Shinran, and which, also, was never at any point discussed in this class, even once.

The second essay was on the Juugyuuzu, a series of ten pictures depicting a person's metaphorical journey from layman to master of Buddhist wisdom. At this point I was running slightly behind, because, if you can believe this, the exam was only an hour long. Before now I don't think I've ever in my life sat an exam that was less than three hours, and to make things worse there was no clock in the room, making proper time apportionment a bit of a challenge. I ended up just listing off each of the pictures (from memory!) and explaining what I supposed their deeper meaning to be. Then the chime sounded, so my conclusion ended on quite a lame note, coming off as something like “and then he went back and shared his new wisdom...with...uh, people.”

It's one thing to fail, but it's quite another to think that you could have done better, and I'm happy to report that I have no regrets. Even better, I don't feel that the content would have been substantially different had I written it in English; it would have been more eloquent, and better organized, and wouldn't look like it was written my a ten-year-old, but I didn't feel like I was leaving out anything significant because I didn't know how to express it. Besides, Philosophy claims this teacher is happy if we ryuugakusei can just write something halfway coherent, so it should be good.

Really though, it's amazing how living abroad can make you feel like a superhero. You can get pumped from accomplishing mammoth tasks like riding a bus, or buying something from a store. Today I located a classroom, interpreted a seating plan, figured out some instructions, and wrote an exam!! As did 200 other people!!

My Kyouto Culture Discussion exam was much less successful, mainly because it was multiple choice, and thus asked far more of my reading abilities than they could give. Many of the questions were kind of stupid and unfair as well, like “what station is closest to this landmark?” and “of the following four temples and shrines, name the one that is slightly more significant.” There was even one which read, “One class, I brought in two objects to show you. What were they?” Which I guess is sort of a curveball for those afflicted by chronic absenteeism or narcolepsy. It's also the only question that I'm 100% sure I got right, so I'm not complaining. Mostly it was a matter of the standard techniques of elimination, great concentration of common denominators, and picking B if all else fails (it doesn't matter what letter you blindly guess, as long as all your blind guesses are all the same – if the correct answers are evenly spread out over all letters, and they never are, but if they are, then you're statistically hedging your bets.) Who cares, I don't think I'm not sure I'm even getting credit for this class anyway.

Next week I have my Foreign Policy exam, in which I will make insightful observations about Japan's relationship with South Korea with respect to comfort women, Takeshima, and the future of the Korean War. And then I'll be free until April, with no responsibilities and no money to spend. Something tells me I'll be getting a lot of studying, writing, and walking done.

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