Monday, 8 April 2013

First day back

After such a long break, I am good and ready to get back in school. To continue down the road of self-improvement. To throw myself at as big a workload as possible. I always feel like this on the first day of classes, and I always stop after a week or so.

I opened with a bit of a heart-palpitater. Having graduated from the “General” Japanese classes intended for reciprocal exchange students, I've now advanced to those built around the needs of actual Japanese majors. We are no longer mere hobbyists, but language students! Well, actually, this first class contained only six of us, none of us Japanese majors, but that doesn't change the difficulty level. The only girl remaining from my previous adventures is a tiny Chinese girl; I felt like we'd classed up, receiving a huge stat boost, more detailed clothes, and possibly the ability to use a second type of weapon. Self-doubt gnawed at me even so, but I reminded myself that I questioned my abilities at the beginning of last semester too, and that turned out ok.

In fact, relative to the progress we have made this should actually be easier, as the spring classes are naturally a fair measure easier than the same classes in fall. This one is called “Speaking and Listening,” which, if I'm not mistaken, is actually what we've been doing in every single class up to this point, but I guess this time we're going to be learning to do it in a more formal, organized manner. Specifically we'll pretty much be learning how co-workers of roughly equal seniority would hold a business meeting, the usefulness of which should be obvious. Unfortunately we will not be practising workplace presentations, but eh.

Next I had my first “real” class of the semester, 哲学の世界、undoubtedly the stupidest name that has ever been given to any philosophy class ever. Scanning the course outline, I was quite pleased. One to two classes devoted to subjects like epistemology, morality, ontology, and humanity. Pretty standard, introductory stuff, and, in all likelihood, basically a repeat of my first year of university, except now in not my native language. This teacher, a decrepit old guy with a passion for philosophy but fundamental confusion over most other aspects of the world around him, even delivered the same explanation of philo sophia that I got in my first university lecture ever. And it was at this point that I realised a large portion of this course was likely to focus on the Greeks, which is terrible, because the Greeks are the most boring goddamn part of all of philosophy.

But then he started moving into an explanation of how philosophy also has deep roots in India and China, and apparently we'll be getting into that in future classes. Which is good for me, since I've never actually had the opportunity to study Eastern Philosophy, I guess because Western academia considers the entire branch to be a crock of foreign mysticism (what, like Socrates fucking isn't?). Since the whole point of taking this class, besides trying to tidy up my degree, is to help prepare myself for the language and thinking that Japanese people use when they talk about philosophy, it should be especially useful to get a more solid grounding in the deeper roots of Japanese Philosophy in particular.

Then kind of a funny thing happened. Do you remember back when you were first learning to ride a bike? At first, you must have had somebody with their hands on the back, teaching you how to balance. Then eventually one time they let go, and run beside you for a bit, and then stop, and yell after you, and then holy shit I am riding a bike. At this point you either take it and run with it, so to speak, or you suddenly become overly conscious of what you're doing and fall. Basically this is what happened to me. I was sitting there, listening to the lecture, duly taking notes, everything was Jake. But then I realised that holy shit I've been following this for over an hour. And then I became overly conscious of my listening comprehension, suddenly trying to hang onto every word, and just like that the ordered flow of the teacher's voice melted into one continuous slur of complex syntax and vocabulary I haven't learned. I've had this happen before; luckily I knew that I just had to relax my grip a bit. Like falling asleep.

When I located my final class of the day, I thought I must have got the wrong room. Mainly because it was filled with Chinese people. Oh, and one Viet Namese girl. Who spoke Chinese. And already seemed to know everybody. Nope, I was in the right place – I was just in with the gakubu students. The ones who stay here for four years...studying nothing but Japanese language, all day, every day. So these, I thought, are the hardcore kids. I've never understood majoring in a language, like how is that even a thing? I can think of no rational reason why it shouldn't be, but still. I half-expected those assembled to start pointing and whispering towards the stranger in their midst. Instead, a mere handful of them simply glanced up, and then kept on Chineseing, which was somehow worse.

I sat in awkward silence, slightly away from the main cluster of tables, as if to draw further attention to the fact that I was the only white person in the room. You'd think that wouldn't be so jarring for me at this point. The truth is, although I'm in my element among the Japanese – I ought to be, after basically spending half my life among them, to various degrees – as soon as I was hit with a crowd of 20 Chinese, I felt a gap. Not an intentional one on their part; just one I didn't quite know how to bridge the way I do with Japanese people, and it had nothing to do with language.

But, as it turns out, the group mostly arrived together and have been working and growing together, and as a result they've developed into a casual, friendly group. Everybody was relaxed and funny. Except for one guy who tried to speak to me in English, presumably because white people don't speak Japanese even though he'd already heard me do it, but fuck that guy. And what's better? When we had a class discussion, everybody seemed to know what the fuck they were talking about. I've never had that happen. Hardcore, it turns out, is knowing your shit. Well. Except for Kansai-ben, which they all evidently think is this hilarious pidgin Japanese that fictional people speak, and I guarantee you none of them can speak it. Anyway I'll bust it out on them eventually and then they'll see.

Oh yeah, incidentally, the class is about writing papers. Academic language and what is appropriate for written communication versus spoken communication. Should prove very useful in grad school, to say the least, as well as, really, my entire future.

Oh, and also there is some lone white guy stalking around campus. I must've passed him on the footpath two or three times now. He doesn't live at the dorm, but he's simply too young to be a teacher. No one knows who he is, and no one else claims to have seen him. I fear that he is actually a ghost, the tortured remnant of some ryuugakusei from decades ago who died on campus, and the fact that he has appeared to me means that my time grows short, for one dark night when I'm walking home alone he will pounce upon me and drag me down into the abyss with him. I'm going with this theory because the alternative would be a European who is as good as or better at Japanese than I am, a far more terrifying possibility.


  1. Yeah, I remember more than a few times when speaking in Korean, if I ever consciously noticed that I was just cruising along like a fucking champ, I would stop short and suddenly be mute and unable to say anything. (Granted, I also wasn't learning about Greek philosophers in Korean, so you're already winning on that one.)

    1. I've always found it interesting how people studying completely different languages can share a lot of the same experiences. And I wouldn't be too impressed with my scholastic feats just yet - it's safe to say that I'd have been in a very different spot if I hadn't already studied most of this in English. ><;