Five-pile system for learning kanji

At the weblog of one Toby Oxborrow, a former Yamasa student, I discovered an excellent method of learning kanji. Kanji, for those not in the know, are the thousands of Chinese characters that the Japanese adapted for their own use. They are essentially symbols that carry meaning as words.

For example, 白 (pronounced "shiro") means "white." And 今 ("ima") means now. And 学生 ("gakusei") means "student." (If you see only blocks or question marks, you need to enable Asian-character–viewing on your computer.) There are thousands of these that I need to know. It's an insane system, but there's an orderliness to it that I'm slowly discovering, and that appeals to that part of me that likes rational order in things like this.

Still, it'll be tedious. That's why the apparent efficiency of this system appeals to me. I do like efficiency.

Bought some suitcases; also, it's time to eat

I just got home with a couple of brand-new large suitcases. I've packed everything that I'm not taking to Japan into boxes, but I haven't packed the stuff that I am taking. I think I'll have enough room to take my Nintendo GameCube. (I don't want to be without Super Smash Bros. Melee if I don't have to, of course. But I probably will need to buy some sort of adapter to use my GameCube on Japanese TVs.) I haven't eaten all day, though, so I need to eat these burgers I have as soon as I post this.

You know, making sure I keep myself well-fed is one of my biggest concerns regarding living in Japan. I need to make sure that I stay top of things. Language acquisition is serious business, after all.




A recent Boing Boing post about earwax led me to Wikipedia's comments about the way the Japanese view earwax-digging. Indeed, having your ears cleaned, in my experience, feels very good. It's pretty interesting that most Asians apparently have dry earwax.


How-to-bow presentation

Okay, I've found a very interesting and informative presentation about being a businessman in Japan. The Japanese business world is more cliquish than I realized. (Apparently, businessmen can remain silent for several minutes as they try to put themselves "in your spiritual aura." Out of my A.T. Field, please.) The Flash animation is pretty bizarre and amusing. (Oh man, that last scene is a bit freaky. It's like they're taking him to "the Factory" or something.) It's interesting, but I'll be avoiding the business world as much I can nonetheless. Still, some of the pointers are excellent for day-to-day life too.

The Japanese business world, like their contemporary culture as a whole, is a fascinating amalgam of Japanese tradition and modern western-influenced ways. This sort of thing dominates a lot of my interest in Japanese culture.


Missing mockingbirds already

One thing I'm definitely going to miss from growing up in Houston is the local fauna. I enjoy watching animals. It provides a certain peace to me. I know there are squirrels in Japan to some extent, but I don't know how many and where. I'm mostly going to miss the northern mockingbirds that we have here. Their pleasant and varied sounds mixed with the species's personality have left an impression on me. I wonder what sort of birds I'll find in Okazaki.


By the way, that picture is of a very young mockingbird. I took this photo in 2003, I think. The poor thing could barely maintain its balance and had to flap its wings a lot to keep itself from falling. It was clearly fresh from the nest.


Tsukasa, Kongetsu, and TNguyen provide insight into Yamasa life

I've spent the past hour or so looking at a Yamasa-related blog that caught my eye. Tsukasa's Boredom covers the recently-concluded three-month–stay of a Yamasa student. It's a concise and useful log of the author's stay, from the first day. I'm a bit concerned about the workload at the school, since I'll have to work in the evenings too, but Yamasa is described in a manner that is just what I'd expected. (Apparently, the Yamasa sensei go sing karaoke with their students sometimes. I like that. Too, have I mentioned that I'm really looking forward to my first real karaoke outing in Japan?) The white-on-black style is uncomfortable to look at, though. At least, it is for me.

Another interesting blog is entitled Kongetsu. I've only touched the surface of this site, but it seems to have excellent write-ups and photographs about Okazaki, other cities, and Japan and its culture in general. I like what I see. TNguyen.com, which I just discovered, also provides a lot of photography and interesting text to read. This person is an excellent photographer. (Makes me wish I was going to have the money to take photos over there myself.) I intend to visit these two regularly, I think.

Looking over Yamasa's guide to transportation

Right now, I'm looking over The Yamasa Institute's Okazaki City Guide. There have been some surprising things. For example:

The two major bus services are operated by Meitetsu and JR (using the respective stations as hubs). When you get on a bus use the rear door to enter, and take a ticket (which will have a 1 or 2 digit number written on it) from the machine next to the steps. The only time you don't take a ticket is when you are boarding a bus at the beginning of the route. Above the driver you will see an electronic panel. Look at the number on your ticket, and then at the panel. As the bus proceeds along its route, the fares will be updated after each stop (at the same time that an announcement in Japanese will be made of the name of the next stop, and what shops, businesses etc the next stop is convenient for). When you hear the name of your stop announced, press the "stop" button. If you Japanese language skills are limited, the best bet is to sit at the front of the bus (on the left) and tell the driver your destination - they are a friendly bunch and will let you know when you have arrived.

To pay for your fare, place the ticket and exact change into the machine to the driver's left. If you do not have exact change, please note that there will be a machine providing change (up to 1000 yen notes). It's best to change your money before you reach your destination, so as to not inconvenience other passengers. If you are using a route on a regular basis, it is possible to buy discount tickets and pre-paid cards at the major stations.

Yeah, that's wildly different from riding METRO buses here in Houston, which I do on a semi-regular basis. On METRO, you pay a dollar when you get on (at the front of the bus) and then you can ride all the way to the end of the route for that fixed amount. I can't yet determine whether or not Japan's bus system is less expensive or not, though—and it's that that I'm curious about. It's no matter, though, as I'm sure to have to take the bus.

Scooters (gendoukitsukidensha - or gentsuki for short) , are the preferred mode of transport for many young Japanese because they are cheap to run, and often more convenient than a car to use. You can buy a second hand scooter cheaply (from 30,000-70,000 Yen depending on the year and type of model) and if you already have an International Drivers License or a Japanese Driving License then you're ready to go. No special insurance is needed for a scooter up to 50cc.

Those who know me know that I like motorscooters. And, as I expected, you can buy them for cheaper than in the U.S. (since the U.S. isn't really into scooters). Once I've been there for a while, maybe I'll be able to get one. But it might not be worth it for just a two-year–maximum stay. If I stay longer, then maybe; otherwise, I don't think I'll need one, as Japan's public transportation system seems quite sufficient. And I don't mind hoofing it.

Looking at the page, it seems that Japan, fairly unsurprisingly, regulates bicycles. In fact, it seems that the police will perform "random checks" to make sure that the bike you're riding is actually your own, especially in the evening. Honestly, I like that. (Perhaps, though, part of me still misses the bike that got stolen at the University of Houston a couple of years ago.) I guess this is part of the reason that it's pretty safe to leave your bike unlocked when you park it. (Which is wildly foreign to me, I might add. And not just 'cause my bike got stolen.) I will almost certainly get a bike while in Japan.

And finally:

At night it is often a good idea to carry a small torch to make it easier for drivers to spot you.

Maybe it's just me, but the idea of a black man walking around at night in Japan while carrying a torch sounds pretty funny.




Blogger gripe: no categories!

More packing today. I just wanted to note that I really dislike that Blogger doesn't support entry categories. That's just lame. Given that the service is owned by Google, you'd think they'd make use of labelling, similar to how Gmail does. Hmph. I'd really like to segregate my English posts and my Japanese posts. Well, until I get my own stable blog webspace or something, just please excuse the Japanese posts. They are necessary. Necessary! 必要だよ!

Also, please excuse with the limitations of Blogger. (Admittedly, I think I'm bothered by them far more than you are. But uploading pictures will be a pain for now.) I wish I could use blog software like like WordPress or perhaps Serendipity ... Well, I'm still looking at my options. I think WordPress can actually import Blogger entries, which makes my using Blogger a lot more tolerable. In truth, Blogger's not bad. There are just a thing or two that bug me.

I'm deciding whether or not to enable comments at this time. Standby.


Ticket Get! and packing

I just received my airline ticket for the flight to Nagoya on the second. More precisely, I got my confirmation, since it's an electronic ticket.

For the past few days, starting especially from yesterday, I've been tearing apart my room and packing boxes. It's such a mess in here right now.


Preparations complete: plane tickets purchased

I purchased my airline tickets to Japan today. I used a highly reputable Japanese travel agency named IACE Travel. I can recommend them as well.

I'd reserved my flight earlier in the month, but I finally paid for it today. (I, of course, wanted to wait until I was sure I was actually going to Yamasa. At this point, there is no turning back.) I leave on April 2 and I have one layover in Detroit, Michigan. I'll arrive in Nagoya at 6:05 PM Japan time, which is 3:05 AM Houston time.

And thus are the preparations complete. Nothing to do now but wrap up my life in America. And that, unfortunately, entails a funeral in the morning.


Two weeks remaining! Don't forget about me.

Well, we're into the last two weeks of my current life in America. Things, they are a-changin'. I'll be doing a lot of packing and organizing in the next several days. I feel melacholy about it, really. Now that my studying in Japan is definite, I'm feeling the sadness of leaving the few I care about behind. We'll be in contact, of course, but still ...


Success! Student visa obtained!

At last! I am now in possession of my one-year student visa. I got a ride downtown to the Japanese Consulate-General and picked up it around 2:30 today. Now, I can legally enter Japan. All of my efforts until now have been for this very document, so I'm quite pleased (and, of course, highly protective of the document itself, which is nestled within my passport). All that's needed now is the purchase of my plane ticket. The end of the month comes quickly.


Sesame Street in Japan

Sesame Street airs in Japan, and I'd be lying if I were to say that I'm not looking forward to seeing it. Seriously, that show was one of my favorites, and it still holds a place in my sentimental heart.

The series airs Sundays at 9 am on TV Tokyo.

Besides basic literacy skills, this version of Sesame Street focuses on ethics, interacting with friends, and environmental issues. The series is entirely in Japanese, except for regularly included English lesson segments.

While Sesame Workshop is generally on the forefront of cultural understanding when creating the co-productions, this is apparently not the case with the Japanese version. One script that was created included a plot line where a child trips during a race at a school sports festival. Sesame Workshop insisted the other characters must help him up, something the local producers insisted was unrealistic in modern Japanese culture. [From Wikipedia]

Also, let me add that Kermit the Frog is the coolest Muppet of all.

Approval received, awaiting student visa

Last Friday, I received word from Yamasa that they had received the money that I wired to their bank and that my Letter of Acceptance (Yamasa's approval letter) and my all-important Certificate of Eligibility (the Japanese Immigration Bureau's approval) had been forwarded to me via FedEx. Well, they sent the package overnight and it was waiting for me the next morning before 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately, I haven't been at home much recently and I didn't get the package until the following Monday.

Once I got it, I immediately rode the bus downtown to visit the Japanese Consulate-General and apply for my student visa. (I'm extremely fortunate that there is such an office in Houston, as there are only a handful in the entire country, apparently.) I have to do this even though I have the government's official permission to come to Japan because only the student visa itself will allow me to physically enter the country. The office is at 1000 Louisiana, in the Wells Fargo building on the twenty-third floor. (To get to this floor, I had to ride an express elevator straight to the thirty-fifth floor, ride an escalator down to the thirty-fourth floor, and then ride another elevator to the twenty-third floor. I'm sure this sort of madness is an everyday experience for many, but it was moderately bizarre to me. Great views out of the windows, though.)

As I entered the office, I saw nothing but Japanese people and one Caucasian security guard. As I stood waiting at the service window, I realized that this was the closest to being in a fully Japanese environment that I've been in, and I felt, for the first time, the isolation that will likely accompany for a while upon my arrival in Japan.

While I stood there, one of a Japanese folks, a man, was called and came to the window beside me. I was pretty amused to hear him reply to the clerk's word with familiar expressions like "E?" ("Eh?") and "Sou desu ka" ("Is that so?") and "Doumo arigatou gozaimashita" ("Thank you very much," formally). It felt very in-Japan, see.

Anyway, I had to leave without doing anything Monday because I neglected to bring the visa application and an American passport photo. That's what I get for rushing up there half-cocked like that.

So, Tuesday after work, I returned to that office with a completed application and a passport photo and turned in everything—"everything" being my Letter of Acceptance, my Certificate of Eligibility, and my U.S. Passport as well. I'll have my student visa on Friday or Monday. Also, I'll mention here that, inexplicably, I'll apparently be receiving a one-year visa instead of a six-month visa. This means fewer renewals to reach the maximum of two years.

On the way downstairs, I found myself in an elevator with a couple of young Japanese people—a guy and girl. The guy, who obviously didn't speak English natively, asked how tall I thought the building was. I didn't know but I commented that the elevator ride (having to go up and then down to reach the twenty-third floor) were kind of strange. We chuckled about that, then fell silent. At this point, I decided to show some initiative (since I plan to do so in Japan, after all) and ask if they were from Japan. Yes, he said. (The girl, by the way, never said a word.) When I mentioned that I'd be studying Japanese there for two years, the guy briefly looked surprised, raised his fist to head-level, and said "Ganbatte" (meaning "Don't give up" or "Try your best") with a slight casual bow. I was caught a bit offguard and replied, "Arigatou gozaimasu," meaning "Thank you." (In truth, the "gozaimasu" was a bit formal for the situation, but I guess I should get used to making mistakes like that. Plus, it's generally much better to be too polite than not polite enough, right?) With that, we exited the elevator and went our separate ways. (Looking back, I wished I'd said "Ja!" as I left. That's a casual way to saying bye. Ah well.) It was a nice experience that left me a bit excited at the thought of being able to use the language one day.

So now I just have to wait for my visa to arrive. Then, the only big thing left to do is buying my plane ticket. It's already reserved, of course: I'm leaving on April 2 at 9:00 a.m. This week is Spring Break and I'm enjoying the last hurrahs with most of my friends. After this week, I'll start making the final preparations.


Nice hangout location near Yamasa

It seems that I've found the place that will serve as my general hang-out in Japan: Sakura House, which is near Yamasa. If you visit the linked webpage, you'll see that it's quite the cozy-looking place. Plus, they purportedly offer inexpensive meals. Now that is something of interest to me. (I need to get a tutorial from someone about using gas appliances, too.)

I found this place via Yamasa's online virtual tour. I think this presentation provides a pretty good overview of Yamasa's basic services and its campus.


David Chart's Japan Pages

A recent useful online resource I've found is David Chart's Japan Pages. David attended Yamasa from 2003 to 2005 (I think) and he wrote an excellent review of Yamasa which was quite helpful in solidifying my selection of Yamasa as my vehicle toward Japanese eloquence. He was very pleased with the school and, indeed, it seems that Yamasa will fulfill about all of my expectations. (We also have at least one important similar taste in television. Ha!)

However, look deeper into his website, because there is some quality content there.