Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Updates and Reflections

So where was I last time I blogged? I talked about Ueno, yes? Well, I hate to ruin everyone's image of my glamorous and busy life here, but really there are times where I just do normal stuff. However, there have been a couple of interesting happenings.

Sunday was a busy day with the Inagaki family (my host family). Mami, Su-chan, and I made pumpkin pie (thanks Dad!) finally. We had some trouble locating pie crust and neither Mami nor I wanted to go through the trouble of trying to make it ourselves in the cramped little kitchen. It was my host family's first experience with pumpkin pie and it wasn't a bad one though not nearly as good as grandmom's of course.

After pie, Mami, Su-chan, and I went over to Sam-chan's house (Sam being a half-Japanese boy that goes to the same daycare as Su-chan). Why did we go? Because Sam's mother wanted to offer me a job as a babysitter for her two children Sam (2) and Elena (4). I agreed since a. I need money and b. I like kids. Plus, it's just three times per week for just an hour or two each time. Not that bad really. I had my first day on Monday (which actually included Su-chan) and had a lot of fun though it was quite exhausting keeping all three of them entertained.

But back to Sunday! An amusing thing happened around 10:30 when I was about to head to bed (I know, kind of early, but I had Japanese the next morning!) My host dad suddenly wished Mami a happy birthday! I turned to her and said, "Eh?". And she told me she had forgotten it was her birthday! How could she? Her younger sister Tomo was even over that day (to partake of pumpkin pie) and didn't say anything! So anyway, Mami is now 31 years old. And now I know the birthdays of everyone in my host family ^_^

In things to look forward to: As soon as my media studies class is over tomorrow, I am done with class until after Golden Week (Japanese holiday period). Tomorrow night, I am spending the night doing karaoke (and I mean spending the night--fun starts at 11pm and ends when the trains start running again at 5am). Then, this weekend, I'm going on a trip with my host family. We're visiting Mami's older sister again. This time, there's a big group of us going including Jeremy (Mami's parents' host student). This time I promise to remember my camera so I can get pictures.


Now for some thoughts on culture inspired by the torturous three hour lesson on keigo we had in Japanese class yesterday (Monday).

Those of you who have studied some Japanese probably recognize the term keigo even if you can neither use nor understand it. Keigo is Japanese honorary/humble speech. Unlike English, they have almost an entirely different vocabulary for use in situations where extra politeness is needed. Mostly keigo changes up the verbs you use in a sentence. For example, if you want to say "My teacher went to the airport." you would need to use the keigo verb for "went" which is "irashaimashita" instead of the normal form "ikimashita". Annoying yes? But wait! There's more! The above example relates only to talking about superiors like a teacher or boss. But what do you use when you talk about yourself to a superior? Why, different verbs once again! Not only that, but when you want to be polite there are often nouns and other parts of speech you change as well. The word "ie" which means house becomes "otaku", the word "doko" which means where becomes "dochira" (which also means "which" ugh).

As of now, I have had several lessons try to drill keigo into my brain very unsuccessfully. Partially this is because I never use it. I don't have a formal job where I need to speak to a boss, my Japanese professors require nothing more polite from us than "masu/desu" for except those times when we actually study keigo, and I talk to my other professors in English. However, I have come to believe this is not the only reason I find keigo difficult. I think there is a deeper social wall that makes it hard for me to actually see the merit of such a linguistic structure.

The idea behind keigo is that you are either raising another person above yourself or lowering yourself below them. This sort of offends my sense of self in a way. Just because someone is my boss, doesn't mean they are better than me. As human beings, we are equals. That doesn't mean politeness has no place, but such elaborate forms of politeness seem unnecessary and a bit degrading to me.

Interestingly enough, that same day in my sociolinguistics class, we briefly discussed the fact that in most languages, women are more polite than men. Rachel and I decided that this was not really sexist. It's more that women are more passive aggressive so we can be mean and polite simultaneously.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Saturday was Rachel's birthday. To celebrate, a group of us got together and went to Ueno Zoo. Rachel loves animals thus why she picked the zoo. Many of you probably know that Ueno Zoo is famous for being one of the few zoos to house a giant panda. Sadly this is no longer true as the panda died sometime last year before my arrival in Japan. So no panda pictures. Sorry. I would have been more disappointed, but I've already seen a panda since I went to the zoo in DC.

This was in the park outside of the zoo. We were passing by and saw this comic performance. They weren't saying anything so we could actually sort of understand what was going on. We had to meet another friend of Rachel's though so we couldn't stay to watch for long.

First animals we went to see at the zoo! Elephants! In Japanese, elephant is zou (pronounced with a long "o" sound).

This is a kapibara (I think it has a different spelling in English...) Like a giant guinea pig really ^_^

And here's the polar bear. There were a lot of people at his enclosure so it was hard to get good pictures.

This is an Asian wild dog. Cute right? There were three of them all napping.

This is a crane.

This is a reall cool looking bird. I've forgotten what type it is though. My memory is not perfect. Sorry.

I hope I don't need to tell anyone what this is a picture of...

In Japanese, tiger is "tora" (remember that the "r" sounds kind of like and "l" if you try to pronounce that out loud).

A peacock in a tree. I believe there were also monkeys in this cage.

I love gorillas. I think they're cool.

Here is an emu. He was very friendly.

Lydia and Rachel. Rachel has a very entertaining face there :-P

Little baby chick! Sitting in an incubator. This was in the children's area. The also just had chickens that were allowed to wander around. I stayed away from them because I don't get along with roosters.

Kangaroos! Little ones actually.

This guy is probably my favorite animal from the zoo. Doesn't he just look cool? Lydia said he looked like a dinosaur which is totally true.

Another one where I really hope I don't have to actually tell you what this is...

Cory and Rachel. This picture was generated when I said, "Cory, quick, do something creepy to Rachel!" and voila!

It was a pretty fun day all around.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I have been a busy bee the past week and a half. Finally I have some time to relax a little bit.

Spring has finally come and with it some wonderfully gorgeous weather. The Japanese love spring since that's the time one can see the cherry blossoms. They have what are called "hanami". That's actually the title of this post. Separately, the two kanji mean flower (hana) and look/view/see (mi); translated, hanami is usually called a blossom viewing party. People flock outside to picnic under the cherry blossoms. I myself did this several times with my host family.This photo is from my first hanami. Mami, Su-chan, my host dad (I still feel weird calling him Yosuke...) went to an area near Yasukuni shrine which is famous for its blossoms on a Friday evening. This meant there were a bunch of people there picnicing and wandering around. Because of that, my host dad eventually took Su-chan home so that Mami and I could walk around unencumbered by a two-year-old. Taking pictures was hard since it was night, but I got a few good ones like the one above.

The next morning was more blossom viewing. This time we all went to a park in Shinjuku which was more open so that Su-chan could run around. Now you can see some blossoms in daylight!

And here we have Su-chan in a tree. See? This park was great for him. Lots of opportunities for him to do silly things. I was impressed that he actually looked at me when I took this picture. Usually he does something weird when you try to get a photo of him so that most of the time you get a blur...

...Or a photo like this. This was taken that night at Mami's parents house. We stayed that night in order to help welcome Jeremy, Mami's parents' new host student. We I told Su-chan I was taking a picture, he started running at me like the crazy child he is so this is the result.

This photo is of me at a park near where Mami's parents live. I went there with Mami's dad and Jeremy. We had been intending to go to another Hanami that a friend of Mami's was hosting, but Su-chan was not his usually genki self (genki being a Japanese word that means healthy and energetic) so we didn't go. The park was really pretty though and you can see a whole regiment of turtles on that thing in the water behind me.

After that weekend, I had to start classes which was not really any fun. No one wants to go from two months of break to three hours of Japanese in the morning. Luckily, however, my classes this semester seem like a lot of fun. Besides Japanese, I'm taking sociolinguistics, Ainu in a typological perspective, and media studies (this is maybe my favorite but that might just be because the professor is a Doctor Who fan).

Last week was also exciting because I got a visit from KENDRA! Her Semester at Sea ship came to Japan so I got to hang with her for a few days (when I wasn't in class anyway...I'm a good girl!) which was super awesome! Though a bit sad since that's the last visit from anyone back in the States that I'm getting while I'm here.

That pretty much brings us up to date. By the way, as a bit of trivia, today is my seven month anniversary here in Japan.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!