Saturday, March 4, 2017

Coming Home

We've been living in Japan for almost 18 months. And now its time to go home.

Since I last updated this blog not much has changed- except that we eventually stopped going to Japanese classes. We've reached a point in our Japanese level where we can get through normal everyday interactions fine, but if we wanted to get through special situations- like doctors visits and stuff- we'd need to learn a TON more. We're a bit too busy to realistically reach that level of communication so yeah... we're comfortable where we're at haha.

all the time
Kris has been filming more of our adventures here but instead of making small 2 minute videos he'll edit them together later in one big video- so we've all got that to look forward to. Aside from that he's been editing movies and writing new scripts to film when we return.

I've been arting for fun- watercolor, vector art, I'm sure you've seen it by now. I am DYING to paint in acrylics or even oils, so I'm super looking forward to that.

Everyday life here has been just like everyday life back home. Except colder. MUCH colder. We currently have the heater off to save on bills so I have on multiple layers of clothes plus two blankets. Oh WAIT-- the heater actually is currently on. Dear god this is crazy. And the bathroom isnt heated at all- so imagine spending any amount of time in there. Not fun. At least we have on those fuzzy toilet seat pads so you don't get a heart attack when you sit down.

just sat down- dead
In anticipation of our departure we've been figuring out all that we need to do:
  • Cancel our cell phone plans and close our bank account (in person)
  • Inform the government we are leaving and end our health insurance (at City Hall)
  • Cancel our internet service (on the phone? not sure)
  • Cancel utilities and pay the final bills (in person at our home on our last day)
  • Get rid of all the furniture, food and possessions we aren't taking with us (???!!!)
  • Ship home anything we don't need for now (already got 2 huge boxes of clothes ready to go)
  • Buy (used) suitcases (x3-4)
So far the only thing I'm kinda freaking out about is getting rid of all the furniture and stuff here. Some of it was rented for us by Interac- like our fridge and one desk. The rest of it needs to get taken away- hopefully by someone who has just moved to the area or something. We'll be posting it online for either really cheap or, in an act of desperation, for free as long as you pick it ALL up from our place. Ugh.

yeahhh not for us
Honestly this is a LOT less work than we had to do to get here and get everything set up. But then again, he still don't have a home or jobs lined up for when we get home... But at least we'll be able to do everything in English, so really can't be that hard.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Life Lately

as illustrated by gifs

In the morning:

at work:

Out in the world:

At home:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Learning Japanese: immersion

You've probably heard before about how someone learned Japanese just from reading lots of manga or watching lots of anime and listening to Japanese songs. I call bullshit.

Sure, there's probably some people out there that are amazingly smart enough to do that- but I can't frickin imagine doing it. I mean, once you get to a certain level of understanding then sure, you can figure out the couple of words you don't know through context clues. But starting from not knowing anything? No way. Not for me, at least.

I feel like it doesn't even make sense to watch anime/read manga in Japanese until you're at the conversational level- as in you can basically hold a simple conversation in Japanese. At that point you'd have enough vocabulary and understanding of grammar to understand a majority of what you see- and you can look up the rest. When you try to jump into those deep waters too soon you will find that you need to look up every other word or even whole sentences. Stopping every couple of sentences to go look something up isn't really teaching you anything at all, and it can even make you feel discouraged.

People also might tell you that the only way to really progress is to be totally immersed in the language by actually going to the country its spoken in. This is also bullshit. We've obviously lived here for this long and the only things we learned through immersion were how to tell the convenience store people to heat up our bentos. Again, hearing Japanese all the time isn't going to do anything for you if you cant understand any of it- and you actually learn to just tune it all out.

The CDs that come with your textbooks, or obviously Japanese classes or tutors, can help you get exposed to listening to (and speaking in) Japanese within the context of what you understand. This is the best way to solidify those skills and build on them. If you're able to do this then definitely start speaking right away, no matter your level. They say one of the best ways to learn a language is to actually use it (at your level). There are websites that actually team you up with a native speaker of the language you're learning, like a personal tutor, so you can practice conversation at your own pace. I haven't used any so I can't really suggest one, but they're pretty easy to find online, just hunt around.

Now all that being said, I have heard of a manga that great for beginners. Its called Chi's Sweet Home and its about a kitten adopted by a young family. Through the series the Japanese is very simple and slowly progresses, perfect for learning along. I have the first book and so far I'm still at the level where I need to translate something every couple of words so I had to put it down and practice a bit more. My goal is to start reading it this summer, so I'll let you know how it goes.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Summer is coming

Golden week just passed! It was three awesome days off in the middle of the week, Tuesday to Thursday. Golden week is three consecutive national holidays: Constitution Memorial day, Green day, and Boys'/Children's day.

Each color of fish represents a specific family member- ours is just Kris (in black) and me (in red).
For Tuesday Kris and I mostly relaxed, but we also went and picked up this awesome indoor yaki-niku grill. It was less than $80 and totally worth it as we'll save that much by eating yakiniku at home very quickly. We've already used it twice and we're super satisfied with the tasty results.

Grilled food is the best food.

Wednesday we went to Ikea in nearby Tachikawa to spend time with some friends and eat some swedish meatballs. It was a nice relaxing day that included a cool view of Mt. Fuji that is horribly represented by this photo:

Mt. Fuji is the snowy mountain top in the middle, very very very far away... like from San Francisco to Morgan Hill.

Finally, on Thursday we went to our first matsuri (festival) of the year. We went to Fuchu, about 40 minutes away, and hit up the Kurayami Matsuri, or Darkness Festival. It was the last day of the festival so there was a TON of people, but there was also a TON of amazing food and some cool things to see! As we spent most of the time filming video I dont have many good photos from my phone, but here are a couple.

Chocolate Stick Waffle!!! Why don't all festivals in the world have this???

The event was in a huge shaded park with tons of trees.

Tons of people, beautiful banners.

Power cords ran like vines around this place.

The walkway to the shrine.

Chocolate bananas were adorable and plentiful.

Cotton candy with popular characters- can you name them all?

A rotating shooting range for pellet guns- win a prize if you knock one down!

One of the many food stand alleys.

Delicious grilled meats made right in the stand.

We found a churro stand! It had cinnamon, chocolate, strawberry and sugar flavors.

The giant drums came down the parade route, pulled by about 40 people.

These people led the drum team with lanterns.

Candied strawberries- hard candy shell with sugar, warm ripe strawberries inside. Outstanding.

So look forward to a video about this festival soon. We have another festival to look forward to in another week too. Today, Friday, I had work again, but luckily only two classes so I relaxed and studied Japanese the rest of the day. Since today is our anniversary Kris and I enjoyed some amazing yakiniku and delicious ice cream dessert. It was a pretty low-key event but we had one of those "WHOA, we're in Japan" moments when we realized we were eating yakiniku in our livingroom in Japan for our anniversary. So much can change in a year.

As its getting warmer and summer is creeping up we're simultaneously excited about festivals and cicadas and dreading the killer humidity. Look forward to the festival video soon.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Japanese- next steps

Now that you've (hopefully) learned katakana and hiragana, you're ready to learn some real Japanese! Now is a good time to go back to the notes I wrote from our first Japanese lesson HERE. In those notes you'll learn how to make a short greeting and say a little about where you are from. This is a great start!

If you dont yet have a Japanese textbook YouTube will be your best friend. There are tons of YouTube channels that teach beginner Japanese or help explain certain concepts and give advice on studying! Here's a list of some of the ones I watched (click for link):

Japanese Pod 101
Japan Society NYC
Japanese from Zero
Japanese Joshi

If you're serious about learning Japanese you're honestly going to need a textbook. I mean you wouldn't try to learn calculus just from watching YouTube videos right? So bite the bullet and buy a textbook. Obviously you can always find cheap, new, and used books on Amazon which is how we got our textbook. I did a bit of research and found out that many people recommended the Genki Japanese Textbook so thats what we went with, but there are some pros and cons.

Pros: it does a great job of explaining grammar points and it has you practice those points with all sorts of written questions. Cons: its focused on learning Japanese from the perspective of an international university student so a lot of the vocabulary and dialogue is centered around school and not normal daily dialogue you'd otherwise use. We also bought the extra workbook that goes with the Genki textbook. Its great if you just want even more written questions to practice the grammar you've learned, but its by no means essential. The textbook and workbook also come with CDs so you can listen to the dailogue you learn and theres even listening questions to work on, but I've been a bit lazy on studying at home with my computer and the CD so I haven't utilized this enough to comment on it. I bet if I used this feature more I'd be better at listening in Japanese...

So I would recommend getting the Genki workbook for the great grammar explanation, but it might also be useful to get another book that supplements that textbook with different kinds of vocab and topics- which is what we're doing with Japanese classes and the new textbook we got for those classes.

Like I said before, to make (and keep) progress its important to study daily, or as close to that as is realistic for you. At work when I don't have a class I spend my time working in my Genki textbook are drilling kanji/vocab flashcards. It does get a bit tedious, and sometimes I just can't stuff any more Japanese into my brain so I need a frickin break. but ultimately this has helped me advance as far as I have. Hey, learning something as difficult as a new language, especially Japanese, isnt going to be easy. It's just not. But it will be rewarding and exciting! So go check out some textbooks and keep practicing your vocab and kana in the meantime.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Second Japanese Class

Last Wednesday we went to our second Japanese class! So that means I have new notes for you to study. We started out reviewing the things we learned last class, which just meant asking each other the questions about our name, country, and where we live. Click HERE to go back to that first class we had. After that short review we moved on to numbers! This time we talked about time and price. Once again, my notes from class can be found HERE.

Since the last class Kris and I were able to find the textbook- and apparently we bought the last one because no one else in class has found one, even at the bookstore we got ours at.... oops. So the book has almost no English in it. It's designed so that people from any country can use it to learn Japanese- but you need to know hiragana and the basics of Japanese grammar and vocabulary first. It seems that its made so you are introduced to the language in class and you can figure out any questions there, then go home with the book as your class notes then practice what you've learned and see it written in Japanese, including kanji. I'll be miking some notes about what you see in the textbook, with pictures from the book, so check my notes list for that soon.

If you're learning along with us then definitely get that katakana and hiragana down so you can move on to vocabulary and making sentences. Vocabulary is great to practice right now! Once again, Memrise is your friend. On Memrise there are tons of flashcards for vocabulary but you'll figure out that some are better than others. I usually try some out and if I don't like it I move on to another one. Two I kind of stuck with was the Core 1000 and 125 Most Useful Words. I haven't finished either though, not even close. Core 1000 basically means that if you learn these 1000 words you theoretically know just about all the words you'll need for a huge majority of normal conversation. I should really get back to studying those....

Anyways, go check out my notes, practice your kana, and then start on some vocabulary. And look forward to the next post about diving into learning Japanese- cuz right now you're just getting prepped for the deep end. And once again, heres my self intro based on what we've learned in class:

はじめ まして。ケンドラ   です。わたし  の  くに  は  アメリカ  です。すまい  は  みなみおさわ  です。かぞく  は  よにん  です。わたし  は  えいご  の  きょし  です。いま  は  ごご  にじ  です。わたし  の  べんと  は  さんびゃくごじゅう  えん  です。


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Learning Japanese- hiragana

So you've learned katakana! Great! Honestly that's pretty amazing. If you were to go to Japan now you could do a pretty good job at ordering from menus and reading labels. But if you're ready to do more then lets move on. Your next mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn hiragana. Now don't be frightened! Hiragana is exactly like katakana. Actually, its literally the exact same alphabet with some different symbols. The biggest challenge here is just remembering which symbols belong to katakana and which go with hiragana. Here's the set below:

Hiragana is used for regular Japanese- as in words that aren't foreign in origin. When you're starting to learn kanji the spelling of it will be shown in hirgana and many words are simply written in hiragana. Once again, I recommend using Memrise and the Basic Hiragana 1 and 2 sets. Admittedly this part of the learning process isn't very exciting, but its necessary in order to learn literally anything else. But if you can make it through this part then your set up to just go, go, go afterward!

This is also a good point to make sure you're paying attention to pronunciation as, just like in English, wrong pronunciation can lead to some really messed up switcharoos. If you're practicing with Memrise remembers to have the sounds turned on so you can hear the pronunciation and try to repeat it each time too. Below is a great video about pronunciation from a YouTube channel that has some great videos:

If you plan on learning how to write in Japanese, now would be the time to practice those skills as well. When writing hiragana, katakana, and kanji there is a proper order to each stroke. This might sound intimidating but the same is true of English. If you saw someone writing the lower-case r by starting from the right-hand side. Its not unforgivable or anything but it's definitely weird. For that reason its better to get good habits down now so you're set up for the future. Here's some charts showing the writing directions:

Never seen WI before... ignore that one.

The WO symbol here seems wrong... ignore that. And WI isn't a thing, ignore that too.

And just note that whenever you write the " or ° it is written after the rest of the symbol, like dotting an i. When I was practicing writing I'd just repeat it over and over in my notebook, but if you're lucky enough to be near a Daiso (a Japanese dollar store) then you can probably find notebooks made specifically for practicing this. These special notebooks basically have a large grid on the pages so you have plenty of space to practice and feel it out. Honestly a plain notebook works fine, though.

Alright, good luck on this next stage of memorization. You can do it!


Monday, April 25, 2016

Hanami Video

I know its been a little while since we went out for hanami but we finally got around to finishing a short video for it. We ended up having such a good time that we didn't remember to film much! But you can get a quick glimpse into our second day of hanami and the area we were at in Ueno park in Tokyo.

In the video you see us start with our walk to the station near our house. Kris recently found a nice walking path that makes a shortcut from our house to the station and, amazingly, this path happens to be lined with sakura trees so we always have a really pleasant walk. You might notice I'm carrying a super heavy tote bag in the video- that was our picnic bag! Its a big thermal bag we bought here at Costco and in it we had some tarps for the ground, some sushi, some drinks, and some cookies.

At Ueno park we were able to find an open spot on the ground to lay out our tarps. Many places have been fields where you can sit but this park had just a very large cement walkway that was sectioned off into tarp-sized spots. You take off your shoes before going on the tarp too. Its Japan. We all brought our own food but also brought cookies and ships to share as a group- it was a pretty amazing lunch. There were all sorts of people and tourist groups walking around. There were some other landmarks to check out nearby too so after our lunch we walked around a bit.

Hanami really is amazing and I cant wait to bring it home and enjoy it with you guys.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Learning Japanese- extreme beginner

I couple of people have asked how I'm learning Japanese or expressed interest in learning themselves. While I can't stress enough that I basically know NO Japanese, I do know a tiny bit about learning it. I've been an extreme beginner for a while now and I thought I'd share my knowledge with you.

So let's assume you know nothing about Japanese. It can seem daunting to take on this language because of the kanji, right? Well honestly you don't need to worry kanji for a long while. Just shove it out of your mind. How is that OK? Well in Japanese theres actually two alphabets used aside from kanji. Now you're freaked out about learning two whole other alphabets, right? Well don't worry about that either. Honestly, the you only need one alphabet to read a LOT of words in Japanese.

So how is that possible? Well the two alphabets are hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is the standard Japanese alphabet, and its even whats used to write out kanji pronunciations. Katakana is the alphabet thats used to write out words of foreign origin, and a surprising amount of commonly used words in Japan originate from English. If you know Katakana you can read a ton of things, from labels in the store to items on a menu. If you needed to suddenly hop on a plane to Japan and only had that flight to learn Japanese, I'd learn "hello" and katakana. Here's a katakana chart:

As you can see, the alphabet is made up of consonant+vowel sounds. You start from the right side (a,e,i,o,u) and move to the left, top to bottom. You might also notice that the highlighted symbols are copies of other symbols, made by adding " or ­­°. The best way to learn katakana is pure repetition, and the best way to do that is with an app! Memrise is an awesome free app to use when learning a language. It's basically a flash card app that shows you flashcards in perfect intervals to keep up retention. You can get the app on your phone, navigate to Courses, then Japanese. Here you can find a ton of sets of Japanese words or phrases to learn. There are many sets that include sound in the flash card, so you can hear the proper pronunciation. I'd start with Basic Katakana 1- that will teach you the symbols in the chart above that aren't highlighted. Then I'd move on to Basic Katakana 2 which will you teach you the highlighted symbols plus the ones shown below. These additional symbols make unique sounds by combining two symbols, with the second symbol written much smaller.

And now we get to the real difficult part of learning Japanese- or any language, I guess. While the language itself can be challenging, the hardest part is just making yourself practice it. Thats more than half the battle. I frickin live in Japan and knowing Japanese would make my life way more convenient, but I still have a hard time making myself practice. And as soon as you stop practicing you begin to forget things. I didn't study for a month and I fell back a chapter and a half in my Japanese textbook. You really do gotta use it or you'll lose it. So if you just feel like learning a couple Japanese phrases, then feel free to ignore this blog post because its not for you. But if you really would like start learning a new language along with Kris and I, then download Memrise and start practicing your katakana. And do make sure you start trying out the pronunciations- it'll make saying words later way easier.

You know, people think that one of the best ways to learn a language is by total immersion. Thats crap. Immersion alone really won't teach you much if you have no idea what those noises mean. It could take you a long time to unravel a language that way. The real way to learn is by constant practice, supported by actually using what you've learned. The immersion can help encourage you to use the language, but you've got to have it in place first. And I don't even mean whole sentences- if you can string together a couple words thats enough. Most of the time when I understand what someone is saying in Japanese its because I heard 1 or 2 words I recognize and I put that together with context clues. But as I learn more its like driving through a fog and the view around you slowly becomes clearer.

Of course, that all starts with a single step, and that step is frickin katakana. Then, to test your new language skills, read this menu! How many things can you identify?


Monday, April 18, 2016

A trip to Ikea and the first day back

This weekend was the last of my spring break. I went back to work today, which was kind of a bummer. It's not like work was bad or anything- just not as good as not work, right? This school year I have 3 schools instead of 6, so I'll spend a lot more time at each school. Also, all my schools are within 30 minutes of home, so no more crazy long commutes that wear me out! Two of my schools are from last year so I'm familiar with most of the students and teachers. I will go to my new school next week, so that means I'll be doing a ton of self introductions.

The weather here is finally starting to warm up, though its still been rainy. I can never understand the weather changes that happen here- the day will start sunny and clear then end rainy. A week can start out freezing cold and stormy and, in a matter of days, go up ten degrees and turn out nice. And the weather forecasts are always always off- they're of a general guess than even the forecasts at home were. But today, even after raining, its nice and warm out so we have out livingroom sliding glass door open. Oh- its still quiet for now too, meaning the crickets and cicadas haven't woken up from the cold. In peak bug season, when they're all out at night creaking and screaming, it gets frickin LOUD. So loud that you practically need to yell to have a conversation outside at night. As annoying as that can be, I still kind of miss the cicada noises. They remind me of our first weeks spent in Japan- and of course any anime or Ghibli film set in the summer. I'm a bit excited for their return- though I'm not excited for the humidity that will come at the same time. Last night we were walking to Family Mart and I'm pretty sure we heard the first cicada of the season buzzing away nearby. Won't be long now.

And finally, its April, so everyone knows that means only one thing- Kris' Birthday Month! The monthly celebration of Kris' life has started and, as you've seen, we've celebrated by spending time with friends, drinking under sakura blossoms, and eating some great food. Most recently we went to Ikea to finally get Kris a desk that suits his needs. We tried to find a used desk first but none of them were cheap enough! I'm guessing all the reasonably priced desks get bought up pretty quick around all these schools. So Ikea was the best option for us. We got Kris a desk with a monitor stand and a new chair for his first official b-day gift, and boy does he love it. If you've seen the orange desk he used to have its basically an INSANELY better version of that. We also moved the livingroom around a bit. Instead of couch cushions on the ground (for snuggling under the kotatsu) we have them back on the couch frame in the same corner. The old desk (my new desk!) is right next to Kris'. Our laundry drying rack got pushed to a distant corner, and now the kotatsu is kind of just in the middle of the room, a little bit in the way, but oh well.

For now we'll go back to the daily grind- me getting up early and going to work, Kris sleeping in late but then cooking dinner for us. Luckily Golden Week is coming up soon, so I'll have time off again in only two weeks.