Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How Not to Study for the JLPT

JLPT: Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
Consists of levels 5 through 1, with level 1 being fluent, and level 5 meaning you have approximately the communicative competency of a 5-year-old.

Someone I know (*ahem*) happens to have decided to take the level 4 test the first weekend in December. She has adopted some really effective study strategies, and thought it prudent to share them.

(1) Assess your current level of Japanese proficiency. You think you're somewhere around level 5? Good. Sign up for the test that is a level ABOVE...to *challenge* yourself.

(2) Before you can begin to "properly" study, invest in some good coloured pens so you can write impressive colour-coded study notes. This not only feels more productive, it looks more productive!

(3) Order study materials that are designed to take you three solid months to get through. But be sure to order them with just over two months until the test. Wait two weeks before cracking open these books, and once you've done so, only open them a few times for the first week or two.

(4) In the time you have left, try to learn about 150 new kanji. At least they aren't all entirely "new"; you're already "familiar" with a lot of them, but definitely don't have all of the various readings memorized. Ganbatte ne!

(5) Feel awesome about the amount of Japanese you are learning - listen to the teachers in the staff room when they express how impressed they are with your studies. Because they are most definitely genuinely impressed! Way to go you!! You can pat yourself on the back. Immediately after, feel deflated when they flip through your textbooks and comment that, Wow, you are learning the kanji of a fourth grader!

She may be feeling overwhelmed at the sheer volume of material to go through and study and review and review again, but at least the looming test date is giving her ample motivation to study Japanese, and studying Japanese more intensely gives her a feeling of satisfaction. All good things, even if the outcome is a "Fail".

Monday, November 5, 2012

Of Hippies, Music and Broken Tents

Back in August, I went to this great music festival for the second year in a row, and I wrote this story about it for akitaculture, our ALT online blog/magazine. 


It’s just after dark in a secluded mountain forest. The hum of guitars and various percussion instruments carries through the muggy air. All of the tents in the clearing beyond the stage have been pitched – except ours.
Apparently we’ve come camping with tent poles that are actually just pieces of poles, the elastic string that once connected them missing. We have finally succeeded in carefully sliding the rods together and slowly raising the tent, when one of our fragile constructions pops apart. It is then that we realize we are still several rods short.
Some drunken Japanese guys from Akita city try to help us. Their laughter indicates that they are just as amused as we are. In fact, the situation gets funnier the longer their boisterous conversation lingers.
“Where are you from?”
“America! Canada!"
“Canadaaaa…Yukon river! Gold rush!” (Um, yes. I have never even been to the Yukon before.) “When I was young, I play…ice hockey!!”
“Ahhh cool! Jouzu desu ka?
He ponders for a moment. “No. Fuhhh-cking no!"
And this is just the start of the night. Some mellow folk tunes can be heard from the small stage, set in the middle of what looks like a backcountry hippie village – a series of makeshift tents under which brightly coloured cloth, crafts made of stones and clay and wood, candles, tie-dyed clothing and beer are being sold. There are only about fifty people in attendance, most of them taking part in the performances. Some are sprawled on the grass, sleeping. Others are gathered around the beer tents, or dancing and swaying by themselves. This is Midori Matsuri, or what I affectionately refer to as “The Hippie Festival In The Woods”.

The atmosphere couldn’t be earthier. Camping in the woods and listening to folk and world-inspired music, playing guitar and djembe drums by the lake, frogs singing you to sleep and cicadas waking you in the morning. Most of the musicians and vendors are local; start frequenting live music events in southern Akita, and you’ll begin to see a lot of familiar faces.

During a set that has inspired some form of conga-line, we are approached by Kin-chan, a local musician and organizer of the event. “At the end of the night, everyone will come onstage,” he tells us.  “We will all sing ‘Imagine’ together. Please join.” As the set finishes and the crowd begins to assemble, we wonder if we should actually go up to sing. “Let’s just wait and see what happens,” someone suggests. Good idea. We watch as a dozen free spirits grab guitars, tambourines and microphones and launch into Lennon’s tune in Japanese.
Suddenly, a young shirtless man, sporting bright red pants and dreadlocks, lays eyes on the foreigners clustered together near the front, and his eyes light up. Before we even know what’s going down, we’re being dragged by the wrist to the stage, front and centre, and a microphone is shoved in our faces. Clearly, the gaijin will know all the lyrics!
The problem is, we don’t.
The guitar intro finishes, expectant faces turn toward us, and…nothing. Thinking maybe we just missed our cue, Red Pants Man counts us in a second time. But again, nothing. I look blankly at Jessie, who shakes her head cluelessly in return. Finally, two Japanese girls take over, and everyone is swept away by their lovely duet. That is, until the next verse, when Red Pants Man remembers us and pushes us into the mic once again.
Somehow, we all get through the song together: Japanese, Americans, Canadians, Lennon fans, and even us sub-par Lennon fans. This is the kind of music festival where everyone participates, and surprise performances, dance parties and drum circles are the norm. I may be gone by the time the festival rolls around next year, but it's a bit tempting to stay just long enough to experience it one more time.