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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

As if an Introduction Could Suffice

Let me start off with some Japanese:

すみません。

The point of that wasn't show off how awesome it is to be able to type in another language (which coincidentally happens to be the case), but rather to preemptively apologize for however few reading this will feel after reading the wall of text that is about to ensue. I feel the need to write so much because of two things: 1.Writing comes somewhat naturally to me 2. As I begin to earnestly incorporate more Japanese into this blog I am bound to temporarily lose whatever semblance of communicative ability that this blog could provide in favor of the Japanese equivalent of "See Spot run."

Why should I do this?

For many people this question provides little difficulty. The answer is simple, you do this to help learn a language. And on this point I have no contention, but to continue down this line of thought I must answer the question "Why Japanese?"

Again for most people the answer is simple. You choose to study a language/culture that you like, something that has some sort of worth to you. Because of this I'm certain that most of my classmates have had some exposure to something worthwhile that is Japanese. I assume this is now an appropriate time to examine what it is that I value about Japanese language/culture.

My first exposure to Japan came in elementary school when my teacher's sister came to talk to us about her recent trip to the country. Despite the fact that she spoke to us for nearly a whoile day, the only clear memory that I have of that day was us making すし (I couldn't resist it's surprisingly amusing) and eating them with wasabi sauce. Being the narrow minded brat that I was, I wasn't too impressed by the display but I did find a deep-seated love for sushi that day.

Like most boys my age who had cable growing up, I was a huge fan off Toonami, which was Cartoon Network's afternoon block of programing which featured almost exclusively anime out of Japan. Even now I have friends who claim that Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing were the best things ever created. While I disagree with that, I do owe a lot of my current interest in things Japanese to these shows, because anime was and still is a major source of enjoyment for me.

If imported cultural images were all that interested me about Japan it would be hard for me to justify myself devoting the effort towards this class instead of say Spanish (which I am much more comfortable with, both linguistically and culturally). Fortunately this is not the case. In the 7th grade my school received a transfer student from Japan named Toshiki Kato. Toshiki and I only had one class together, and that was Mrs. Jones's art class. If there is only thing you need to know about that class was that the amount of time we spent doing work was roughly equal to the amount of Japanese used in this post. We became friends because during one class I opened his Japanese-English dictionary and started looking up words to make fun of other people in the class (yes. I that is mean), which Toshiki found rather amusing and by the ending of the class we were nealry falling out of our chairs laughing because no one could understand us. Luckily we had more incommon than and secretly cursing others. For one we both like anime, he had seen many of this shows that I had, and I even remember him coming over to my house to watch an anime moive, but we had to watch it in Japanese with English subtitles so we could both understand what was being said. But what really drove us together was our mutual love for soccer. We had both played since we were little and we even shared the same favorite team. I would have to admit that the reason why I am taking this course is because of my friendship with Toshiki and all the things I learned about Japan from him. Unfortunatley, because Toshiki's dad worked for a Japanese company, he moved every couple years, and after his most recent move I lost contact with him. However, this is not the end of my infatuation with Japan.

In high school, I focused almost exlcusively on the U.S. and Latin America both culturally and linguisitically. I had abandoned any hopes of studying Japanese and had even stopped watching anime. However, two things happened just before senior year which revived my interests . Our Spanish department replaced the teacher of the uppers levels of the language with someone who made learning the language cumbersome and uninteresting. Since my school also offered Japanese, I jumped at the opportunity to explore an old interest. Secondly I started watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network again, which reinvigorated my interest in anime. One important change to note is that my attitude at this point had become much more philosophical (it had been my original intent to make this apparent through the post itself but this is getting long enough as is), so I could no longer in good conscience watch shows like Naruto or Bleach, but luckily for me I was able to watch a great psychological thriller like Death Note and even a classic like Cowboy Bebop. For some reason unknown to me some anime has this unbelievable ability to really approach and cover a topic in ways that you just can't replicate with contemporary American television.

Taking a year of Japanese in high school really solidified my interest in Japan. While my teacher was not a native speaker, she was raised in Japan and had visited several times since returning to America. Because of this she was able to give us some significant insights as to what the country and its people are about. One thing in particular that caught my attention was how Japan and America culturally overlap in many ways when it comes to contemporary society. Futhermore this cultural connection is intriguing because of how one sided it is. In Japan you are likely to hear music and television in English as well as advertisements with English or featuring American-born celebrities. However, Japanese influence in America is no where near what I just described, and thus my interest in Japan acts as a way for me to personally reduce that inequality (one of the things I remember most about my friendship with Toshiki was that he was more interested in learning about America than I was learning about Japan).

Even as write this I have to wonder if even with all that I've experienced, if that's worthwhile enough to devote myself to learning this language, or if my reasoning is nothing more than a glorification of simple envy. As if I would want to become something that I'm not; Japanese. This kind of reminds me of one of my all time favorite movies Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (its a little to hard to summarize how this is relevant so please watch it, it is nothing like you would imagine infering from the title), in that it speaks to the very heart of the notion of cross-culturalism, which I not only as an American, but as an American of mixed race decent can appreciate very much.

I assume that is enough for the first post. I would almost gurantee one will never be this long again, but you never know.

So until next time, じゃあ また (<- too cool)

JB

5 comments:

bstevenson said...

Nice writeup, I look forward to more. The second to last paragraph is especially interesting and I'm sure it's something, as you say, that the majority of people aren't aware of.

アルコンセル said...

I hope you're happy that your extensive and thoughtful blog entry put my original blog post to shame, thus inciting me to write more.

I also approve of your viewing of Death Note. It is a most awesome anime (in the original Japanese version, of course). There's a J-drama called "LIAR GAME" that is a psychological thriller like Death Note that I would definitely recommend watching.

mikedoho said...

I would have to agree that writing in a new language is exciting. I just wish I new more words so I could actually post comments employing ひらがな、かたかな、and かんじ

Angela Ferreira said...

I have read Death Note as well (though I never finished the series) and I really enjoyed it. It got me to explore the darker side of japanese manga, so I read Battle Royale as well (the book format though).

villagejin_ian said...

こんにちは!I'm a fellow 1st-year にほんごのがくせい @ Columbia U.

I have similar reasons for studying this 'unique' language. Beyond the fact that American culture (especially with respect to young males) heavily borrows from the culture of Japan, I agree that (as a person of multiple ethnicities myself as well) cross-culturalism is at the heart of this new language-learning process. This seems apparent by the interesting fact that a large percentage of my classmates are of mixed-origins.

In any case, I'm glad you pointed out "Ghost Dog" as a paradox of American and Japanese values; good movie, good Forest Whitaker.

ーイアン