Prep iv – Prepare for culture shock

Given that Japan is on the other side of the world, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to assume that the culture would not be similar to ours on the Western side in quite a few ways.

For that reason, I knew that in order to relieve the hormonal shock to my system that would probably lead to weight gain (eek!), I would have to do as much background research as I could.

As always, the solution to my problem was to bury my nose in a few books. A lot of them focussed on going to Japan as a tourist, but what I really wanted was a book about living in Japan.¬†One of the good ones is CultureShock! Japan: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette by P Sean Bramble. A light and humorous approach to everyday life and the wacky things you’ll probably encounter in Japan.

Another interesting book I found was this handbook:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have a title except for ‘Introducing Japan in English’. I bought it off ebay a while back from my saved search of Japanese language books (yes, that’s what I said). I tried to find it just now on amazon but had no luck.

It features various information about Japanese food, festivals and other cultural things in both Japanese and English side by side. At the moment, the Japanese is too advance for me to read and the kanji doesn’t have furigana (how to read the chinese characters) but it’s still useful in that I can see how a particular sentence would be translated.

Other things I’ve done include watching Begin Japanology which is a great show on NHK (or vimeo…shh!) hosted by Peter Barakan.

And of course, purely for research purposes, I’ve been watching a few doramas. I think some of they give a pretty good inside look into what a Japanese home and typical family are like. I don’t what it is about them that keeps me watching, but I have a suspicion could be:

  • the bad acting
  • the cheesy lines
  • the phobia of PDA

As for food, if you count the Westernized chains like Wagamama and Yo! Sushi, then I’ve eaten Japanese food tons of times. If not, I’ve only had a little. Once, I ate at an ‘authentic’ (and expensive!) restaurant run by a Japanese chef and kimono-clad waitresses back at uni. Also, I already eat a somewhat eastern diet based on rice anyway, so I should be fine …

So this was plan to alleviate future culture shock. I hope it works, but I have a feeling that it’s probably all a waste of time anyway, because even though I won’t be in shock, I’ll still probably gain weight.

Prep i – Revise Japanese

Some sing, some dance... I apparently collect Japanese language books

Given that I only have a few days left, I’ve been revising everything I’ve learned this year like a crazy lunatic. As always, one can’t expect cramming intensely revising year or two’s worth of work into the space of a few weeks will work very well, but it’s better than nothing.

At Leeds University, we use the Minna no nihongo textbooks and we study both parts I and II in one year. We blitzed through them like a homeless person at a buffet table so that we would be just as prepared as other students who are about to go abroad in their third year. Despite the speed, I would say that it has worked quite well. In my opinion just doing just part I in one year would be way too slow, and it would mean that we wouldn’t be able to go abroad until we were in our third year as well.

Frankly, if I had to wait any longer, I think I would implode with impatience.

I also use the Japanese For Busy People series because I was learning from them before I went to university. Personally, I think they’re much better for self study than Minna no Nihongo which only really works if you have a teacher and all of the different books that go together as a set, ie:

  • the main textbook I/II
  • the grammar book I/II
  • the kanji book I/II
  • the exercise books I/II

Of course, they are all separate so as to squeeze every penny out of an already starving population of students.

The reason why I have be at least competent in some Japanese (apart from because I’m going to Japan) is that there is a placement test at the beginning of the semester. Depending on your score, you will be put in varying levels of Japanese class for the rest of the year. There is some mobility, but only if it is really obvious that you are either too good or crap for that level. If I end up in a lower class, I will probably have to do Minna no Nihongo II all over again, which (although would be easy) would be a complete waste of time and money. Besides, all Leeds¬†students have to take the same exams and I’d rather learn more so that it is easier to pass it than be stuck on a plateau for the whole of the year.

Finally, I also need to be able to speak Japanese so as to not look like I have the intelligence of a rice cake to my host family.

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