Meeting Japanese Exchange Students

By Aitana Camponovo

On February 5th, Japanese Plus students received the amazing opportunity to get to know a group of Japanese exchange students who came to DC for an afternoon. It was especially exciting because of the exchange of cultures and languages that took place that day, where everyone tried their best to understand each other despite each other’s major differences.  

One of my favorite parts of the exchange was meeting Yui and Tomoya. While I was so nervous I could feel my heart in my ears and my hands shook as I tried not to drop my cheeseburger, out of the spur of the moment I decided to pick a seat in the first booth I found. This seat would later become the best decision I had ever made, because though I did not know it at the moment, my day was about to completely change its course. 

They told me they both came from the same school in Hiroshima and happened to be the same age as me. I asked them how long they had been studying English: four years. They asked me: three years. We talked about each other’s interests: why do I like Japan? I have always wanted to study abroad there, I told them, and then I asked what they thought about my hometown, Washington DC. They said they loved it and began to tell me about all of the things they had done so far, where they were planning to go next, and when they would leave. I learned Yui is great at calligraphy, her grandmother is a teacher for “sadou,” Japanese traditional tea ceremony, she is on the volleyball team, while Tomoya plays baseball, and his friends call him “Bacchi” for short. I learned there are two different types of “okonomiyaki”; one from Osaka and Hiroshima, though the Hiroshima one is obviously better. Most of all, I learned, after talking with these two for hours, that regardless of one’s language and culture, people will always be people. We still make the same jokes, laugh at the same things, and share similar views of life despite our homes being hundreds and thousands of miles apart. 

The only sour part of my day was having to say goodbye. The three of us promised we would see each other again soon, whether it be in America again or in their country, Japan. We took our final photos together and made sure we had each other’s contacts saved. Though it was short, I know I will never forget this day and the people it brought me close to. 

Learning Hiragana

By Aitana Camponovo

Hiragana is just one out of the three total Japanese alphabets, but it is arguably the most important. It is the backbone of the rest of the language, and without a complete understanding of it, it is impossible to learn Japanese. For three months, Japanese Plus worked together to master this alien writing system; it was hard, but by the end of it, gratifying to finally put to use.

As English-speakers who are only used to writing the Latin alphabet, one of the hardest parts of understanding hiragana is learning its stroke order and having to memorize it for all forty-six letters. Not only that, but with the exception of very few minor differences like an extra loop or curve at the end, some of the hiragana looks exactly alike. Though I had already studied hiragana a few years ago, thanks to Tsujioka-Sensei’s valuable teaching, even I got the opportunity to brush up on my handwriting. 

I was shocked at the resilience of some of the members of our class. They showed up to every meeting, including the optional review sessions, and were committed to mastering not only the writing of hiragana, but the reading and real-world usage. I remember seeing the class’ writing the very first time we started learning it, and seeing it again only a few weeks later and being shocked by the improvement. It is exciting to see so many motivated students because it pushes me as well to want to continue learning. 

The next alphabet the class has left to learn is katakana, though similar to hiragana, it is sharper and more square shaped, used only for foreign loan-words in Japanese. I am confident, however, that learning it will be a breeze now that everyone is more familiar with foreign writing systems.