What I met, at the MET!

By Alexx Thompson

Outside of our lovely Japanese Plus class, I went on a field trip to New York with my school! I go to an arts training school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which prepares us to work as an artist in the professional field, and there are various arts training departments you can audition into. I’m in the Visual Arts major/department, which means I learn a variety of art skills such as painting, sculpture, animation, drawing, and printmaking. Our first trip of the year was to the Frick Collection, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET).

Unfortunately, the moment I arrived in New York I had fallen ill, and could no longer keep up the enthusiasm I’d had prior to boarding. With great reluctance, I had to let my friend join a different group so I could leave the group to go get medication, and thus missed a great deal of the first museum. Luckily I was able to rush through it, although not to the extent I would’ve liked.

Still unwell, I made my way over to the MET, and had lunch, that was ridiculously overpriced, and overwhelmingly bland. However as I was ill, I didn’t really have any care for what kind of food it was. With new energy and my illness finally subsided, I’d returned to my earlier plan. The MET had an Asian art gallery, and I was determined to see the Japanese collection. I was beyond delighted to find a MET guide in Japanese, and used that to guide me. Not only that, I was more than happy that I could actually understand it enough to use it to get there!

Now that I was in the hallway leading to the exhibit, my excitement heightened as I admired modern Japanese pottery on display, noting the beautiful craftsmanship and effort put into it. My mother, who was accompanying me as a chaperone, was perplexed at the sight of one pot, exclaiming that it didn’t look as neat as the others. I thought about this for a moment before remembering the concept of wabi sabi—something I’d learned about in Japanese class—and explained to her that it was likely the artist’s intention for it to be that way. Or rather, nature’s intention if you will.

We finally headed into the exhibit and I was interested in the Chinese and Korean exhibits; however the exhibit for the Korean gallery was small, but still very nice. I also had recently become fascinated with the Chinese exhibits since at the time I’d started to read a fictional history/fantasy Chinese novel, and could now visualize what kinds of things the author drew on to create that novel.

As I exited the Chinese exhibit, I noticed two glass doors and atop them was a title reading: Sackler Wing Gallery! Now where have I heard that name before… None other than the Freer-Sackler Gallery of Asian Art! Thus I knew I’d found the Japanese exhibit and pulled open those doors to reveal a glistening beautiful glass statue of a deer. I gasped in awe and quietly made my way around each art piece, carefully examining each one, as well as the writing on pieces to see what I could decipher.

In many places there were very meticulously put together traditional rooms depicting historical architecture and interior design, or small enclaves displaying cooking pans and pots on tatami mats. My personal favorite however, was a large rock. To be more accurate, a fountain disguised as a large black stone. This is the Water Stone, created by Isamu Noguchi. Upon looking at the stone, I first thought it to only be rather shiny, but then I noticed the faint sound of water and realized that there was in fact, water flowing seamlessly over top the stone! It was very calming, and since the exhibit itself was quite silent, I simply sat there and enjoying sitting by it for a while.

Finally, I left the exhibit after looking around at all the pieces, and wandered around the museum until it was time for us to depart. Please do take time to visit the MET though, if you’re interested in Asian art, as their selection is gorgeous!


A Walk Around the Tidal Basin

By Alexx Thompson

Have you ever been to the Tidal Basin in Washington DC? It’s an amazing place with strong ties to Japan! How, you might ask? Well you’re about to find out!

This time, we all met up at the Freer Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, where we headed in to enjoy their Japan collection. In the collection we all stared in awe at gorgeous paintings and pottery alike, and took in the beauty of it all. After the museum, we left off towards the Tidal Basin.

At first, I thought we were only going to view the cherry blossoms, and the stone pagoda, and the stone lantern, however there was a little bit of a twist. Once we arrived, Sally and Eshita-sensei explained the rules of the game. For the entire time touring the Tidal Basin, we could only speak in Japanese. Soo… NO ENGLISH!!! Everyone instantly became nervous, none of us thought we’d be able to speak for that long. In my case, it was as if all my Japanese had flown right out of my head! A few of us even joked about doing sign language so that we could at least try and pass the challenge.

Then, it started, and we set off. The start was a little shaky but I found myself making good conversation. I joked about eating sakura tree ramen, as someone had asked me what I was eating, as I hadn’t the faintest idea what to even say/talk about! The time flew by honestly, and we were able to convey what we were trying to say, as well as sharing new vocabulary through miming! We arrived at the stone lantern and still, not allowed to speak English, we learned about the history, and snapped a pic with it! Then we kept going on, joking around in Japanese and also playing music for unknown reasons. But the music was all really good! Soon after, we arrived at the stone pagoda, and we learned about the different levels and what element each represented. Having to translate it all into Japanese was cool, as we found we already knew most of the words and their kanji!

By the time we’d circled back around and realized we were back where we started, we couldn’t believe it! It was almost as if it’d only been thirty minutes! We all looked at each other in amazement and were really proud of ourselves! We’d managed to have fluid conversations together for an entire two hours! All in Japanese! It was really encouraging to see how far we’d come and we were all super excited! We can’t wait to do it again!

An Exciting Summer!

By Alexx Thompson

This summer I had a blast and worked with our super awesome director Sally Schwartz on a publication entitled Japan in DC. Throughout the summer we met up with people who had strong connections to Japan as well as went to places related to Japan. It was my first ever official job, and was a really helpful work experience. Getting to meet people who are so closely connected to Japan was a great experience, especially since I plan on having a Japan-related career in the future.

The work was pretty similar to our Japanese class, but now I had to interview them. The interviewing was a little nerve wracking at first, especially so since me and Tara were coming up with the questions! I was mainly in charge of photography, so I finally used my photography class knowledge and pulled out my Nikon D40 camera and snapped away! I got to meet people like Robin Berrington, who served as a cultural attache for the US government in Japan, and I even got to visit the Japanese Ambassador’s Residence for a fun summer barbecue!

Throughout my summer I managed to learn how to use the metro, as well as time management, and professionalism. Since all of the writing I did would be going into a book, Sally also helped me on improving my grammar and diction, and as I enjoy writing it was nice to get some critique on how certain images convey things, and also when to insert my own thoughts or hold them back! It was really fun and I’d love to do it again!

The Ambassador of Japan’s summer barbeque

The traditional tea house at the Ambassador’s residence

Is crossing you legs impolite?

By Alexx Thompson

Did you know in Japan there are many cultural taboos considered polite in America? Things such as pointing, walking on the wrong side of the road can be considered rude in Japan. One of these things is crossing your legs. Here it’s considered a polite thing to do, especially for those who wear skirts. It saves space, compared to when people sit with their legs slightly spread out, so people can sit in tight spaces. In Japan, crossing one’s legs is seen as disrespectful. It is because when you do this you show the bottom of your feet to guests, and since they have picked up dirt,  you are showing that dirt to your guests. This makes for very bad business relations.

It’s okay to cross your legs in a casual setting, but in business relations it’s seen as too casual and improper. It is preferable to sit in seiza, the traditional Japanese way of sitting where you sit upright and your legs are tucked underneath you. If you are sitting in a chair, then simply keep your legs together, rather than folding one over the other.

If you are ever in relations with Japanese people, always remember to receive and give business cards with both hands, give gifts after travels, and remember not to cross your legs!

A World of New Opportunities

By Alexx Thompson

Visiting the NAFSA conference this year really was a very eye-opening experience for me. NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. The NAFSA Annual Conference is a unique forum of attendees from many professional and geographic perspectives and backgrounds. It’s a large convention where you can interact with international businesses and colleges as well as gain information about the programs they offer. Five Japanese Plus students were the special guests of the American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ) and NAFSA, along with other high school students from Maryland and Virginia.

When we first arrived at the hotel, on May 30, we were with the other students studying Japanese, and were introduced to the people behind the event. Getting to talk to them, as well as meeting the other students was really helpful for me to learn about what my next steps should be in going forward. Then we were led to the convention hall, where cute sakura trees surrounded the Japanese booths. There were many Japanese universities there and they were all really nice and willing to share their programs with us. Being introduced to more universities was very helpful for me, as I want to go to a Japanese university straight out of high school. I also got a chance to practice my Japanese with the people at each booth and I was really surprised to be able to understand the Japanese they spoke back to me. The only problem was sometimes I stumbled a bit and couldn’t format the sentences right in my head, so I said a few English sentences because I got nervous. Especially since I don’t really know much about college in English, so being able to understand the programs they offered in Japanese was very cool to me.

I also had the amazing opportunity to meet the vice president of Sophia University in Japan, and she was really sweet and wonderful. I really enjoyed talking to her and I’m really interested in applying to Sophia in the future. I want to be a translator as well as a polyglot, and immersion has always been the best tool for me.

Since the conference was an international one, it also brought my attention to studying abroad in other countries. I was really interested in the Korean universities, as I’m currently self-studying Korean, but I didn’t feel confident enough to talk to any of the representatives. I thought it really was amazing how I could go to so many colleges around the world. Not to mention programs I’d only seen online were there as well. I was able to talk with representatives from AFS, as I plan to study abroad in my senior year, and live in Japan for a semester or a year. It was really beneficial and was really cool to be able to see how many options I had. I loved the event and I really hope to go again if I ever have the chance.

Alexx’s Final Reflection

By Alexx Thompson

I think throughout the year, I’ve changed a lot. In the beginning, I came in with prior knowledge, and unreasonably expected everyone to be on the same level. Thinking that way skews your judgment and holds you back from being able to actually judge people correctly. I used to be a bit harsher back then, not understanding why some people messed up on certain things, or why they didn’t grasp it as quickly. Then as I spent more and more time working alongside my friends and classmates, I began to really open my eyes.

Not everyone is going to be on the same level as you, whether that be lower or higher.

And that’s a good thing.

You can use these experiences to help yourself grow as well as helping other people grow. It’s easier to empathize with people knowing this. I know in the beginning a lot of things weren’t exactly easy for me, and it only became better with practice. So whenever I offered help I tried to explain it more, and practiced alongside everyone else.

You can’t help someone if you don’t try to put yourself in their shoes. Even if you try, it’ll just be extremely difficult. I was really glad to humble myself and get my mind out of the high pedestal I’d placed myself on. Everything is about practice and what resources are available to you. A fact of life is that everyone isn’t going to have those same resources.

Growing alongside everyone really helped me see that. We’ve all improved and worked our hardest. I’ve seen our classmates work really hard to achieve their goals and I was really inspired. It pushed me to work even harder than before. I really enjoyed playing study games and doing review with everyone. Especially the skits. It was really cool to see how everyone came up with new ideas and really were able to use their Japanese.

It was also fun playing karuta to learn Katakana and Hiragana. It was a nice and fun way to review with everyone, and we always had loads of fun. Once I let down my judgmental barriers about my class, I was able to open up easier and have more fun. Life isn’t black and white or this or that. It’s a fun scale of diverse people, and that’s what our class is. You can’t always like a person 100%, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically dislike them forever for one little thing. Embrace differences and look at yourself first. What can you fix about yourself.

From the bottom of my heart this class will definitely change the way you view the world, and yourself. I’m really honored to be a part of this Globalize DC class, and hope to continue with everyone to learn more!

Swag blog

By Alexx Thompson

Last Sunday, a few people from the class and I attended the Japanese New Years Celebration hosted by the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC (JCAW). There were numerous events, such as taiko performances, to countless food stalls and games. There was even a shrine to pray/wish at, and receive your omikuji (fortune slip)!

It was a very family oriented event, and there were mainly Japanese families attending. I was really overwhelmed to hear all the Japanese around me, it felt as if I’d gone to Japan almost. I could understand it mostly, but when I was waiting in line, a lady came up to me and asked me if I was waiting for the line, in Japanese of course, and I blanked out immediately and just kept stuttering. I was really embarrassed that my Japanese wasn’t as good as it was in class. I want to work harder to be able to respond more readily and engage in conversation easier. Coming to this event really helped me think about my future as a translator, and kind of scared me a little, as I thought that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but of course I want to continue, so I’ll try my best again next year.

The one time I did use my Japanese well, or responded easily, was when I was playing karuta with Kenny, Luis, Maria, and two girls who were at the celebration. One of the girls was only six, but spoke mostly Japanese to the girl who was teaching us how to play. I wanted to get pictures for the blog, so I asked the older girl if it was okay in English and she said sure. But then the little girl asked me what I was doing, so I asked if it was okay that I take her picture in Japanese, and she said yes. I was really proud of myself for being able to respond so readily. Although afterwards she asked what the picture was of, and I didn’t understand until the older one answered for me. I think I still have to learn and work on informal questions in that case then!

Overall, from the food, to the games, I really enjoyed karuta the most, even though it was the easy version. I played it multiple times because I really liked it and I won twice! The event was really eye opening for me and really helped put a perspective on things for me, and I want to come back again next year.