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.

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.

Kemushi-chan (Loretta)

By Alexx Thompson

When I saw Sally had posted a Kemushi-Chan (Loretta) video in our Facebook group, I was beyond excited. She is one of my favorite YouTubers to watch for foreigners experiencing Japanese culture, and I’ve been watching her for years. I really like her drive and how motivated she is, and I can relate to her a lot. We both started learning Japanese when we were around high school, but she is obviously really good now. The entire video she did was her speaking in Japanese, minus a few sentences in English for an example. I was really blown away and she’s been one of the reasons I want to become a translator and I want to be able to speak as well as she does. Check it out for yourself:

The video Sally posted was about Loretta explaining how in Japan the voices the store workers use to welcome people is very interesting. It’s kind of a loud nasally sound and they say “irasshaimase!,” but then she goes on to say it’s not their real voice, and normally they don’t speak that nasally. She was really surprised at first when she saw and she wondered why they didn’t just speak normally. I thought it was extremely interesting and I really wanted to know how it developed into what it is today! She then compared it to America in that when we go to a store, usually store clerks have a “customer voice,” if you will, and I thought that maybe it really wasn’t that different after all. Especially since I’ve noticed that the worker voice is higher pitched while talking to customers, kind of like a robot, or a set of lines. So even though it is shocking at first, it’s still kind of similar!

Sharing appreciation

Before winter break, we asked students to take time to express appreciation or recognize the accomplishments of one or two of their Japanese Plus classmates. The results:

Angel: Asa, thanks for always having a smile on your face. It’s really nice talking to you. You make the learning environment brighter.

Maria: I like how Angel tries hard and takes lead of our group. I also appreciate how both Carlos and Luis did the performance the other day alone.

Cyrus: I like hearing Alexx and Theo’s Japanese, because it sounds close to what I’ve heard in media.

Asa: I’m thankful for the encouragement of Lucca for helping me practice and also Che for being the person to help lighten the mood and make me laugh.

Chetachukwu: Carlos is a nice and funny person. It is really helpful and helps me grow educationally. Asa is a funny soul and I like her skirts.

Alexx: I’d like to thank Che for always being on point. She did a lot for our group and was really responsible. I’m glad I have her in my group. I’m also thankful for Gabe who always works really hard. He inspires me to push myself even harder.

Gabe: Jonah, keeping the class always positive and giving heartfelt thanks to visitors. Alexx, for helping a ton in my group, especially during the skit.

Jazmin: I would like to thank Theo and Elena for helping me a lot when learning my katakana. They always make me laugh, and I’m glad to have them in my group.

Katie: I’m really happy that Asa is here with me since she told me about this program and that she’s been with me this whole entire time, even if I am annoying to her. I’m also really happy that Jazmin is here since I can ask her about Japan since she has been there and that she is someone I know who can be there for me.

Jonah: Carlos is very optimistic and a good friend always willing to help. Kenny seems to always want to learn and never bummed and is fun.

Arjernae: I’m proud of Alayshia for being dedicated and not quitting even with people telling her to. I’m proud of Cyrus because he’s one of the few people I see and he acknowledges me when I come to class. Also he’s becoming more open and not as shy as he was in the beginning.

Theo: Jazmin is a very hard worker and I really respect her drive. Alexx has a strong grasp on the language and I find her very impressive in general.

What are you most proud of?

Before winter break, we asked our Japanese Plus students to reflect on their time in the program so far, and to share what they felt most proud of. Here are they answers:

Angel: I’m proud of the onigiri that I made and improving in katakana.

Maria: I am most proud of the self-introductions we have learned.

Cyrus: I guess just being able to talk to new people and not be a complete mess.

Asa: I’m most proud of me mastering katakana but mostly gaining more courage to speak out and meet new people.

Che: The fact that I memorized all my katakana. I know most of my combinations.

Alexx: I’m most proud of my speaking abilities in terms of public speaking. I’m not very good at speaking loud and clear, so I’ve been really happy with how far I’ve come.

Gabe: I went from knowing one Japanese word to being able to introduce myself and knowing katakana.

Jazmin: I’m most proud of my speaking skills, because I’ve improved a lot since the last time Eshita sensei taught me some phrases when I was in “Japan in DC.”

Katie: I’m really proud that we finished learning katakana and mastering it. I really thought it would take a long time to learn.

Jonah: Learning katakana and meeting with new people.

Arjernae: Learning basic Japanese is what I am most proud of (katakana, introduction, writing).

Theo: Probably the feeling of mastery over a different alphabetical system to the point that I recognize meaning relatively quickly.

Samurai Cooking! . . . Makes Me Hungry

By Alexx Thompson

On November 11th J-LIVE was held at George Washington University, and my classmates and I went to go see it. I stayed the entire time and the competition was really interesting. It’s a Japanese speaking presentation contest between college students. I studied outside of our class, but even still I couldn’t understand a lot of what was said. I only really understood the general idea of it. But nonetheless, I was still really interested and I hope to one day be able to speak as well as the contestants.

After the competition ended and the results were announced, they had a small movie showing. The movie was called A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story. It was a really interesting movie mainly revolving around the story of a samurai (Yasunobu) who was the son of a kitchen samurai (similar to what we’d call a cook or a chef), and his wife. His wife, Haru, was a really good cook and she was asked to marry him so he can become a better cook.

I was really interested, because the movie displayed the  gender roles in that era of Japan. Haru was considered undesirable, because she’d been married before and divorced and I found that interesting. I also found the succession of family roles intriguing, because in the movie Yasunobu has to succeed his father as kitchen samurai. Not a major spoiler but another character, Sayo, is the daughter of a dojo owner. But unlike Haru, whoever marries her will succeed her father, since she’s the only daughter and therefore she doesn’t have to move into her husband’s house.

Overall I found the movie really interesting and I even showed it to my family over Thanksgiving break. I really liked Haru’s character and how Yasunobu changed over the course of the movie. It really showed how much Japan values food and cooking. And how much they pay attention to detail when preparing the food. If you have the chance, please watch A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story.