Japanese reflections on a visit with Hokusai

On Saturday, February 8th, our Japanese Plus group had a special day outside the classroom. First we went to the Freer Gallery of Art to visit the very special exhibit, “Hokusai: Mad About Painting.” We are so grateful (again) to good friend of the program, Robin Berrington, who was our extremely knowledgeable and interactive docent. Then we walked across the Mall and into Chinatown – we were only allowed to speak Japanese the whole time! Last stop was the National Portrait Gallery, where we stopped by a painting by Japanese American artist, Roger Shimomura. Then Eshita-sensei asked students to write about their day – again, in Japanese. A fun challenge!

Cyrus サイラス

今日クラスでフリアーサックラーにいきました。 フリアーサックラーはびじゅつかんです。ツアーをしました。北斎のえを見ました。きれいとおもった。ぼくのすきな北斎のえは「Storm Personified」です。らいじんとしんとうがすきですから、おもしろかった。

Aeris エリス


Theo シオ



Jonah ジョナ


Jazmin ジャズミン




Katie ケーティー

ほくさいはおもしろいです。Gazing into the Distanceがいちばんすきです。ふじと男の子があります。きれいでくろいです。

Lucca ルカ





My Ikigai

By Cyrus Johnson

We recently learned about Ikigai in class. Ikigai is the purpose of living, and is broken down into what you love, what the world needs, what you are good at, and what you can be paid for, ikigai being the intersection of all four. A lot of people believe that finding your ikigai and following it can let you live with more direction and for longer. When we started learning about it, we were given a packet to read with a diagram of the four parts of ikigai intersecting, and we were gonna go around and share what we put in each part.

I don’t know what the world needs, or what I’m good at, but I’ve been told I was good at picking things up and putting things together. I’m not too sure what that meant, but it would explain why I can learn Japanese easily. I like to play games and draw, so I put those in the “what you love” section, and for the “what you can be paid for” section, I put making games and selling my work.

After we all shared what we put on the diagram, Sally asked us what we would reflect on positively when we’re older, and we all shared. I said that I’d probably remember the people I did things with more than the thing I did, and that they would make up for the things I didn’t like in that activity. At my school, since we don’t meet any new students past 6th grade, we make really close friends with our classmates, and more often than not we end up going to school more because we want to see our friends than because we need to, or at least I do. We wouldn’t be able to meet other people without looking for a new thing to do outside of school, so I hadn’t met many new people until I started this class.

My Summer Trip to Japan

By Cyrus Johnson

This summer, I got to go to Japan. It was my first time out of the country and I was pretty excited! My aunt paid for a plane ticket and the hotel, and my mom came with me.

After a 13-hour flight, we landed at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. We got lost in the airport pretty quickly, but once we found the bus that would take us to our hotel, it was pretty easy to navigate. When we got to our room on the 20th floor and got settled, the first thing I did was look out the window. We had a great view of the Rainbow Bridge and could see both the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower from there. The next day I checked out the nearby malls, Aqua City and Diver City. Diver City was cool because they had an entire shop dedicated to Gundam, and they also had an arcade there. The arcade games are a lot more fun than the ones in a Dave & Buster to me. They had a bunch of rhythm games, a lot of crane games, and this really fun mecha piloting game, among others I wasn’t really paying attention to. I ended up playing until closing multiple times while I was there.

After that, we went to Akihabara, an area with a lot of electronics shops. We got lost almost immediately, but we found our way to a bookstore and bought some manga before we got back on the subway to go to Sensō-ji, a large Buddhist Temple. We went and got fortunes, but they were both bad, so we tied them up on the bad fortune rack, I don’t know what it was called. The next day we went to Shibuya and saw the Shibuya crossing, a famous spot surrounded by malls known for letting pedestrians cross through the middle of the intersection at the same time.. We were going to go see if we could take pictures from the top of a building, but you had to pay per picture after you paid to get up there. After we were done checking out nearby shops, we went to the Tokyo Skytree. It was cool seeing so much of Japan from so high up, but since it was pretty cloudy that day we couldn’t see too far out.

The next day my mom wanted to check out the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. They had an exhibit on Takahata Isao, who worked on Grave of the Fireflies, Heidi, Girl of the Alps, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which I enjoyed. Afterwards, we went to the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds. The gardens there were pretty, but our feet got tired pretty quickly. We were only there for a week, and it was a pretty nice trip. The week went by fast, and I’d love to go back someday.

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Cyrus’s Final Reflection

By Cyrus Johnson

Through Japanese Plus, I learned that I should be a little more open to things. I experienced things I probably wouldn’t have if I were to stay in my comfort zone. Starting even with the application, I had trouble thinking about what to write for the essays. Before then, I hadn’t really thought about what I wanted to talk about, because in school I would just pick topics just to fit the rubric and get a passing grade. After that was the interview. I tend to stay quiet in most situations, especially when around new people. Since the interview was a group interview, I sat through most of it without talking, but towards the end I had to say something. It was kind of unsettling, but I spoke and apparently it was good enough to get into the class.

Then came the actual class. Like I said before, I don’t really talk around new people. But as the class went, I made some pretty good friends. And then came the worst part: the blog writing. Like I said, I didn’t really think about things to write, so picking something “easy” to write about, I wrote about not liking writing blogs. I think it was bad, but Ms. Sally liked it so I guess it was alright… And then, more recently, we went out for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. Normally, I’d be just fine with cereal, and I don’t really eat meat. At the restaurant, I tried the chicken yakisoba, and it was really good! After all of that, and after learning a lot more about Japan, I think I’d be ready for my trip to Japan this summer.

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.

Group Scoring Grid

By Cyrus Johnson

To be honest, when I was told I was enrolling in a “challenging Japanese class,” I somehow didn’t expect a grade. So I enrolled thinking it wouldn’t be anything too serious. Then, after I was accepted into the class, we were told that we were expected to write blogs. This, believe it or not, worried me greatly. I never liked talking about myself or my experiences, or even writing essays. I kinda figured I’d lay low and see what I could pick up after a while. It worked, somewhat, until we were given the Group Scoring Grid.

On the Group Scoring Grid, it shows us our minimum and maximum for an aspect of the class, such as attendance, homework, our katakana, and, of course, how many blogs we write. According to the Grid, we are each supposed to have done at least two blog posts by December 12th. I, attempting to avoid my least favorite part, have done none at that point. The Grid also says that we could get extra credit by writing more than two, but I won’t bother writing a third. I already have enough homework from school!