Kenny’s Final Reflection

By Kenny Nguyen

Being in Japanese Plus has given me more exposure, not only to the culture of Japan but also the way I thought of Japan as a country. Prior to being in the program, my reason for interest in Japan was mainly through the lens of anime. I had this idea that Japan was a happy country and the food was amazing, just like seen through anime. But throughout the program we learned about honne and tattemae which in my idea essentially meant characteristics of Japanese people. Tattemae meant to hide your true feelings about someone in order to cause them no inconvenience, and honne meant that when you’re drinking you are able to let your true feelings out and express your thoughts to the person, because you are drunk.

This idea of interaction between people at first was startling. Because being in America, where people always express their own feelings and intentions, differed from the interaction between Japanese people as they wish to withhold their own emotions in order to prevent any negative emotions among their fellow companions. This also affected how they interacted in group work. If someone was to stray behind and not put as much effort into the project as the other member, the person behind would be obliged to start lifting their own workload because of the way Japan standards are that they don’t inconvenience their fellow work members. Whereas in the U.S., people who stray behind in work projects tend to continue to let other people carry the work as they are too lazy to put up as much effort. This really gave me the idea that Japan, culturally, has put up standards that their citizens tend to follow. These standards are so rooted in their culture, from centuries and centuries of being respectable in the eyes of society, that nowadays people still uphold these moral standards.

Through this program I have seen how Japan is a major country that is intertwined with their cultural influences that affects their everyday lives. This changed the way I thought of the world and the idea of traveling. Not every country is like America and its people, and this makes me want to learn more about the world and the different countries and how everyone interacts with each other.

Sakura Matsuri Experience

By Kenny Nguyen

The Sakura Matsuri is the Cherry Blossom Festival’s Street Festival that happens every year to celebrate the cherry blossom blooming and where everybody from different programs sets up booths to help sponsor awareness. I never knew that we had a Sakura Matsuri, because whenever someone says cherry blossoms, I always automatically thought that they meant going to the Pentagon and just taking pictures. But now that I have gone to the actual Sakura Matsuri, I am invested into going again every year because my experience there was so amazing.

Upon entering the entrance at the Sakura Matsuri, I automatically went to my booth which was called Japanese Plus, where we would set up activities like quilt drawing, drawing, and other information about our program. It was slightly raining in the morning and the night before it had rained, so the booths were wet and we had a pool of water sitting on top of our tent. This made it so that we had to push the tent from the inside in order to spill the water out. The process was really fun, as it brought a little life in the morning. Once we finished pouring out the water, we were ready to start setting up the booth without concern of getting anything wet.

Around 10:30 am was when crowds of people started coming in. At first it was kind of daunting having to communicate with everyone as they passed by our booth. We had to pull people into our booth somehow, and it was either by getting their attention through communicating with them as they passed or trying to draw them in through our mascot, Puni Puni. A majority of the people that came to our booth were first drawn by our logo, Puni Puni, because it looked adorable and they wanted to know what it is, Puni Puni in Japanese means squishy. Another method we used to help draw people in was when me and my fellow classmates went into the crowd and directly asked them if they wanted to learn about our program. The whole process really challenged me out of my comfort zone since it made me communicate to strangers that I didn’t know.

The whole scenery of the Sakura Matsuri was one of a kind. For example, aside from the beautiful cherry blossoms that were still in bloom, there were different kinds of cosplayers. I had never really seen people cosplaying before, and so going to the Sakura Matsuri was the first time I’ve seen cosplayers. The experience was really entrancing as I was able to meet a variety of people and I knew a lot of the characters that people dressed up as. It made the whole experience a lot more engaging as I was eager to go out and about to visit the different booths and people.

My favorite experience at the festival would have to be the food and the people. The foods that were being presented at the booths were yakisoba, takoyaki, bobba, okonomiyaki, etc., a lot of the Japanese cuisines that I have always wanted to try. They did not disappoint as it tasted amazing and beyond what I imagined. So if you ever want to try Japanese food come to the Sakura Matsuri festival as it does not disappoint! The people who came to the festival were also a very unique experience because of their appearance but also because of their personality. The people that I talked to during the festival were really engaging as they had so many things to share. For example, I talked to people that traveled all the way from Taiwan just to participate in the festival. So if you like to eat food, engage with people, learn about Japan, the Sakura Matsuri is something that you should go to.

Learning Hiragana

By Kenny Nguyen

After mastering Katakana, one of the three writing systems Japan uses along with Hiragana and Kanji, we jumped straight into learning Hiragana. At first I was struggling with memorizing the characters, because I was still used to the Katakana characters, and Hiragana seems to have a lot of characters that resembles each other. For example A (あ) O (お) Wa (わ) are just examples of some of the characters that resembles each other. But thankfully, Sally and Eshita-sensei provided us with a Hiragana and Katakana book that provided us with extra practice writing Hiragana and Katakana at home. Along with a quizlet that my fellow classmate, Lucca Bey, created, so that we can have an extra way of studying.

Once we master Hiragana and Katakana, there is going to be a karuta competition on March 3rd which hopefully I will be able to attend once I have memorized the new Hiragana characters. Another advantage of mastering Hiragana is that we will finally be able to write and read anything in Japanese, since Katakana are used to represent loanwords and Hiragana for everything else. So I am very excited to master both Katakana and Hiragana, even though it is very challenging. If you ever decide to learn these writing systems, I would recommend writing the characters over and over so that you can get the feel of doing the strokes and your hand will get used to it. But also after mastering hiragana, we will move into Kanji, which I am very excited for. But in the meantime, I will continue to practice my Katakana and Hiragana.

Honne and Tatemae

By Kenny Nguyen

Honne and tatemae are Japanese behavior. Honne is the true feelings you have and wish to express but tatemae is the obligation to withhold your opinion in order to seem respectful. An example of this is in a Japanese work place, when you are at work you would want to be as respectful as possible and withhold any negative comments about a co-worker or boss. This is tatemae, when you do have a problem, but can’t express it since you are trying to hold social obligations. A way that the Japanese would then express their true opinions is whenever there is a nomikai (party), and coworkers would go to an izakaya (Japanese traditional bar). These occasions are where you are able to let loose and talk about all the troubles you’ve had at work or at home, honne. This is also because of the beer and drinking, which lets them let loose.

I find the honne and tatemae concept very different from American society. In America we can say and express whatever we want and not care about what others think, or how they would feel. Whereas the Japanese are withholding their true feelings in order to maintain social obligations. At an American workplace or school, we would complain if there is anything that upsets us. For example, at my school, whenever there is a project and someone isn’t really doing work, we would complain and criticize him or her, while the Japanese would have concealed this truth and would have just tried encouraging them to pick up the pace of their work.

Before joining this program, I never thought that such a concept would exist. I always thought that people would just express whatever they want in order to have people understand them. But now I know just how different America can be from not only Japan but from other countries as well. I look forward to learning more about the different aspects of the Japanese culture and just how different we are compared to them. Jyaa nee!

Meeting Simon

By Kenny Nguyen

It was our third week of class and Sally, one of the program directors, brought in someone she recently met near her high school. His name was Simon. He told us about how in middle school he got into Japan because of JUMP comic books, and in middle school started to learn the basics of Japanese in order to be able to read and speak Japanese. He was a really fun guy and brought a positive atmosphere to the classroom. Simon was really helpful, and he helped me write katakana since it was my first time learning it and I was struggling.

After having our Japanese lesson of the day, Sai-sensei, the name Simon told us to call him by, told us a little bit more about his connection to Japan. He talked about how he started to learn Japanese in middle school but when high school hit, he started to stop trying to learn the language. Then in college he started to re-learn that language, since he had the opportunity to teach in Japan. Having Sai-sensei talk about his past really connected with me. He told us that if we were going to learn the language then we have to get more invested and not just learn it because of anime or anything simple. Back in middle school I used to love anime, and I tried learning Japanese because of it, but once high school hit and I didn’t have the time for anime anymore, I started to lose interest in trying to learn Japanese.

But then over the summer when I was traveling in Asia, I realized just how amazing and beautiful the culture was, which reignited my determination to learn Japanese. Having Sai-sensei in the classroom will really be amazing since he is able to connect with us since he experienced the same things we did. But also it’s always nice to have an extra hand around, especially when you’re learning a new language. So having Sai-sensei around will help me be able to better write my katakana and have someone to talk to in Japanese so he can critique it. So I look forward to our next class together and hope you continue helping out our class so we all can become better at Japanese!

Doozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu!