Maria’s Final Reflection

By Maria Garcia

Have you ever tried something new? And afterwards you took away something very meaningful from it. Well, I tried something new this year. It has given me nostalgic vibes, those of two, maybe three years ago, which have propelled me to do better (as a friend once told me). Taking this class has enabled me to plan around my school work to make my hopes and dreams one step closer to reality. What I’m trying to say is that this class is not like a traditional classroom. We learn, eat, laugh, talk, and move around. And you might be thinking, “yeah . . . so what? All teachers have to make the class interesting.” But the truth of the matter is that we’ve lost Gabe, AJ, Luis, and a couple more. And all for different reasons, such as the stress of traveling to class, grades dropping in school, and the unwillingness to catch up to the class, just to name a few. Our class was made up of about 20 students but now we have a core of about 13 who show up every day ready to learn.

Change has been the biggest factor to us, which is why the word 春 (haru) is meaningful to me. I learned that haru meant “warm” from a TV show, and “spring” from Japanese students that came to visit us. The word makes me think of this class, since we used to be a larger class but now we are a smaller class. It has taught me to appreciate those around me and to take it day by day. I have been able to learn more about myself and my study habits. If we are told of a test, I am more likely to study than if no test were to exist. Without a reason to study, I lose interest, and to stay focused and keep up with work, I had to make tests for myself. Of course, doing so meant that I would know the answers, which led me to making many tests. This helped in one of two ways — first being to randomize the topics on each quiz, and secondly to keep up with my language. Since the kids from my class don’t go to my school, I had to find other alternatives, such as the flashcards I made in the beginning of the school year. They came in handy, and so I have been able to keep up with the language.

My wabi sabi life

By Maria Garcia

Hmph…… sitting in class I questioned how is wabi sabi in my life. I have addressed wabi sabi before, but times have changed. I guess the solution just comes and goes as one grows up. Wabi sabi as previously mentioned is when one values the imperfections in an object. But for this, I am the object. So, basically this blog is about my wabi sabi life.

Sigh….Times do change and people grow. Today (March 2) may not have been one of the best days for me growing older. But it is one that I won’t forget. This is because it did not start like my typical Saturday, where I wake up around 6am and get ready for Japanese Plus class to learn new words or facts, and then head over to something called the lab. Side note: the lab is a place for my team, 1915 McKinley Firebirds, to work on our robot.

Either way, today I was struggling from the very beginning. You see I woke up at 7am (an hour late) and went to class. Fortunately, I was a couple minutes early but had to hurry to get myself ready for class. In class we went over language and did something called speed dating. This is a fun activity to get us moving and thinking (I actually really enjoy it). Then we did a mini test and were allowed to leave. Today my group had to record ourselves going to McDonald’s and well, this was not in my typical Saturday schedule, but it was fun. When we finished, we said goodbye to one another and did our own thing.

This is where calling it a day should have been my next step since it was already a lot for me. But I had promised my mentor to help finish the robot. And so I went to the lab, and on my way I found an old friend. I enter the lab and immediately ask, “what can I help with/what needs to be done?” the way I always do. The task I was given was simple enough to get done and leave like on any other day. But I have been under so much stress lately that I was not thinking straight. One minute I’m fine and trying to make the last inch block I needed to build a plate. And the next minute…. well I’m running to the sink calling out to one of three mentors. Turns out in the midst of not having a clear mind and moving too quickly, in short terms, I hurt myself. It’s not the first time I hurt myself and it won’t be the last time either.

Growing up was never easy but I managed to grow up and learn from my mistakes.

Karuta Game Vibes

On Sunday, March 3, Japanese Plus students participated in the Washington DC Inishie Karuta Club’s annual Karuta Competition. Our students competed in the Genpei-sen (team match) – Japanese Learners Division (for non-Japanese and children in 2nd grade or younger). Special thanks to Mutsumi Stone for the special invitation!

By Maria Garcia

Karuta! All week I have been listening to my mentors try and recruit more players. We had a total of about six kids who volunteered to go out and play. But as of yesterday’s class that number dropped to four kids. Our team names were given to us and I was on team Japanese Plus! So in the end, Jonah, Theo, Kenny, and I went to the karuta event. Ms. Sally came along to help us get registered. Oh, and before we were given our table number, we were allowed to get a gift. I got the okonomiyaki souvenir! It reminded me of when my host mother in Gifu, Japan made it for me the night I was allowed to stay with her.

My team was made up of Kenny and myself, while the other team was named Puni Puni which was composed of Jonah and Theo. As I said before, I knew little to nothing about karuta, since the only thing I knew was the hiragana I had been learning in class. Kenny and I started the game as instructed and the little confidence I had grew. First, we had to mix the cards and collect seventeen cards to put into our section. When the first couple of letters were called, I looked for them and put my fingers over it. The young lady who was at our station said I was right and I was so happy. But then as the game progressed, finding the cards became more difficult. This is because we didn’t have a set order for our cards. The reader kept calling the letters and we couldn’t find the letters in time. When it was over… let’s just say we lost by a lot to like six year olds!

Then, we moved on to our next round. Kenny suggested that we should put the cards in order from the first upper left letter they had. Which was smart because we had to start reading the cards from the upper left hand corner. We also told ourselves that we weren’t going to lose again or at least not by all the cards. By putting our cards in order we were able to play and quickly read the cards. This time we were also able to play until the end, which got really challenging since the less cards on the table means that you have to move more quickly.

Oh! Yeah it’s a nice time to mention that I could only play with one hand due to an injury in the other. Things really got intense when Japanese Plus had to go up against Puni Puni. Our mini battle was well worth it, and even though Japanese Plus lost this (by one card), it was well worth a Sunday.

(The kid in the background is the way I felt after a long and exciting day).

New Alphabet: Hiragana

By Maria Garcia

Lately in class we have been busy, but what else is new? Every day we learn something, and well after our midterm, a break was needed. I love the class and the energy from my new group. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we have new groups!) This group is funny and stays on track with everything, so getting work done won’t be difficult. Either way, a couple of classes ago, we started this new alphabet called Hiragana.

Hiragana is composed of forty-six characters, just like in katakana. The only difference would be in the appearance of the characters, and when they are used. From my understandings, it is used as particles in the typical sentence structure. Katakana is used to make foreign words legible for Japanese people, while Hiragana is used as the standard form of writing system. Children first learn Hiragana and then move on to Katakana and Kanji. Unlike Katakana, I think this alphabet will be a little more difficult for me to grasp. Hiragana is commonly used with kanji to make words. Studying will be crucial if I want to stay on track with the program and my new group. But it will be fun learning alongside new people and friends.


By Maria Garcia

Blick, blick, blick….Ahhhh……so close! As we stood in a circle, laughter and friendships grew… Kendama is a Japanese hand eye coordination game that can be played by all age ranges. Ken means hand and tama means ball.

While other cultures have similar versions of kendama, the Japanese kendama is more complicated. By this I mean in Mexico and other Latin countries, we have a toy that goes by Balero. Both of these would be played. The object of these games is similar and the player must put the ball on the side or inside of the handle…

On Sunday January 27, 2019 some of the students from Japanese Plus (Inu) class decided to attend the JCAW Japanese New Year Celebration in Washington, DC. Many fun activities could be found at the event and the food well… that’s another story for another time (was amazing just being honest!).

To continue, we are all gathered in a circle with the kendama toy in our hands trying to go for different tasks that can be performed. My goal was to try to get on all the levels. Each level was different, where on one side the kendama was slightly bigger, on the other side it was slightly smaller, and on the very top was this knob for the tama to land on and stay. It was fun to watch all my friends try to get to the different levels as well. But as we concentrated on our task, all that could be heard was plip-plip-ploop-plip-plip-plip-ploop… then the pace picked up and some of the plips with some of the ploops were jumping over each other.

Our attention turned to a couple of skilled people, and as we watched, the game got interesting. It was intriguing to be a beginner at something and have someone skilled to show us what can be accomplished with time and patience. Just like in class, when we were at this event the learning did not stop just because it was a new day. Rather, because it was a new day, we were exposed to a new learning environment, one in which we were vulnerable from the second we stepped in and had to get moving to understand what was truly going on. So, as the plip-plip-ploop-plip-plip-plip-ploop went on, we continued to give each other advice on how to get through each level.

I was very proud of this because it was difficult to get on the hardest level! That’s all for now. Thank you for reading and make sure to comment about what you enjoyed from my day off and in the New Year Celebration here in Washington, DC.

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.

Wabi sabi

By Maria Garcia

Hello. If you’re reading this, thank you for your time! Many thanks to Ms. Sally, Eshita Sensei, and our volunteers who have all helped inspire and push us (youth) to a new level. Since we began our mission back in late September I’ve learned so much! My favorite topics have most definitely been honne and tatamae, Valentine’s Day, Japan’s geography, family members, Katakana, and learning to introduce myself in Japanese! How cool is that!

Last class we learned a new concept of everyday objects; Wabi sabi. Wabi sabi is a concept of valuing the imperfections in an object. It was a new concept for me and a little confusing. I couldn’t understand the part where imperfection was desired. But then I realized something. In a society of uniformity. small imperfections exist. They exist because we are human and have emotions which enable us to be different from one another. Wabi sabi opened my eyes to not only look at an object as an object, but to look at an object and think about the maker’s mindset, whether or not the maker made other objects, such as a mug which is not necessarily circular because it has a dent. The mug would be considered aesthetically appealing, because it’s not like the others and stands out.

Wabi sabi is not a concept that Japanese people have to think twice about because it is second nature to them. I would like to continue implementing wabi sabi in my life since it helps to think of life through a new lens.

Otsukimi at the Arboretum

By Maria Garcia

Have you ever heard of Otsukimi? Don’t worry if you haven’t. In fact, I hadn’t either until a week before the Otsukimi at the National Arboretum. It’s a traditional viewing and appreciation of the Harvest Moon. Ms. Sally (my mentor) asked the class if we had checked Facebook for the event. Although I had not heard about it, I was interested because we were told we could use our Japanese we had been learning. Some other kids were also interested and said that they would come along. So when Saturday came we were all excited and ready for the Otsukimi.

When everyone was at the Otsukimi, dinner was on everyone’s mind. For dinner we had bento boxes which were filled with fish, meat, egg, nori, rice, squash, seaweed, and so much more. Dinner had a neat trick to it though because to eat dinner you needed to know how to use chopsticks.

After dinner we all went for a walk and saw some bonsai trees. The bonsai are super amazing because these trees go through training and many are over a hundred years old. As we walked around, we found the night getting cooler. So we went in and tried the mochi pounding. Mochi pounding was a new concept for me and made me appreciate mochi a lot. This process of mochi required two people – one who wet and turned the mochi and the other who would hit the mochi with a big hammer called a kine. The mochi is placed into the usu and kine are used to form the mochi.

After a short break we went inside to listen to the Koto players. Then after some time the koto players came out and played a song. I enjoyed this because when I went to Japan, the students from the high school performed for us. I remembered how much fun that was, and we ended our night of fun. The koto is played using all ten fingers with these special guitar picks which are put into the fingertips and the strings are plucked. The koto sounds more resembles a sitar but if you have never heard of a sitar, just think of a guitar with a higher pitch.

We had a break time during the night and went for a walk. During this walk we played tag and made our way to the columns. After we ran around for some time, the columns were a great place to walk, and we noticed it was really dark. We kept at least one flashlight on, as we explored the surrounding area. Then we noticed we had gone far and decided it was best to head back. Someone went back alone, and we all decided to stick together instead of separate. We went back the path we came from, but as much as we wanted to continue to explore, we decided it was getting late and that our friends should not travel alone. The walk back was just as fun, as we told stories and wishes for the upcoming year. Our group had so much fun and when we got back we were all tired. The night soon ended and we all went off in our own direction. The best part was knowing that our group was fun to be around with and all cared about one another.

Special thanks to the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC for hosting this special program.


By Maria Garcia

Today (October 13) was a great day. We learned so much. The best part was knowing that we would have some special guests arrive for our class today. We had three things to tackle today with our guests in class. The first being the blog post and the importance of students keeping records. We came to a conclusion that a photo album, video, quotes, and creativity were necessities that had to be done as soon as possible. We assigned two people to write a blog post for the day. Next, while our guests were looking around the school, we got through some last things.

When our guests arrived, they introduced themselves and then we had a chance at using our new knowledge. Cyrus mentioned that the refresher was “most definitely a great idea to go over the self introductions.” Our guests were fun and helped us pronounce and correctly write our words. The diplomats brought us all gifts! Sato san, Mayu, and Mizuya were all happy we were studying Japanese and encouraged us to continue.

We learned to count all the way up to 9,999! – which was quick and exciting. Then we reviewed some vowels and added new vowels such ka, ke, ki, ku, and ko. Each character is different and hard to write, because simple strokes can change the meaning of the word. Nevertheless, we took our time as the embassy visitors and some old friends came around to help us. Kenny mentioned his favorite part was to learn the numbers, getting to meet the diplomats, and being able to eat the gift which was a yummy treat.

After all the new information, as a group everyone said “Arigato” to the diplomats for all the help. Then, our old friends made a speech that motivated everyone to continue on their journey with the Japanese language. They told us it may be hard but not to give up and to use our resources. Finally, before ending class, we all went outside with our gifts and took a photo. Everyone said “Ja nae,” and went off on their own paths. After a quick survey, most would agree that today was a lot to learn but very interesting, turning the tables from our so far traditional classroom. Carlos, Kenny, and some others thought that the gifts were yummy and very kind gifts.