Competitive Karuta

By Theo Greiff

Karuta is a kind of Japanese memory/reaction game in which there are two sides, with each side having a certain number of cards in front of them. On each of these cards is the second half of a poem and your job is to slap the card that corresponds with whatever poem a designated reciter is saying. The reciter says the poem in full so if you know the first part of the poem, you can slap the card with the second part before the reciter even says it. This means that while karuta can be a fun reactionary game for children or someone like me who doesn’t know the poems and can only respond to the second part, it changes into a memory game for people who put in the time and effort to learn all 100 poems in a full karuta deck.

Of course, people do put in that time and effort and the result is the wonderful world of Competitive Karuta. Competitive karuta is highly ordered and, like other competitive games originating in Japan, ranks individuals by dan to determine opponents. In karuta, for example, individual matches can range from classes A-E with E being for beginners and A being for only those who have achieved 4-Dan or above. As someone who has played the most amateur of karuta and watched it at the highest level, the most striking difference is speed. It seems obvious that higher level players would be faster than those at lower levels, but to succeed in karuta it isn’t enough to simply memorize the poems, or even to memorize their positions on the playing field, as your opponent has most likely done so as well. To succeed in karuta, players must move with the utmost speed, throwing away restraint. As a result, while in my amateur games we would tap our cards so as to avoid a mess, in competitive karuta, players violently slap cards away, leaving the playing field crooked and requiring reorganizing and thus physical endurance becomes just as necessary as memorization.

All in all, competitive karuta, despite the simplicity of the game, is surprisingly intense and overall rather fun to watch. Indeed karuta itself, though admittedly difficult to get your hands on in the US, is rather fun to play at both an amateur level and a more advanced one (or so I’d assume as I have not taken the time to practice karuta that much), while also being a good study tool for the Japanese language system hiragana, which the poems are written in.

Free Lunch

By Theo Greiff

Last weekend my group finally went out for ramen with Sally and Eshita-sensei after we got the greatest combined score last Unit and, overall, it was a very fun experience. We had initially planned to go to Daikaya, which I am told is the best ramen in town, but due to the hour long wait, we went to the nearby Bantam King. It was the first time I had eaten ramen so I was excited and the Shoyu Ramen I tried definitely delivered on that excitement as it was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, my lack of an appetite meant that I couldn’t eat the whole thing so they gave me the remainders to go. We then had dessert which was also delicious (I had some vanilla soft serve ice cream served with honeydew soda) and left, only for me to realize that I had forgotten my leftovers at the restaurant. It was too bad that I wasn’t in time to get them back, but it didn’t diminish the experience in the slightest and I went home very much satisfied.

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.

Skit Preparation

By Theo Greiff

On December 12th, our class will be holding an open house to display the Japanese we’ve learned in the last month. During this open house, each group will perform a skit in which they must demonstrate all the Japanese they have been taught. Preparations have, of course, already begun.

As of now, my group and I have started on our script, been given feedback, applied said feedback, and are beginning memorization. The process has been amusing to me as, though we have learned a good amount, most of what we know is phrases which limits what we can do. To fix this, small amounts of English are allowed and Eshita-sensei has offered to provide us certain words. Overall, being someone with some experience in other languages, I am pleasantly surprised at how quickly the class has moved on to such a large assignment and am eager to see how it turns out.

 

 

High School Diplomats

By Theo Greiff

On Thursday, November 8th, my parents came up to me and told me to check the Facebook group as Sally had just posted talking about a summer program involving Japan that they thought I might be interested in. I can’t say I thought much of it. After all, I had multiple other programs that I had had my eyes on for a long time, and though it was sure to be interesting, I didn’t think I could fit it into my schedule. On Wednesday, November 14th, representatives actually visited, and I realized I probably should have looked into this program more.

High School Diplomats U.S is a 10-day program at Princeton University which brings American and Japanese Sophomores and Juniors together for cultural exchange and language studies. It can also be followed by a second program, High School Diplomats Japan, in which students who have taken HSD U.S can apply for a full scholarship to go to Japan the following summer. We were visited by Celine Zapolski, the director of HSD, and two alumnae, Olivia and Ava, who shared their experiences, and it was, in fact, the experiences that truly caught my eye. Though hearing Celine discuss all the information above was interesting, it was when I heard about the relationships formed between American and Japanese students that I began seriously considering the program.

Olivia and Ava described the many friendships they had formed, the challenges and barriers they faced, and the personal impact that resulted from the program. Though they mentioned many things, I thought the most profound to be when they talked about their Japanese roommates who they had managed to relate to and connect with despite the massive linguistic and cultural wall that separated them. I personally believe that language is something meant for use, it exists to expand understanding and range of thought, not just through study, but through interactions with others. From what I heard during this visit, High School Diplomats is a program that can help me achieve such interactions and, as a result, it has become a program that I am very seriously considering doing during the summer.