Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Change what was changed

    As I've been in Japan since January, I've gradually had changes to view and changes to those changes as well. Starting from the moment that all the Japan was to me was ninjas and samurai (even though I knew this wasn't true, but it was all that I had received from pop culture). Furthermore, the blogs that have been made for this class up to this point has allowed me to view topics fixed by our teacher and those that we freely decided upon. This has also strengthen or weaken the views we might have towards the world as a general or Japan specifically as well.
Stop and Think about Experiences
    Seeing movies like Tokyology, for example, reminded me the ignorance and I carried and still carry today of a country that has much more to it. Even though the video presented some interesting topics, the approach was incorrectly done. Not only is this applicable to an area like Tokyo, which I haven't visited in these 11 months, but also in the local area that I've been staying for most of my time in Japan. Doing the blog about our neighborhood in Japan (mine being Hirakata), I used information I had already know and then made process thought about what I knew about Hirakata. Should it also be weird to find out that things that I thought the Japanese took for granted aren't? Food that was readily available in the cafeteria and the writing system which they follow, are not as obviously known or enforced as I thought. While I still ask people from time to time if they know what Curry Soba is, I'm still surprised when they don't know what it is when the Curry Soba is under the Curry Udon in the menu. Kanji is also something that's not as equal throughout every Japanese students. Just as some people have a bigger vocabulary basis in the U.S., the Japanese students tend to be very widespread with Kanji. I was surprised by how different the scores on the tests where. This reminds me that the game I used is a simulation for a Kanji test that Japan does as well (saw the poster for the test in front of the bookstore). Lastly, One of the most important things was finding about Zainichi terminology and feelings. Doing the post on my friend, who associates his pride with Korea but his life as Japan, gave me a similar feeling to the way I felt about the U.S. and Venezuela. I feel part of both in someway and part of one in other ways. In the end many dissimilarities and similarities raised from this topic.
Get your own Answer

    Japan is now different in my eyes and, interestingly enough, I had not thought about how my views change until I made this blog. These blogs, I believe, help us process information we already know as well as find some new information as well.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


     As the title suggests (or lack there of) this topic is about my encounter with deaf people. In October I went with my class to Hiroshima in order to visit the city and understand more of Japan. As I want in Hiroshima with my friends we drifted apart and I ended up going around with Anna taking pictures of the Peace Park.

           We, who had taken a couple of Japanese sign language courses, had never seen deaf people in Japan before. As we're walking over the bridge that connected the Atomic Dome Area to the Peace Park, Anna notices on the other side of the bridge four people speaking sign language. We were very happy to finally see what we've been learning in these courses out in the streets!!!! Anna and I were a bit nervous about approaching the Japanese deaf people for two obvious reasons: we had only taken like 3 or 4 courses of Japanese sign language at the time and we were foreigners (especially with what many Japanese consider to be a scary look). Hoping that we wouldn't be killing one of them from shock as we would start throwing  Japanese hand signs out in the air, we tried to approach them with a simple good afternoon. One of the four of them noticed me doing the "konnichiwa" sign, and signaled the others about it. Surprisingly enough they weren't scared at all of us. They approached us very friendly as we tried to communicate with sign languages.
      One of the first things they asked us were if we were a couple. As we both said yes, not knowing that the hand sign meant that we were a couple, I remember seeing a similar (if not the same) hand sign in the sign language Iphone video we saw in the course. I told Anna that I think they asked us if we were dating, so just incase we tried to express that we were just friends. Interestingly enough, they understood very easily that we were just friends and showed us the hand sign for "friend." They also told us they were from Osaka and which city from Osaka they were from (we didn't understand the city), and when we told them which city we were from they didn't know which city it was either. All in all the experience was very rewarding. We met people who gave us more understanding of the deaf culture in Japan, and learned a lot about them. We told them about our class, and if we could share our story with everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

not feeling the 感じ(kanji) in 漢字(Kanji)

    I decided to try something that was more at the core of Japanese culture. Something that comes from China and becomes part of the culture itself, Kanji, is now losing its hold over the language. As time progresses, people have forgotten some readings and many writings. In order to make some research on this, I decided to give some Kansai Gaidai students a 二級(level 2) test on a Nintendo DS Kanji Practice game called "Zaidan Houjin Nihon Kanji Nouryoku Kentei Kyoukai Kounin." Interestingly enough the results were all over the chart; here they are:

48, 32, 96, 132, 36, 60, 72, 48, 36, 88, 64, 68, 104, 92, 132, 44, 52, 116, 28, 108, 48, 44, 136, 24, 108, 60, 96, 84, 96, 76, 20, and 142

   Interestingly enough, I asked each person to see if they had studied abroad.Only 3 out of all the people had the experience of studying abroad (Australia 3 months, Mississippi 4 months, Canada 7 months). I thought that the scores would be worse from these people, but instead they ended up being very different (52, 84, 136). Furthermore, I also asked if they were freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior to see how this would affect the scores. I thought that being in a foreign language university where many classes are given in English, the people are the junior/senior level would do the worst. This is actually wrong. The three highest scores (132, 136, and 142) were people in the junior/senior level and were all guys (one of the 132 was a freshman). 3 participants decided to opt. out, because they said they were tired of know knowing so many of them. Most of the lower scores were freshman/sophomore (although some were also senior/junior). Lastly, 16 of the participants were females and 19 were male (35 total).
    I'm not sure how the change of Kanji can be portrayed between the different grade levels in Kansai Gaidai, but as far as scoring goes. The person who scored the highest (142) still didn't pass the exam. The passing grade is a 160. This shows the amount of Kanji that is lost. Below are two videos of participants. The reactions to the test varied among them. (I asked for permission to use these videos for the class):

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Curry Soba... and Udon... That's all?!

Curry Soba
    This project came about to be a while ago while I was eating Curry Soba one day. I was approached by a Japanese person, who asked me if I was eating Curry Udon; As I said that I was eating Curry Soba, she immediately answered with a "カレー何?.. うどんじゃない?" She actually has never heard of Curry Soba, but just like everyone she knows Curry Udon. So when I heard this, I thought it was a regional thing. Apparently it's not.

Nick's Chopstick grabbing hand-modeling skills! and yes...
Curry Udon!
     I asked a total of 64 people (all Japanese from different places of Japan) if they've had Curry Soba before, and 12 said they had eaten AND heard of Curry Soba. Out of those 12, 10 people said that they liked Curry Soba more than they liked Curry Udon. Furthermore, I learned that the only reason that every one of the 10 people who tried Curry Soba only had tried Curry Soba, because they liked Soba more than Udon to begin with. This entailed them to ask in places for Curry Soba, or make it at home by themselves. The two other people who liked Curry Udon more than Curry Soba only tried it, because they were in an occasion where the person they were with liked Soba more than Udon. This makes me to believe that Curry Soba is not a product that's advertaised in stores. Even so, I went to a noodle restaurant and asked if they served Curry Soba to which they answered they did. The 64 people I asked were of different ages (between 18-73), and from three different places. To begin with, Not only did I asked in Kansai Gaidai, but also in the city of Hirakata. The people I asked were students and teachers (most of the interviews took place here with 43 people), parents (2), and strangers (4). Then I asked 12 people in Takatsuki (2 high schoolers, 4 university students, 5 middle age people, and 1 elder). In Shigino I only asked 3 people (all middle age) to see if they had tried it. None of the people in Takatsuki or Shigino had heard of or tried it before. All of these people also ended up being university students around the age of 20, 8 were men and 4 were women.
      Curry Soba in the end is a dish that is similar to Curry Udon but,even if it does exists in Japan, it doesn't seem to be very popular. One of the people in Takatsuki whom I asked the survey to told me that Curry Udon was created during the Meiji Era when Curry and Udon were very famous. A Japanese Chef at a store that sold both items at the time, decided to combine the two things and sell them (making it a huge hit). This is probably the reason why Curry Udon is very popular, while Soba isn't. It was interesting to search on food that is Japanese, that I've tried, and that not mant other Japanese people have tried.

   P.S. the cafeteria in school sells Curry Soba, but most Gaidaisei don't know it does.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chigau? or are they not Chigauing?...

     One of the interesting things I noticed when I saw these two films was that when I started the second film, the first thing that struck me was how different the films were. I was mesmerized as to why we would compared these two  photographers. Funny enough, as the movie went on the feeling kept on changing and changing. The fact that the two photographers decide to take incredibly different paths, doesn't divert them from the challenge that emerges out of reactions, out of their subject, and out of their personal life.
     Both of them are used to opposite settings in their fieldwork, but both of them challenge morality of the human standard. Why? Where as Leibovitz challenges exposure to the human body, Natchwey challenges exposure to human cruelty. Furthermore, in both films both photographers also utilize in a certain level what the other does as well. That is to say that Leibovitz also had experience in the war and human cruelty area, while Natchwey also exposes parts of the human body. The difference is that the main theme the photographers portray is not the same.
Leibovitz's Moral Challenge
     Subjects are also very important to the picture, since they are the main focus in both of their pictures. Leibovitz's fame brought many famous people into her doorway, and because she kept emerging out of a topic area and moving on to the next, she always had to adapt to her new environment. Following the fact that she herself says the troubles of change she had in her career, one would assume that the subjects and agency also had to adapt to her standards (especially since many people opposed her radical photography). On the other hand, Natchwey has even a harder time I believed. He takes pictures of people during their saddest or hardest moments. He confesses that if the subjects do not comply with his pictures, then the picture loses their meaning. The pictures of the weeping women, the Malaysian guy without a leg or an arm, and the Middle-eastern soldiers, show just how much of their feelings can be obtained from the pictures.
    Lastly, both of these photographers also probably found problems within their personal lives. While Leibovitz's life received so much criticism, her family was very important to her. Her daughter shows in the film just how much she loved taking her family portrair; she really liked having all of her family making poses. It must have been hard for her to receive criticism that surely affected her family as well. In Natchwey's life, I think that the most obvious problem he might have had was keeping his life. During the time that he pleaded for the person's life, he could have lost his life; during the time that he was taking pictures in the grenade throwing, he could have lost his life. Having the thought that one might die at any moment, is probably very difficult to process at times.
Natchwey's Human Cruelty Challenge
   In the end both photographers face very similar challenges in diverse situations. Even if they both have many difference the similarities are as abundant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What makes a Japanese.... Japanese?

Grabbing his Hoodie?
      How would you define someone who's Japanese? By the Japanese government's definition, through birthplace, or because of their blood? It's interesting to see how each country has a way to define what it means to be from that country. In the U.S. it's by birthright and in Japan it's by blood-right?  But who's to say one is right and one is wrong? It's like asking me whether I'm Venezuelan or American. I lived in Venezuela for a little over half my life, both of my parents are Venezuelan, and all of my family members (related by blood) that are alive today have spent most of their life in Venezuela. At the same time, the most important part of my academic life wasn't in Venezuela.  The amount of friends I have in Venezuela are nothing compared to the number I have in the U.S. (including the fact that my best friend is in the U.S.), and my closest relatives live in the U.S. I also posses two passports, one from the U.S. and one from Venezuela. Does this prove anything? Did I tell you that my customs are a mix from both side?
Happy Minesuke
     Just as a question my be risen to who and what I am, I believe many people in Japan are even more confused about they identity than I am. Why is this? My friend has told me that he's not Japanese but rather Korean and he's not Korean but rather Japanese. According to the Japanese government, this term would be called a Zainichi. Both of his parents are Korean, but he lived a Japanese life. His passport is Korean, but he doesn't speak Korean fluently. By the way want to know his name? He has three, Minesuke, Wungmo, and Yumo. When he speaks to Japanese people he uses his Japanese name (Minesuke), but when he speaks to foreigners he uses his Korean name (Wungmo). Why is Yumo in there? Because when Japanese try to pronounce his name they have problems pronouncing it so they call him Yumo (I call him Yumo, because it sounds cool lol). You might wonder if this matters, and the truth is that it does; and I'm not talking about only the spiritual, honorable, or abstract sense. His passport has his name as Ku Wungo, but in Japan he's known as Minesuke (formally in papers as well). This is a problem, because when he travels he has a different name. Yumo's friends are for the most part Japanese, and speak in Japanese with him. Knowing Japan as his birthplace and living in Japan during his lifetime, does it mean he's Japanese? Or does having a Korean passport with Korean parents make him Korean?
Sad Wungmo
    Other than that, what are his experiences? Are they sad? Because he has no place to call his real country? Are they happy, because he's had a lot of support? He's told me both about some of his good or bad experience. Those are more personal so I can't talk about that in the blog, but the answer that I can give is that he has. Any human being has good and bad experiences. Whether they are sad or happy. 
    Lastly, his personality can also be influenced by the culture he lives under. Does he follow Japanese standards when he goes through every day life? Well, I believe so. I'm not Japanese, so I can't say exactly what a Japanese person is, but if I were to compare him with other Japanese friends I have I would say that he's similar. Just like any other person he has differences. A lot of people have told me before that they're surprised by the type of person he is when they first meet him. He gives a different air to what most people think at first impression, and did this happen to me? Yes it did. I was surprised to know that he's a very studious person. I just became close friends with him this semester, but I had seen him last semester. I never imagined him to be a person who would study. He's also a very good friend to everyone who he considers a friend. He helps people a lot, and even gets angry for them when they don't. His friend are always there for him as well. He has tendencies that appear to me as being very Japanese, and his Japanese friends will agree with this as well. He likes to help me a lot with my Japanese, and I will help him with his English as well. Anyway, If you see him say hi (or Konnichiwa)!! He's a pretty cool person. Help him with his English (which is already very good), and talk to him like you would to any other person. No, he's not scary (like in the picture),
Angry Yumo

Sunday, September 26, 2010

From Church... to the river!!!

Baby from the Filipino Comminity
       A personal living area has many things which makes it an incredible and boring place to be in. Incredible places are those that one wants to hold memorable. Whether it's a meeting area for friends, a place that makes it distinguished from others, or a rendezvous that holds memories, a person likes to express these to others. In Hirakata I would like to think that there are many places that have an interesting feeling to them. The problem is choosing which ones I would like to talk about; the old looking road towards Hirakata Koen, the back roads by the City Hall, the park behind the sakura trees near Kansai Gaidai, the Basu Hiroba under the station.
Hirakata Catholic Church
        I think these are all great, but I want to talk about the places that are unusual for Japan and probably unknown to many Ryuugakusei. The first one is the Church I attend in Hirakata. The most interesting thing about it, is the fact that the church is built in a western style. The people in the church are very multi cultural. The church has a Japanese community (being the biggest out of all the communities), Filipino community, Brazilian community, Spanish community, and an American community. It also holds events periodically to bring all communities together and celebrate religious festivals. I think that the existence of the church holds a part of the community that many people in the city don't notice. It holds a weekly personal influence and maybe even more so for others of its members.

Big Park Near the Hirakata Station
Example of Different Areas
Single Tree in the Park field
       The big park by Hirakata is a little bit out of the way, which is probably the reason why a lot of people in Kansai Gaidai haven't seen it or have barely passed through it. The park is always visited by families during the weekends which, even in great quantities, still makes the park look vast and almost empty. The park tends to have different areas to it (terrain), which gives each family a place of preference to locate itself  at. A lot of kids will be riding the bikes through the ample area, or playing sports with friends or families.
Example of Different Areas
 The river by the park gives a good atmosphere, and creates a scenic view towards the bridge close by and the other side. This is a great gathering area for the Hirakata area as it has the area to support the people, and the resources for entertainment!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stares Hurt... But the effort pays off

          As you come into Japan you notice the Bright lights, the language, the difference in cultures.... but most importantly the stares. When I came to Japan, I remember the weight that stares carried the first couple of days as I wandered the streets. It's not that it hurts, but rather that it becomes uncomfortable to be looked at intensively by  people you don't know. The greatest impact that I felt from stares is probably during train rides. As you enter into a train, it felt as if almost every person in the train turns their head towards you and fixes it into position. It's probably curiosity that entices the eye to look at foreigners with such passion, but as you enter into a new culture it generates a different feeling from the bearer to the one being looked upon. This feeling, though, disappears very quickly after a couple of days of cultural integration. 

         A secondary impression that impacted me upon speaking with a Japanese person for the first time, was the effort they put forth into understanding and recreating the English language. This demonstrates the morale that Japanese people have, and made it easier for me to try and communicate with people. Furthermore, if Japanese people know any other language that would increase the amount that can be communicated, then they'll try to utilize it. I remember the difficulty I had when I first tried to use the train station by myself. As I struggled to communicate with Japanese employees, they would make their greatest effort to find someone who knows how to speak English. This all happens, while they treat you with the best costumer service. Applying this only to Japanese employees would be far from truth; If I asked a person in the streets where to go in English, they will try to create a sentence with as much English as they know.
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