Thursday, March 30, 2017

Oboeyou Nihongo (GO!) Nihongo(GO!)

My mom and all of her siblings served Spanish-speaking missions for the LDS church. My aunt married a man she met on her mission in the Dominican Republic. Between the family connections and growing up in Texas and Utah, and it made sense to start learning Spanish in school, which I started doing in 7th grade. I advanced to Spanish AP by junior year in high school and passed the AP test at the end of the year. I loved learning a new language and culture. With one year left in high school, I wanted to start learning a new language. My school also offered German (which didn't appeal to me), French (seemed to similar to Spanish to interest me), and Japanese. I also had the opportunity to apply for a Sterling Scholar award as a senior, and I thought my best shot would be in Foreign Languages. Committees look favorably on multi-lingual applicants, and I knew Japanese was different enough from Spanish to be interesting to me and look good on my award application (and future college applications).

So, for my senior year of high school, I took Japanese I and absolutely loved it - the language, culture, food, and everything. I did well in the class (until I got to learning katakana and was suffering from senioritis) and won the school level Foreign Language Sterling Scholar award. (It goes on to region and state level, but my Japanese wasn't good enough for that, which was totally fine.) I was amused that I would come out of class thinking in Spanish, but I still managed to retain some Japanese. 

It was because of this class that when the Navy said we were moving to Japan that I was thrilled! Unfortunately, not having practiced it for more than a decade, I had lost a lot of it. I could remember how to pronounce it, a handful of vocabulary and grammar, and a little bit of hiragana. I started reviewing it before our move, but it wasn't until we arrived here that I really started diving in. 

Now, I'm using Mango Languages through my library in Virginia. I do a lesson every day, and I participated in their 31 Days of Language challenge in January for extra enrichment. Of course, I'm practicing any time I'm out in town, listening to train announcements, conversing when I can, and reviewing hiragana on signs. I also recently took a 10 week course through our Fleet and Family Services office with classes held once a week. I also just ordered a few new workbooks, but I haven't started them yet. All of these methods have their strengths and weaknesses, but, for me, they're working very well together and I'm able to use things I have learned from all of them.

I'm happy to say that it's getting better everyday! I'm gaining vocabulary and grammar and, most importantly, confidence. I love knowing what's going on around me and solving language mysteries. Sometimes it's nice to not know what's going on - it's hard to get overwhelmed with information overload if you can't read or hear the language. That is still possible, since I can't understand everything, but when I can understand, it's a win! I sound a little bit like a primary school kid when I try to read and sound things out, but it's progress! For example, I may not understand what time it is when a train is announced, but at least I know it's a time!

Recently, we had a regional conference for church and everything was translated into both languages. The meetings were wonderful, of course, but I spent a lot of time listening to the language. If the talk or announcement was in Japanese first, then I tested myself. I also tried to sing the hymns in Japanese by reading the hiragana in the hymnbook. I also learned that the construction for words like "Nephite" - Nefijin - is the same as the word for American - Amerikajin. Basically, people of _______. Makes sense!

A few things are just automatic now - Good morning (ohayo gozaimasu), Thank you (arigatou gozaimasu), Excuse me (sumimasen). I'll even say "Sumimasen" on base or to an American. It's just what comes out now.

My new goal, as of yesterday, is to be able to read this book that I found wandering through a honya (bookstore). It's about pandas going to an onsen (a Japanese public bath using natural hot springs) and I about died when I started peeking through the pages and landed on the one below.

Of course, I bought it. It will be awhile, if ever, that I can read novels in Japanese, but I should be able to handle picture books!

My biggest win recently was ordering dessert on Monday for a Relief Society (women's ministry) dinner on Tuesday. I went to a cream puff shop that I just found and asked if they spoke English. They said no in the Japanese way (by saying "Uhhh" and looking concerned, not by directly saying "no"). And then, using Google Translate, I asked if I could order 40 in advance. They said yes and the rest of the conversation happened with the vocabulary I knew!

"Yonjyu. Ashita. Gojihan?"  "40? Tomorrow? 5:30?"

And then she wrote down the order and 17:30. And I said "Onamae - Amanda" "Name - Amanda"

So it wasn't complete sentences, but it worked! I went back yesterday and they were ready for me, as arranged. 

And they were delicious. I had the chocolate one - it was cookies and cream filled! 

The lyric title comes from this amusing video that I understand better every time I watch it, and it's just adorable.  Maybe soon I'll be able to understand all of it!

The key for me is just to keep practicing and, eventually, when my brain starts searching for a word in Japanese, maybe it won't give me the Spanish one first. It's nice to know I haven't totally lost my Spanish yet though!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Who run the world? Girls!

Hinamatsuri is also called a Girls' Day or Doll's Day in Japan and is celebrated on March 3. It seems to mostly be a day to celebrate the young girls in a Japanese family with food and drink and a special display of dolls. I don't have a young daughter or dolls to display, so instead I went to the Meguro Gajoen, a historical hotel in Tokyo, where they had an exhibition of historical dolls.

I couldn't take photos of the lovely exhibits (the above is on the way in), but the hotel itself is amazing too!

For lunch, I wandered into a promising alley and was rewarded with a delicious bowl of ramen, which was perfect on a cold, rainy day.

I am looking forward to learning more about Japanese holidays while we are here!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lost in a February song

While our big February adventure was to Sapporo, we still made sure to have several small adventures throughout the month as well.

Went to a local temple for Setsubun and enjoyed watching some traditional dancing

Setsubun is a February holiday before lunar spring and involves lots of throwing of beans

My haul from the Setsubun throwing

It's good luck to let the shishi bite  your child's head!

Batting cages for a friend's wetting down - instead just of a machine, they project a pitcher throwing at you!

Found my new home in Yokohama's Chinatwon

Panda cafe!

It was all just too cute!

There is an early blossoming variety of cherry blossoms (kawazu) - we took advantage of President's Day to view them!

So much good food!

Love train around Valentine's Day!

I joined a friendship tour of Japanese and American people to a local art museum to see the work of local artists, especially Koya Nakamura's yuzen dyeing. I couldn't take any photos of the artwork, but it was amazing!

We also crafted these card wallets together!

And did origami!

Yokosuka naval base was first owned by the Japanese, who dug out many caves by hand for use during World War II. Blake and I each got to tour them on separate occasions.

For fish stock! Slowly building up my cooking skills of the local cuisine.

8 layers of ice cream! So good! From top to bottom - strawberry, soda pop/lemonade, coffee, vanilla, chocolate, sweet potato, sesame, and matcha (green tea)

Malcolm's BFF Virginia comes and hangs out with us sometimes, and sometimes he hangs out at her house.

Mochi pounding!
Basically, every day around here is an adventure! 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Walking in a winter wonderland

Blake and I don't really love the cold. He's from a part of Arizona where it doesn't really get cold, and the snowy season in Utah is far too long for my taste. However, we knew that the the Sapporo Snow Festival on Hokkaido Island was known the world over and not to be missed, so we chose it as our first weekend away trip in Japan! I bought some new waterproof boots for the occasion, we layered up on clothing, and we had an awesome weekend!

We had arranged the trip through the on base travel agency, so our accommodations and travel were all squared away, but our schedule was all ours. Our hotel was a rather nice one right near downtown Sapporo, so we dropped our stuff and hit the ground running! First up? Snow sculptures during the day time. Blocks and blocks of snow sculptures far better than any snowman I'll ever make.
Even our hotel had an ice sculpture!

Obina and Mebina for Girl's Day

Oh, you know, just the Arc d'Triomphe in ice and snow

For dinner, we tried a Japanese burger chain (Mos Burger - not bad) and relaxed and warmed up in our hotel. Monday morning, we started off with a tour of Shiroi Kobito Park, a chocolate factory and museum. (It was either that or a beer factory, so that was a no brainer for us.) It smelled delicious, the hot chocolate and sample cookies were tasty, and the whole place was just charming.

Instead of arrows, we were invited to follow the cat footprints

Factory floor!

There was a silly animatronic show throughout the grounds every so often

After some wandering, including stumbling upon some more ice sculptures, we found Sapporo Ramen Yokocho (Ramen Alley), a tiny alley with 17 different ramen shops! Perfect for lunch on a cold day! We were not disappointed.
There wasn't much more to this shop than is seen in this photo

Typical of most ramen shops - we can watch our food being prepared!

All the cold and full bellies of ramen, we indulged in a quick nap at our hotel before heading to a night time viewing of the snow and ice sculptures and dinner cobbled together of festival foods. I made the better food decisions of the night - fried cheese (with honey!), grilled corn on the cob, and some yummy seafood on a stick. The sculptures were even more amazing at night! My favorite was the giant Star Wars sculpture, since the illumination was perfect.
Final Fantasy

This had a charming animation running throughout the evening.
Part of the festival was an international sculpting contest - we enjoyed checking on their progress over the days we were there.

Star Wars!
There was a five minute perfectly done illumination every 15 minutes or so. It was so cool!
Of course there was some J-Pop - this is Fruity, a Sapporo Idol Group

Snowboarding big air show!

Tuesday morning, we headed out for a little more wandering, including the clock tower - the oldest building standing in Sapporo, which houses a museum about the development of the city.

We also found the Sapporo LDS temple. It's closed Sunday-Tuesday, so we didn't get to go inside, but there's always peace to be found just walking on the grounds.

Of course, walking around Sapporo throughout the trip yielded entertaining shopping and wonderful food discoveries. We went to Kinatoya Bake shop for cheese tarts twice.
So cold even the bathroom signs wear scarves!
Popped out of Pole Town (entrance to the bottom left - an extensive underground shopping area connected to lots of other shopping and train stations - just about the entire downtown can be explored underground) into a historical shopping alley


Guarana Cola - pretty good

Hokkaido only soda - tasted like caramel

Blake got an apple tart the second time, but even he agreed the cheese tarts were where it's at.

We flew back to Tokyo on Tuesday night, and while it was a little strange that it felt like home, it was also good to be there. Although it was a fantastic trip over all, it wasn't perfect - we received bad news from home (my dad's younger brother died in car accident) and there were some unfortunate incidents related to the perils of international travel. Still, we're so glad we went and definitely recommend it to anyone traveling in Japan in the beginning of February!