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Be Careful of Genies Too

JAPAN | Monday, 8 February 2016 | Views [277]

During Japanese class on Tuesday, we continued the pattern that had been established by Friday’s class. That is to say with Yamaguchi-sensei we continued to review grammar and the reading, then with Suzuki-sensei we talked some more so we could practice fillers. The grammar review wasn’t quite as helpful as I might have wanted.

It’s a pet peeve of mine when there’s a concept in Japanese (because this most often comes up in Japanese) which is relatively straightforward, and then a subtopic which is more difficult, and the professor focuses exclusively on the general topic. As an example, take verbs of giving and receiving. In English, we have two such words. In Japanese, there are three: one to receive, one when you give to someone, and one when someone gives to you (simplified). The important concept here is give vs. receive, since that's the more major difference (requires changing particles and everything) and, if you don't understand that, you're going to have a really hard time understanding the rest. However, English also has such a concept, so the difficult part is telling the difference between the generic “ageru” and the more grateful “kureru.”

See, like with humble form, “I” for the person being given something need not be limited to me personally. If my brother's mother-in-law gave him something then, since he's my brother, I would describe this by using “kureru.” If I gave my sister something, I would say “ageru,” since I'm closer to myself than my sister is to me. If my sister gave my brother a present… I actually have no idea what word I would use to represent that giving motion. But I know it is not the same as of my sister receives something from my brother, so that's all that matters, right?

That was not quite the example that came up in Japanese class on Tuesday, but it's an example that's cooler up in the past, and it's easier than what we actually did in class on Tuesday, so we'll stick with that. The grammar quiz we did at the beginning of class to see if we grasped the basic concept therefore asked about give/receive, Dan asked about “is it the right form of give, because I think it should be the other one,” Yamaguchi-sensei reassured us we'd get to it later… and then we never did. The reason I need to fall back on an old example is because I'm closer to understanding the subtle difference with that one.

All that aside, class was fine. Then I had about an hour for lunch before meeting with Yamaguchi-sensei for an individual meeting. Part of the CET curriculum is 8 hours of private instruction with the professor. The meetings can cover anything; if you're struggling in class, you should probably work together to make things clearer, but otherwise the meetings should be on something that interests you.

I'm not struggling in class, so during the meeting we read and discussed a Japanese short story. It got off to a rough start when Yamaguchi-sensei showed me two stories and kept asking me how they were. I couldn't tell what she wanted. Was I supposed to skim over them and go “kanji aïee aïee,” was I supposed to read through them and say which one had more reasonable vocabulary and grammar for my level, was I supposed to go by subject matter, (from what I could tell, one was about bear gods the other was about demon fish, so there wasn't actually much variety there) was I supposed to play “eeny meeny miny mo?” Yamaguchi-sensei, what do you want from me?

Somewhat randomly, I chose the one about the demon fish, and started reading. Demon fish is a slight simplification, since what happened was the main character was fishing and he found a bottle. And so he opened it, (as one is wont to do in these kinds of stories) and out came a little black man with big ears and a tail.

And that's as far as we got during the class. Is it really a genie? Will it turn out to be a demon fish? Is there any way this could possibly end well for the main character? Come back next week (or, in reality, whenever I actually get around to finishing the story) to find out.

It was fine, though possibly not the best use of 1-on-1 time with the professor since working through short stories is something I could have (and, in the past, have in fact) done by myself. But given I can’t really think of a better use of time with the professor, and I like short stories, it certainly wasn’t a waste.

Half an hour later, I was in the Japanese Spirituality class. We began with a meditation, which was similar to the previous week’s. It certainly started off the same, with stretching, then breathing, then some simple hand motions, making the shape of a lotus and bringing it into ourselves. Only this time, she told us to picture the lotus, and asked us what color it was. The slightly strange thing is that even before she said that, I could see, if not quite a flower, than at least a color. White, with kind of a pink and yellow tinge. Until I looked it up just now, I wasn’t even sure if that was a real color a lotus could be. (I wonder what she would say if someone responded “beige” or “fluorescent orange” when asked what color their lotus was. She does keep stressing that there are no wrong answers…)

For the rest of the class, we read a few sections from what appears to be a bilingual Japanese-English spirituality dictionary, and watched more of the film about Hoichi the Earless. The film is very pretty (this is appreciated more by the art students in the class than by me) with scenes like the visits to the ghosts’ palace having artificial sunset colored sky, but it is rather slow paced. A story of under 10 pages takes well over an hour when turned into a movie. I suppose I should just be happy that it’s in color (it was the first film in Japan to have color), since the past few Japanese films I’ve watched weren’t.

I’m pretty sure that’s not true for most Americans studying in Japan.

Tags: grammar, japanese, reading, spirituality

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