I’m inside of my last two weeks in America and the reality that I’m actually leaving is setting in. My posters have been down for weeks, and now that my furniture has started to sell on Craigslist, my room is becoming increasingly barren.
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to balance getting ready to leave with enjoying my last few weeks in the States. On Saturday, I went to my second JET orientation, and like the first one, this one was optional and organized by JET alumni. It was an all-day affair at the Showa School in Jamaica Plain, a school for college-age Japanese girls who are studying English in the U.S. The event was held there in part because Showa allowed us to use their classrooms free of charge but also because it gave us a unique opportunity to interact with some actual Japanese people before departing.
The day was broken up into morning and afternoon sessions. In the morning, the two alumni organizers led us through some basic ESL teaching exercises, emphasizing how to structure speaking or listening games in such a way that the students are set up to succeed. We also discussed some of the difficulties that plague both Americans and Japanese when trying to speak one another’s language. For example, in English, the base pitch is “uh,” whereas in Japanese, the base pitch is “eh.” You can feel the difference for yourself: put your fingers on your larynx (Adam’s Apple for guys), and say “uhhhhh.” Now say “ehhhhh.” Your vocal chords vibrate in totally different places, with “eh” higher and “uh” lower. If speakers of Japanese often sound high-pitched, it’s not a coincidence–it’s because their language operates in a much higher register than our native English. This will be a challenge for me because my natural speaking voice, moderately deep by American standards, will be downright unintelligible to some Japanese. So even if I’m speaking grammatically and with proper intonation, I will probably have to elevate my pitch in order to be understood.
The morning session was informative and useful, but the afternoon was undoubtedly more fun. The Showa students joined us for lunch and were a lot of fun to have around. Everyone was a bit shy at first–not surprising given that their English, though certainly better than my Japanese, was only somewhat conversational–but we found ways to navigate the language barriers (for me, this meant apologizing a lot for accidentally using impolite imperative verb forms, though I think I was always forgiven). They told us where they were from in Japan (Honshu across the board), what their hobbies were (mostly sports or playing/listening to music), and what sights they had seen around Boston (Fenway Park and Harvard Square were popular destinations). One by one, they stood up before the group and made remarkably articulate introductions, though not without a lot of blushing and giggling.
After we ate, the Showa girls accompanied us into the classrooms, where we split into groups based on skill. In the beginner’s group, we spent the remainder of the afternoon working on two projects: the first was practicing introductions of our own in Japanese with the patient assistance of the Showa students. My sensei, Yukari, helped me learn, practice and memorize the following introductory speech, presented here in romaji to the best of my ability:
Minasama, hajimemashite. Watashi wa Joshua to moshimas. Watashi wa Amerika kara kimashita. Watashi no shumi wa hashirocoto des. Dozo yoroshikou onegai shimasu.
(Everyone, how do you do? I am called Joshua. I come from America. My hobby is running. Pleased to meet you).
Not sure how truly accurate that translation is, but it’s the gist, and some variation of this will probably serve as my rote introduction when meeting new people in Japan. Next, when I had memorized my little speech, we switched sensei and I got paired up with Yoko. She and I worked on a little skit based on an everyday situation: in this case, buying food at the grocery store. I won’t bore you with the entire transcript, but she sold me some apples for 100 (hyaku) yen.
All in all it was a pretty outstanding day and definitely put me in the mindset that this is actually happening. Yukari and Yoko, if you’re out there: arigato.