Bridging languages can be problematic. We’ve all seen Engrish. Things get lost in translation. And as a college student learning Japanese, I find communicating somewhat difficult.

As a result, I’ve been resorting to something my group has coined “Nihonglish,” a portmanteau of nihongo (日本語、meaning Japanese) and, obviously, English. It looks kind of like this:

And I’ve had to communicate quite a lot. I mentioned it before: here in Sapporo, we’re doing a short-term program with a local university. On most weekdays we meet up with various Japanese college students to hang out and speak Japanese with them. It’s a great experience and really good for practice—but definitely hit the language barrier.

Luckily for us, most Japanese kids start learning English in middle school, so most of our college kids are able to understand a bit of English. I also have a habit of gesturing wildly, which usually helps me get my point across. However, my vocabulary is extremely limited. Heck, I don’t even know the word for “to open:”

(As an explanation to those who don’t know Japanese: “Janai” is a common suffix used to make adjectives negative. For example, kirei (clean) turns into kireijanai (not clean))

I’ve even starting doing it while talking to my fellow Americans.

My group has taken it to the point of coming up with our own nihongo slang. For example, a common phrase in Japanese is daijoubu (大丈夫, meaning are you okay? Or, I’m okay.) Except we decided to shorten it to

Or even worse,

Which is all a bit incomprehensible to our conversation partners. But, hey. At least we’re trying. Anyway, even our sensei fell victim to the Nihonglish trap:

 But I feel as though I’ve improved, though only a bit. I’ll keep trying my best!


On being Asian-American in Japan

Now that I have internet, there’s going to be more photos coming up on my tumblr! Feel free to check it out. 

Japan is a very homogeneous place. It’s historically been isolated. It’s very difficult for foreigners to obtain Japanese citizenship. As a result, the large majority of people here are, naturally, Japanese.

As a result, Japanese people have an odd fascination with non-Japanese people, known as 外人(gaijin, literally “foreign person.”) We’re rare, after all. Groups like mine—with 18 college gaijin—get lots of attention. Little kids and middle schoolers in particular enjoy staring at us.

People have even taken photos of us.

Japanese people, as I’ve experienced, don’t expect gaijin to know any Japanese. Like, at all. So, unlike America, where we expect everyone to know English, saying any Japanese to a Japanese person them induces shock.

If you’re white in Japan, then, any effort is appreciated. But what if you’re not white? What if you’re Asian, like me, who at first glance could pass as a Japanese girl? I’ve been told that Asians that are in Asian countries, but cannot speak the native language, are totally rejected. I expressed my worries to a friend of mine:

Which, for the most part, has proven to be true. Except I mentioned before that I had a really bad cold, the worst I’ve had in years. I was coughing and sneezing and hacking and sniffing, hoping to god I wouldn’t get any of my fellow students sick. And in fact, there was a way I could prevent it. A very common thing in Japan, when one is sick, is to wear a hospital mask:

This way, the afflicted does not spread their germs. So I decided: Why not? When in Rome…

I wore the mask for a couple days, throwing the people around me into confusion.

Cashiers assumed I was Japanese, and didn’t hesitate to speak their language rapid-fire at me:

The best was when my group went to watch a sumo wrestling tournament, however. The guy at the ticket booth was handing out programs in both Japanese and English. To the rest of the kids, he automatically handed them an English flyer. But when I came up, he paused:

Otherwise, though, I haven’t experienced much trouble. Thank goodness! And now I’m better, so the mask is off. Besides, as soon as I open my mouth, people can pretty much tell I’m a foreigner.

My goal by the end of this trip is to be able to pass as a Japanese girl for 30 seconds. Think I can pull it off?

If I could live in Harajuku, I totally would

For more pictures, check out my tumblr!

After visiting the Meiji Jingu, my group headed over to Harajuku. After all, Meiji is located very close to Harajuku. Thank goodness, because at the time, the train station looked like this:

So while we had to brave the crowds to get to Meiji, we did not have to venture back in again. Instead, we walked over to the main street in Harajuku, Takeshita Street:

Harajuku is, essentially, a fashion district for young people. It’s known for its wild, trendy styles, dozens of subgenres of clothes (including: goth, punk, Lolita, visual kei, and many, many more) and, on occasion, even cosplay. Takeshita Street is totally packed during the day, full of trendy Asians out for a day of shopping, crazily dressed teens strutting their stuff, and nutty shops blasting electro remixes of Disney songs.

If there’s something I love, it’s absurdity. Harajuku was full of it. Please observe these wonderfully enticing mannequins.

While people often emphasize the crazy fashions worn in Harajuku, however, the people there actually wore some pretty toned-down clothes. It was fashionable and trendy, sure, but nothing was totally over the top. Well, except for this guy who I asked to take a photo of:

And anyway, who am I to talk? I’ve cosplayed before. I love this stuff. I’d buy a frilly dress in an instant if I could. Though, on that day, we didn’t have much time to actually browse the shops in Harajuku—I definitely saw enough to totally fall in love with the whole place.

SO I may or may not be down an undisclosed amount of money after my first day in Tokyo. Everything is so cute. EVERYTHING IS SO CUTE! And Asian. And HILARIOUS! The amount of ridiculous English around here is unbelievable. Just take this one girl I saw on Takeshita Street…

I ended up returning to Harajuku in our free time. I didn’t buy anything—but I did get to try on this crazy Lolita dress:

Super G, yo.

The only problem with Asian clothes, though—they’re built to fit a certain… body shape. A body shape that I do not have. So as I shopped around in search of a frilly dress, I encountered the same problem over and over again…

So I didn’t end up buying a frilly dress. But still— Harajuku and I—we were meant to be.

10 DAYS UNTIL I GO TO JAPAN! (But who’s counting?)

My freshman year is over.

It was chaotic. It was stressful. It was a crazy new experience. I got to go to so many places, learn so many things, and meet all sorts of awesome people. Moving out and saying goodbye to the friends I had made this year was a bittersweet experience. Sure, we’d be back in a couple of months– but our freshman year is a time we’ll never get back.


Moving on.

Northeastern’s on summer break! I’m done with classes! Which means I can finally, finally allow one reality to sink in that I’ve been suppressing the entire semester:

To demonstrate just how long I’ve been waiting for this day to come, let’s tell a brief, disjointed story:

I’ve wanted to go to Japan, then, for a very long time. But it had always seemed like a distant dream. One of those things you obtain in ten years or so, after you have a stable job, save up some money, and are able to take off a week or two for vacation. But then, in my junior year of high school, two friends of mine achieved the dream. 

They had won a scholarship through Youth for Understanding, an organization that sets up study abroad programs for high school students. For six weeks, they would go abroad and live with a host family for six weeks. And they were going. To Japan. I was pretty jealous. I was sufficiently inspired to apply for the same program the year after. Somehow I managed to win one of five full-tuition Mazda/Nationwide Community Scholarships.

But as we all know, last summer, Japan went through the horrible tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster. Therefore, I was shipped off to Germany instead.

I wouldn’t trade my experience in Germany for anything. Germany is das schönste Land an der Welt, and I was lucky enough to get the greatest host family in the world. But still, in the back of my mind, I wanted to go to Japan. The other nine kids on the same scholarship felt the same way, as I discovered when we visited the Mazda Europe Research and Development headquarters.  Here, in addition to showing us how concept cars are designed (it’s pretty awesome) they also taught us a little bit about Japanese culture.

That day, Mazda gave us a couple souvenirs. There was a Mazda magnet. A little booklet telling us about the history of the company. And…

A daruma, for those who don’t know, is this sort of symbolic Japanese traditional doll seen as a symbol of good luck and hard work. Upon receiving a daruma, you paint in one eye and set a goal. You then place the daruma in a place where you can see it every day, reminding you of your goal. When your goal is finally achieved, you paint in the other eye.

Guess what I wished! (Hint: I’ll get to paint in the other eye very, very soon.)

So this little daruma has been sitting on my desk all year, reminding me of my goal. I thus applied for Northeastern’s Dialogue of Civilizations program to Japan, and by some miracle, was accepted. And I am ecstatic. Amazed. Stunned. And extremely, extremely excited.

So, in 10 days, I’ll be headed off to Japan.

To live my dream.

Let’s do this.

Do you have BOYFRIEND? And other conversations with Japanese girls

I’m a bit dumb, so I chose to get tutored in Japanese this semester instead of, say organic chemistry or calculus. No matter. I got a tutor kind enough to tell me about this event:

The event was at Showa Boston, a language and culture institute located about three miles away out in Jamaica Plain. Showa Boston is actually just a branch of Showa University, an all-women college located in metropolitan Tokyo. Students hoping to improve their English skills can ship up to Boston to study abroad. Showa Boston’s location is a little isolated from downtown Boston, though– it’s nestled out among trees and grassy hills and suburban neighborhoods. Thus, Showa Boston is trying to connect to the local community. They want their students to connect with Americans. To practice English.

Thus, they decided to invite freeloaders (like me) over for free food.

I’ll take it.

So I hopped on a bus, and an hour later, I found myself in a room packed with Japanese girls. I was with my tutor and two other guys, but we ended up splitting up– doing so would give more students the chance to practice English. I wandered over to the food table alone and tried to make myself a rice ball…

After clumsily slapping together some poorly made rice balls, I awkwardly asked to sit down at a table. Three girls sitting around me were brave enough to strike up a conversation. However, their English was a little shaky. Still, we all tried our best:

We chatted some more:

And then it somehow turned into this…

And then into this: 

I'm a cynic. It's true.

And since they were getting the chance to practice their English, I decided to take the chance to practice my Japanese.

I spent the rest of the evening speaking in half-Japanese, half-English. The girls were merciful to me, though, and used only English. (My listening skills suck.) We discussed celebrities, movies, music, Justin Bieber and the Backstreet Boys… typical girl talk. And at the same time, I couldn’t help but notice the culture gap. America and Japan are worlds apart in terms of politeness:

Overall? It was a bit awkward, a bit nerve-wracking, and totally awesome. The three girls I met were really nice. The food was tasty. I got to test out my substandard Japanese skills. And now I’m more excited than ever to go to Japan. Only 18 days until I leave! But who’s counting?

I have an Asian nightmare

I had a horrible nightmare the other night:

Oh wait. It doesn’t stop there. It gets better.

My sleepy subconscious was in legitimate agony. Yeesh. Dreams are weird.

Speaking of dreams, I forgot to mention here what is old news to my friends: one of my dreams is, indeed, coming true!

At the beginning of this semester, I applied for one of Northeastern’s Dialogue of Civilizations programs. These programs, exclusive to NU, are kind of like a summer study abroad, except with a much greater focus on cultural immersion and experience rather than just taking courses in a different country. For example, there are Dialogues where kids learn about healthcare in Australia, micro-financing in Cuba, or photography in Italy.

I applied for the Language Immersion Dialogue to Japan.

It was a bit of a long shot, actually. I’m just a freshman. My Japanese, when I applied, was… rusty. So when I went to interview for the program, I kind of freaked out:

But… I guess I did okay! Because, last month, I got an e-mail…

I was accepted! Oh my goodness gracious, I was accepted. I couldn’t believe it!

Especially because I’m the only freshman going on the trip. Everybody else is an upperclassman. I just… can’t… I don’t…

So this summer, from May 11th to June 19th, one of my longtime dreams is finally coming true. I’m going to Japan! 日本に行く!I’m still in shock, really. The best part is that my scholarship pays the tuition costs– so I’ll only have to pay about $700 instead of $10,000. Not a bad deal, for sure.

And this time, I’ll remember my camera!