In Japan, folks who wish each other well don’t say “good luck,” they say “ganbatte kudasai”– please try hard. Personally, hearing that, compared to the English alternative, is more motivating. With “good luck,” you are a passive character in a play where good fortune arbitrarily chooses people to visit, often temporarily. But with “ganbatte kudasai,” you take life into your own hands and get what you earn. It really stirs me to action, and at the end of my challenging and rewarding first week, I have told myself many times that I will indeed try hard– “ganbarou.”
This week, I started a routine– something I haven’t been doing since April. I get up early in the mornings and finish up my studies. I eat breakfast shortly before I leave for the train, on which I ride five stops from Meguro to Yoyogi. There, I have class from 9:30 A.M. to 12:50 P.M., and afterwards I eat anywhere cheap and nearby for lunch. From there, it’s free-time until a 7 P.M. dinner back at my homestay. I can miss it if I want, but I haven’t yet. I usually get back between 3 and 5 P.M. then study, eat, and study more til I drop.
After class, us students like to eat lunch together and check out someplace new. For example, after our first day of classes we took tho Chuo line just a few stops to Akihabara, which is supposed to be famous for its anime, although we weren’t looking for anything specific. It was exciting just to explore, although we did stumble into a few pornographic areas.
I want to get the most out of my short stay here in Tokyo, and I think I’m meeting my goals in terms of language study. In addition to memorizing the class material, I am making lists of words that I learn each day to review on my own. I make an effort to use vocabulary that I’ve recently learned and create sentences with more complicated structures.
Sometimes I feel like I’m overdoing it. When I’m at my desk, or the table in the living room looking up words in the dictionary on my smartphone, my focus might drift away from the screen and float out the window to daydreams the Anime museum everyone else went to or the Japanese friends I’m not making. But then I remember that I can’t make friends I can’t understand and I was never a huge anime fan to begin with, so I double down on my studies. Ganbarou.
I’m also trying to use more casual language. At Yale, we primarily learned to speak politely, with friendly language present but rarely necessary. Now that I’m here, however, if I don’t speak in the direct and expressive way that Japanese do among friends with my classmates and new friends, I get teased a little bit. But for the most part, everybody has been very understanding of my own misunderstandings. It’s really not a big deal. At least, it shouldn’t be, but its actually very frustrating, and it’s really unfortunate that all the positive feelings of gratitude and excitement that I’d like to convey can turn into feelings of embarrassment.
For example, on Thursday the class went to Haketa San-choume Elementary School to give our presentations. I taught them a song I learned preparing for my last trip on the Appalachian trail, called “I like the mountains.” The lesson went just fine, and the kids were a blast afterwards– but I really could barely communicate with them. They really liked to give me high-fives and fist-bumps, though. The boys were intensely loud and excited while the girls seemed timid, although two of them gave me beautiful origami gifts.
Friday after class, all my classmates, our Japanese “buddies” and I had lunch in Yoyogi park and went to Harajuku, a lively shopping district. I got a lot of great practice in conversing with our kind and patient friends.
My environment is full of supportive and kind people who want to help me learn, and I think I’m taking myself a little to seriously. I just have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. In fact, I’ve got proof. I received a fortune-telling poem at Meiji Jingu Shrine in Yoyogi Park. According to Mama-san, who translated the archaic Japanese into simple language for me, it says not to mope even in troubling times.
Beyond language goals, I still have thing I’d like to try. I want to play a shamisen, and possibly purchase one. I want to sing in Japanese at karaoke. I want to go to a festival and travel to the Kansai region and climb Mt. Fuji and take in as much as a can. But I also want to share the experience with those in whose country I am a guest, expressing myself in their language.
I am confident that the more fluent I become, the more meaningful experiences are available to me here.
Thanks for reading. Ganbatte kudasai