Friday, May 14, 2010

We Remain Untested, But We Passed

First, some dessert. One is strawberries and whipped cream in shortbready goodness, the other is bananas and vanilla pudding. Yum.

Our Japanese Headstart class was this week. 8am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday, covering basic Japanese vocabulary, grammar, history, etiquette, and anything else they could cover. We had lessons from a book, examples on the board, a handful of videos, and a field trip to a castle.

We were all anticipating the exam Friday afternoon, but around 11:30am they said we were so motivated and doing so well that they were just going to give us the certificates. Cool. So we got to go to lunch early and took the afternoon off.

We had two teachers, Takahashi-sensei and Onozaki-sensei. Takahashi-sensei is hilarious. He has all kinds of stories about language mess-ups in both languages and cultural misunderstandings in both countries, and he is the kind of guy that would be cool to have over for a beer. He seemed to enjoy teaching us about Japan, and almost every day we'd mention something about English or the US and he'd make a note, so he was learning something from us, too. He showed us store names and explained what they are and equivalent stores in the US. It sounds silly, but when you have no idea what grocery stores or convenience stores are called, it can be a little intimidating to try to find something you need.

Onozaki-sensei is from a long line of genuine, no-sh*t samurai, and a sword master to boot. He makes swords, by hand, so sharp that they can slice a sheet of paper without a sound. He's fascinated by all manner of weapons and warfare technique as well as the history of language. He would show us three images: the object, a simplified version that was a pictograph, then what the kanji developed into, and go off on a tangent about weaponry. Really complex, interesting guy.

Language mix-ups we need to watch for, as told to us by Takahashi-sensei. Kawaii (cute) vs. kowai (scary). As in, "Your baby is so scary!" (We may have already done that one.)

When offering your seat on the train to an old or pregnant lady, know the difference between suwaru (please sit) and sawaru (please touch me).

Or when asking for the check at a restaurant, be sure to ask for the okanjo (check) instead of the kancho (enema).

But it's a two-way street. When he was in school, they learned a bunch of -stitute words at once. You know, constitute, substitute, words like that. One day their regular teacher was out and an English-speaking woman was subbing. So he tried to show off his new vocabulary by exclaiming, "Oh, you must be the prostitute teacher!" and was immediately sent to the principal's office.

Our field trip was pretty cool. We visited Odawara Castle, about an hour from Camp Zama. It's in a beautiful area with elegant architecture that looks like it would have been highly defendable against intruders.
For instance, the main gates have small doors that open to attack at the feet and knees of the enemy without great danger to your own soldiers. There isn't a single bolt in the structure, either, because if there was, enemy ninjas would sneak up in the night and undo them all. Every joint is either wood slabs or rivets.

Triangles are for rifles, rectangles are for bows and arrows.

Layers and layers of gates.

This is a sample of the wall so visitors to the castle/museum can see what it's made of.

The grounds surrounding the castle building are just gorgeous.

It's actually pretty easy to forget that you're within walking distance of urban life.

The ubiquitous vending machines.

I particularly love that the ice cream machine is right next to the hot drink machine. No matter what time of year, there's something for you.

My single favorite photo of the day.

We weren't supposed to take pictures of the exhibits inside (too bad, there was some cool stuff - old armor, paintings, textiles, wood mosaics, weapons, original parts of the castle, masks, and probably a bunch of things I'm forgetting), but here's the view from the top floor. On the right is Yokohama Bay.

You can't see Mount Fuji from here, but the mountain view is pretty anyway.

Completely unrelated trivia: We're doing laundry tonight, and I found several small sticks, about the same length as toothpicks but square and not pointy at the ends. I was mystified until I asked the Mew about them. Did you know match heads dissolve in the laundry? I didn't! Check your pockets, kids.

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