Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Meeting with Joanne

Due to my family's (extended family included) fear that I will be all alone when I go to Japan, efforts have been made to find people that I can count on when I arrive in Tokyo. I'm really glad of that because yesterday, I got to meet up with Joanne, who's also studying under the MEXT research student scholarship. We spent a really nice time at Clementi mall, with me asking her all sorts of questions about living in Japan.

And after talking and talking and talking, what I remember is: make sure you have an emergency kit ready (especially for earthquakes). I really want to buy a waterproof bag, but my dad wants to use one of the ones we already own, so... we'll see.

I'll be packing my bah when I get to Japan, but I'm already planning what to pack. I went online to do some research, but a lot of articles were on the recent earthquake instead. On the other hand, I did find this guide/manual on important information regarding earthquake disasters from the "Portal Site on Policies for Foreign Residents". The guide has all sorts of useful things on preparing for an earthquake, what to do after an earthquake and most importantly, different checklists including Emergency Items to Take with You.

Hmm... besides what you can see in the picture and on the list, what else should I pack when I get there (yup, I forward plan a lot). I'm deeply considering placing a -few- books in there. 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

JLPT N4 - Achievement Unlocked!

Yup, the picture is right! I passed my JLPT N4. While it may be no big deal to some, it's a huge deal to me, especially since I've only started studying Japanese in 2010. Plus, the fact that I'm too shy to make mistakes (I know, it's a huge weakness), means that I hardly ever practice.

I was quite sad earlier, when I was told that my EE grade didn't change after a remark (I suppose that I should be grateful my grade didn't go down), but after thinking about it, I guess I'd rather have my N4 than a higher EE grade.

Yes, so basically, getting my N4 means that I (theorectically) can "understand basic Japanese".

- One is able to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in vocabulary and kanji."
- One is able to listen and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents, provided they are spoken slowly"

That sounds way better than N5, which is the ability to "understand some basic Japanese".

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Review: Japanese Core Words and Phrases by Kazuko Shoji

Right now, I'm going for intensive Japanese lessons. I'm not sure how much it's helping, since I need Aki-Sensei to explain everything to me, but it's better than nothing. Apart from that, I'm also trying to read the Japanese textbooks I do have, to familiarise myself with what I've learnt. Then, there are the library books. Japanese Core Words and Phrases: Things You Can't Find in a Dictionary falls under this third category.

Japanese Core Words and Phrases by Kazuko Shoji is published by Kondansha International (which is sadly closing down), and what I consider the "gold standard" for Japanese-related materials. Basically, I had high hopes for this book and they weren't disappointed.

This book aims to take the words and phrases that cannot be easily explained, like のです(no desu) and と言うこと(to iu koto) and, well, explain them. This is done through explanations and example sentences. While generally successful, the book has two weaknesses:

The example sentences all have romaji underneath them. This is actually very strange, because they don't appear anywhere else (like when you're trying to read the words in the explanation). Plus, it also hinders my practice reading Japanese, because I'd naturally gravitate to the romaji. I'd like this book a lot more if they used furigana instead of romaji for kanji.

The example sentences have brief, if any, explanation. To me, part of the reason of using (many) examples is to see how the phrase/word functions in a variety of contexts. In this case, it would be vastly more helpful to explain the sentence, maybe by breaking down the sentence into its components. It would also increase the length of the book (maybe even double it), but I'd gladly pay more for that.

In short, this is a very useful book to have on hand, especially if you're in the beginner/intermediate stage. If possible, I'd say to wait for an expanded edition or for it to go on sale.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Pre-Arrival Information Handbook (TUFS)

I just got the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) pre-arrival information handbook yesterday (+ a word document you're supposed to fill out), and immediately started stressing over (of all things), what language to use to reply to the email.

You see, I'm supposed to reply to acknowledge getting the 2 documents, and me being slightly OCD/perfectionistic (take your pick), I didn't know what language. Should I use Japanese? But the email is written in English, so they might expect an English reply. Not helping matters was the fact that I just had a Japanese lesson on keigo (polite language), so the whole "be polite" thing was at the forefront of my brain. In the end, I decided to write in English. I'm not that good in Japanese after all.

But apart from the completely unnecessary self-inflicted angst, I also had a chance to look at the handbook (PDF document). This is the first page:
I can honestly say that with each document that gets emailed over, I get used to the fact that this is reality and not just some wonderful dream I'm having. The document is actually fairly detailed, and it covers things like arrival and the dorm. The dorm actually sounds appealing. It's all single room (15 metres squared) and comes with a toilet (+ bath) and a mini-kitchen. I don't imagine there's much room to swing a cat, but all the amenities is convenient.

However, JLC (Japan Language Centre) "does not approve part-time jobs as for undergraduate students". There goes my plan to work part-time to supplement the allowance. Plus, the monthly allowance has actually decreased, from the initial ¥123 000 to ¥120 000) :/ Mom, Dad, if you read this, well, I'll have to depend on your for at least one more year :D

And to end things on a happier note, here are the subjects I'm studying (read the Humanities and Social Sciences column):

I'm actually looking forward to most all my subjects (I know, I'm a nerd/mugger) ^^

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Book Review: How To Japan by Colin Joyce

I went to Jurong Regional Library yesterday and came back with a bunch of books about Japan, so the next few forseeable posts will be book reviews. The first book was one that I wasn't looking for (as were most of the books) but I don't regret borrowing at all. Quite the opposite in fact.

How To Japan is written by ex-Japan Corrospondent for The Daily Telegraph Colin Joyce. It's actually a series of articles about Japan. I actually like almost all his articles but here are a few of my favourites:

Japanese is Easy (Chapter 2): Here he reminds me about the lack of number, gender or case for nouns, lack of definite and indefinite articles, and the relative simplicity of adjectives and verbs. I'm going to have to keep this in mind the next time I'm silently complaining about how I don't understand a single world of Japanese. He follows up with some Japanese phrases in Chapter 3: The Joys of Japanese.

Every Day is April Fool's (Chapter 9.5): this is an article where you should take the opposite of every statement if you want the truth. It's really hilarious though, because it pokes fun of the misconceptions that many people have.

The two chapters about Tokyo: Loving an Unlovely City (Chapter 10) and Let's Tokyo (Chapter 11). Loving an Unlovely City tells me that Tokyo is ugly, but then points out the small pleasures that make it so lovely. I look forward to experiencing that(: Let's Tokyo is an alternative guide Tokyo, as he tries not to parrot the guidebook. Consider it a small sign pointing the way to explore Tokyo. And can someone please remind me to check out Toden tram (if it still exists) because "it seems to run almost exclusively through the parts of Tokyo that retain a feel of the past."

And finally, Confessions of a Tokyo Correspondent (Chapter 14). It certainly explains why almost all news coming out of Japan seems to be either about robots or some wacky thing about their society, making them seem completely unlike the rest of the world.

The original book was written in Japanese and published in 2006, while the English edition was published in 2009. Some information might be dated but well, I'll find out when I get there. There were some grammar errors, but the book is so good that I can live with them (this is a rare occurance).

Friday, 3 February 2012

Book Review: Living Abroad in Japan by Ruth Kanagy

Until I started looking, I never realised the lack of (English) books about living in Japan. You can find a lot of travel guides, but face it, a vacation is vastly different from staying a few years. With a vacation, you're more worried about hotels and places of interest. With a medium-to-long-term stay, you're thinking about rentals and jobs. And think about it, while it's entertaining to read about people's stay in Japan, these autobiographical books hardly have the concrete information you need. One of these few general guides is Living Abroad in Japan by Ruth Kanagy.

Living Abroad in Japan is divided into three sections: Welcome To Japan (a short but more than adequete introduction to the country), Daily Life (which covers the move to Japan, housing, medical and financial considerations, etc. ) and Prime Living Locations (which is a more in-depth look at housing, giving details about rents and such).

What I like about the book is that it's informative and entertaining. Ruth Kanagy shares a bit about her life in Japan, interviews others who have lived there, and writes in a rather conversational tone (to see a two-sentence excerpt, I have a teaser here). She also doesn't gloss over the unpleasant side, and talks about the discrimination you may face, especially in housing.

I don't know about you, but I'm not expecting to go to Japan and be welcomed with open arms. While the fact that I'm Asian means I won't stand out as much as a Caucasian, I still don't expect to be treated like a native. After all, understanding the culture and respecting it is only natural, and I'm going to try the proverb "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" (Except for when it comes to my Faith. That is the only thing I won't compromise).

Needless to say, I think this book is very useful to read before you make the move. It helped me to consider issues like inkan, which is a personal seal needed for things like banking (after talking it over with my parents, I decided to make one there once I arrive), the mandatory health insurance (I completely didn't think of insurance), gaijin registration and many such other items. While it does have some reccomendations as to where to go (when talking about Prefectures), the emphasis is on adapting to living conditions there, and the resources mentioned (like the handbook each perfecture has) is useful.

Oh yes, further resources. The 39 pages of the book is dedicated solely to resources, online or print, incuding books (fiction and non-fiction) recommendations and films (not everything is about the data). Some of the books look interesting, and I think I'll try to look for them. But as for consulate information (and information in general), it's mostly about the American, British, Australian and Canadian consulates. Also, the currency conversions are to US Dollars, so... (But anyway, if you're going to live in Japan, you should start thinking in terms of yen instead of trying to convert everything to your home currency.)

Now, one Amazon.com review mentioned that the medicine section was grossly inaccurate. Basically, the book advises bring 6 months supply of personal medication. Now, this (second) edition is from 2008, so some information might be out-of-date - check with the Embassy of Japan in your country. But from what I could find, the Kouseikyoku (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) pdf document (again, I don't know when it was published so it might be out-dated) says that you can only bring in one month's supply of medicine for personal consumption and even so, no stimulants whatsoever. If you need more, you need to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei, which they call "a kind of import certificate".

So here, are some resources that I found on the internet that might be useful to you:

From the Kouseikyoku:
Q&A for those bring prescription medicines into Japan with them (PDF document) - Updated 30 Jan 2012
General Link for bring Medicines into Japan

From the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Procedure Chart for Visas for Work or Long Term Stay
Guide to Living in Japan (PDF Document)