Ashley Gundlach studying overseas at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies in Japan

IMG_1902[1]Coming to Japan has been a dream I’ve had since I began studying Japanese in high school. From using a Japanese keyboard, to walking down the street surrounded by Japanese signs and Japanese people (the wide variety of faces and styles is amazing) are things you can’t quite imagine if you’ve never been here. Recently, I was riding the train, and a woman in a kimono got on. Eyeing the obi, the zouri, the fit, the design, and all I could think of was how amazing how the traditional and the modern could come together like that.

Time passes too quickly when you’re here. I arrived, I got settled, and suddenly it’s already October and I’ve been here two months. I wish I’d been prepared for that. Four months is an incredibly short time to stay in Japan.

I’m just really glad that I chose to come to uni and that I got this opportunity. Every week, I get the chance to experience a different aspect of Japanese culture. Even walking around the neighbourhood, I can see old Japan amidst the modern town. There are lots of Japanese restaurants, and there are streets lined with old traditional Japanese buildings. And it`s a very green place, and depending on where you go, you can see crop fields, bamboo, trees, and hidden garden paths. It’s beautiful.

But my neighbourhood also contains modern buildings. Within walking distance to my dorm, there’s a clothes shop called GU, a supermarket called Aoki Super (currently undergoing renovations), and a home store called Daiso. I also plan to visit a book store down from Daiso. Before leaving Japan, I’d like to buy a Japanese book so that I can continue studying Japanese through it, and so I can begin trying to read Japanese literature.

The workload in my host university is double that I have had in my Japanese classes at USC. Every week, I study twice the number of kanji, and I get homework most days from my language courses. I’m on the J program at NUFS, which means an emphasis on learning the language rather than the culture.  However, I also study four culture courses. Every language class uses only Japanese, and every culture class uses only English. The only culture class that comes with homework is my Art and Culture class, which usually comes with a lot. But that’s okay, because sometimes the research I do for that class ends up being fun to learn about.

Some of the classes I study as part of the J program include Reading, Speaking, and Composition. But Kanji class is the most interesting. In Kanji class, we are taught the difference between types of strokes (Tome, Harai and Hane; straight line, curved stroke, and hook stroke), and asked to identify them in that week’s kanji. We also have to identify the main particle (individual sections in a kanji) and name it. After that, we practise writing the kanji with a calligraphy pen, and then complete exercises about identifing and using those kanji.

(For those who don’t know what kanji is, it’s the Japanese script where each character represents a word, as opposed to a sound. They can also look a lot more complicated than kana, the Japanese script representing sound. )

Japanese teachers also mark papers a bit differently from Australian teachers: most of the time, pencils are strongly encouraged over pens. This is because Japanese like to mark neat sheets. Even if your kanji is slightly wrong, or if it looks unclear, they will correct you. Correct answers are circles (called Maru), half-right answers are triangles, and wrong answers are crosses (Batsu). If large amounts of answers are right, the whole area is circled. Otherwise, large circles will appear over the beginning of the right answers.

Every week, there is an different cultural excursion available. I have visited a shrine, played the koto, and made a local dish called a Miso Rice Cake, among other things. Most excursions can be taken on their own. However, sometimes they are part of a course. For example, I am taking the Food Culture course, so any excursion to do with food is part of that course. Food Culture is quite a good course to take, because there are plenty of opportunities to make food. Apart from the excursions that you have to register for, there are also other trips you’re automatically signed up for. I think one of these is Tofu making.

There are other trips I’m still looking forward to. Soon there will be a trip to Kyoto and Nara, and after that will be Zen meditation. I want to make the most of what time I have in Japan, and experience as much as I can while I’m here.

By Ashley Gundlach

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