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One year in Japan; a last review:

My last month in Japan began during a trip to Tokyo. I couchsurfed again and had 3 awesome hosts over 8 days. I went to Ueno park several times because of the ridiculous Pokemon Go situtaion, climed Mt. Fuji (great view from the top, also a gym at station 9), hung around with two Taiwanese friends, went to Enoshima and attended Comiket.
The last 3 weeks I lived in a share house, did some translation/localization work as an alternative to paying rent and continued the series of farewell events and meetups. I also finally got my JLPT N2 result. Passed with a score of 140/180. :)

Looking back at the year as a whole: very much worth it. Set out to improve my Japanese, did just that and made a bunch of good memories. As for Japan, the pros (respectful people, safe, fascinating contemporary and ancient culture, no tipping, ...) outweigh the cons (vacuous positivity, non-existent insulation of buildings, overdone collectivism, pricy, ...) for me. I'll definitely go again some time.

On to the ... oh wait. :(



Eleven months in Japan; another review:

After a packed month 9 and a calm month 10 it's back to busy again — in a good way though. :)

The semester ended with Japanese exams I took, German exams I helped out with and a lot of farewell events. This was accompanied by preparations for and the start of my trip to Tokyo and ... lo and behold ... the release of Pokémon Go in Japan.
Up until one and a half weeks ago my smartphone setup consisted of a Samsung I9000 without SIM card running CyanogenMod 11. With some Linux trickery I managed to get the app to start but it was super unstable and unplayably slow. As a consequence I bought a new phone (Asus T00P), caught Pokémon within Matsuyama's extensive areas of public Wifi for some time and now got a data SIM card for the last month.

As of the 8th I'm actually in the midst of my side trip to Mt. Fuji, but I'll put the Tokyo trip as a whole into the next review.

On to the last month!



Ten months in Japan; another review:

I don't have the feeling a whole lot happened. Neither does it feel like it's been a month.

Maybe my brain just melted.

In any case; the end of the semester is coming closer, and with it deadlines for reports, projects and the like. That kept me busy. I also took my first JLPT — N2, went okay, results in early September. Preparations for my last month are also going smoothly. I'll be travelling for about a week (Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, Comiket) and have a work for accommodation arrangement for the remaining time after that.

All in all, everything progressing nicely. Nothing really to complain.

On to the next month!



Nine months in Japan; another review:

Looking back at what happened since the last review I wondered ... did I forget to post once?
Apparently I didn't. During the last 31 days:

  • A friend from Germany got hospitalized during his visit to Matsuyama, which led to me being Japanese/German interpreter for about a week. I spent a night in the intensive care unit, got to see all kinds of fancy medical machinery at work — interesting stuff.
  • I got to know new people working with guest houses in Matsuyama and participated in a pilgrimage event (#52+53) organized by the aforementioned.
  • Spent some quality time with friends and went out more that usual.
  • Formed a nice group with people from the game development seminar I take part in. Since I'm "the guy with the programming experience" I introduced the rest of the group to Git, Lua and LÖVE (the framework we agreed on using). Experiencing how Japanese approach group work and especially decision making is quite fascinating.
  • Established new connections to a few exchange students. (I used to focus on spending time with Japanese.)
  • Established new connections to a few Japanese (potential tandem language learning parnter, people interested in intercultural exchange, etc.).
  • Did some indoor bouldering which I hadn't done in ... maybe a year or so.
  • Gave a presentation about Germany at a local elementary school.
  • Went to see fireflies on a whim one night.
  • Started preparations for my last month in Japan (during which I won't stay in the university's dorm) which meant getting a working permission, establishing some connections for potential daywork etc.

All alongside the usual university stuff. Well ... no signs of overload yet. And therefore:

On to the next month!



Eight months in Japan; another review:

The new semester started. This time I take 4 Japanese classes (reading, discussion, practical appilcation, business) as well as one grad school class on intercultural communication and an undergrad seminar on game development. While the latter is targeted at total beginners and therefore not that interesting for me content wise, it is Japanese targeted at Japanese and therefore super useful listening practice.

Apart from lectures there's a steady flow of events, activities, occurrences that keeps me busy and happy. I participated in Ludum Dare 35, did some English language instruciton/training at a local NGO, started speed cubing again — at least for a day ^^ —, helped flying a kite at a kite flying festival, etc. etc.

Side note: the two JK energetically playing a huge taiko was the best thing ever (see title image, also taken at the kite festival).

Good stuff.

On to the next month!



Seven months in Japan; another review:

As I predicted in my previous post I enjoyed an extensive downtime to recharge. :) No traveling, no big events, just lazy day-to-day life. Coming monday lectures will start again; leaving me with less free time, but more externally enforced structure.

In any case, the trip I was in the midst of last post ended without any trouble and was definitely worth it. Good experiences, nice memories and I was able to tick off some new prefectures in the projects section (never underestimate the motivational power of lists ^_^').

In the time after the trip occupied myself with geocaching, parkour training, meeting friends and making new acquaintances. I also felt the desire to do something techy again. After about 4 months of “abstinence“ I tinkered a bit with my anilist client, peaked into the realm of polyglots, — and also aside from tech I invested some time in areas of interest where it seemed long overdue. I guess I kind of dialed down the feeling guilty whenever I sink time into stuff that isn't in any way helping with my Japanese. Good thing.

On to the next month!


Six months in Japan; another review:

More or less a month ago I had my last exams for the winter semester; and the summer semester won't start until early April. What this means is that I have a lot of free time. :)

I've started to watch a lot of ドラマ and am currently in the midst of previously mentioned train trip along Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, Kyoto. For accommodation I decided to give couchsurfing a try (except for one night in a capsule hotel). So far it's been great — but I get the feeling that a 10 day trip with 5 different hosts is on the edge between 'fun to meet new people' and 'kind of exhausting'. :D

After the trip I'm expecting to have some extensive downtime to recharge. ^_^'

On to the next month!



Five months in Japan; another review:

Can to kindle be used intransitively? If not there's some creativity required to interpret this month's subtitle.

Over the course of the past month two particular types of activities made me come to a pleasant realization. I made a few new acquaintances — people with whom I met and had prolonged conversations; and I was on the lookout for a Japanese online forum/​message board with decent activity as well as conversations on topics I'm interested in. The realization I arrived at is, that I am at a point where using Japanese finally starts not being a pain in the ass anymore.
I had passable conversations in Japanese that were way more pleasant and functional than chore-like and apparently necessary for practice's sake. And after leaving 2ちゃんねる aside for the moment and trying out 知恵袋 I found an online platform that turns out to be easy to contribute to.
When I leaned English, being able to take part in written discussions online was an important tipping point. Once possible without too much hassle (i.e. as soon as it was more about the content of the discussions than about the language they were held in) my active use of the language and with that my proficiency skyrocketed. I could image I just hit that tipping point with Japanese, kindling a small flame that may, in the foreseeable future, turn into a raging wildfire.

On to the next month!



Four months in Japan; another review:

Turned out I hit the breaks early enough — no overload in terms of events. :)
Lectures just started again after a short break around New Year, a friend visited for two weeks, and all in all things are good. :) I attend regular club meetings (部会), get to know new people from time to time, make new experiences ... oh and after living here for 4 months I just found out that at the public university (right next to the private one I actually go to — but I take lectures at the public one too) the canteen is opened on Saturdays. I missed out on 17 easy lunches since September just because it did not occur to me to check their canteen schedule.

In other news: the semester break is getting close. Not yet sure what I'll do in February. March is most likely to be spent travelling with JR's 青春18きっぷ (unless I find an even more cost efficient way). In any case:

On to the next month!



Three months in Japan; another review:

Japan: Join ALL the events!
Tarek: No!
I think I did well in building upon my solid base during the last month. As events recently had the tendency to lead to invitations to even more events, I had to start — and have to continue — to refrain from trying to grab every opportunity that is comfortably laid out in front of me. Doing new and exciting and challenging stuff is awesome, but in my case those things tend to require preparation and engery. Agree to participating in too much stuff and you'll end up exhausted, not meeing the expectations of yourself and others and having a stressful time. I think I've realized that just early enough to not end up super stressed — we'll see what I have to report in early January (which just falls short of the time up to which things I've agreed to participate in extend to as of now).

A few highlights: gave a presentation in front of middle school students, went on my first self-organized trip (2 days Hiroshima) and am on the brink of finally starting regular club activities (部活).

On to the next month!



Two months in Japan; another review:

I feel like I've reached a solid base on which to build upon in a lot of aspects. After selling my DSLR prior to coming to Japan in order to switch to a more portable system I finally bought a new camera. I've received my first scholarship money resulting in me financially operating from my Japanese bank account instead of my German credit card. A larger project which is part of my master's course at the University of Freiburg is finally finished leaving me with more free time. I've kind of sort of developed a food routine or rotation of different foods for mornings and evenings. And probably most important of all: social connections start to feel real. The 体操部 (gymnastics club) people are happy each time I join their training, the boardgames meeting I've attended once so far looks promising and tandem language learning is fun as always. :)

A few random highlights: I ate whale meat, managed to corrupt my Ubuntu system and had to set up a new one, had fun at Halloween, am getting into Geocaching and competed at a settlers of catan tournament. All in all, a bunch of positive developments.

On to the next month!



One month since I've arrived in Japan; short review:

Fun with power plug adapters
AC plugs and sockets used in Germany are IEC types F (“Schuko“) and C (“Europlug“), Japan uses types A and B — but actually almost excusively A. Now, if you own a device with a type F plug (let's say, a laptop) and want to get an adapter for type A sockets, don't even bother looking. F→B and C→A adapters are readily available, and because A plugs also work with B sockets, C→B is unnecessary. But since F plugs are earthed and A plugs are not ... no F→A adapters. And for the same reason you also can not find F→C adapters to build a funny F→C→A adapter parade.
The only option you're left with (to my best knowledge) for plugging in a laptop from Germany to a power socket in Japan, is to find a C→A adapter with unnecessarily large pin holes (type C plugs have 4 mm pins whereas type F plugs have 4.8 mm pins), remove anything put into place to stop people from forcing F plugs into the adapter and then do exactly that. Here's my take, on the unavailability of F→A and F→C adapters.

- Classes are interesting. I take 4 Japanese classes (essay writing[1], reading skills[2][3][4], mixed[5][6], oral communication) as well as 3 grad school classes (linguistics[7], sociolinguistics[8], intercultural communication: the Japanese experience[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]).
- The dorm is nice. Rooms are spacious, everything you'd need in terms of appliances and so on is present, people are nice — I'm the only European; actually I'm the only one that is not from either China, Taiwan or South Korea. :D
- I'm also happy with the canteen. Food tastes good and thus far a meal cost me ¥ 465 (3.45 €) on average.
- Staff and people in general are super helpful and friendly.
- Clubs (部活) are still kind of on my todo list. Visited two, but was too busy until now to look at more and/or join in on regular activities.
A difference to my previous experience with German universities, and actually a thing I'm not super happy with (though that's just a matter of taste), is the fact that the intended way of getting something done that may not be everyday business seems to be to go to a person in charge of that thing and ask them to take care of it. What I'm used to is informing myself and doing stuff on my own. Where I'm used to finding a guide for how to do something on a university's website I'm now finding a telephone number or description to which office I need to go. Same goes for information I would have expected to be readily available online (like e-mail addresses of professors). I'm curious whether or not I will, over time, get used to this default way of doing things. Or if I just misjudge the situation right now and all the university related exchange student setup procedures just were really out of the ordinary requiring an unusual amount of “office hopping“.

In the first weeks I've been exploring the city on my “mamachari“ quite a bit. Initially I was focussing on traditional stuff like shrines, temples and onsen. At the moment I'm more likely to look for either something recreational like public parks and sports facilities or utility oriented places like supermarkets.
What I've yet to find is a few cheap and healthy “base foods“ for the evening and especially morning. In Germany that used to be muesli, bananas, whole-grain bread with cheese ... most of which is pretty much non-existent here.
I'm okay with rice+ふりかけ and a small side dish, but cooking rice takes time. I've tried working with tofu, but haven't found an easy and quick way to make it tasty yet. What I'm pretty happy with are instant noodles. :D But I'd prefer something healthier.

All in all, I'm happy with my current situation. :) As mentioned in my previous post I was curious how much different it would be ... never having lived more than 100 km away from where I grew up, suddenly living over 9,000 (not even intended, it's 9,358) km away ... turns out if you're used to living in a student dorm in a city in Germany and move to a student dorm in a city in Japan, it's really no big difference. (I guess if I'm honest with myself I wish it were a bit more different. ^^)

In any case, I'm in a position where I can experience a foreign country by as little as stepping outside the front door and I've got plenty of opportunity to use and improve my Japanese. That's awesome! On to the next month!

 [1] 大学・大学院留学生の日本語(4)論文作成編 (アルク)
 [2] 中・上級者のための速読の日本語 (The Japan Times)
 [3] 大学・大学院留学生の日本語(1)読解編 (アルク)
 [4] 中上級学習者のための日本語読解ワークブック (アルク)
 [5] 読む力 中級 (くろしお出版)
 [6] 留学生のためのここが大切文章表現のルール (スリーエーネットワーク)
 [7] An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics (Routledge)
 [8] An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Longman)
 [9] The Japanese Mind (Tuttle Publishing)
[10] With Respect to the Japanese: Going to Work in Japan (Intercultural Press)
[11] Japanese Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity (Routledge)
[12] The Other Japan: Voices Beyond the Mainstream (Fulcrum Publishing)
[13] Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language (Routledge)
[14] Multi-Ethnic Japan (Harvard University Press)
[15] Japanese Culture and Communication: Critical Cultural Analysis (University Press of America)

A year at 松山大学

Three to four years ago I gradually developed an interest in Japanese culture. Two and a half years ago I started learning Japanese. One year ago I got in touch with the University of Freiburg regarding the possibility of studying abroad in Japan. Now, after two semesters in Freiburg, I'm about to start a year at 松山大学 as an exchange student.

I've never lived or studied outside of Baden-Württemberg, so I'm really excited about how such an amount of change will affect me. I'm also super hyped that I will finally be able to invest pretty much ALL MY TIME into improving my language skills. So far I always had to fit language learning somewhere inbetween while my bachelor's or master's degree were the quasi obligatory main thing.

Preparations are as good as done. Journey starts Sep 8th. Updates will be tagged #MYJ15. :)